Saturday, December 25, 2010

Who’s Been Naughty

It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is very busy, so I thought I would offer him some help by putting together my own ‘Who’s Been Naughty’ list. I will not be compiling a ‘Who’s Been Nice’ list as, obviously, it would appear the worldwide demand for nice has all but vanished.

Congress has been naughty. Naughty to the point where Santa should leave them nothing but coal. The soft smoky kind of coal, preferably on fire. This year Congress has shown the kind of budgetary restraint of a sixteen year old with a new credit card. After an election where the voters clearly screamed for an end to uncontrolled spending… Congress has spent billions more dollars. Personally, I think the only way we can stop this madness is to switch from borrowing money from China to borrowing from the mob. When a large guy named Vinnie shows up in Washington to collect, maybe Congress will wake up.

Airport Security and Homeland Security have been naughty. The kind of naughty that can only come from having the brains of a drunken terrier. I don’t want to spend any more time describing this stupidity except to say the obvious: America is at war with Muslim fundamentalist terrorists; America is not at war with every tenth person in line at the boarding gate.

North Korea is still naughty. I do not mean Kim Jong-il and the rest of the Ding-Dong-il family, but the citizenry of North Korea. Isn’t it about time for you people to gather up the torches and march up the hill to the castle and burn the monster out? There are a lot of governments that do not respond to the needs of their people, but very few with a leader who spends a fortune on Mickey Mouse memorabilia as his people starve to death while unsuccessfully attempting to survive by eating grass. When your leader takes advice from the governor of New Mexico, it is time to look for your pitchfork.

New Mexico has been naughty. As a state, we continue to hope that someone driving through the state will lose his wallet. This seems to be our only financial growth plan. The state’s major export remains college graduates looking for jobs. 20% of the people in this state work for the government-the third highest rate in the nation behind Alaska and Wyoming. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, since one of those employees is me.

Hollywood has been sort of naughty. Worse, they have been boring. Other than making movies out of comic books and endless remakes, I can’t remember Hollywood producing a movie that got me excited in a long, long time. I liked Avatar, but let’s face it: it was a remake of Dances With Wolves with an all Smurf cast. When Hollywood starts remaking John Wayne movies without John Wayne, it’s time to try something different.

I thought about adding the usual celebrity crowd: people like Jesse James, Tiger Woods, and a myriad of aging actresses who keep getting facelifts until they sport goatees. These people aren’t really naughty-they’re stupid-and I doubt if this server has storage space enough for the list of the stupid.

One last note to my wife, the Doc. Honey, you could stand to be a little naughtier.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Can You Make Meat Loaf With Alpo?

For the last month, teachers all over the state have been a little upset. All teachers, professors, and staff in both public schools and universities throughout the state are members of the Automatic Retirement System for Educators (ARSE). And the lovely people who run ARSE have suddenly admitted that if it cost a dollar to travel around the world, the collected educators of this state can look forward to a nice bus ride to the Arizona border. One way.

It seems that the wise ARSE people have been investing our money in the very best of blue chip securities. We educators own something close to a controlling interest in Studebaker, Enron, and a North Korean industrial growth fund. While our investment advisors specialized in long term speculation in a Capital Depreciation Fund, they did provide adequate diversification by taking a long term position in collectible Beanie Babies.

Actually, there is a very long list of investments; Romanoff government bonds, a chain of Baptist Book Stores in Saudi Arabia, preferred stock in a buggy whip concern, etc. You get the idea. The state might have done better if we had taken the money to Vegas and invested in blackjack and hookers. We would have still been screwed, but we might have enjoyed it more.

It seems that we paid several experts millions of dollars in commissions to provide the type of top-notch investment advice we could have gotten from Bernie Madoff for free. No, wait, I think we actually paid Bernie for that advice. It seems ironic that Bernie is going to have a better health care package during his senior years than many of the retired teachers of New Mexico.

So, instead of a widely diversified and sound investment fund that will provide for retired teachers after years of daily classroom abuse, basically we will be thrown out on our ARSE.

I’m not exactly sure why the state has set up two different retirement plans for their state employees. If you work for the highway department, you are under the regular state retirement program-the program that will provide for our legislators. If you work for a school, you are part of a different retirement system, the ARSE, a system that is currently in a hole. Insert your own joke here.

Are two plans run out of two different buildings, with two different investment staffs, with two overheads, cheaper to operate than one? A dual system like this wouldn’t make much sense in a large state, much less one the size of New Mexico. Why did the state legislature think it best to handle our retirement through their ARSE? I wonder if we could get Utah to run this state for cost plus ten percent.

To be fair, the ARSE did not cancel our retirements, they just announced potential changes to the program that pretty much scared the members to death: Small changes, like changing the retirement age high enough to guarantee that eventually most of the faculty would be negotiating the halls with walkers. As it is now, getting to class without being run over by someone on a skateboard is hard enough; just wait until we all run the risk of being flattened by a septuagenarian dance instructor in a motorized scooter.

There were other small changes; lower benefits, higher contributions, longer eligibility periods, and an announcement that all retirement benefits would be paid in Confederate money. Generously, we have retained the right to sit in front of our cabins at night and sing spirituals.

But then, the plan may be revised next year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tree By Any Other Name...

It is Christmas in Southern New Mexico again. This means I have to switch to my cold weather clothes: long sleeve shirts. Usually, we have 60 degree days and 30 degree nights. If you don’t go out at night, a light jacket will suffice.

And that’s fine with me. Snow belongs on Christmas cards.

My wife, the Doc, has started decorating the house for Christmas. And this means we have our annual argument over a Christmas tree and decorations. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas. How can you not like a holiday where you sit around all day in your pajamas and eat candy out of your sock? Of course, I want my stocking hung by the fireplace we haven’t used in 15 years.

Decorating the house for Christmas is another matter, though. There are several problems. Primarily because the Doc and I are a little absent minded. We can easily put up decorations and forget them for months. Possibly years. I once gave my wife a dozen roses; she put the vase on the top of a bookcase. By the time we noticed them again, they were a rather nice arrangement of dried flowers. I’m pretty sure we kept them more than a few years.

The Doc doesn’t care if the Christmas angels she hangs around the dining room slowly morph into Valentine cupids. And they don’t look bad at Easter, either. It is a little harder to explain them by Independence Day. Little Ladies Liberty?

Our biggest disagreement is over the Christmas tree. The Doc wants a live one. She prefers that we buy a 5 foot pine in a large wooden box so I drag the 100 pound monster into the living room. There, our two cats go into hyper-mode as they try to systematically destroy this combination jungle gym and vertical litter box. How exactly does a 10 pound cat knock over a 100 pound tree? Since it always happens at night, I suspect that the cat opens the front door and invites in lots of friends.

Then, after Christmas, I am supposed to take what is left of the tree out into the yard and plant it somewhere. Our house is surrounded by trees; the satellite dish on the roof is never going to pick up a high definition signal unless they park a satellite directly over our living room.

Still, well over half the trees died. And I’m not real happy about keeping something in the living room that can erupt into roaring flames if you rubbed two teenagers together. Luckily, our sons, What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One have moved out; we don’t have any teenagers, but I still think forest fires are best outdoors.

The Doc won’t hear of a cut tree; she would much rather we buy a live tree and eventually kill it ourselves. Nor does she want a fake tree, either plastic or any other synthetic material. But mostly, she does not want my idea; the Christmas Bookcase.

If you walk into our house, once you get past all the trees, you will quickly realize that about all my wife and I own are books. They are everywhere, thousands of them. They are in every room and in or on everything. We obviously need more bookcases, so… Every Christmas, we could buy a new wooden bookcase (after all, it was once a tree) and put it in the corner of the living room. We can hang ornaments and lights on it, and put all the Christmas presents on the shelves. You could put a whole army of little angels on the top shelf.

Then, after Christmas, we move the bookcase to some other room, assuming we can find empty wall space somewhere. All during the year, we put the books we have read in the new bookcase. It might make finding a desired book a little easier; all you would have to do is remember the year you read the book.

I’m rather proud of this idea, I think it makes perfectly good sense and is a tradition that would undoubtedly quickly spread across the country, if only my wife would let me initiate it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Don’t Ask About Honor, Either

The military has been discussing for years repealing 10 U.S. Code 654 (the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” law) that would allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

It would seem to me that this question was settled a long time ago. Ignoring the Greek army in general and the entire Spartan army in particular, there is still the example of the Sacred Band of Thebes. These soldiers were 150 pairs of matched lovers who fought together as an elite unit. In combat, the army of Thebes always positioned the Sacred Band on their right flank, the position of honor. And on a warm day of August in 338 B.C., this is where they were positioned as they fought to save their city of Thebes from an invading army.

