Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Open Letter To The World - Human Rights Day 2009

10 December, 2009

Dear Fellow Humans-

Have you ever felt overrun by mixed emotions? That's where I'm at as I write to you. Today, as many of you know, is Human Rights Day, set aside by the UN to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified this day in 1948. This document was created in the wake of a World War that saw millions of persons killed because of religious, ethnic, racial, or societal distinctions, and millions more oppressed for the same reasons [some of which happened right here in the US]. The Universal Declaration simply and clearly lists the basic rights of every human being.

Now I know that some nations ignore rights that most of the world take for granted. Bloggers around the world, no doubt, will report on individuals who have been jailed, for years, for the simple act of sending an e-mail [China]. Or, perhaps, some will write about religion-based oppression of woman [Afghanistan]. Still others will note police violence against innocent citizens [Brazil], or oppressive laws that deny freedom of sexuality [Lithuania]. But I've got to be really honest here. As much as I am discouraged and disheartened by these human rights violations, I am somewhat jealous of these nations as well. Each one of them; indeed, virtually every civilized nation on Earth, has something that I, as an American, am denied - access to free, government-funded, health care.

If you happen to have a copy of the Universal Declaration [if not, click on the link above], I draw your attention to Article 25. Quoting Heading 1: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care..."[emphasis mine]. The United States is one of many signatories of the Universal Declaration. But it stands out like a sore thumb when it comes to its disregard of this Article. Health care "reform" has been one of the major themes of the almost-ended political year here. But, as our associates at Amnesty International [one of today's sponsors] point out, the "new and improved" health care plan does little to address several major deficiencies.
I guess I would feel better about the American system if it got results. But it doesn't. While spending more money than any other nation, the US ranked 37th in the most-recent World Health Organization's rating of health-care quality [among the nations having better results: Canada, the UK, Oman, Cypress, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco]. Even those "fortunate" enough to have health insurance are frequently beggared by payment of premiums, fees, etc [including Your Friendly Letterwriter].
Maybe it's just me, but until America has its own house in order, perhaps we should have a moratorium on intervention [critical or otherwise] of anybody else. Hey, oppression is bad [we all get that]; but, as Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane".
-Mike Riley

Friday, December 4, 2009

Messing With A Classic

Taking on a classic is always difficult, frequently provocative, and sometimes just plain wrong. Take the example at left - Marcel Duchamp's LHOOQ [pronouncing the letters approximates a French phrase implying a portion of Mona Lisa's anatomy (not visible in the painting) is worthy of note]. Note, also, the moustache and goatee modeled by La Gioconda; it just makes me think of Jim Croce's advice of what not to do with "Big Jim" in one of his songs. Then again, dadaist Duchamp had no objection to provoking his audience [the degree of difficulty, it should be pointed out, was low: Duchamp had only to scribble his changes on a cheap postcard reproduction. He worked much hard on another of his notorious "readymades"; the piece he titled Fountain ]. But what about those whose patronage depends on public approval?

Consider the good folks that make Sun-Maid products, most notably raisins. Since the early years of the last century, their trademarked icon was a young girl, reputedly spotted drying her long black hair in a California yard. Sure, she was "updated" a few times in the 20TH Century; each time, though, the final image was undeniably that of the young girl.

Then, around three years ago, Sun-Maid decided on a major re-imaging: "Sun-Maid Girl" [she has no name currently, but may eventually get one] was aged about 10 - 15 years, put on a strict diet [too much baby fat in the original], and is now usually pictured at work in the fields [instead of in a moment of repose]. The people at Sun-Maid probably expected a little publicity with the change [after all, it had worked for Betty Crocker and the Morton Salt Girl]; instead, the change went virtually unknown until recent weeks, when it has become the object of derision and [seemingly] bad-natured humor [some critics call the new look "a Barbie doll in Amish attire". In fairness to Sun-Maid, I live near Amish country, and no decent Amish woman would wear red like the Sun-Maid Hussy does].

Looking at the whole Sun-Maid "redo" [noted in this link-packed Yahoo! feature], the obvious question is, Why? Sure, Aunt Jemima needed [and got] her racially-awkward "baggage" removed [as have Uncle Ben and the Cream of Wheat "Chef", although their modernization was less spectacular than "AJ's"; that said, when was the last time you heard the Cream of Wheat Chef referred to by his traditional name of "Rastus"?]. But Sun-Maid Girl [maybe she should have become a super-hero, her feats of strength and skill fuelled by eating raisins] seemingly had no baggage, no issues that needed correcting. So why change? [At the time. a Sun-Maid official noted it was a good time to get on the "health" bandwagon. Some bandwagons have slippery floors...]

