East Side, West Side, all around the town
The kids sang “ring around rosie”, “London Bridge is falling down”
Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O’Rourke
We tripped the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York

James Blake, Charles Lawlor,  circa 1890.

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I just read about all the anger currently being displayed on the sidewalks of New York . 

The sidewalks in the Big Apple are nearly always crowded with pedestrians going to work or shopping or just taking a stroll. Some people are in a hurry, some not so much. Since there are no fast or slow lanes, slow walkers are obstructing the path of the fast walkers and there has  developed an outbreak of sidewalk rage .

Sidewalk rage  is similar to road rage in that its psychological effects on people are the same; something researchers call Intermittent Explosive Disorder . Fortunately, the pedestrian variety comes without the potential destructive power of the automobile as is possible with road rage. 

Not yet anyway.

You see, Big Apple fast walkers are in a big hurry to get where they are going, and they are getting upset by slow walkers in their way. The fast walkers have begun to get angry.  This anger is especially directed to slow walkers using cell phones who may be guilty of distracted walking. There is however, no law against distracted walking so the fast walkers are taking the law into their own hands. They are venting this rage by staring down the slow walkers, or bumping them. In some cases, the slow pokes have been knocked to the ground.

Now, I spent  6 or 7 years of my life walking the sidewalks of New York. I know myself to have been a slow walker as I was usually looking around and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. But in all my time walking and having fast walkers pass me, I never once saw this rage or was intentionally bumped.

I would like to say to the fast walkers, lighten up and give the slow pokes a break, but I know in my heart, I have experienced this intermittent explosive disorder myself.  Not on the sidewalks of New York, but in my grocery store.

I mean have you ever been boxed in an aisle by people who decide they need to talk to a fellow shopper or make that phone call  or just wander off,  leaving the way blocked by their cart?

I can’t stand it. I just want to bash their cart out of the way and tell them to shut up and shop!

Fast walkers, I feel your anger.

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muddling through

February 25, 2011

Every once in a while I do something so idiotic and so comical,  I just start laughing at the absurdity of the moment and me in the middle of it. One of those episodes occurred this afternoon.

It started out as a lovely day, sunny and warm with the temperature in the low sixties. All the snow was gone and after three days of warm, windy weather, I thought the ground would be dry enough to get outside in the garden.

Donna had the day before cleaned up some roses and other plants. I was going to gather up all the trimmings, put them  in the golf cart and take it to the compost pile in my backwoods. Kuno came along for the exercise.

Well, I got to within twenty feet of the woods when I hit the low spot in the glade. The ground was covered with leaves so I thought it was dry, but the blanket of dry leaves was thin and below was some big mud. Well, of course, the cart got stuck and would not go further. I spun the wheels, but it was just sinking deeper. When I got out of the cart, my feet immediately sunk six inches into the oozy stuff. I worked one foot free then the other and tried to push the cart. No luck.

Then I tried pushing the cart with one foot in the mud and one foot on the accelerator. You should know that this positioning was quite an achievement for me;  twisting  this way and that, as I am not as flexible as some of those Bolshoi dancers.

I just dug the cart in deeper and got mud all over everything.  I decided to walk away and think about the situation for a minute. Easier said than done. By this time I was calf deep in the muck and the mud’s suction prevented me from pulling my feet loose. Finally I worked free and walked back up the hill. The going was slow as my shoes encrusted with the cold wet goo were now the size of dinner plates.  

I sat down on the contemplative bench. I stared at the stranded golf cart and thought about my next move.

What I needed was some boards to give the wheels some traction. Then I remembered I had some stored away ( for emergencies)  so I continued  up the hill to the shed, picking up more detritus with each step along the way. My shoes were now the size of  hub caps.

With boards in hand, I slowly trundled back to the stricken cart. After hammering the boards under the wheels, I once again assumed my Bolshoi stretch/push position and hit the gas. It took 3 or 4 rocking attempts, but the cart finally pulled free, out of the mud and on its wooden tracks.

I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to clean up the cart (and me) by spraying cold hose water on the wheels and cart carriage and my muck encrusted shoes and soaked to the bone feet.

I was tired, but also feeling smugly satisfied at becoming one with mother earth and escaping to tell of it.

Stupid is as Stupid does

February 24, 2011

Sometimes you read a news story and just shake your head in disbelief. Such is the case of the poisoning of  two 130 year old live oak trees on the campus of Auburn University in Alabama. 

The trees have long been a symbol and a gathering place for students and friends of the Auburn athletic teams, especially football.

Over the weekend, mournful fans took pictures and left gifts and tributes near the two 130-year-old oaks located on edge of campus in this proud university community of 24,000 people.

The source of this pain and frustration experienced by the Auburn fans was  one Harvey Updyke, Jr. 62, a rival Alabama fan who let his own rabid football passion get out of control. He poisoned the trees with a highly toxic herbicide. The trees are not expected to survive.