Philip II of Macedonia wanted to invade the Persian Empire to his east, but before he could mount such a hazardous expedition, he wanted to control all the quarrelsome city-states of central Greece to the south. In his youth, Philip had been a hostage in Thebes, and he had learned of the effectiveness of the army of Thebes, including the Sacred Band. When Philip returned to Macedonia, he made major changes to the fighting methods of the traditional hoplite army, changing weapons, formations, and increasing the role and size of the cavalry.

Now, his army was facing the combined armies of Thebes and Athens on the battlefield of Chaeronea, just outside the city of Thebes. Needing a commander of the vaunted Companion Cavalry he could trust, Philip gave command to his young son Alexander and positioned him directly in front of the Sacred Band.

While exact details of what happened during the battle are unclear, it seems certain that eventually Alexander and the Companion Cavalry broke through the line and carried the day. Thebes and Athens each lost over a thousand men and three times that number were captured. The heaviest fighting occurred around the Sacred Band, who fought to the last man. Philip, surveying their bodies lying out in array and noting that each lay facing the enemy, wept at the sight of such devoted and brave men.

Plutarch records that Philip II, on encountering the corpses "heaped one upon another", understanding who they were, exclaimed, “Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly.”

Philip II did not live long enough to mount his expedition to the east, but his son Alexander went on to claim military victories as far east as India. Not long after his death, the people of Thebes erected a monument in the form of a stone lion at Chaeronea, at the grave of the Sacred Band. In the early 20th century the stone was restored and the graves excavated. 254 bodies in 7 rows were discovered; presumably the rest of the Sacred Band were wounded and captured.

It does not seem possible that anyone could seriously argue that homosexuals cannot make good soldiers. The argument today seems to be centered on the belief that allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military would be disruptive to the rest of the military. So the military allowed a survey among the troops. 70% of the people serving in the military have indicated that the effects of such a change would be negligible.

The Secretary of Defense agrees. So does the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and the head of the U.S. Navy. General Casey, the head of the U.S. Marines strongly disagrees. He has suggested that the military is not the place to conduct social experiments, and certainly not during a war.

I disagree. The military has always been among the first to try new technology, new methods, and yes, even to try social experiments during a time of war. While the British Navy was still pressing men into service to fight in their warships, our Revolutionary Navy allowed men to inspect a ship before volunteering. When the South was desperate for men during the Civil War, they would not allow their slaves to serve in the military. Yet in the North, 10% of the army were black men.

Long before there was any real form of integration in the enlisted society, both the US Navy and the Revenue Cutter Service (the predecessor of the Coast Guard) allowed integrated ships. In 1887, Captain Michael Healy became the first black captain of the Revenue Cutter ship. He retired from the service as the third highest officer in the service.

Embracing change and innovation, Philip II put together an army that his son used to conquer the known world. Maybe the time has finally come for even the Marines to try some changes.

I am proud of the United States Marines; I believe they can accomplish any mission given to them. I even think they are tough enough to allow every Marine to live his life without lying. The Marines are built around a code of honor, it is time they start extending that honor to each other.

Let us all look forward to the day when the head of the Marines, like Plutarch, can say, “Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly.”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers

The Pope has been in the news constantly this week. First, there was the surprising announcement that to avoid AIDS, it might be permissible to use a condom as long as one of the partners was a prostitute. I guess this is progress, but the requirement seems a little drastic for the average couple to use as birth control.

Then there was the story about the present pope, a former Hitler Youth, beginning the slow process of granting sainthood to Pope Pius XII, who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. It is always so touching when Nazis stick together.

With news like this, everyone has all but forgotten about yet another lawsuit against the Catholic Church and alleged pedophiliac behavior by European priests. And there have been calls against the current pope, claims that by covering up the activity of these priests, he is by inaction allowing this activity.

As a historian, I find this a little strange. The history of the church for the last 2000 years shows a relatively simple solution; let the priests marry. Consider a few facts:

Peter, the first Pope, was married, as were most of the Apostles appointed by Jesus. At least two of the Popes were the sons of Popes. For the first couple of centuries, it was widely known that most priests were married, but then, increasingly, there was a general view that priests should avoid women, even their own wives, for their corrupting influence. In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote, “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.” Still, for the next several centuries, the majority of priests were married. In the 9th century, St. Ulrich, a holy bishop, argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry.

Even today, all around the world, the Catholic Church routinely ignores married priests as long as they do not take their marriage public. This may be the source of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ And it’s not working any better for the church than it has for the military.

I think it is time for the church to face a relatively obvious truth; the only sexual perversion is abstinence.  And, unfortunately, the denial of this simple fact opens the pope up to all forms of accusations. Not surprisingly, many are saying that if the Pope protects pedophiles, he is by extension a pedophile himself.

Why in the world would someone think that the pope might be a pedophile? Why would anyone suspect a billionaire former Hitler Youth of suspicious activity? Who would suggest that a creepy old celibate wearing a bad white dress is a pedophile just because he drives around in a glass walled vehicle (nothing says faith in God more than seven inches of bullet proof glass) that looks like an ice cream truck?

Okay, okay. I’ll lighten up on the Pope.

The seven dwarfs are in Rome and they go on a tour of the city. After a while they go to the Vatican and Grumpy gets to meet the Pope privately. Grumpy, for once, seems to have a lot to say. He keeps asking the pontiff questions about the church, and in particular, nuns.

"Your Holiness, do you have any really short nuns?"

"No, my son, all our nuns are at least 5 feet tall," said the Pope.

"Are you sure? I mean, you wouldn't have any nuns that are, say, about my height? Maybe a little shorter?"

"I'm afraid not. Why do you ask?"

"No reason," said Grumpy, clearly upset. "Are you positive? Nobody in a habit that's about 3 feet tall, 2 feet tall?"

"I'm sure," said the Pope.

"Okay." Grumpy looks dejected at this news, and the Pope wonders why. So he listened to the dwarves as they leave the building. "What'd he say? What'd he say?" ask the other six dwarves.

Staring down at the floor, Grumpy answered, "He said they don't have any."

The other six start chanting: "Grumpy screwed a penguin! Grumpy screwed a penguin! Grumpy screwed a penguin!”

Okay, it’s a bad joke, but Grumpy is still more normal than the Pope.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Think I Want a Train

All week long, there has been one story after another about airport security and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). And while I was tempted to write about the latest stupidity at the university (a target rich environment) I simply could not resist writing about the ongoing stupidity we call Homeland Security.

The week began with the notice that you could no longer travel with toner cartridges for laser printers or copiers. Nor could you carry ink cartridges for your inkjet printer. There is an old adage in military history that every general prepares to fight the next war using the same techniques that won the last war. Since historically this strategy rarely works, it has become the standard operating procedure for the TSA. Evidently, just because terrorists tried this once, TSA believes they will, unless toner cartridges are banned, try this same method endlessly. I’m puzzled: isn’t this what you want the enemy to do? Keep using methods you have already learned how to thwart? Is it really in our best interest to force them to try something new?

TSA, here’s a small suggestion: Next time you find a terrorist smuggling a bomb onto a plane, however he is attempting to accomplish the task, keep the new technique secret. Maybe the terrorists will be foolish enough to keep trying the same method. An obvious problem with this suggestion is that I’m not sure the TSA is actually catching anyone. The toner cartridge bomb was discovered in Europe, as were most of the recent attempted bombings we read about.

Usually, the only time I read anything about the TSA is when they have managed to completely take some small situation and totally fornicate it skyward. Such as the latest news that airport searches will now be so intimate that they will include what forty years ago we referred to as reaching third base.

“Not to worry,” says Janet Napolitano, the director of Homeland Security, “The searches are completely non-sexual and performed by members of the same sex.” (Completely ignoring the fact that I have heard, rarely, of sex between members of the same sex.) If the searches are truly non-sexual, what does it matter who performs them? Couldn’t we just go back to the good old days when bomb sniffing dogs shoved their noses into our crotch?

Because we had one moron wearing a pair of exploding underwear, TSA spent billions implementing a new form of full body scanner that is both invasive and embarrassing, slows travel down to a crawl, and not effective against the kind of explosive used by the underwear bomber.  This new form of security has done billions of dollars damage to the economy, making that pair of underwear perhaps the most effective bomb that never exploded in history.  It Al Qaeda really wants to completely stop air travel, they should let us catch the next terrorist with a tampon bomb.  I cannot imagine what form of security TSA would begin using.

Anyone who feels comforted by our airport security measures is too stupid to be allowed to travel alone. I will willing to bet my next paycheck (truthfully not that much, I work for the State of New Mexico) that I could sneak a longhorn steer onto a plane as long as the horns weren’t too wide for the jetway and I had pruchased tickets for two seats.