Still, it could have been worse for Sun-Maid: original plans called for the new Sun-Maid "Girl" [I think the new image should be known as "Sun-Maid Woman"; she seems a bit long in the tooth for "Girl" status] to appear in a series of commercials, showing her at the spa, grocery shopping, etc, all made easier by the energy derived from those raisins. Rumor has it that she may become multi-lingual, reflecting the diversity of the nations where Sun-Maid grows its products [a lovely gesture, don't get me wrong. But wouldn't it be better for Sun-Maid Woman to monitor the practices of the companies that grow, harvest, and sell the produce she eats, and to speak out against any questionable actions along the food chain? I may be wrong, but the image of Sun-Maid's animated icon speaking publicly against the corporation that supplies her computer-generated living would be attention-getting, to say the least].

BTB, I'm kicking around re-writing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Maybe changing the Third Movement to a rumba. Waddya think?

-Mike Riley

PS: More "Messing With A Classic" here...-MR

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ponzi, and other, schemes

The debate continues as to whether or not Bernie Madoff's $64.8 billion scam is the largest in American [or world, for that matter] history. That said, no one seems to be in any hurry to rename the type of fraud Madoff allegedly perpetrated in his "honor". For the foreseeable future, anyway, it looks like it will keep its current name of "Ponzi scheme", from its first notable operator, Charles Ponzi [left].

It's a little surprising that Madoff was able to play his game as long and as large as he did; in addition to the classic Ponzi case [this explanation, from the Mental Floss web site, is the best I've seen], more than a few others tried the operation, to varying degrees of success, before its revival in the new millennium by Madoff [here's a list from Wikipedia that includes a few of them]. You'd think that at least some of the investors would know better.

And it's not even as if Ponzi invented the whole thing in the first place. Wikipedia's article on Ponzi schemes notes that Charles Dickens, of all people, wrote about such a scheme in his 1857 novel Little Dorrit [there is, incidentally, no evidence that Dickens ever actually carried out a Ponzi scheme. He did use a ploy common to many authors until fairly recent times; namely, selling subscriptions to upcoming books. The money taken in was used to help support the writer until the work was completed, or to defray publishing costs. In exchange, the author would usually include a list of subscribers in the first edition of the book, as a sort of "dedication". Dickens was said to play the "subscription game" better than most, reputedly delaying the release of new works until the optimum amount of subscription money was collected. He is also credited with the practice of releasing books by chapters, forcing the reader to keep buying new segments until the work was complete (and probably paying more in the process than if the book had come out whole).].

It should be noted here that Ponzi schemes are not limited to unscrupulous individuals or groups. Consider this article from, via Yahoo!. In looking at the ten US states suffering the worst in the current economic crisis, it notes that two [Nevada and Florida] are hurting because of a lack of new "players" [businesses and residents, respectively]. Is it just me, or are these two states running a Ponzi? What if the Federal government steps in to prop them up? (Logic tells us that investing in a Ponzi scheme, even in the late stages, should be profitable, if Government intervention leads to compensation of investors) Should bad behavior, even if necessitated by selfish state residents who consistently have refused to allow tax increases, be rewarded? Just asking...
A personal note: I live in what may be the most-economically-challenged corner [Niagara Falls] of the most-economically-challenged region of New York State [Western New York]. In one of my other blogs [Challenging The Thunder; why not stop in?], I look at the history of Niagara Falls daredevils, stunters who have attempted to go over the Falls in a barrel, or [in one disastrous case] a kayak [Yeah. Really. This guy was nuts. Plunging in a barrel makes a lot more sense. It really does. Trust me on this one]. Although both the US and Canada now make every effort to stop potential feats of daring before they turn tragic, it was not always so. Some early challenges were actually sponsored by local merchants, and at least condoned, if not welcomed, by authorities. Maybe it's time to return to that mindset. Hey, as long as the daredevil signs a document freeing the Government from any legal responsibility for his or her demise [which, of course, means all such stunters would have to be over the age of 18], why not? Tourism has been down on both sides of the border the last year or two; maybe the prospect of imminent death would draw a crowd. It works for auto racing. Let me do some math here...okay, the combined width of the American and Canadian Falls is around 33-hundred feet. okay, what's the record distance for a motorcycle jump? 395 feet, last time I checked. Alright, a rocket-powered motorcycle might be able to do it [don't laugh: someone once tried to ride a rocket-powered jet-ski the width of both Falls. Probably would have made it, too, except that his safety parachute failed to open. Sources disagree on whether his body was ever found; either way, it probably wasn't pretty...]. Okay, rocket-powered motorcycle, back-up parachute...wait, we can't do it....

