Thursday, July 26, 2007

Slán, Weekly World News

It was via Craig Ferguson that the notice of the demise of my favorite tabloid came to me. Unlikely as it seems, the Earth will be a lesser place without the Weekly World News.

For those of you who are too classy to have ever associated with it (which is most of you), the Weekly World News was one of that collection of brain-draining tabloids at the checkout at the supermarket, along with such authoritative and dignified publications as the National Enquirer. Enquiring minds want to know, they say; well, I want to know why they're killing the rag that gave us Bat Boy. Yes, that's the thing that will make you remember WWN; that picture of the half-bat, half-boy staring at you in glorious black and white. That was the other unusual feature; save a few special covers, the WWN was never printed in color. There are reasons for this, good ones, too. However, they've never bothered to explain what those reasons are.

Who cares, anyway? It was the quality of the stories. Why, take the Apocalypse alone.... do you know how many times the WWN said that the Apocalypse was coming? And every single time, they said that it was coming right after next week's issue. Over and over they did that, and the vast majority of the readership never caught on; they went and bought the next week's issue to find out what time it was going to hit, so that they could get that last nail appointment in on time. Oh, but wait; who could worry about the Apocalypse when Bat Boy is on the loose again? "Besides, Marge, it says right here that the next issue is an Apocalypse Special, so I guess I misread it last week. Too bad I already lined the cat box with it."

Them people was clever.

At this point, since it's going out of business, I guess that I can give away the information that I, as a tangential insider, am privy to. Hold on to your g-strings, this is gonna be a lulu:

Most of the stories in the Weekly World News were fake. There, there, dry your calloused tears; it's best to know the truth so you can get on with your life.... such as it is, if the WWN was at its center. Then again, it could be worse; personally, I'd rather read the WWN than a "real" newspaper any day. Even the Apocalypse is less depressing than the "real" news these days.

Some of the stories were actually true; just enough to lure in those hopeful folk who could point to the article on Billy Graham (no, really, they ran a number of them) and claim that it was, too, a real newspaper.

As it happens, I myself, the Eye Wit, have twice appeared in the pages of the Weekly World News. I kid you not! Neither story had an ounce of truth to it, but that was beside the point. Not only that, I actually got paid (not much) for them to use my likeness. How did this happen? As a matter of total coincidence, I got to know a woman whose uncle was one of the senior editors. Hers was the face of Serena Sabak, the world's sexiest astrologer. She also was a photographer, and supplied them with pictures to go with the articles. Many of these were just "head shots" of either the author of the alleged article or its subject, and some were more elaborate, intended for greater things. For the head shots, it was common for her to bring her camera to parties; after people had had a few drinks was a great time to ask them to let her shoot a whole roll of face shots. If they want to use one of them, an editor calls you up to make sure that you're OK with the story it's to go with. Thus did I end up in the guise of ace Latino reporter Antonio de Maguez, who was breaking a big story on a secret plan to trade Elian Gonzalez for a shipload of genuine Cuban cigars. Absolutely scandalous! For this appearance in a national publication, I got twenty bucks.

The other time, it was a photo spread to go with a longer story. In this instance, I was Blaine Terziche, an office manager who was such a chauvinist pig, that he made all his female employees dress as cheerleaders. Every two hours, there'd be a pep rally. We shot this little gem in the evening at an office I'd worked less than a week at. For this, I got fifty bucks. They were awfully good sports there, and many of the people in the office also wound up in the WWN. Funniest among them was one of the owners, who was supposedly the commander of an international group of mercenaries who'd been thrown out of their armies because they revealed that they were homosexuals. That name of the unit? "The Gay Team". Precious! Another friend was some poor sap in Tibet who'd been molested by a female yeti (I suppose it could've been worse....).

How can they possibly put an end to this kind of fun? The articles were such a kick, the ads were from some of the "finest" companies in the U.S., and every week, there was a genuine giant crossword puzzle. What more could you ask? Profitability is no doubt what AMI (the parent company) has in mind. So now, all you'll have to select from are the "celeb" tabloids, and nothing delving into the sheer nonsensical like the venerable Weekly World News. In its history, it even spawned a stage play version of Bat Boy: The Musical. See it if you get the chance, it's hysterical.