Could it be possible that the TSA is actually working for the terrorists as a clandestine recruiting organization? By the time I can actually board an airplane, I have to admit that I am a lot angrier at Homeland Security than Al Qaeda. I’m a little hesitant to admit it, but on my last trip, I spent most of the flight happily imagining throwing one particularly rude flight attendant out of a cabin door. I may be turning into a fanatical terrorist; I already have a beard and live in a desert.

I think it is about time to dispose of the TSA. Shut them down, close the shop and send the employees back to the vocational school for retreading tires from which they came. There are 67,000 screeners currently working for TSA, earning from $28,000 to $38,000 a year. That works out to about two and a quarter billion dollars a year. For that much money, we could probably pay Al Qaeda not to bomb us. With that much wealth, before long, they would be too busy buying flat screen televisions to bother us.

To be completely honest, I’m not completely sure if those numbers are correct, since I got them off the Homeland Security website. In all fairness, I should point out that the same site claims that almost 5% of the screeners have been with Homeland Security for over 20 years. The Department of Homeland Security was created October 2001.

There is quite a lot of information on the website: for example, did you know that you cannot travel with a snow globe, even if you pack it inside a checked bag? You can carry a book of paper matches, but not a single wooden match. Gel shoe inserts are forbidden, but you can carry a screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

Have you ever heard the old joke about the ninety year old nun who was not allowed on a plane because she was carrying knitting needles? Seems airport security was afraid she might knit an Afghan.

Well, the story isn’t true. You can carry knitting needles onto a plane. But the regulations specifically ban hockey sticks, more than one musical instrument, and cattle prods.

Maybe I couldn’t get that steer onto a plane.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Drink Responsibly!

It’s simply amazing the number of people who do not understand the need for a good beer. Certainly, my university does not. Periodically, the students express a desire to be able to drink beer legally in a campus bar in the company of faculty and staff, who could possibly teach them to drink responsibly. Inevitably, groups like the Mommies-Obstinately-Forever-Obsessed rise up and denounce the idea as a danger to students. Evidently it is much safer for students to drive on and off campus after drinking. I’m sure the policy is working, I never hear about students in trouble with alcohol.

In New Mexico, I was never quite sure how to teach my children to drink responsibly. Both What’s-His-Name and The-Other-One moved out before either was legally old enough to even drink a beer with their father in our home. This seems a little strange, as the state seems to believe that it is wiser for the teenagers to learn about alcohol from other responsible teenagers than from their own silly parents. Foolishly, since I couldn’t drink with them, I taught them to mix drinks. This was a mistake. It looks unseemly for children to mix drinks…and they use too much vermouth.

This must be a relatively recent idea about beer; as a historian, I can assure you that this has not always been the attitude. To put it simply, beer has been a wonderful and driving force throughout history. 390 years ago, the Pilgrims were on their way to Virginia to establish a colony, but decided to stop in Massachusetts when they ran out of beer. We would have no Plymouth Rock without beer.

The Maya certainly enjoyed an alcoholic beverage. Saying they drank to excess doesn’t do them justice. They damn near swam in alcohol and when they could no longer hold any more beer, they took it as an enema. Evidently, this method allows alcohol to enter the blood stream much faster, leading to even higher levels of intoxication. Across the country, several fraternities, evidently also denied access to a campus bar, have begun experimenting with this technique. Budweisier wants to capture this rising future market and is about ready to introduce a new product just for this practice. It will be marketed under the brand name of Butt Light.

How old is the practice of making beer? The Chinese wrote about brewing it over 5,000 years ago and it undoubtedly began well before that. According to Brian Hayden at Simon Fraser University, civilization owes its very existence to beer. Hayden says that roughly 11,500 years ago the first farmers planted seeds not to grow crops, but to produce beer. This was obviously before the invention of universities.

I have an idea for a new beer that I think will not only be an instant financial success, but satisfy even the most puritanical of teetotalers. What we need is the manufacture and distribution of a new beer named “Responsibly.”

The whole world wants to drink Responsibly; we are constantly being told to drink Responsibly, and the government puts signs along the highway telling us to drink Responsibly. And the best advertising of all--even other beer companies end their beer commercials with a reminder to please drink Responsibly.

There can’t be any complaints; even the university has said it would have no opposition to a campus bar if it could trust the students to drink Responsibly.

If Responsibly is successful, it shouldn’t be too difficult to expand the line of Responsible beers by introducing “Moderately” and “Just One.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NewerSpeak®

Dateline: College Town, New Mexico

Less than a week after the History Department was accused of inventing a biography of a fictitious American president, the university‘s Language Department has announced the creation of a new artificial language: NewerSpeak®. An artificial language, NewerSpeak® has been designed to be the most modern language on the planet, a language that can be spoken by everyone.

Originally, the language will be taught by the department’s German professors. When asked about the change, Dr. Grumbles, the department’s senior German professor, said, “We had to do something: no one wants to speak German anymore. Even the Germans are switching to Turkish.”

Explaining the new language, Dr. Grumbles added, “This language has been specifically designed to be easy to learn. Students study for weeks trying to learn the past tense in most languages. With NewerSpeak®, you just use the present tense and add the word ‘yesterday’ to the end. We do pretty much the same thing with the future tense by adding the word ‘tomorrow’ at the end of the sentence. In this way, we can have students speaking grammatically within a month.”

The new language will feature some striking innovations, including a special verb tense, the subjunctive reflexive, for things you wish you could have might have said. And especially appealing to Texans, personal pronouns have been simplified. The first person plural is expressed as us’ins and the third person plural is referred to as y’all.

Among other unique features, NewerSpeak® is designed to be instantly understood by anyone, simply by yelling. And there are three tenses reserved solely for profanity. NewerSpeak® has been designed with sign language built in. Currently, the department is preparing a special edition of an audio 4-CD instruction course for the new sign language.

Asked how the department had designed the new language, Dr. Grumble said that the new language takes the best features of several existing artificial languages such as Esperanto and Klingon, combines them with the simplicity of Pig Latin and Double Dutch, and then adds a little flavor by throwing in the hand gestures of Italian. Dr. Grumbles proudly proclaimed, “We have moved out of the days when language merely evolves-this language is the result of intelligent design! This is language 2.0, a language designed for the new millennium!”

Viewed as a major breakthrough in the teaching of languages, this will probably be the most noteworthy achievement of the department since the publication of “Quomodo Invidiousulus Nomine Grinchus Natalem Christi Abrogaverit.” (New York, 2008.)

Part of the motivation behind designing the language was need for the department to increase revenues.  Shrinking enrollment for some languages coupled with departmental budget cuts means that new sources of income must be found.  "We are working on several vocabulary expansion packs that can be sold, and the department has just finished designing a verb tense designed to be used in the fireplace and chimney construction industry; the flu-perfect," explained Dr. Grumbles.

The department will offer a two-year minor in the new language. The first year will consist of classes centered on intensive conversation and the second year is a repeat of the first year, but the tuition will be doubled.

When asked what prompted the department to create the new language, Dr. Grumbles explained that it grew out of the violence along the border of Mexico.

A Mexican bandit had recently made a specialty of crossing the Rio Grande from time to time and robbing banks in Texas. Finally, a large reward was offered for his capture, and an enterprising Texas Ranger, Charles Sadler, decided to track him down.

After a lengthy search, he traced the bandit to his favorite cantina, snuck up behind him, put his trusty six-shooter to the bandit's head, and said, "You're under arrest. Tell me where you hid the loot or I'll blow your head off."

But the bandit didn't speak English, and the Ranger didn't speak Spanish. As luck would have it, a bilingual lawyer was in the saloon and translated the Texas Ranger's message. The terrified bandit blurted out, in Spanish, that the loot was buried under the oak tree in back of the cantina.

"What did he say?" demanded the Ranger.

The lawyer answered, "He said, 'Get lost, Gringo. You wouldn't dare shoot me.'"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Academic Hoax or Creative History?

Dateline: College Town, New Mexico

The local university campus was rocked today when several members of the History Department admitted to perpetrating a giant hoax on the academic community. Earlier this week it was discovered that several members of the department had invented a wild story involving an imaginary politician, Benjamin Harrison, supposedly President of the United States from 1889 to 1893.

“Oh, come on!” said Dr. Holland, a member of the department. “How could anyone take this crap seriously? It was just a joke that got out of hand; nobody in their right mind would believe a president in between the two terms of President Cleveland. Don’t you people read?”