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blog Action Day - So Many People In The Same Device

I am by no means the oldest blogger in the world, but, being in my 50's, I think I have a different perspective than the typical poster. For instance, I'm actually old enough to remember an era when music recordings were stored in analogue form, on vinyl discs [okay, most of you probably know about vinyl. The progressives among you may even own an example or two]!

I remember 1975's release of the self-titled debut from Ambrosia. One of its tracks featured the group putting music to lyrics Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote for his book Cat's Cradle. The song was "Nice Nice Very Nice" [lyrics here]; its theme, the interconnectedness of life.

Of course, interconnection can be good, bad, or, as frequently happens, both. Take India's Kasmir glaciers. They serve as water sources for millions of people who live in the region. Unfortunately, because of the planetary warming caused by climate change, the glaciers are melting too quickly. The anti-poverty group ActionAid has noted that most of the glaciers in the area [the waters shared by India and Pakistan] have shrunk dramatically. The group adds that rain and snow fall have been affected in many areas worldwide by climate change; the changes have reduced food production in many regions of the world. Thus, the Kasmir crisis is being repeated many times over, frequently in areas that were having trouble feeding their populations even before climate change.

We live on a planet that is virally interconnected; the latest Michael Jackson news, reported in Los Angeles, becomes headline fodder for London, Caracas, or Sydney in seconds. While it's certainly good to have multi-national communications, there are downsides. People in underdeveloped countries get glimpses of the industrialized world, and aspire to be a part. Consumerism drives countries to demolish their precious eco-structures, to free up more land for industry and resources. In the world of the "haves", consumption and pollution run rampant. It makes me think that the bravest person ever has yet to make an appearance. We'll know who it is when the first prominent politician in the developed world suggests the possibility that people may need to do with less - less electricity to power fewer "toys", less petroleum to fuel cars, less opportunity to waste the finite resources of Planet Earth.

This is the part where some clever person stands, delivers a brilliant idea, then lets his or her suggestion become the basis of a plan that saves the world. Sorry. If you picked this blog for Inspired Wisdom, you're obviously not a regular reader. All I can do on this Blog Action Day is what many of my colleagues are trying to do; open up the discussion, ask what we hope are the right questions, and sincerely ask Who- or What-Ever It Is We Worship for someone with the right answers.
Hopefully, this isn't the only Blog Action Day-themed post you encounter today. Read as many of them as you can; if nothing else, be aware of the breadth of the problem of climate change. Comment, if you're so moved. A healthy conversation among the peoples of the world is the first step to a solution. If you want to learn more, do some research [you do have Google on that computer, don't you?]. More to the point, don't let your interest end today. Keep your political leaders' "feet to the fire" on this one - it really is a matter of life and death.
-Mike Riley

Monday, October 5, 2009

Is there something to "The Twinkie Defense" after all?

First of all, I'm assuming we all know what's meant by "The Twinkie Defense" [if unaware, please click on the hyperlink; it not only explains the term, it debunks the myth that it was successfully used in the case that first brought the term to national attention].

Anyway, the Twinkie Defense [hereafter TD] is based on the theory that too much processed foods, especially sugar, can cloud your mind, rendering it incapable of rational thought. Although thoroughly discredited in the Dan White prosecution, Science may have just jumped the gun on its conclusions.

A study in Britain has thrown out the proposition that giving children too many treats may turn them into violent adults. We're not talking about the children being violently ill from a less-than-nutritious diet; this is the kind of acting-out violence most demonstrated in the UK by their beloved soccer hooligans. Well, at least most of them can sing...

Actually, this theorem seems to have a healthy dose of evidence behind it. Senior lecturer Simon Moore discovered, while doing research on violent British children, that kids who were most likely to committ violent crimes as adults had the worst diets in childhood.