But all of this was not enough. I suppose that when the "real" newspapers are full of so many reports of the rampant absence of truth (cross reference: Washington DC), the stylish lack of truth in the WWN just couldn't keep up anymore.

I hate reality.

Bat Boy, we're going to miss you, old friend. Even worse, my budding career as a model in a nationally-distributed publication has been cut short, perhaps never to rise again. To all you crazies behind the Weekly World News all these years, who got PAID to generate all this outlandish material, I say a warm "Thanks!" Who cares if people looked at me oddly when I bought it? It was a welcome island of lunacy, and a neat little escape from the ugliness of what's really going on, even for just a little while.

And darn it, without the Weekly World News on the story, how is the Apocalypse EVER going to get here?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Most Excellent Furry Friends

Scientists have long tried to analyze the relationship between humans and cats. They've come to all sorts of interesting conclusions.

None of which are correct.

How dare I, a mere mortal, make such a claim? Because I am a True Cat Person, and cats will only reveal that kind of information to True Cat Persons. If some bloody scientist comes along and sticks a cat under a microscope, the cat is likely to get a little testy about it. The cat will then engage in all sorts of bizarre behaviors, just to skew the scientist's data.

Cats are like that. Cats are very intelligent animals, and deviously clever when it's to their advantage. I have an excellent example, which I forget if I wrote about before; if so, here it is again.

First off, I'd like to make it clear that I blame my wife, and even she admits her culpability in this case. It stems from the fact that she can be a real sucker for cute animals. Better the luck for me, or I wouldn't have a place to live myself.

She doth protest too much that she is not a cat person, but from the day we brought our Siamese cat, Arwen, home, Arwen decided that she was my wife's cat. Sure, my wife pretended to object, but she could not resist the feline powers that were weaving a web around her. Allergy to cat dander or no (and blame or not, a big round of applause to her for the fact that I even HAVE cats. Fortunately, Oriental short-haired cats' dander is different and much less irritating). Many's the time I'd catch the cat sitting next to my wife on the sofa, with my wife absent-mindedly stroking her head. Uh-huh. This leads to an interesting question: Who decides if you're a cat person? Is it you, or is it actually the cats? I'm not sure myself.

But I digress. On to the tale of "The Ham Incident".

It all began in the morning when my wife would be making a sandwich for my daughter to take to school. Arwen would come in, meowing & purring, rubbing against her legs, begging for a piece of lunch meat. Apparently, cats eat ham in the wild, because most of them love it. Well, me spouse would turn into a complete sucker and let her have some. Before long, she was "dropping" an entire slice of lunch meat on the floor in the morning. I asked her to cut it out; my cat was getting fat. Besides, all the cats already think all food & drink in the house is for them, this only encourages them to hop up on the table when we're eating to get their fair share. Then, of course, I had my doubts that lunch meat is good for cats. You'd think so, since people eat it, but you never know. For one, cats need much more fat in their diet than we do.

Nothing for it, however, the process just kept going on, and no good could come of it.

One fine evening, we're in the living watching TV. We hear this odd rustling in the dining room, but then it stopped. This happened a couple of more times before I finally got up and went in the room and turned on the light. There, on the floor, were the two cats gleefully chowing down on a nearly full package of ham, just as nice as you please. They looked up happily, saying "Yum!", and then went back to work. I was a bit stunned, and asked who'd left the lunch meat out. It turns out that nobody did. Like I said, cats are deviously clever. Arwen had observed for months the whole routine of getting the ham (or whatever) out of the refrigerator, so the rascal knew where it was. All of us were sure that we hadn't left the refrigerator door open. So, how??

There was only one explanation: Arwen, who's quite strong, had pawed the refrigerator door open; then, astonishingly, she managed to pull the meat drawer out (it's heavy) just far enough to get her paw in, where she snagged the package of ham, dragged it out to the dining room, tore through two layers of plastic and began feasting on her prey. The other cat was only too glad to join her.

Now, that is one clever cat.

By the time we discovered this, naturally, they'd eaten through the center of every slice. Each piece of ham had a hole in it lined with cat spit. All we could do was laugh & let them finish it. Goodness knows, Arwen had worked hard enough to get it.

This was the end of the morning treats.