According to grad student Brian Riley, the story of the fictitious presidency has made its way into several textbooks, including those used by many high schools in the nation. The university has promised to investigate the matter.

One member of the department, speaking off the record, tried to explain how the hoax began. “We were at the local brew club with some grad students. You understand, out here in the high desert, you can get thirsty. One thing led to another, and we started teasing the grad students trying to see how much nonsense we could get them to believe. We almost convinced them the South won the Civil War, but one student didn’t think that ending jived with his recollection of the movie Gone With the Wind. Then someone mentioned Ben Harrison and the whole story took on a life of its own.”

According to Dr. Holland, “We took a president that no one really remembered, Grover Cleveland, split his term in half and shoved this joker in between. It was just a local departmental joke until one of the students decided to post it on Wikipedia, then it seemed to just snowball throughout academia. People all over the world kept adding details, frequently something outlandish, such as being the grandson of a previous president! Like that could ever happen!”

When asked about the various photographs of the alleged president, Dr. Holland explained, “My daughter did that. She used Photoshop and just sort of made him up. She used Taft’s body and Grant’s head. I think the beard came from Santa Claus.”

Though none of the faculty would comment on the record, it appears that at least one member of the department, Dr. Black, was granted tenure after writing a biography of the fictitious president. Clearly upset, one member of the department grumbled, “Writing is not very difficult when you make up all your research.”

When asked about the many textbooks already in circulation that include the fictitious presiden, Dr. Holland replied, “Don’t blame us, we didn’t do it. Those publishers were just copying material off of Wikipedia. As soon as Texas put it in a textbook, they all did it. God knows, those morons on Texas school boards will believe anything.”

While several professors admitted to being involved in the scandal, at least one privately confessed to having based an entire course on the fictitious president. “It was just so easy, no lectures to write, no research, just show up in class and talk nonsense. For two whole weeks I told the students about my drunken uncle Steve and the little bastards just sat there and took notes. Hilarious.”

Since this was homecoming weekend for the university, the timing of the scandals release was a bit problematic for the university administration, but they promised to investigate the incident fully. According to one official, while the administration is currently busy investigating how a million dollars of research money found its way into the athletic budget, the administration has promised to investigate the History Department as soon as possible.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bang! You’re Dead! (Or Not.)

My wife, the Doc, and I recently went to see the new Bruce Willis movie, RED. The movie has an incredible cast that includes Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Dreyfuss. It’s hard to make a bad movie with a cast like that. They succeeded, but it must have been hard.

Mind you, on at least one level, I enjoyed the movie; but there is no denying that the plot was weak, the actors appeared to be embarrassed with the dialogue, and the conclusion was obvious. The movie has very few moments without an explosion, a car chase, or someone firing a gun. Last time I checked, I was still male, so I enjoyed the movie. Enjoying movie violence is probably hardwired into the Y chromosome. Personally, I think the perfect movie would be a remake of The Longest Day with an all nude female cast. The paratrooper scenes alone would be worth the price of admission. If the director could figure out some way to add a chase scene using tanks, the movie would be Oscar material!

I think America needs a new law, perhaps a new constitutional amendment; call it the Schwarzenegger Rule. Whenever 50 or more bullets are fired at anyone in a movie, the character must die. Immediately. If this rule had been used in RED, the movie would have lasted about 5 minutes. Less if you don’t count the credits.

Why do the movies show us such nonsensical use of guns? Remember the original 1977 Star Wars? I sat through most of that movie thinking that the entire Imperial army could have been annihilated by a twelve year old girl with fifteen minutes of instruction on a break open single-shot squirrel gun. What was the use of rapid firing ray guns that never hit anything? The Rebels didn’t need the force, they needed target practice.

I have some advice for Hollywood. These are just a few simple suggestions about firearms that you would think that anyone short of livestock would know. Since scripts in Hollywood are evidently written by Moose and Squirrel, let me help you.

1. People do not fly through the air when they are shot. Even if the gun is a shotgun, people do not fly backwards 10 feet. Remember Newton’s Third Law of Motion? For every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. If the person being shot is thrown up against a wall, so would the person doing the shooting. So unless the gun is a 12 inch Napoleon cannon from the Civil War…

2. Quit putting silencers on revolvers. You can put a silencer on an automatic, but never, never, never on a revolver. The gap between the cylinder and the barrel will let the gas, and thus the sound, escape.

3. People in Westerns always carry the Model 1892 Winchester. It is a beautiful gun, with an easy to operate lever action. Cowboys loved it so much that they, at least in the movies, carried it decades before it was invented. In some movies, soldiers in the Civil War carried them.

4. How many times have you seen someone in the movie fire several rounds from an automatic during a gunfight, then take careful aim, pull the trigger and hear the gun go “Click!” but not shoot because the gun is supposedly empty? This is impossible. When you fire the last round from an automatic, the slide stays back so you can reload the gun.

5. I have lost track of how many movies have the hero exhausted, wounded, and damn near hopeless after a long gun battle. He is down to his last bullet, his last chance to save the day. He takes careful aim and… misses. No! That never happens, the hero always wins. If this old chestnut didn’t always work, John McClane would have died in Die Hard 1 and not lived to have used it again in Die Hard 3.

6. In almost any of the Lethal Weapon movies, Mel Gibson empties his automatic, shoves in a new clip, empties it again, reloads, then shoves the gun inside his pants and chases down the enemy. Obviously, Mel has asbestos underwear because that gun would be hot enough to burn off his manhood.

7. Machine guns cannot shoot forever. If for no other reason, there is the matter of ammo. Let’s use the M60 machine gun from Rambo. This gun fires 600 rounds a minute. Rambo shoots it for about 5 minutes, by which time the barrel would have melted and even Rambo would have been tired from carrying over 200 pounds of ammunition.

8. Why do bad guys throw away their guns when they run out of ammo? Guns aren’t free: somewhere in the world there might be more ammo, and your fingerprints are all over the gun, so why would you throw it away? And why does anyone empty his gun at Superman, see every bullet bounce off his chest, and then try to stop him by throwing the gun at him? This is a bad idea if for no other reason than the fear of where Superman might shove the gun. And why does Superman always duck when they throw the gun?

9. No one can hit anything shooting a rifle from the hip. If you could, guns wouldn’t have sights and God only knows what shape the stock would have.

10. Bullets rarely spark when they hit buildings, sidewalks, and cars. They never spark when hitting trees, bushes, and wooden walls. Bullets are not stopped by sheetrock walls and normal doors. Bullets do not ricochet 15 times and then kill people. When thrown into a fire, cartridges do not make a loud firing noise and then kill someone. And they do not make cars flip over and explode.

Yes, I make rude comments in the movie theater when I see these mistakes. And yes, my wife hates it when do this. But you should hear the Doc bitch about every medical show. According to her, Dr. House holds every X-Ray upside down and/or backwards.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Meeting Will Come to Disorder

Every so often at the university, we actually have to do some work. Thankfully it’s not very often; work is something for which faculty are not well prepared. At a university, when there is a new problem, we need a new committee. And the golden rule about committees is that they are composed of professors who individually can do nothing but as a group inevitably decide that nothing can be done.

There are some universally accepted rules about committee participation:

• Never arrive on time, or you will be stamped a beginner.

• Don't say anything until the meeting is half over; this stamps you as being wise.

• Be as vague as possible; this prevents irritating the others.

• When in doubt, suggest that a subcommittee be appointed.

• Appear very interested in the minutes of the last meeting, suggest corrections and insist that the minutes be accurate. This will help hide the fact that the minutes contain nothing useful.

• Be the first to move for adjournment; this will make you popular - it's what everyone is waiting for.

Committees as a group rarely accomplish much. If the original task is to dig a hole, committees do not move much dirt. They can talk about a hole forever, but what is needed is for someone to grab a shovel and actually move some dirt.

There is an old story about the man driving through the country. As he went around a long curve, a deer was standing in the middle of the road. The man frantically swerved the car, missing the deer by only a few inches. Unfortunately, in the process the car ended up in a ditch, stuck deeply in the mud.

Nearby, the man saw a light from a farmhouse. He walked up the driveway and knocked on the door, which was soon answered by a kindly looking farmer. The man explained his situation to the farmer, who said, “Don’t worry, Old Buck can fix you up.”

The farmer led him to the barn and he watched as the farmer attached a harness to a large mule. Then the two men led the mule back to the car and the farmer attached a chain from the mule’s harness to the frame of the car.

“Yaa, Buck! Yaa, Pete! Pull, Bob! Yaa, Sam! Gee there, Buck! Yaa, Bob!” yelled the farmer. And slowly the car was pulled smoothly out of the mud.

The man thanked the farmer and then he asked, “Why did you call out commands to four different mules? There was only Old Buck pulling the car.”