Moore took his research a step further, using the results of a massive study of English people born during a certain week in 1970. By chance, the survey asked the subjects at the age of ten if they ate candy daily; at age 34, they were asked if had ever been convicted of a crime. A stunning 69 percent of regular candy-eaters had at least one conviction by age 34, versus 42% results from those who weren't. Next, Moore eliminated various factors: parenting styles, financial levels, even location [urban/rural]. The numbers remained steady.
Simon Moore says there are several possible reasons for his results, and that all should be looked into:
- are there certain compounds in sweets that cause this behavior? Well, perhaps. A further question would be "were candy manufacturers aware of this, and hid the information?" If so, shouldn't someone sieze Willy Wonka's passport, post haste? [If there's a bigger flight risk than him, I'd like to meet 'em]

- is excessive candy eating an indicator of possible future problems? For what it's worth, Moore leans towards this theorem; he believes that kids who got daily treats may not develop the patience needed to delay gratification [see A Clockwork Orange. But not on a full stomach]. This, the theory goes, leads to impulsiveness [a key factor in violent acts, according to Moore]. Another possibility suggested by this, says Moore, is that evil children get more candy, just to keep them calm. And are you keeping your porch light on this Halloween? They can't all move out of state...

- were British children born that week just more toxic than the usual run?

Always a possibility. Never eliminate random chance from the Human Equation.

- is this true only in England? Combine the American obesity epidemic with the increase in violent acts. Then do the math...

-are there any solutions? Four words: A Generation Of Supernannies [in whatever language is required]!

- Mike Riley

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sinister Musings

Okay, I'm back. My favorite writer, Dorothy Parker, was an expert at writing explanations for her frequent disappearances from the Public Eye [she once covered up a two-year gap in writing for The New Yorker by claiming she had spent the time in Switzerland!]. I wouldn't even pretend to be able to come up with a story like that [though anyone who spent the summer in Niagara Falls, NY and thinks they saw me may be onto something. Then again, I live there...], so just accept my return, ok? Think of me as the less-than-acceptable uncle, fresh from drying out after an extended bender. It's as good a story as any...

It's probably safe to assume that, from Time Immemorial, there have been left-handed persons. Not that this was always a good thing. From the Latin word for left, sinistra, modern English derives the word sinister. Classical Latin, for what it's worth, frequently used "sinestra" to mean "evil" or "unlucky". Some traditions in the early Christian church, for instance, claim that Judas, the disciple who betrayed Christ, was left-handed. Nowadays, though, left-handedness is just considered a characteristic of anatomy, one shared by around ten percent of humanity [If you'd like a truly intriguing time-waster, check out this listing of notable left-handers. For those not fully comfortable in English, the page is available in Spanish, French and pig Latin! Grad students have way too much time on their hands...]. Famous lefties, for what it's worth, include Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar [wonder if anyone had the "stones" to call him "sinister" to his face? Besides Brutus, of course...], and W. C. Fields.

Kermit The Frog is believed to be left-handed [as was his creator, Jim Henson], as are Bart Simpson and Ned Flanders [and their creator, Matt Groening]. Left-handed artists run the gamut from Michelangelo and DaVinci to M. C. Esher and LeRoy Neiman. Musicians? Sir Paul McCartney, for one [also, reputedly, Ringo Starr]; add David Byrne, Cole Porter, Paul Simon, and Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, among many, many others [I won't even mention any of the notable left-handed athletes].

There is an interesting belief in present times; namely, left-handers are believed to be more intelligent or creative than their right-handed brethren. Believers in this theory [probably lefties, but I digress] point to the fact that eight of the 44 US Presidents have been southpaws [including current office-holder Barack Obama. Then again, both he and principal challenger John McCain are lefties, so that one was a pretty safe bet]. I'm staying out of this debate, except to note the list includes James A. Garfield, whose sole notable act as President was to die about a month after taking office [reputedly due to attending his Inaugural festivities, on a rainy day, without a hat or coat, and contracting fatal pneumonia. Not the brightest crayon in the box...].

So why am I bringing all this up? Big news for left-handed men; namely, a re-design of the classic "y-front" male underwear [Underwear. Another great topic, Mikey. What a fabulous re-start for this blog...]. Having family and friends who are lefties [including one of my brothers], I can see the excitement this would cause. I must confess, though, I've never heard any left-handers complaining about this problem; then again, they may all wear boxers...
Anyway, it's good to be back. Hope you missed me...
-Mike Riley
P. S.: Bloggers, please scroll down the right side of this page, and click on the "Blog Action Day" badge. We need mass action on this one, people!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Time Out...

It is with great regret that I must take a break from writing this blog. I have several personal matters to attend to, which will consume the vast majority of the time I used to spend writing it. As of now, I hope to return to blogging, in one form or another, in January of 2010.

I want to thank my readers and commentors for their friendship and insights. So that none of you will worry, please understand that my health is good. I just need to devote my full attention to these "off-stage" matters.

My intention is to leave the previously written posts up, for those who may not have yet read them.Entrecard advertisers: please be aware that I am taking no new ads. Any ads that I have already agreed to use will be presented as scheduled. I intend to leave the EC widget up, but EC may remove it because of no new posts.