I bring this up to give you an idea of what a delightful pet she is. She's 13 years old now, and until recently has been very healthy. It got clear that something was wrong; she stopped eating, she was obviously in discomfort, and most telling of all, she didn't grab my lap at every opportunity. She's so stealthy & light on her feet that I'll suddenly notice her there & not realize that she'd jumped up, stepped in & curled up. She was losing weight fast. I got her in to see the vet this morning, and a good thing I did. She has a kidney infection, which can be lethal to a cat, especially an older one. I know too bitterly well, for that's exactly what killed Arwen's partner in The Ham Incident. She was too far gone by the time we realized that she needed to see the veterinarian.

This time, however, we caught it before it got that far. My poor kitty had dropped down to 6.8 pounds from a healthy 11, but her system is still pretty strong & she should recover with the treatment program.

The very expensive treatment program.

I wrote the check, knowing that my spouse would be none too happy about the amount, but what could I do? We'll manage, and Arwen should live many more years.

Many people would ask "Why the fuss over just a pet?" Cats aren't just pets to a lot of people; they're genuine friends. Dogs like everybody, but cats don't. If they like you, or love you, it's because they choose to. Mine are especially important to me, because I went through a long-term illness, and they were my constant & attentive companions. They know when I'm not feeling good, and are extra solicitous then. They sat with me, cuddled, purred, made me get their toys & play with them, because it was a welcome distraction & they knew it. I'm not making it up, and I'm sure you can find many people who could tell you a similar story.

So, how can I not look after them when they don't feel well? As independent as your average Siamese can be, Arwen is not at all diffident and the most communicative of my cats. Good thing; she gave me enough signals to notice that she needed help. She might not consider it such a great idea as I shove her antibiotic pill down her mouth twice each day for a while, but she's so good, she even sits pretty still for that. She is, by all accounts, a Most Excellent Furry.

I have to take her in every day for the rest of this week so they can give her fluids (that accounted for a portion of the weight loss, she was dehydrated), and then we have more blood work done on Friday. My vet feels very confident that all will be well. She & the technician were quite impressed with the relationship between my cat & I. Even at the vet, where she's afraid to go, as long as I was holding or petting her? A loud purr.

Few sounds are more comforting and soothing than a cat's purring. I'm glad that I'll be hearing lots more of her purring in the future. In fact, at the thought of it, I feel a purr coming on myself.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Explanation Defied Again.... and Again.... and AGAIN!

There are some scams that are so widespread, and allegedly so well-known to be wildebeest droppings that it seems that it has become impossible, in this modern day, for anybody to be loopy enough to fall for them.

You'd think so. In fact, in most cases, the attempt looks so far-fetched, so beyond the pale, so superlatively superlative as to cause you to disbelieve it in less time than it takes to realize that you've once again left the house wearing no pants, that it's January, and you're in Mammoth Falls, Minnesota.

Or some other kind of circumstance. Though, oddly, that particular scenario rings true to most people, even those from equatorial Africa. And thus we come to the scam in question: The infamous "Nigerian Scam". Lately, I'm getting five times as many of these pieces of drek in my e-mail than usual. This, in spite of the fact that people should be more aware of its falsehood than ever, particularly in light of the relatively recent arrest of a person in, shall we say, a position of high financial responsibility, who lost $1.5 million in government funds falling for this idiocy. How can this possibly happen??

Let's take it straight from the horse's butt.... herein I'm copying an actual, honest-to-Pete-Best "Nigerian Scam" e-mail that I just got, exactly as it appeared:

From: "hamed alii"

FROM HAMED ALIDear FriendI am Hamed Ali personal Assistant to the Branch Manager of Bank Of Africa(BOA)Ouagadougou Burkina Faso I want to inquire from you if you can handle this transactionfor mutual benefits/life opportunity for you and me.The transaction is about seeking your consent to present you as the next of kin/ beneficiary of the US$15Million dollars who is a customer to the bank where i work.He died with his family during their vacation journeyIn that regard, i decided to seek your consent for this prospective opportunity.Have it at the back of your mind, that the transaction does not involve any risk and does not need much engagement from you, since i am familiar withthis kind of transaction being an insider.I have resolved to offer you 30% of the total fund, 10% for sundry expenses that maybe incurred during the process of executing this transaction and 60% percent forNecessary modalities will be worked out to enable us carry out the fund claim under a legitimate will give you more details about the transaction when I receive your responsevia my email address.Thanks and God bless.MR HAMED ALI