“Well, Old Buck is kinda old and is mostly blind,” explained the farmer. “But he don’t mind pulling as long as he thinks he’s part of a team.”

I thought of this old story a lot this week as I sat in committee meetings at the university. Big jobs don’t seem as if they can be handled by a single person, so from necessity a committee is formed and many people are appointed to it. In the long run however, most of the real work is actually being done by a single person. And if you are that person, the only person actually working on a committee, chances are you’re a jackass.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Old Professors Never Die, They Just...

The university, experiencing severe budget shortages, has started offering senior faculty a form of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards in the form of retirement buyouts. Recognizing the true worth of senior faculty possessing decades of teaching experience and advanced research, the university has offered many of the aging baby boomers incentives to retire early. Most of the incentive is in the form of glass beads and shiny trinkets. Naturally, many of the faculty are accepting the offer.

Strange, I always thought it would be the students who would run off the baby boomers first. I can just picture a student, exasperated about hearing about Woodstock, the sexual revolution, and The Summer of Love finally snapping. “Mention the Beatles one more time, Grandpa, and I’ll give your Depends a wedgie!”

It would be easy to imagine the state, pushed by rising retirement and Medicaid costs, legalizing the hunting down of senior citizens. A new sport, with a limited season. You could shoot two a season, but it would probably be illegal to hunt within 500 yards of a cafeteria or a pharmacy. I expected this, so I was a little surprised when it was the administration that decided to thin the herd.

Senior faculty, highly prized for their wisdom and experience, received letters marked “Voluntary Final Exit” and were told that those that accepted the early retirement would be honored with a “separation party” hosted by the university. Not surprisingly, many of my colleagues accepted the offer.

I just came from the separation party, and it was a grand affair, held in one of the largest ballrooms in the student center. Real cloth napkins!  The very best plastic forks.  Well, the food wasn’t that great, since it came from the student cafeteria, but the speeches were good. One after another, the members of the senior administration stood at a podium decorated with the university motto- Veni, Vidi, Velcro (I came, I saw, I stuck around) and told the audience of the great things the retiring faculty had accomplished when they were younger and cheaper. And the administration promised to eventually replace the retiring faculty, though not necessarily in the same department, the same field, or anytime soon. It was generally understood that while academics would remain a top priority, the immediate need of the university was to complete the new high rise sports chalet at the North end of the football field.

Several students attended the farewell ceremony, mostly for the free food, but a few spoke meaningfully about how they had always enjoyed sleeping through a particular professor’s class or how they had never realized how important their major was until they had changed it to a field in which there was absolutely no chance of actually gaining employment. It was a deeply moving experience.

Then one by one, those retiring professors accepting Early Retirement And Separation of Employment (ERASE) got up and made a few brief remarks about their years at the university. Though none could remember a year when the football team was actually victorious, several elderly professors claimed to remember when the library subscribed to major journals, a parking permit cost $5, and freshmen could actually read. No one believed these stories, but they were entertaining.

Finally, at the end of the ceremony, the retirees, smiling and waving, were led out a rear door as the band played “The Baby Elephant Walk.” Everyone in the hall was deeply moved.

There was one strange moment: after the last retiree had disappeared, you could hear the muffled shuffling of feet. Then Dr. Grumbles, the German professor, suddenly reappeared at the doorway. As helping hands assisted him in exiting again, he yelled something unintelligible. I’m not sure, but I think it was, “Soylent Green is made of Professors!”

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thank You for Your Interest, Now Shut Up!

I saw a great example of the administrative “go away” letter this week. A faculty member had publicly asked for financial data concerning the university’s athletic program. In due course, the administration produced a letter that politely told the faculty member to go suck eggs.

“Thank you for your recent letter requesting to know exactly why the administration of this university continues to pound money down a rat hole while simultaneously selling off most of the library on Ebay. Rest assured that this complicated issue is being seriously studied by top men. Repeat, top men. In the meantime, we are conducting a profound investigation on all levels and a report will be made public in due time.”

By now, no doubt the report is finished. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it is somewhere in the basement of the administration building “clearly posted in a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the leopard.’”

This is not the best brush off I have ever read, but it comes in second. The all time prize winner was received by a friend of mine, Mabel.

Mabel had to go to California to visit her sister, and decided not to fly. Who can blame her? In today’s world, traveling by airline has all the attraction and charm as being sentenced to a weekend in the county jail. I apologize, that’s an exaggeration. We all know jails have better food.

Mabel checked on available flights and eventually decided to travel by train, something she had not done in well over 30 years. The very idea was exciting; it would turn an ordinary trip into an adventure. Mabel, obviously excited, could hardly wait.

Finally, the day of the trip arrived. Mabel boarded the train, and was promptly seated in a spacious and modern passenger car. Her seat was comfortable and the view of the countryside as she made her way to California was breathtaking. Absolutely happy, Mabel was truly enjoying herself when suddenly a small red bug began crawling up her leg. Naturally, she brushed it off and went back to enjoying the view out the window.

Within minutes however, she noticed another small red bug crawling across her seat. Soon, she began seeing the bugs almost everywhere; on the window ledge, the floor, her seat, and most upsetting, she found several crawling on her clothing. While the tiny bugs didn’t bite, sting, or even fly around, the sheer number of them made her miserable. For the entire trip, she was engaged in constantly looking for, finding, and brushing away the small red insects.

Naturally, her trip was ruined, she arrived in California a nervous wreck, and decided immediately that her return trip she would be by airline. A week later, safely back in New Mexico, she wrote a strongly worded, but still polite, letter of protest to the president of the railroad.

Two weeks later, Mabel went to her mailbox and found a large envelope from the railroad. Not even waiting to go back inside her house, Mabel eagerly tore open the envelope and removed a letter on embossed stationary.

Dear Mabel,

I was distressed to hear about your recent unfavorable experience on our railroad. As we make every possible effort to make our trains both professional and enjoyable, I took a personal interest in your case and had your incident thoroughly investigated.

The passenger car on which you rode had just come to New Mexico from the east coast. En route, the car was shunted to a siding in Alabama for two days while repairs were made to a nearby bridge. It is my opinion that during those two days your car inadvertently became infested with the insects that inconvenienced you on your trip.

Please rest assured that we have taken steps to ensure that this incident will not occur again. I have personally designed an inspection and extermination program for all passenger cars left on sidings for more than 8 hours.

While no apology can eliminate your unfortunate experience, I hope that you will at least find solace in this explanation.

Sincerely apologetic,
Benjamin Forest, President

Mabel was understandably touched by the personal attention shown by the railroad president. Her anger was completely forgotten as she folded the letter back into the envelope. As she did so, a small yellow post-it note fluttered to the ground. Mabel picked up the note and read:

Bob, send this bitch the bug letter.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Life Term Lite

Here in New Mexico, we have a strange method of electing judges.  Mostly, we don’t.  New Mexico is one of the 17 states in America that uses the retention system.  If you aren’t sure what this means, you’re not alone: very few people realize that voters in this state have very little to do with selecting their magistrates.

I conducted a scientific poll this week; I questioned the students in one of my classes and about a dozen people drinking beer at a bowling alley.  This is the exact same method of random sampling used by the better news agencies like CBS and the National Enquirer.  Very few of my respondents knew what I was talking about, though one guy at the bowling alley offered to make something up if I would buy him another beer.

Here’s the shortened version of the process.  All judges are initially appointed by the Governor.  At the next election, the judge runs against a partisan opponent.  If the judge successfully retains his position, at each subsequent election the voters are asked whether or not they wish to retain the judge.  The judge’s name appears alone on the ballot and voters can pull the lever next to his name.  This is not a vote for the judge, but a vote to retain the judge.  If 57% of the participating voters decide for retention, the judge stays in office for another term.  If not, the process starts over..

There are some very good reasons to use the retention system.  Do we really want our judges periodically begging and pleading with the public for votes and campaign funds?  It is so much more dignified to have our prospective jurists begging and pleading with the governor for the same job.  And if successful, we will just ignore the fact that the judge still has to go out begging and pleading for campaign funds to pay for the retention campaign.

Picking a judge requires a skill sadly lacking in the average dimwitted voter, someone who can only can be trusted with selecting lesser officeholders like congressmen, senators, governors, and the president.   To select a judge, we need someone that can be trusted to exercise wise and sober judgment, someone like our governor… oh, crap.  Well at least before every retention vote, there is a panel of experts that reviews the history of the judges and makes harsh and blunt evaluations.  That is why in the current election, this panel is only recommending the retention of 75 out of 77 judges.  It has no recommendation on the other two races.