 Updyke has been arrested and charged with first-degree criminal mischief for allegedly using a tree-destroying herbicide to poison the oaks after Auburn beat the Crimson Tide in November.

Now, I just can’t imaging what went through Mr. Updyke’s brain when he came up with the idea to poison these trees of his football rival.

Hey Harvey, so your team lost the game. Get over it. It is a GAME. Wait till next year and all that.  How does a mean, destructive act that kills  130 year old  live oaks  improve any aspect of the situation?

I suppose I could understand it a little better if Mr. Updyke was some naive,  attention seeking, misguided college age kid, but the man is 62 years old. My age. I would have thought that by the time a person enters their seventh decade, they would have acquired some perspective on life.

………………………………………………………………………

This next story of a woman who tried to “mail” a puppy from Minnesota to Georgia is even more disturbing. Stacey Champion, 39, boxed up a little puppy and brought it to the Post Office to send to her 11-year-old son in Georgia. She lied about the box’s contents to the postal workers saying the box contained a toy robot.

When the box began to move, the postal workers opened it and found the puppy. The dog had no water and was dehydrated. Miss Champion has been charged with animal cruelty.

Champion explains that she intended to send the puppy to her son on his birthday because she “wanted to surprise him really, really good.” She poked holes in the box (which later were covered up by tape). She claims she is not at fault because, “They [the Post Office] don’t have a display of what should be shipped and what should not be shipped.” Funny, Miss Champion, if a sign was so necessary, why did you feel the need to lie about the contents of the box in the first place?

Now she wants the $22 she paid to ship the puppy refunded.  Oh and by the way, she never asked about the condition of the dog.

What sort of people are these?  

Have Americans become so crude, callous and down right stupid so as to behave like these two sorry individuals?  Unfortunately, these two cases are not isolated  examples.  

What have we wrought, America?

Digital Darwinism

February 23, 2011

I hope  you had an opportunity to see the Jeopardy show last week. It was during the afternoon so you may have had other distractions like work or picking the kids up from soccer practice. If you did see it you know what I am talking about. If you did not, maybe you can catch a replay online.

The show pitted two well-known Jeopardy champions against Watson,  a computer, three years in the making by IBM scientists.  Watson kicked the champions’  butts. Displaying impressive analytical and language skills, Watson went on a tear in the second round.

Aside from the amazing speed at which Watson’s brain worked, scanning its  200 million pages of information, Watson was also very entertaining with his answers and casual banter with Alex Trebek. He even displayed classic human emotions when he was unsure of an answer or got an obvious (to us) question wrong.

Watching Watson, I could not help but think about how far computers have developed in the 65 years since Eniac was created in 1946. In the span of five short computer generations, we have seen  extraordinary evolution in computer development. When compared to the much slower speed of natural evolution, this development is breathtaking.

But doesn’t that always happen when man gets involved with evolution and development?. Whether it be tomatoes, or roses, or dog breeds or computers, people often succeed in pushing development faster and faster. Nature on the other hand seems content to let millenia after millenia go by before agreeing to recognizable changes in her creatures.  For example, evolutionary scientists estimated it took nearly 3 million years for hominids like “Lucy” to evolve to Homo Sapiens about 200, 000 years ago.

I wonder what characteristics Watson’s successors would display after  50 or 500 generational changes instead of five.  Human to machine communication and bionic technologies are fast becoming a reality.

I won’t be around to see it, but I can imagine the differences between human and silicone intellect becoming smaller and smaller for a wide range of  human  characteristics, including language, emotion, humor, creativity and self-awareness.

Would it be possible for a machine to be happy? Could a machine  “feel” love? 

Would we ever be able to say,  “It’s alive!”

Like with most  of the mysteries of our world and beyond, I could not even begin to speculate on the answers to these questions, but it is  lots of  fun trying.

I wonder, if  Watson could help.

Taking care of business

February 22, 2011

Everyone has probably experienced this sensation.   

You leave the house to do some  errands, and you think,  I should have gone to the bathroom before I left home.

This situation is sometimes exacerbated,  if you are male and over 50 years old like me.  Anyway, the other day, after having that extra cup of coffee for breakfast I went out to do some things and that situation arose.

My last stop was the grocery store. I said, oh, they have a nice restroom in there, I will make a quick stop before I get a few things. As I opened the door to the mens room, I heard a voice. Not just any voice,  this was a loud booming authoritative voice. I thought, maybe they had  the FM radio station on and the speakers into the mens room are turned up high.

Walking in, I realized that the voice was not from the radio, or store’s PA system.

It was coming from a toilet stall! A man was talking on his cell phone in the toilet stall!

It was not just any casual chit-chat either, there was business being conducted. The man was telling his assistant to do this and that and meet Mr. Dithers at the airport and make reservations for dinner at Mario’s making sure they have the tortellini Mr. Dithers likes.

I just stood there thinking, should I leave and let this man continue his business? Given the circumstances, it was obviously a very important and critical conference call in which the man was engaged in. However, I was approaching an important and critical situation myself, so I decided to find the nearest urinal and  take care of my own business.