Please, in the name of all that's holy, if this makes sense to you and sounds like an honest person and a great idea, get professional help immediately. OK, big deal, they switched it to another country than Nigeria, but this is the classic pattern that's been going around the world since they invented clay tablets and cuneiform. Even the Rosetta Stone was not immune, a fact that's been kept a secret to this day by a cabal of embarrassed academics who fell for it shortly after the Stone was discovered. Even the Stone's age failed to deter them from believing that they, indeed, were the luckiest people ever to have been chosen for such an important task. Of course, they'll ask you for "good faith" money to the tune of thousands of dollars, or they'll "phish" for all your personal information, steal your identity, and render you into a pariah that not even Dennis Kucinich's campaign staff would take on.

Either way, if you do it, YOU'RE AN IDIOT!!! I think we can all agree on this, yes?

And yet.... every year, large numbers of people around the world DO fall for it, and unfortunately, a high percentage of them are senior citizens who lose their life's savings. I'm not in any way implying that our senior citizens are stupid, but these kind of people prey on them because, I think, they're generally a lot nicer and more inclined to trust others than we ever-more-cynical generations following. Go ahead, ask any "senior" if the following generations are more crude, less refined, and five times as rude and rarely listen to their own mother and couldn't you get off your duff and call your mother this week, would it kill you?

But, I digress.

Nonetheless, even I'M starting to say that about younger generations, and that's a bad, bad sign. Partly because I'm admitting that there are a few generations behind mine (the venerable Baby Boomers), and partly because of the fact that I'm not all that polite myself. Sometimes. How often? I refuse to say, on advice from my cat.

By the way, my cat's too smart to fall for this con game, too.

So, what's to be done? As Lazarus Long once so wisely said: "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." Evidently, it's going to continue, along with the too-good-to-be-true UK lottery gag and the phony bank auditor game. None of it's funny, and I've pondered on it, trying to figure out why that is; why do otherwise sensible-seeming people fall for something that violates a very sensible rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! That should be an axiom applicable to almost everything in life. Salvation is a fortunate exception; it sounds too good to be true, but IS. Fortunately, God is a nicer guy than you, me, or the geniuses running these con games.

I have a theory, and I'm putting this out in front of you for general discussion, recussion and whatever other kinds of cussin' seem appropriate. I don't think that it's because any of these "stories" they sell are convincing. No, I think the people who fall for it do so because they want to believe it! Why on earth would they do that? Maybe it comes down to the last effort to preserve their battered sanity. In a world where we're dead certain of so many things going impossibly wrong (cross reference: Any newspaper), they have a desperate need to believe in something, just one thing that's impossibly "right". And for those few critical moments, they do.

I'm not sure what the solution there is, if any, to this effect, other than a couple of things I try to remember:

-We could do a lot better job of looking out for one another.

-Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

The latter, someone being nice for no apparent reason nor for their personal gain, always catches people by surprise. And maybe, just maybe, the surprise that you choose to put out into the world will BE that one impossibly right thing that someone really needs.

And when you do (several times a day, I hope), someone, somewhere in Nigeria will curse your wretchedly nice name.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Death to the Foul Beastie!!

The deed has been done. The "patient" has been pronounced dead. All of the evidence has been disposed of.

Sorry, not referring to any person whom you've written me about, begging me to get rid of for you. I'm not in that sort of business. At least, not publicly. What, I'd come out & say I take contracts on a blog?

Contracts, yes, but only for artistic performance and such.

Yes, the Bashing of the Shed is a done deal, and if you'd like to see a progressive series of photos of mindless violence, you can click here:

Bashing of the Shed

You can click them individually, or view them as a slide show.

There ain't no denying it, destroying something every now & then is just plain fun. It's best if it's something you own. If not, my advice is to not get caught.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fourth Right

The problem with making a beginning here is that I used up a lot of my schtick about the Fourth of July last year.

Yet, there's no denying that a lot of this is very familiar, old & tired. Three whole flags on my street; fireworks already starting to go off, mainly of the illegal variety.

On general principle, I don't overly object. There's little I can do about it anyway, and besides, I am not going outside and venting my spleen about "those darn kids". For one reason, that's an inescapable sign of getting old, and I'm still working really hard on the denial front. Mainly, however, the reason is that it's adults that are firing them off. Civil disobedience in the name of civic pride, or so they claim. What do they really know about civil disobedience? I'll bet I could hand out a Thoreau quiz and they'd fail utterly.