I wonder how many voters really understand what is going on when they enter a voting booth and see only one name listed for a judge’s race.  Do they know this is a retention election?  Do they think this man is running unopposed?  And why 57%?  When the politicians who wrote this bill got together at a restaurant to hammer out the finer points, did one of them have a sudden insight while staring at a bottle of steak sauce?

Needless to say, our judges are usually retained.  It must be rather difficult to actually lose a retention vote, unless at the time of the election the judge happens to be in jail.  If we used the same system for national elections, FDR would still be president.

There seems to be a problem with this whole process.  As a society, we don’t want to have minor judges selected for life, but at the same time we can’t quite trust the public not to elect Bernie Madoff to the state supreme court.  Don’t laugh, Bernie’s got good name recognition and it wasn’t that long ago that Texas elected Jesse James to the position of State Treasurer.  Several times. 

Naturally, I have a suggestion.  Instead of appointing or electing judges, let’s have a massive poker championship.  Any member of the New Mexico Bar Association could buy in for $10,000 (chump change compared to the price of a good campaign).  The final winner gets the job and the state keeps the cash to help finance the state judicial system.  The winner can’t help but be smarter, or perhaps craftier, than anyone a governor selects.  

Saturday, September 18, 2010

New Mexico Legislature Votes No!

SANTA FE—

In a party line vote today, the New Mexico legislature voted to deny marriage rights for gay pets. After narrowly passing a vote in the House Committee on Domestic Pet Affairs, the measure failed to muster enough votes to pass a floor challenge despite the efforts of powerful lobbying groups.

Outside the Round House, protestors had gathered both in support of and against the bill. Speaking for the Coalition for Animals Rights Programs (CARP), Linda Nevins-Smith said, “If we deny the right for gay pets in New Mexico to marry, they will just have to travel across state lines to more progressive states in order to exercise their basic civil rights. It is high time that New Mexico joined the list of modern states that recognize the rights of all of their pets, not just the straight ones.”

In opposition to the bill, the Churches Reacting Against Zealous Immoral Excesses (CRAZIES) spokesperson Susan Kling stated, “If we allow gay pets to marry, this will destroy the sacred institution of pet marriage as handed down by God. The only legitimate reason for pet marriage is to protect the litter. Obviously, gay pets have no litters to protect, so their being married is senseless.”

Ms. Kling went on to explain, “We are against this bill as it represents just one more step along the path of general erosion of all pet marriages. If we allow gay pet marriage, what’s next? Marriage outside breeds? Just how long will it be before someone is demanding the right for a dog and a cat to marry?”

“Besides,” Ms. Kling went on to explain, “Everyone knows it’s okay to have gay pets plan marriage for others, but not to have their own”

A third group, representing local sheep ranchers, was concerned about the expert testimony given before the Committee for Domestic Pet Affairs concerning the behavior of some male sheep. When scientists from the state agricultural college testified that rams frequently mounted other rams, northern ranchers quickly responded. Speaking for the ranchers, Buck Smithers said, “Them sheep ain’t gay. They’re just confused. When we catch them at it, we run out there and beat them off.”

A last minute compromise measure failed to win support in the legislature. The Pets Allowed Weddings bill, commonly called PAWS, would have established civil unions for gay pets, including full visitation rights for pet partners at veterinary hospitals. The measure failed to win support when supporters of Gay Pet Marriage refused to support the compromise bill, pledging that they would either pass the original bill without amendments or seek to win redress in the courts.

Conservative groups are demanding that the governor support a constitutional amendment to ban gay pet marriage. Political insiders consider this a tough sell in a state with financial difficulties and high unemployment.

Speaking off the record, a spokesman in the governor’s office said, “The governor will undoubtedly be torn between defending a sacred moral institution and taking advantage of a tremendous opportunity to boost the economy. Come on, you just know those gay pets will go all out. Designer wedding cakes, little sleeveless tuxedo sweaters, and iced sculptures of clipped poodles that pee catnip liqueur. Every gay pet in the state will be registered at PetSmart. It’ll be fabulous! Gay pet marriage might be just the shot in the arm New Mexico’s economy needs.”

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the bill in the legislature, a court challenge is expected.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I Need a Good Recipe, Please

I’m on a diet. These four words are like a self imposed death sentence. To make it worse, I’m not on a diet to lose weight; I’m trying to lower my cholesterol.

High cholesterol doesn’t run in my family, it seems to be a stampede, so I went to my doctor for a standard cholesterol test. When I got the results, the nurse had thoughtfully stapled a list of local funeral homes to the back. Either I had to make a real change or one more clean white shirt would be about all I would need.

The original plan was to start a regimen of several drugs designed to lower my cholesterol count down to the “Holy Crap!” range and have me work on moderating my diet. I was in favor of this plan until I read the list of common side effects for these drugs. Headaches, the creeping crud, hearing loss, galloping galontis, housemaid’s knees, impotence, loss of bladder control, sudden onset serial killer syndrome, and an uncontrollable desire to read the National Enquirer. This is better than high cholesterol? After a couple of years of this, I can just imagine myself squatting painfully in a puddle of urine begging for a heart attack.

I’m not very good with that moderation crap, either. Personally, I believe that moderation is for monks. If you want me to quit something, okay, I think I can do that, but moderation is beyond my reach. So, I guess I have to quit eating things with cholesterol. This can’t be that bad as I checked and there is no cholesterol in scotch. As long as the good people at Laphroaig don’t start distilling their scotch from cows, I thought everything should turn out okay.

Well, at least that was the plan. It turns out that eliminating cholesterol means eating practically no meat. I don’t know about you, but I would rather eat a vegetarian than be one. Nevertheless, I have somehow managed to eliminate almost all meat from my diet. I can say this, because in my opinion, chicken and fish are honorary vegetables, probably a member of the squash family.

This blog generates an extraordinary amount of hate/weirdo/religious email. Most of it begins with something along the lines of “You will never see the sweet face of Jesus…” So let me save some of you the trouble of writing. There is no way in the world to cook eggplant so that it tastes like meat, not even very bad meat. Evidently, the main ingredient in meat that tastes good is cholesterol. Why doesn’t someone invent artificial cholesterol?

Basically, I now eat exclusively what I call the Goat Puke Diet. This is because most of what I eat looks like a goat just puked it up. (Ever had barbecued goat? In Mexico, they call this cabrito. It’s fantastic.) And I have been on this diet long enough that I have to admit, it works. My cholesterol is down, the doctor no longer wants me on pills, and the people at the local cemetery are not warming up a hole for me.

There are more than a few problems with this diet. First, it’s boring. I’ve cooked vegetables every damn way you can think of. I am more than familiar with tempeh, and have a graduate degree in tofu. For a Texan, tofu would be a lot more fun if you could butcher your own after you shot a tofudebeast. While I have gotten to the point where I no longer really want a hamburger, I could kill nuns with a power sander for a filet mignon. I have dreams about t-bones.

Secondly, and much worse, my constant desire for a steak has started affecting my teaching. Several times in the last year I have found myself lecturing about cannibalism. No particular reason, I just wanted to. It is a little hard to find a connection between the War of 1812 and what the Polynesians used to call “Long Pork,” but I managed to make the leap just last week.

And several times recently, I have found myself checking out a few of the students for marbling. I saw a young lady just yesterday walking back to her dorm room from the pool, and the first thought that popped into my mind was whether or not her entire thigh would fit on my barbecue grill.

I’ve read the popular literature about cannibalism: the Donner Party and the book about the soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes. None of this made much of an impression on me. About all I remember of the latter is thinking they should have eaten the stupid pilot first, even if they weren’t out of regular food. But the idea of cannibalism must have been with me even before I started this diet.

Remember Y2K? The world was coming to an end and we all needed to stock up for the great famine. I had a plan. Call it Milliorn’s Law. It was a very simple plan: I would never starve as long as I have one fat neighbor. I had him picked out, he was old and I knew I could take him. While other people bought canned goods, I stocked up on meat tenderizer.

Unfortunately, that neighbor moved. But I’ve noticed a plump widow now lives on the corner.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tackle the Goon with the Balloon! Or… Of Course the Administration Are Athletic Supporters

Recently, there has been a controversy on campus concerning the wisdom of transferring millions of dollars originally earmarked by the state legislation for academics into a failing athletic program. Normally, this is not the kind of thing I would write about, but several students took time off from their usual pursuits, drinking beer, attempting to find a parking spot, and making tricycle motors, to ask my opinion. Wow! My blog is getting requests.

Okay, here’s what I think. I’m pissed! Screaming book throwing and kick holes in the wall pissed! Here I am, trying to write the occasionally humorous blog inspired by nothing but beer and insomnia and suddenly I am all but blown out of the water by the kind of flaming stupidity that could only be the result of higher education. How the hell am I supposed to compete?