Again, with regrets, I declare INTERMISSION. Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

-Mike Riley

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The carnival is open...where the Hell am I?

It's been one of those weeks...I expected to have a "Can-Am Celebration!" post up here by yesterday...obviously, that hasn't happened. Sincere apologies to all of you who were waiting for it [all right, you weren't waiting all that strenuously for it], and a special bit of gratitude to those of you who are in on the extravaganza. I'll be here for real Saturday morning...'till then, enjoy the holiday weekend
-Mike Riley

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Requium For A Thriller

"It's close to midnight..."
...actually, around 11:30 pm in the Eastern United States, where I write from. Michael Jackson passed from this world a little less than six hours ago. Already, the culture vultures are descending; a mob scene formed around the Los Angeles hospital where he was brought, and pronounced dead. Already, canny marketers are mounting tickets from his now never-to-be-presented 50-show tour on plaques, ready to be sold on e-Bay [as similarly quick-thinking people did when Elvis died]. Already, the circus has descended. Then again, was there ever time that Jackson's life wasn't a circus?
Child of a father who reputedly beat him, and from whom he was estranged as quickly as he could be. A major performer, in the Jackson 5 with his brothers, at a time most children are just learning multiplication and division. A superstar around the world before he was really mature enough to understand just what that would entail.For a time, he truly was what the hype named him - The King Of Pop. He could dance, he could write songs, he could help craft the videos that made him one of the indelible images of his heyday. And yeah, he could sing.
Of course, the life of an icon is never that simple. There were the continual rumors: the charges of child molestation [does anybody think that Jackson ever really understood that what he was doing was wrong? How much time had he ever spent in normal life to get that kind of context?]; the plastic surgeries; the skin condition that drove him to bleach himself [which led to another whole series of questions about his sense of racial identity]; the leaked stories about his bizarre lifestyle [how could he know what was normal?]; at the end of the day, he had no escape from "the beast about to strike". Fame is a brutal creature...
R.I.P, Jakko. Emphasis on peace...
-Mike Riley

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Twenty Years Later...

Sometimes, there's nothing more to add...

-Mike Riley

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Carnival Comes To Town!

I've been posting at this here address for nigh onto three years now. Sometimes the ideas and words flow like maple syrup from the trees at the end of Winter. Other times, not so much. To keep it interesting for You, the Reader [as well as, let's be honest, Me the Writer], I've been known to play around with this blog from time to time; everything from different blog designs, to different 125 x 125 card designs. My personal favorite of all of this was my 100th post, the now-semi-remembered Blog Roast [celebrating my 100th post and, as these sort of things frequently work out, actually being my 101st; oh, fudge...]; the biggest disaster, without question, was the infamous "Iron Blogger" [this post, a few days after the whole thing fell apart, gives the key points fairly well. By the bye, I still think the idea of a posting event based on a last-minute topic is a good one. I may yet come back to it; perhaps a competition for the most coherent explanation of the current "Video Of The Week" (see below, at right)].

I've since learned that the "approved" way to get lots of bloggers to write on the same topic is to announce a "carnival" [in most churches, when a carnival is announced, the Men's Group runs the beer tent, while the Ladies' Auxiliary ends up cooking most of the food. Your organization may do things differently, so your mileage will almost certainly vary]. Actually, the announcement was made in April, at the Bloggers Unite site. To be honest, the response to date has been somewhat less than overwhelming. Counting my post on the topic, four bloggers are in on it.
I'm not sure why the response to date has been so small: I mean, I've posted event badges at the BU site [including the attractive design at left]. I've put badges on my other blog [which link to the above-mentioned info]. Is it because I'm not awarding prizes? I don't think so, I've seen more than a few such events that didn't, and yet have good response. No, it's not up there with "World AIDS Day", "Human Rights Day", or even "World Wide Knit In Public Day" [actually, based on my bus-riding experiences, EVERY DAY is Knit In Public Day]. Still, between the people who actually blog in Canada and the United States, people from other countries that have visited one or both nations [and probably have an uplifting, humorous, or upliftingly humorous story to relate], or people who dream of visiting the US or Canada, there should be seven. maybe eight or nine participants ["carnivalists"? "carnivores"?] chomping at the proverbial bit!

Anyway, that's the deal. Bloggers Unite members should sign up there; non-members can post links in the "Comment" section after my July 1st posting on the topic. The ticket booth is open, get in now, before we get in double figures [I wish!], and you'll have to wait in line behind the cranky family pictured at right [I swear I saw both parents hit a child on the side of the head, just before the placid-looking image over there was snapped!]. It's just going to be easier on all of us, o.k.?

