Saturday, May 25, 2013

Be Prepared!

The Boy Scouts of America has reached a half-assed decision this week.  Over 60% of the 1400 voting scoutmasters have decided it is okay for gay boys to be scouts.  Presumably, the other 40% still prefer ritual purification by burning at the stake—and if you can start the fire using only one match, you earn your woodcraft merit badge.

Still, I suppose this is a giant step forward for the scouting organization.  Finally, after more than a hundred years since scouting began, the organization has decided that some boys are not inherently evil.  The founder of scouting--Lord Baden-Powell (who many historians believe was a homosexual)—would be proud.

Still, there seems to be one final step for the organization to take—scoutmasters still have to heterosexual. 

So, this is the way it goes.  A young boy becomes a Cub Scout and starts earning those merit badges.  He buys the uniforms, attends the meetings and goes off to camp every summer.  As he becomes older, he becomes a Boy Scout and then an Explorer.  If he works hard, after many years he can become an Eagle Scout—the epitome of scouting.  Then, when he turns 18, he is thrown out of scouting because his sexuality has made him unfit to be a scoutmaster and have contact with his friends from the day before. 

Something is wrong here: I thought the purpose of scouting was to turn good boys into good men.  The day before that 18th birthday, that young man is a shining example to young boys everywhere.  Then one day later, the scouts have no use for the degenerate pervert. 

Perhaps it might be instructive to remember how scouting came to the United States.  (Do you feel a history lecture coming on?)  Over a hundred years ago, when scouting was alive and well in England, but had not yet crossed the Atlantic, William Boyce, a Chicago publisher, visited London.  This was back in the days when the humidity rising from the Thames River valley would combine with the dense smoke of innumerable coal fires to produce the infamous London fogs. 

Boyce ventured out into the city one night and immediately got lost in the poorly-lit twisting streets.  Suddenly, a young boy appeared in the gloom and led the publisher through the dense fog to his destination.  When Boyce tried to give the young boy a tip for his service, the boy, now known as the Unknown Scout, refused the money and said that he was just doing his daily good turn. 

Boyce later met with Lord Baden-Powell, learned more about the scouting program, and when he returned to the United States, started the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. 

That story of the Unknown Scout is, paradoxically, well known.  The organization later awarded the young boy The Silver Buffalo, the highest award given by the BSA.  At the ceremony, a large silver buffalo statue was accepted by the Prince of Wales in his stead.  The prince thought so highly of the statue that he left it in America when he returned to England--presumably because his luggage was already overweight.  (I can’t really blame him, as I wouldn’t want the statue myself.  Today, the ugly hunk of metal is on a brick pedestal in Gilmore Park behind the White House.  I tried to find a good photo of the statue, but all I could find is this one.  Is that “statutory” rape?)

Less well known is exactly what happened when Boyce met the Unknown Scout.  Let’s go back to that cold winter night in 1909 when Boyce was standing lost in a pea soup fog. 

“Begging your pardon, guv’nor.  Are you lost?” said the Unknown Scout.

“Why, yes, I am,” replied Boyce.  “Do you know the way to the Dorchester Hotel?”

“Surely.  But first, are you a poofter?” asked the boy.

“A what?” asked Boyce.

“A poofter.  You know guv’nor… an arse bandit.  A shirt lifter.  A bum burglar.”

“Uh, no,” said Boyce.

“Then Bob’s your uncle, guv’nor.  Follow me,” said the Unknown Scout.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Struggle for Life

The new life form did not know exactly when it became self aware--there was just a gradual realization that it had been for some time.  Nor did the organism even know why it had suddenly become self-conscious, having only the dimmest sort of memory of the world before consciousness. It only realized that it had been thinking about its surroundings, and even about itself, for some time.

Nor was there any apparent reason why it--among all the teeming life forms present--had become self-aware.  Perhaps it was because of the relatively short lifespan of the organism: during the single life span of most living organisms, this life form could go through dozens of generations.  Coupled with the remarkable fertility of the organism, in a very short time, hundreds--even thousands--of the organisms could attempt to adapt to their environment and try new approaches to survival.  The profound fertility and reproductive capacity of the organism was crucial, since the environment was especially  unforgiving and dangerous.  Most of the new organisms died early in life, long before they could individually reproduce.  It was only as a collective species that the life form flourished.

Luckily, the new organisms were perfectly adapted to passing information to each other.  Knowledge, once acquired, was quickly passed from organism to organism and thus, the information was easily retained.

Like all sentient life, the first questions asked were, "Where am I?  Who am I? Why am I here?"  And like all sentient life, the organisms struggled to provide answers.  It was difficult to survey their environment, but they could tell the world was round, with light above and darkness below.  Since life seemed more abundant in the light, they sought the light and shunned the darkness, which seemed comparatively barren.  While they constantly strove upward, more often than not, they failed and fell downward towards the dark.