Let’s see, we are not replacing retiring professors, we have a form of a hiring freeze, tuition is going up faster than a coed’s skirt at a frat party and yet somehow the administration believes we can spend millions more on an athletic program that is not only irrelevant to our core mission of education, but has a win/loss ratio that makes the Confederacy look good.

Why are we doing this? I can only imagine that our regents are using LSD as an enema.

We have some great student athletes. Actually, the “student” part of that phrase is mostly the result of the women’s teams, whose grade point average is offsetting that of the men’s teams. We must have women competing in just about every possible sport. If we bring in one more illiterate basketball player, we may have to invent a new sport. Women’s Competitive Serial Killing. Olympic Style Brain Surgery.

There are some male athletes that deserve mentioning, I have a student right now that I will call Matt. (Because that is his name.) Matt really works at his education, he deserves the grades he gets, and someday soon he will make an exceptional high school teacher. But would anyone doubt that he wouldn’t achieve that goal if he hadn’t been a football player?

My real complaint with the athletic program is not the cost, after all, New Mexico is a rich state and we can afford to have the best possible losing team. Actually, it doesn’t really matter if we win or lose. My real objections are what this program does to the young men involved. In far too many cases, we import minority children from inner city slums, bring them to the university with the empty promise of an education they are ill-prepared to receive, sweetened ever so slightly by the dream of a lucrative career in professional sports. Their training and travel program prevents all but the occasional Matt from any real chance of an education. We fans sit in the stadium, entertained by their labors until either their eligibility or their physical abilities end, and then we discard them like a used Kleenex. All too frequently they return from whence they came, no better educated and hopefully only slightly the worse for wear.

Personally, this sounds like twenty-first century slavery, and I am embarrassed by my involuntary part in the slave trade.

Are you looking for the jokes? They are at almost every high school and university around you. It is hilarious how we eliminate subjects like foreign languages, art, music, civics, and economics from our public schools while channeling ever more money into a competitive sports program thinly disguised as Physical Education. Meanwhile we all complain about the rising cost and worry about how tomorrow’s work force will compete in the global market.

Physical Education. Christ on a stick, we're getting screwed here; we are producing a steady stream of undereducated high school graduates so fat they can barely fit into a phone booth. Okay, here’s a joke. What’s the difference between an elephant and the typical teenager? About 5 pounds. And if you want to make up the difference, force feed the elephant.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Elect Me! I'm Not Them!

Every four years the state of New Mexico selects a new governor. Unfortunately, it is that time of year again. No one in the state will receive any peace until this election is over. The way the two candidates are acting, you would almost suspect that someone in this state cared.

Is it just my imagination or has our current governor, Bill Richardson, set a new record for being out of the state during his term? For a while he was campaigning for the presidency, but ever since he lost in the 2008 presidential primaries you get the general impression the governor has become bored with us. As I write this, Governor Richardson is in Cuba on a trade mission. Since I have no idea what this trade mission could possibly be, let me make a wild guess. New Mexico will trade green chili for pineapple, the cargo ships can sail up the Rio Grande.

It really doesn’t matter why our governor is gone, what really matters is that if the state can get along without a governor during all the time Wandering Bill has spent out of the state, I question whether the state really needs a governor at all.

Richardson is constitutionally barred from running again, so we have two new candidates. Frankly, I’m not happy with either. While both are probably very nice people, and undoubtedly mean well, I’m already tired of both of them. And I’m very tired of their advertising campaigns.

The Republican candidate seems to be claiming that the secret identity of our current Lt. Governor is actually Bill Richardson. This appears to be unlikely since I have actually seen the two of them together. Not to mention that the governor and the Lt. Governor don’t really seem to like each other. Meanwhile, our Lt. Governor, a Democrat, seems to be suggesting that every problem in the state can be solved by giving our public schools more money. While I generally support public education (I are an edjaKator!), I think giving public schools more money is about as dangerous as giving a wino a $100 bill. That much booze all at once could kill him.

I have previously suggested an alternative method of selecting elected officials, and while I still believe my idea was brilliant, the only result was that I received an even larger volume of hate mail than normal. Evidently, we will just have to have an election, and since it seems inevitable, can we please, please elect someone else?

Would any of you like to be our next governor? I volunteer to be your campaign manager. I’m serious; I have a foolproof, and utterly brilliant, plan to elect someone, anyone, governor. All we have to do is legally change your name to “None of the Above.”

Can you imagine the campaign slogans? “Who can solve our state’s financial problems? None of the Above! Who can bring more jobs to New Mexico? None of the Above!” The irony of this advertising is that it is both effective and still strangely truthful.

As your campaign manager, I will take out ads in newspapers all over the state: “None of the Above will be coming to your town to campaign for Governor.” The beauty of this idea is that not only do you not actually have to go anywhere or actually do anything, but if one of your political opponents goes anywhere, they can be accused of breaking a campaign promise.

Similarly, it is almost impossible for a newspaper to make a negative comment about your qualifications for the job. What could they print? That None of the Above is unqualified to be governor? That doesn’t even sound like they are talking about you.

This should be the easiest campaign in New Mexico history. Since far fewer than half of the registered voters ever show up at the polls, any statistician would conclude that the majority of the voters support None of the Above. And as for financing the election, how hard can it be to get someone to promise to send money to None of the Above?

If you’re ready to be our next governor, I’m ready to hear from None of the Above.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Proudly Geek

Yesterday, two computer science majors were walking across the university campus when one said, "Where did you get such a great bike?"

The other computer geek replied, "Well, I was walking along yesterday, minding my own business, when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike, threw it to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, "Take what you want."

The first geek nodded approvingly and said, "Good choice; the clothes probably wouldn't have fit you anyway."

Alright, I’m lying; no woman has ever said anything like that to a computer geek. I can tell this joke because I’m a computer geek, too. Besides teaching history, I still work with computers and before I went to work at the university, I ran computer stores for a living.

I have lost track of one of the strangest men I have ever known, and I would really like to know what happened to him. Almost 30 years ago, I had a computer store just off the beach in Galveston, Texas. This is a great place to have a store for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the constant traffic roller skating or walking back and forth along the seawall.

One of my favorite customers was Mike R., who was the perfect example of a computer geek. Mike was about as wide as he was tall, and maybe the most slovenly person I have ever met until I raised a couple of teenage boys. He wore the same three piece suit every day and chain smoked cigarettes. I vividly remember Mike digging around in the pockets of his suit until he finally produced a wrinkled and wadded ball that vaguely resembled a pack of unfiltered Pall Malls. Mike would pound the pack flat on a table and pull out a cigarette about as twisted and crooked as a politician’s conscience.

Mike, of course, was usually covered with ashes, flakes of tobacco and the remains of his last several meals, but he was immaculate compared to his car. I cannot remember what make of car it was but I do know it was a four door and the back window was missing. The entire back seat was filled level with trash, mainly empty cigarette packs, Styrofoam boxes from McDonald’s and Twinky wrappers. As Mike drove down the street, some of the trash freely flowed out the back window.

Okay, Mike was never featured in GQ magazine, but in the world of computers he was a Greek God. The only man I have ever known who could just sit down and write Z-80 assembly code as simply as an ordinary mortal could produce a grocery list. Mike was a genius, and regularly, and without cost, solved some of our most complex computer problems.

One summer day, Mike was in the store playing with the new Fortune 32:16 Unix Computer we had on display while about a half dozen geeks-in-training were comparing the Atari 400 to the Commodore Pet. Most computer stores back then were exclusively male clubhouses and mine was no exception, at least until the door opened and an extraordinarily attractive young woman came in. She was tall, made even taller by her roller skates, and was wearing what I think may have been a self-knitted bikini.

“Can one of you help me with my camera?” she asked. She was holding a camera, and no, it was not a digital camera. Remember, this is almost 30 years ago.

“Sure.” Mike said as he walked over. Actually, as I remember it, he was the only one of who answered her. Or moved. The rest of us watched, intently, but no one else did anything constructive for the next 10 minutes as Mike removed the batteries, cleaned the oxidized contacts, and reinserted the batteries. Now that the camera worked again, the young lady thanked him and skated out the door and down the boardwalk.

I walked over to Mike and said, “Wow, Mike, you don’t see something like that every day.”

“No,” he answered. “That was a neat camera.”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Students Are Coming! The Students Are Coming!

The fall semester is about to start-- the signs are all about me: increased traffic around town, the parking lots are getting busier, and every now and then someone shows up at my door wanting permission to take a course that is full. And if the students are like swallows returning to Capistrano, then the only appropriate tired old metaphor for the faculty would be a dog returning to its vomit.