-Mike Riley

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The Woman I Love and I went to Buffalo on business [dr. appt's] this morning. On the way, we saw a sign for a "gentleman's club"..., not the gentleman's club pictured at right [if memory serves me right, one of the more famous clubs in 19th-Century London]...

...this kind of gentleman's club [for the unaware: "gentleman's club", in this context, refers to nightclubs where women strip down as far as local ordinances allow, then dance for an almost exclusively male audience. Not that there's anything wrong with that]. The sign referred to the club as being "world famous", and noted it would be open for business in a few months. Now, I'm not as "hip" as I once was, but I think this kind of situation is covered by the term "fail". "World famous" and "opening soon" don't seem to go together in the same sentence. When I pointed this out to TWIL, she said "Maybe it's a franchise".

A franchise? They franchise this sort of thing? Of course, the thought has crossed my mind before. Anyone who's been in more than one such place in a lifetime will note the similarities; poor lighting, over-priced drinks, [mostly] unenthusiastic "dancers" [for some reason, most of said performers around here are advertised as being "from Montreal". It turns out that I'd gone to grade school with a couple of them, and I certainly did not attend grade school anywhere in the Canadian province of Quebec], even the disinfectant [strawberry-scented] used to "freshen" the places seems the same from locale to locale.

I guess my next question is: where do they sell these franchises? Do they have a booth at traditional franchise fairs, sharing space with Mrs. Fields' cookies and Stanley Steemer carpet cleaning offers? Or does one have such a deal presented as an "opportunity" in the back room of such establishments? I'm really not looking [even if I were, who could afford such a business?], but I admit to a mildly-unhealthy curiosity about the whole thing.

Come to think of it, just what does one get with such a franchise? I know traditional franchises usually include a name, a list of "standards" that the franchisee is supposed to maintain, tips on operating the business, and generic advertising, which can then be tailored to the home city of the new operation. (I can just picture some of the advertising: "fine print" phrases like "Breast size is based on weight, not volume. Contents may have settled". Or headlines like, "You deserve the b[r]e[a]st!". Let's face it, it's 90 % of what most guys go to these places for.)

For what it's worth, my favorite story about "Gentleman's clubs" involves a certain establishment in Pittsburgh, PA during the 1950's. The owner, under the laws of the time, was not allowed to open on Sundays. One Sunday, he noticed that a local TV station was running old short films featuring the Three Stooges. He found that the old films were quite popular, especially with children. Inspired, he brought the Stooges to the Steel City, featuring them in Sunday afternoon shows that were open to families. He is said to have made a fortune, and the appearances were instrumental in reviving the Stooges' career. In another surprise, did you know that one of the "Stooges" who replaced Curly Howard actually had a "no touch" clause in his contract? Moe and Larry could gesture towards him, abuse him verbally, but no touching! A "Stooge" you couldn't hit? That's like a gentleman's club without...well, you know.
-Mike Riley

Monday, May 4, 2009

"He really oozed machismo on that double axle, Dick"

[Long-time followers of professional wrestling will probably remember the reference to Razor Ramon, one of several personas used by Scott Hall during his long and troubled career. As Ramon, he was said to "ooze machismo". Personally, I think he just needed a shampoo with a better pH balance.] But what brings up the allusion to RR is not an examination of such traditionally "manly" pursuits as wrestling [and, please, let's not open up that closet!], but the athletic event known as...'s figure skating. Yeah, figure skating. It all started with some discussions by Skate Canada, which, as the principal figure skating organization north of the 49th Parallel, will have some influence over such matters at next year's Winter Olympics, to be held in Vancouver, BC. Apparently, Canada, unlike most other countries in the world, has seen lower TV ratings for its coverage of men's figure skating. SkateCanada postulates that the lower ratings are due to the image that male skaters bring to the rink; namely, and both they and I are trying to dance around the shorthand phrases that could cut this paragraph in half, the impression that male skaters may come off as effeminate because of their flashy costumes [after all, no one calls what hockey players wear a "costume", do they?]. If I understand their thinking rightly, the less-than-macho look is a real turn-off to manly men who might otherwise watch the athletic moves of the skaters [and if I've offended anyone by this explanation, I am truly sorry. I did the best I could].