Thousands of generations passed and eventually, the organisms began to explain their world, and to do this, they needed language, and the names and nouns a language demands.  One of the first names, was the name they gave themselves--they were the Malebolgians.  And after naming themselves, they began the process of naming their world--giving names to every feature and object in their world.  However, they had difficulty in providing individual names for each other, since their consciousness was more of a collective.  While each Malebolgian was capable of individual action, due to its method of reproduction, it was difficult to separate any individual's identity uniquely from either its ancestors or its offspring.

Despite this, the tribe grew, multiplied, and prospered.  In their own way, they achieved the rudiments of civilization.  The Malebolgians fought at times, they explored, they reasoned, and they slowly developed a religion.  Like most early religions, it was focused on the light above, warned against the evils of darkness, and attributed to gods all that could not be directly observed--such as the strange and terrifying noises that came from the sky above them.  As new knowledge was acquired and the realm of the unknown slowly retracted, their religion and their gods evolved.

Some of the Malebolgians began experimenting in art and philosophy, and a few were working on a theoretical explanation of economic activity.  Lives steadily became richer and fuller, and the Malebolgians were even beginning to discuss how to explore the universe beyond their small round world, and what their place in this mysterious cosmos might be.

There is no telling what achievements the Malegbolgians might have eventually achieved had someone not poured an unwanted cup of hot coffee down the kitchen drain and exterminated them.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bond, Wrong Bond

James Bond might be a great spy, but there are a few things that need to be corrected.  Simply put, James Bond is wrong about quite a few things.  I’m not talking about such trivial things as his age.  (According to the original novels by Ian Fleming, Bond would be the oldest patient in the world slowly dying of multiple social diseases.  Hell, the man ended WWII as a Commander in the Royal Navy.  He has to be crowding 100.)

Let's start with what he drinks.  "A vodka martini, shakennot stirred."   Say this to any movie fan, and they will instantly know you are talking about James Bondthis is his signature drink.  But if you say this to any competent bartender, he will know that you just ruined your drink.

There are two ways to mix a drink and get it cold enough to enjoy:  either use a cocktail shaker with ice or add the ingredients to a pitcher of ice and stir.  It is NOT two ways of doing the same thing.  A shaker is the perfect tool for blending fruit juices with alcohol while a pitcher is perfect for blending two or more kinds of alcohol together.  For a vodka martini, stir 30 times and pour.  Want to be a British effete spy/snob?  Demand a silver cocktail stirrer.   Better yet, ask for a Baccarat martini glass.  Then toss the drink back and throw the glass into a fireplace.  This should cost you no more than $145—that’s about $5 for the drink made correctly and $140 for the glass.  Somewhere in the bar, a Russian spy will wet himself.

In total, Bond has 35 martinis during the 12 novels and two collections of short stories.  Of these drinks, 19 are made with vodka and 16 use gin.  Ignore these and just read the first two books in which Bond reveals his real favorite drink—the Vesper Martini.  It is a strange little drink made with both gin and vodka.  The drink never makes it to the large screen, as it turns out that Bond is a little mercenary.  In the first movie, Smirnoff paid the producers to drop the ginfrom that point on, his martinis were either all gin or all vodka.

With the drinks taken care of, let's talk about his car.  In 1963, the Aston-Martin DB5 was one hell of a car.  The style, the break-through engine, the roar of the exhaust...  God, every teenaged boy in America tried in vain to get his mother's Oldsmobile to drive like that silver bullet.  But that was 50 years ago, and while James Bond may never get any older, he needs to ditch the old jalopy.

Cars have changed: that ancient DB5, even if it were in perfect condition, couldn't keep up with a Dodge Minivan driven by a soccer Mom.  My aging Toyota pickup could beat it off the line, accelerate faster, has a better top end and--most importantlycan do something that the Aston Martin could never, ever do even when it was new: make a turn.  Unless 007 were driving down a completely straight, long road (any highway in New Mexico would qualify) then he could never catch my mother's Oldsmobile.

Ian Fleming may have got that whole double-0 business wrong, too.  The original 007 was Dr. John Dee, a seventeenth century secret agent for Queen Elizabeth I.  Dee was a mathematician, a philosopher, a tactician and quite probably the first master spy for England.  He signed his correspondence to the queen with the double zeros to indicate that he was the queen's eyes and the 7 was a cryptic cabalistic symbol.  It doesn't mean a license to killit's a postmark.