Business conducted, I washed up and left. Mr Businessman was still planning for Mr. Dithers’  visit and the pending big deal through the noise of  bathroom business and  flushing and all that.

As I walked out and started shopping, I thought to myself, I wonder if these people in the store are aware that an obviously  high-powered, captain of industry is planning major corporate strategy right under their noses in the men’s room. Then the whole thing started to creep me out.

Kind of weird and creepy…but I guess it was better than Mr. Businessman texting while driving on the highway.

Or was it?

currying flavor

February 21, 2011

 News item in the British newspaper, The Daily Herald…

A PRE-school teacher with 20 years experience sprayed air freshener on Asian children – referring to Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the UK – under her care because they smelled of curry, a ( community) tribunal heard.

Elizabeth Davies, 48, “humiliated” children as young as three in an inner-city school by accusing them of smelling of curry or onions.

“If a child came in smelling of onion or curry she would say, ‘There is a waft coming in from paradise,'” nursery school assistant Jan Islam told the tribunal.

“She would spray air freshener almost daily,” Ms Islam said. “If they had broken wind she would stand above them and spray air freshener at them.”

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I don’t know what to think about this story other than it provides an interesting observation of human behavior. I don’t think the teacher meant anything malicious, or God forbid racist in doing what she did, however, maybe she could have opened a window or lit a candle to remove the offensive oder.

But there are probably  fire code restrictions against open windows and open flames.

Maybe she should just live with the curry smell. Better yet, have some delicious  Punjabi Bharta for lunch herself.

 Fight fire with fire so to speak.

 Let’ s get something out in the open straight away. I like curry.  I have enjoyed many different types of curry since I was first introduced to its beautiful spicy self  in the early 1970s  by my friends, Santanakrishna ( Indian and Hindu) and Muqaddam (Pakistani and Muslim).

I perfected my curry palate and indeed became addicted to the stuff during my three-year tour in Australia. By the time I got to St. Louis in 1980 I had a 3 day a week habit and was in trouble because the only curry flavor available in the US heartland at the time, were the auras from  Mr.  Singh and  Mr. Manjit who worked for me.

I did however, have a curry cookbook I brought from Australia. It became my constant companion as I tried to cook up a curry fix on the weekends.  The book now retired, rests on its shelf ,  dog-eared and back broken from continuous use. Still a treasured tomb.

Lately, I have enjoyed the lighter curries from Vietnam, Thailand and other southeast Asian culinary Meccas, but every once in a while I just need a big dose of vindaloo or tandoori with basmati rice to calm the shakes. There is nothing so earthy good as having “curry” spices driven by some strong garlic pouring out of your pores. 

Oh, and today is Monday. Flavor of India has the goat curry specialty on the lunch menu. Yum.

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Follow up news item— Remember our girl, Domonique Ramirez  who was stripped of her Miss San Antonio title last week for putting on a little weight after eating too many tacos? Well she has been reinstated.  Apparently, the beauty contest overlords had a change of heart after having dinner at Biga’s on the River Walk.

Closing the book

February 18, 2011

It seems one  chapter is ending and a sad new chapter is beginning for the nation’s  booksellers. The latest big market book seller to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection is Borders. It seems so ironic that the big book sellers that once upon a time drove out the nation’s mom and pop book stores are they themselves,  becoming the victims of changing tastes and technologies.

I first came to know Borders when Wendy was attending the University of Michigan. It was the early nineties, she was in nursing school, Michigan had a great football team and  Ann Arbor was the home of  Borders Books. I loved going into that first Borders store on State Street near the student union. The selection of books was wonderful and the store had so many places to sit and read. It was a great place to go and browse on one of the many rainy Michigan Saturday afternoons.

Book stores  and libraries have always been comfortable refuges for me. If  it was cold and rainy outside, it was warm and inviting inside with the world just a few page turns away. In Florida’s hot summer, I regularly visited the little library on Henry Street or the big Barnes and Noble on Route 41.  Surrounded by books in the cool air-conditioned comfort was a welcome,  entertaining relief from the hot summer sun.

I guess the changing market for bound books was inevitable given the rise of ebooks, tablets and the availability of  real-time up-to-the minute content available all over the internet. I suppose it is better for the environment and cheaper to the readers of the world to provide cyber books instead of bound paper and ink, but curling up with a good tablet somehow sounds clinical and medicinal, not comforting and cozy.

 It is doubtful that the new ebooks will become the art form that book printing and binding have become in the 570 years since Johann Guttenberg invented his printing press.  But it is early days yet.  One thing is clear,  this change to cyber reading is arguable the most wide-ranging publishing event since the invention of type setting.  Its application and impact on human behavior and information sharing are just beginning to be understood.

I for one, hope to enjoy both book and cyber “apps” as long as they are available.

Have a good weekend and enjoy a good book of your choice.