Intrigued by this [it was a slow weekend, people], I did a little research on the matter. For instance, here we have a photo of American figure skating champion Dick Buttons, probably taken some time in the late 1940's - early 1950's. As you can see, he's wearing an outfit something like a "dress" naval uniform. Going on my admittedly weak memory, I seem to remember that most male skaters through the late 1960's wore either this look, or something like a regular business suit [with the jacket shortened, of course, to allow for more ease of movement]. The only "flash" in the costumes were the gold buttons that usually decorated them.

Then, during the 1970's, new fabrics [Spandex, for instance] allowed for more form-fitting designs. In the 80's and 90's, as Andrew Harmon points out in this overview article from the LA Times, things got so out of hand that judges were instructed to deduct points for overly "theatrical" garb. With the new Millennium, however, and the scoring scandal that came out of the 2002 Winter Games, "Anything goes" seems to be the only rule [although the scandal had nothing to do with costumes]. Ironically, the garb worn by Will Ferrell and Jon Heder in Blades Of Glory [at right] comes off as almost "old school" by today's standards.
Maybe it's just me, but what I really think would boost men's skating is an infusion of personality, or at least a bit of longevity, among its stars. Michelle Kwan, Oksana Baiul, even little charmer Tonya Harding have more reality to them than any men's champion of recent years. Maybe a scandal could boost TV numbers. How about Canadian Elvis Stojko [who spent the weekend manfully trying to prop up the SkateCanada position and, it should be added, usually performs in outfits that aren't embarrassing to the male gender as a whole] taking a hockey stick to the kneecap of the American or Russian champ during the run-up to the Vancouver Games? Now that would boost the ratings!
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hunger And Hope [BloggersUnite]

  • Sometimes the best way to begin is with a fact. Okay, here's one:

    In the year 2004, it was estimated that farming across the Earth already produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet - six billion, at that time. Indeed, the same statement added that twice that number - 12 billion - could be fed.

    -United Nations Food And Agricultural Organization

    Let your head try to wrap around that for a moment. We already have the resources that, if properly distributed, would once and for all end world hunger. Despite this, the UN estimates that 923-million people are hungry worldwide.

    Another fact:

    It's estimated that a person dies every second of every day from hunger, or diseases made worse by undernourishment. One in five of those who die is a child. That works out to 4,000 people an hour, 100,000 a day, 36 million people a year. More than half the deaths on Earth in a year can be attributed to hunger.

    - United Nations Food And Agricultural Organization

    Enough information for you? Well, how about a quote:

    "...[H]ope comes from just standing up"
    -Studs Terkel

    It's time to stand up. Stand up and work for those who are hungry. Yes, Big Government must be a part of the ultimate solution. But four thousand people this hour alone can't wait.

Below are links to a few groups that are fighting world hunger today. Look them over, then get involved if you wish. But remember that hunger may live up the street from you, or in the next block, or across the street from your best friend [then again, it could be your best friend...]. You probably know of groups near you that are helping to deal with hunger in your area. Support them as well, in body or spirit.

There are certainly more groups than these. Find one [or more], then go to work...

-Mike Riley

Thursday, April 16, 2009


One thing that Anybody who's ever looked into such things can tell you, is that every day of the year has one or more events commemorated by it [for instance, according to the Mayan calendar pictured at left, December 20th, 2012 is a day that should be devoted to "serene contemplation of birds - their grace and calmness, even at times of difficult winds". The next day is "Run Around like A Chicken Whose Head Has Been Cut Off Day"]. The degree of ridiculousness attached to so many commemorations depends, in part, on how silly you find the event or group being celebrated. Which is an incredibly convoluted way [the only way I do things] to bring up the fact that today, April 16th, is Blog Reader Appreciation Day.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first formal celebration of you at the other end of the Blogosphere. Personally, I think it's more than a little overdue. I can only speak for myself, but I'd at least like to think these little observations aren't just being filed away in a particularly dark corner of the Internet, only to be perused when I become President [or, more likely, when I become one of those unknown people who start firing rifles in a mall for no known reason]. The point is, I'd guess every blogger wants his/her words to be read, and enjoyed, by someone, somewhere, in the world. Hopefully, that someone is you.

While we're sharing with each other, Dear Reader, a favor; I don't expect it every time, and it's never a condition of reading this blog, but could you please leave a comment now and then, even if it's of the "You suck worse than anybody" variety? It's nice to be able to put a name, or maybe a face, to the people who actually take the time to stop by [especially helpful when compiling a list of malls to senselessly fire rifles in...].