But, I digress, and fairly early on at that.

In fact, it had been a firm tradition of ours that a family that's friends with ours would get together each year, and my buddy & I would personally do a lot of reprehensible things with stuff that goes boom in the night. My personal specialty was the "chain reaction", in which you use a series of sparklers to set off M-80s and bottle rockets, etc. However, this whole soiree has been ruined by our children, who had the audacity and discourtesy to go and grow up on us. I don't actually see why this prevents the rest of us in engaging in juvenile behavior, but we haven't gotten together for the last few years. Disappointing.

Yet, perhaps unavoidable. I have a rare nerve condition called allodynia, which I'm sure you've never heard of. While any of the five senses can be involved, in my case, I'm hypersensitive to light and sound. What seem like fairly ordinary levels of light or sound to you cause me intense pain. There's currently no treatment for it, and all I can do is wear hearing protectors and dark glasses, or other defensive measures. Therefore, messing with things that burn very brightly and make lots of boom-boom don't seem as attractive to me these days. The one good thing about that is that I can blame the condition, and nobody can accuse me of dropping out because I'm too old to have fun. Then again, having some weird condition means that you miss out on the same amount of fun, so in the end, it isn't really better. On a day-to-day basis, I can't tell you what a nuisance it is.

I digress again.

Well, at least there was some celebration this year, of sorts. My church did a musical presentation, all patriotic and such, which saluted the concept of freedom and thanked members of the armed forces, past & present. I and my fledgling drama group provided the narration. It went pretty well, too. I was surprised at the number of people who came to see it when we did it on the Fourth. Well, it's on a Wednesday this year, and nothing else made much sense. The choir, orchestra & soloists were faboo, as well as the narrating corps (I did some of it, too), and the multimedia element was pretty good stuff, too. Yeah, it's all hip now to have projections of video, photos & animation while you're over there working hard to keep their attention on you and what you're doing. After I caught a glimpse of the Vietnam memorial on it, I quit looking. I know more of the names on that thing than I like to think about.

This whole post is random digression. I'm afraid you'll just have to bear with me; I might find a point to all this somewhere.

So, I make my way home and it's only a matter of time before I have to put my hearing protectors on while inside my house. Yep, the ears are that sensitive. So I've decided to start in on a book on CD that a friend gave me at the reunion (sure, I'll eventually get around to writing about that), since I can wear the ear buds under the head set. Studious and serious shall I be on the evening of the Fourth, and glad that I'm not out amongst the drunk drivers (that isn't age talking, it's just common sense).

As for what other people will be thinking, I couldn't say. My spouse is busily making ice cream at the moment (before you say anything, it is better than your mother's) for my daughter's get-together of Young Persons who are far better behaved at that age range than I ever was. There'll be no drugs, no drinking and no other illicit behavior, save some of the aforementioned not-legal-in-this-state-like-they-enforce-it-anyway fireworks, which will be supervised by a responsible adult, which is ludicrous since my daughter is 23.

The thing that fascinates us is that while we did our best to raise her to be a good person, she's a far better person than we can account for. We don't object, of course, we just wonder how in the zarking fardwarks that happened? Well, she does have an excellent group of friends, and is exceptionally kind, and we're not daft enough to interfere with it.

We don't need the Fourth of July to celebrate that; we do that every day. Looking at this large group of young people who are such good young persons gives one some hope that in some future, they'll have made this country into something more worth celebrating on the Fourth of July. We're making an awful lot of mistakes these days and I don't feel that we're headed in the right direction. However, it's good to have the privilege to observe a group of people who may be far wiser than our generation and cling more to the original ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Hope is a good thing to have.

That's how it all started, isn't it? The Declaration.... the Constitution.... they point to an enduring hope for something better than what we have now. We'll never get to Utopia, but the journey itself is honorable and worthwhile.

It's dark outside, and time to take the flag in. I got it years ago in the name of my daughter; it's certified to have flown over the Capitol Building in Washington. When she flies the coop, it's hers to take with her.

I take some pride in knowing that whatever she does, and wherever she goes, she'll do right by it and make a contribution towards a better world. She can't help herself. Of all the things that we've ever done to make this a better country and a better world, I think that she's by far the greatest.

Long may she wave.