Next, James is packing the wrong heat.  His rod.  His gat.  His heater.  Let's face it, the man carries a sissy gun.  In the original books, 007 started out carrying a .25 caliber Beretta 418 automatic.  Christ on a Popsicle stick--what the hell was Ian Fleming thinking?  Did Bond have a license to kill house cats?  Shitmy 92 year old Aunt Gertie packed more serious heat.  A .25 automatic is... not even a good girl's gun.  It's just barely a gun.  The puny slug from this Italian popgun has been stopped by shirt buttons!

Eventually, an astute reader told Ian Fleming that his super-spy was armed with the ballistic equivalent of limp spaghetti.  In Dr. No, M demanded that Bond trade in his dinky little .25 for a more lethal weapona Walther PPK chambered in 7.65mm.  Now that is a real and proper ladies gun.  While I admit that the gun is a huge improvement over the smaller is still a gun that is the firearms equivalent of riding a motor scooter--while you might have a lot of fun, you sure hope none of your friends see you doing it.

Lastly, (and my apologies to Sean Connery) but James Bond is not who or what you think he is.  Who played the very first James Bond on the screen?  No, it wasn’t George Lazenby, David Niven, Bob Holness, or even Bob
Simmons.  All of these actors have played Bond, but they weren't the first.  Nor was the first portrayal of James Bond even on the big screen.  He was a television star first, then he was on the radio, and only then did he made it to the theaters.

In the early fifties, CBS had a weekly show called Climax! Mystery Theatre.  On October 21, 1954, Barry Nelson starred as James Bond in an episode called Casino Royale.  Le Chiffre, the villain was played by Peter Lorre.  While the small screen black and white version is—at best—laughable, there is absolutely no doubt that it is the very first James Bond production.  James Bond is an American!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Tag End of the Semester

Here it is, the tag end of the semester, students and faculty are just days away from enjoying yet another wonderful New Mexico summer.

Well, actually, while a New Mexico spring is fantastic--our summers are a little rough.  Already the state is so dry that the cows are giving condensed milk, the chickens are laying powdered eggs, and there is so much static electricity, that while walking through a parking lot, I accidentally jump-started a Buick.

There is a certain pattern to the end of a school year.  Students you haven’t seen regularly since February start showing up in your office with doctors’ notes explaining how the student was forced to miss the last six weeks of class due to the Galloping Galontis, the Chilean Creeping Crud, or an advanced case of Holy-Shit-I-Think-I’m-Failing.  The only known antidote for the latter is hard work, which, unfortunately for the student, if he were capable of it would have already effectively worked as a vaccine. 

The strangest behavior in the last few weeks has not been exhibited by the students.  Some of the faculty are also beginning to show the stressful signs at the semester’s end.  Professor Maleficent, the Matray Chair of Anthropophagic Studies, is desperately seeking a way to extend her interminable leave of absence for just one more semester, without pushing her retirement date past her life expectancy.   Despite the pleas of her publisher, she needs just one more semester to finish writing her cookbook.

The surest sign of a semester’s end, however, is the all too predictable return of Professor Chupacabra stalking his colleagues.  As soon as he realizes that he will no longer have students to torture, he turns to attacking those who work around him.

This is the sort of problem not isolated to Enema U.  It seems to be universal that, just as you feel motivated to really put your shoulder to the wheel and get some work done, some blithering asshole comes along and pushes you into a black hole of demotivation.  It wouldn't be so bad if you could isolate all of these mental midgets in one spot, where they could spend all day cancelling each other out.  Unfortunately, the universe seems to scatter the problem children around the world in such a way that each and every organization has its own private moron riding the brake on progress.

God knows, we have a beaut here at Enema U.  For a long time, most of the students and damn near all the faculty had considered him to be some form of evil troll that lived under the educational bridge of life.  Periodically, he slithers out of the ooze of imagined slights to scream his personal anguish at an imagined victimization from those he deems inferior, before the light of day burns his bloodshot eyes and he scampers back under his dank bridge.  Hiding behind the bent shield of tenure he emails his curses.  Rarely seen, the only sign of his presence between attacks is the labored breathing of the troll--a sound not unlike the rattling hiss of a leaky boiler.

But, it turns out that we were wrong.  He is not a troll--he is in fact Professor Chupacabra, a beast long thought to be mythological. While most of the stories about a chupacabra say that he survives by sucking the life out of goats, our Professor Chupacabra has only been known to kill them with his bare hands.  Goats are only a hobby--he prefers to suck the life out of an entire department, embroiling the faculty in pointless and childish arguments that would shame kindergarteners.

There is, however, a solution.  Even as I write this, the department is taking up a collection to enroll Professor Chupacabra in the Lard of the Month Club.  When he finally has the inevitable heart attack and the Biology Department has performed the necropsy, we plan to bury the monster under the Education Building.