The person who put Blog Reader Appreciation Day together suggests that posts on this day "thank and celebrate readers with special tributes...contests, and give-aways". I'll be brutally honest; I don't have much to give away. But here are a few links to sites that I've enjoyed:

-Free Albums Galore - A great site to find free and legal music to download. You probably won't know most of the artists. But discovering new music is frequently a joy in itself.

-All My Faves - You could do worse than using this as a start page. Quick links to many of the Internet's favorite stops, along with weekly surprises and new games. A surprisingly good time-waster. - Exploring maven Aibek looks for cool websites, software, and other unique Internet freebies. Then he posts them daily. Need a particular program? You may just find it here.

Sorry there isn't more. But you're probably aware of the major players in such matters. These are some names you may not know.

Before I go, a special thanks to my "followers". You ladies have put up with a lot, more than most people should have to, and I do appreciate it. If I ever learn how, I'll become your follower, too. Thanks also to my regular readers [as always, you know who you are]. And, if you've just discovered this blog,

-Mike Riley [who also writes the blog lab, Challenging The Thunder, and Coming Out Of The Candy Store. Thanks for reading them, also]

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dog Daze

If there's one thing that drives any resident of the White House absolutely bonkers, it's the fact that there are no secrets at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So, despite the Obama Administration's best efforts, and a planned revelatory press conference scheduled for tomorrow [Tuesday], no one should be surprised that one of the bigger questions about the still-new President's home staff has already been answered, albeit unofficially; namely, the identity of the breed of the White House dog.

A quick review: on Election Night, President-Elect Obama promised in his acceptance speech that First Daughters Malia and Sasha would receive a dog when they moved into the Presidential mansion [presumably a reward for good behavior during the campaign. At the time, the promise of another First Dog in the White House drew as many headlines as the oft-repeated rumor that Malia and Sasha would be guest-starring in an episode of Hannah Montana]. Complicating the choice; one of the Obama children [I honestly forget which one] has allergy issues. This, of course, would limit the number of breeds that could be considered.

Public opinion was split on what the national [and international] media quickly named the Dog Question: the President said he was leaning towards "a mutt, like [himself]". Critics pointed out that a non-purebred puppy would be beneath the dignity of the nation's highest office. As the debate raged on, the business of America, already crippled by the on-going financial crisis, ground to a virtual halt.Finally, the Administration realized that the Dog Question needed resolution, and fast.It sprang into action.

The first step was the creation of an internal think-tank, called the Office of Dog Selection, Vetting [no one wanted to bring a scandal-ridden canine into the still-popular Obama White House], and Acquisition (ODSVA). Following the long-time Washington tradition that the most undesirable jobs go to one man, Vice-President Joe Biden was quickly appointed head of the new office [a Democratic insider noted, "Let's face it, he's got the time"]. Biden's first appointments to ODSVA included:
Cesar Millan - TV's "Dog Whisperer"...

Lassie - America's best-known dog [as well as America's best known female impersonator, since Lassie is always portrayed by a male dog; Biden received wide praise for this master-stroke, including both Middle America and the transvestite communities in a single choice], and, in a nod to bipartisanship...

Ron Paul - failed Republican candidate for President in the 2008 election ["Let's face it", one GOP insider noted, "he's got the time"].

The ODSVA was quickly established in a former missile silo in South Dakota. A series of rapid-fire meetings soon produced a "short list" of candidates [leaked to me by a former high school classmate now working in the State Department; sorry I can't be more specific than that]:

Fifi- a toy poodle. Met the hypoallergenic problem, but fell short on the "image" issue [reportedly, even Lassie turned "paws down" on her];

Shredder - a pit bull. Got surprisingly high marks from the Secret Service, but reportedly "unnerved" one of the Obama children;

Scoobie-Doo - iconic cartoon character. Actually went over quite well with the Obamas, but difficulties with the 3-D generation technology [especially outdoors] made his selection problematic, at best. In an effort to save the choice, White House officials reportedly experimented with...

an actor, dressed as Scoobie-Doo - unfortunately, he reportedly "creeped out" one of the Obamas [not the children, interestingly enough]. Perhaps it was his demand for "cigarette breaks" every two hours?

Finally, the committee decided on:
Bo - a Portuguese Water Dog. Reportedly offered by ailing Democratic patriarch Edward M. Kennedy [whose switch from supporting Hillary Clinton to Obama in the Presidential election may have helped push the President "over the top" in the campaign. A suggestion by the Secretary of State to gift Kennedy with "Shredder" was rejected as "mean-spirited" by the ODSVA].

At any rate, the new First Dog will be officially introduced sometime Tuesday. Don't say this blog didn't try to give you the news before it happened...

-Mike Riley