Welcoming back old students is fun, and meeting the freshmen even more so. Every year, it seems like you are meeting students who are completely different from you, but by the end of the year, they seem perfectly normal. Consider the following:

  • The freshmen today are about the same age as Harry Potter.
  • They have never known a world without a GPS system, Seinfeld, or Windows.
  • Clarence Thomas has always been on the Supreme Court.
  • They have always had caller ID on their cell phone.
  • They watch TV, but usually not on a TV.
  • Jay Leno has always been on the Tonight Show.
Of course, in a lot of ways, they are just like students have always been. They sign up for early classes they will sleep through despite their best intentions. They buy all their textbooks, then put them under their bed and hope they can absorb the knowledge within by radiation instead of actually reading. And they gripe about the parking.

Has anyone ever gone to a school and not complained about the parking? And when they did complain, invariably someone will answer, “If you think the parking is bad here, you should have seen what it was like at the University of Old Fart; we paid twice as much to park three times as far, and we were glad to do it.”

What an idiotic argument. The administration tells us to respect the needs of our students while simultaneously treating them like a resource to strip mine. Admin, here is a hint for you: if you really want to treat students like customers, then you should realize two rules. First, if your customer thinks something is a problem, it is a problem. Secondly, no one ever won an argument with a customer.

We overcharge for food, parking, books, and fees. Since the tuition money pays for my salary, I firmly believe we are undercharging, or at the very least giving the student a hell of a bargain. As a whole, the university doesn’t seem to take the student very seriously, in this the students help by being as passive and non-complaining as church mice. They get angry, but they rarely complain.

The university will probably get away with this attitude, after all, it’s not like there are several other universities in the state that our students could… Oh, crap!

There is something else the students frequently want this time of year: advising. For years, I used to give all students the same advise, “Sex and real estate. Get all you can while you’re young.” In today’s tough economy, however, I think more is needed, and like the very best teachers I will use a parable.

It was graduation day and four new alumnae were walking across the campus for the last time. Suddenly, they found a strange machine blocking their path. There were rotating gears, flashing lights, and a steady hum coming from the device. The first student, who had just received his degree in physics, walked up to the machine and said, “How does it work?

The second student, with a new degree in engineering, said, “What does it do?”

The student with a new accounting degree looked at the machine and asked, “How much does it cost?”

The last student, with a degree in history, looked at the other three students and said, “Would you like fries with that?”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is the Chevrolet Volt a Smart Car?

After billions of dollars in Federal subsidies, years of research, and enough media hype to sell the Brooklyn Bridge; this is the year of the electric car. Twenty years after the first announcement, Chevrolet is selling its first electric car; the Volt.

The Volt is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that has such dramatically lower emissions that every single time you drive it, the number of baby seals in the world increases dramatically. The car can go forty miles on fully charged batteries, not bad when you consider that 75% of Americans have a daily commute of 33 miles or less.

Recognizing the future of electric cars, the New York Times stated that the electric car has long been recognized as "ideal" because it was cleaner, quieter and much more economical than gasoline-powered cars.

I need one of these cars. I live about 3 miles from the university, about 2 miles from the grocery store and the mall, and less than a mile from the university golf course. My average commute is so short that during the winter, I’m at my destination before the heater warms up. I’m not sure my car has been over 35 miles an hour this year. I’m not real sure about last year, either.

Hell, the Volt might be overkill; I could get to work on a golf cart. Or a Segway. I could even, shudder, walk.

Or maybe not. I drive a pickup, and in the last ten years, my poor little truck has been rear ended twice by students evidently learning to drive by crashing. One crash happened while I was stopped at a stop sign and the other time while I was stopped at a crosswalk. While neither crash was serious, they would have been if I had been driving anything much smaller.

As perfect as southern New Mexico weather is, in the last ten years, I have driven home in dust storms, high winds, (and even in the desert) the occasional rain. I’m not real sure that I want to do that in a golf cart, even if it helps baby seals. Occasionally, I do drive to the mountains, the lake, or the desert, all of which are more than 40 miles away.

And that is the real issue: practicality. I want to be green, I want to be responsible, I want all those things I read about on other people’s bumper stickers, but I also want to stay alive. To be honest, I don’t particularly like my truck--I’m willing to give it up, but only if everyone else does at the same time. I will drive the golf cart to work only if everyone else does. If I’m in the new Chevrolet Clown Car and the student three feet off my back bumper with a six month old drivers license is driving a Suburban while busily texting; I’m going to lose this contest.

No matter how politically correct, an electric car is not yet practical. They cost too much, and when you add in the cost of the eventual battery replacement, they are expensive to operate. They are under powered, too small, and overly impractical. And while I am being honest, I’ve never been politically correct, I’ll run my truck on pureed panda if I have to.

If a green vehicle is going to catch on, it’s going to have to be a little more practical than a Chevy Volt. How many people really want to drive a $41,000 car that is actually still powered by hydrocarbons? Yes, it’s an electric car, but most of America gets their electricity by burning oil, natural gas, or coal. Do I really want to pay that much money for a coal powered golf cart?

For $49,000, I can get a Mercedes E-Class with four doors, leather seats, and a sun roof. Let’s splurge, call it $50,000 and I can make a nice contribution to Greenpeace. If I have to spend that much money for a car, I’ll take the Mercedes.

Oh yeah, that quote about electric cars from the New York Times? They printed that in 1911. Almost a hundred years later, that technology is not quite ready.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

How to Stop Raising Small Children

Years ago, I left home to go to the University of Houston.  Technically, I left my job working along the Mexican border to go home, pack my belongings, and then leave home for Houston.  Whatever, at some point I remember standing in front of my father, saying goodbye as I left home for the last time.   This must have been very difficult for my father.

“You can’t go off to college yet,” he said. 

“Why not?”  I was pretty sure I that could, as I distinctly remembered having been finally being granted parole from high school.   My life time sentence had been commuted after only 12 years of brain washing in a horrible penal colony.

“You don’t have a typewriter,” my father answered.  Obviously, he was using the first thing that came to mind. 

I didn’t understand at the time, but if my dad thought I needed a typewriter before I could go to college, I would oblige him.  I don’t remember where I went, but I bought what I think was a used Remington portable typewriter.  I put it in my car with the rest of my belongings and drove to Houston.  At the time, I didn’t realize how upset my father was.

Today, however, I know his anguish only too well.  My son, The-Other-One, is being transferred out of town.  And, being totally selfish, he is taking my granddaughter, the Munchkin and her mother, the Leprechaun, with him.  This leaves me standing on the driveway trying to think of reasons why he can’t leave.  I wonder if he would believe me if I sent him out looking for a typewriter.  I wonder where he would find a typewriter in this digital age.

My other son, What’s-His-Name, already lives several hundred miles away, and while I’m not exactly happy about this, when he left, there was still one boy in town.  After all, for years I have been telling the two of them that one of them was just spare parts.  If either of them pissed me off, my wife and I would keep him around just in case the remaining son ever needed an organ transplant.  Now, not only are they both gone, but they went several hundred miles in opposite directions.

I really shouldn’t be surprised that this boy is running away just about the time he started being interesting.  I remember his first day of school.  He was terribly excited, could not wait, and was just dying to ride to school on the bus with his brother.  Finally, the school term started and he ran to the waiting bus with his brother.  Not once did the little bastard look back at his mother and me, left standing there in the yard with our mouths open.  When the bus rounded the corner, I felt so faint that I had to sit down in the grass with my head between my knees.  I wonder if that is what my father did after I drove off towards Houston.

This empty nest syndrome crap is not very funny.   I keep having dreams where the boys are about 20 years younger and running across a park.  No matter how fast I try, I can’t catch up with them.  I wake up in a cold sweat, but the reality of them both being only several hundred miles away is not much comfort. 

It doesn’t take much insight to realize that I am worried about losing my little boys.  I really do know better: if my sons did not leave and go out on their own, they would probably not be worth keeping.

Neither of them has actually lived in this house for years, but suddenly the house seems ridiculously empty.  Where are the toy cars with chipped paint?  The little airplanes?  Why in the world do we own a pool if there is no one squealing with joy while splashing around in it?

Maybe some good can come from this tragedy.  Maybe this is a opportunity for my wife and I to grow closer, to start planning a life without children.  I look over at the Doc, my wife, and she has taken off her glasses, wiping her eyes.  She is having her own empty nest problems.

“You know, Honey,” I say.  “Without your glasses, you look like the young girl I married 36 years ago.”

She smiles, looks at me and says, “Without my glasses, you look okay, too.”