Word from Bird

Playground games

Most of my school-related memories from my grade school years really center on my experiences on the playground.

We had twice a day recesses, a short 20 minute romp in the morning, then an hour and a half during lunch.

The lunchtime recesses were either a blessing or a curse, depending on what grade you were in. First through third graders got to eat first, and depending on how quick you could wolf down your fish sticks or chicken strips, you had the rest of the recess ahead of you. Seventh and eighth grades ate last, so you had plenty of time to get in a game of dodgeball before heading to the cafeteria. Fourth and fifth graders had it worse, their lunch came in the middle of the recess, so you had to suspend whatever game you were playing to eat, then wait until everyone finished to resume the kickball match. Lord help you if you dallied over lunch and held up a game because you couldn’t finish your vegetables.

(The nuns that patrolled the cafeteria in my school were very draconian when it came to cleaning your plate. We heard the “Children are starving in Africa” mantra for eight years.)

Back then we weren’t like kids today. We didn’t stand around and argue about vampires, and we didn’t care about social standings. There were only 22 kids in my grade and we all grew up together, so even the misfits had a sense of belonging.

We all stuck together, and any games we played had to involve everyone in the class.

My last year at that school really stands out for memorable recess periods.

We started out with the traditional kickball games. But we were quickly banned from playing that when we started launching the infamous red rubber balls into traffic every afternoon.

So we moved on to dodgeball, but that had its fair share of controversies. Primarily, our playground area was right where the little kids would have to line up for lunch. It only took a few first graders hitting the ground from errant throws for the powers that be to put an end to that particular game.

For a few weeks we were forced to improvise, playing tag or other boring games like that, until my friend Mike came up with a brilliant idea.

We would have Sumo Wrestling matches. A circular patch of tarmac served as the ring and we spent a few weeks bumping and knocking each other around until, that too, was stopped by the principal for being too violent.

Of course, it all came to an end anyway when the Wisconsin winter rolled around and we spent the frigid days roughhousing in the snow.

Of course, there was the time we buried John Peters up to his knees in the snow. When the recess bell rang, calling us back to class, we left him there, unable to get out. When our teacher noticed his absence, and looked out the window to see him struggling to extricate himself, she sent two janitors to dig him out…and the rest of us to the front office for a reprimand.

Good times I tell you.

The abyss of the internet

Can we all just take a collective step back, breath deep, and chill out?

It has been bad for a while now, but lately it seems the internet is becoming more of a place to hash out negative feelings and outrage over misinformation.

We are becoming so used to getting our news from Facebook or other social media sites, we are losing touch with reality. People are so quick to believe something posted, they fail to see they are being manipulated.

The reliance on people seeing something, then sharing it on their own feeds, thus perpetuating the story ad infinitum is something web site developers thrive on.

It’s called click bait. Every time someone follows a link, the website owner can claim a “view.” The more views they get – the more advertising money they can get.

It has become the latest internet industry, where people are hired to take a news story and put an outrageous headline on it in an effort to make it go viral.

Fake news websites often write blatantly false articles in hopes someone will share it, and drive up page views.

It seems every day is just a list of easily verifiable falsehoods you can find in your newsfeed.

The “fake news” became a hot topic both prior to and after the election.

People need to realize that these phony news stories are simply a way for greedy people to generate “clicks” on their websites and generate revenue.

They don’t care if you believe it or not, but they certainly want you to think its real when they write the provocative headline.

Anytime I see a link that states: “You won’t believe” or something along those lines I ignore it. It’s that simple to get past an obvious troll.

We are becoming too quick to condemn things we see or read about without giving a thought about the context the content is taken from.

The Planned Parenthood “exposé” that drove news cycles last year and the arrest footage of Sandra Bland are prime examples of this.

I’m not condoning Planned Parenthood, or their practices, but the video that was released was a heavily edited piece of a two-hour interview taken two years prior.

People were outraged at the “sting” video, and don’t seem to care about the editing, but were just as upset about the editing done to the dash cam footage.

Isn’t that a double standard?

Anyone with a computer and some editing software can hack apart a video to prove their point by removing things that don’t fit their view and altering the images and spoken words to remove the true intent behind them.

The internet is a place to share ideas, but there is no recompense for outright lying or deception.

By the time something is proven false, another 20 things have popped up and taken away the thunder.

Too many people are letting their newsfeeds influence their lives, without bothering to check the source, and that is troubling.

January 2017 Archives

Odds and ends

From the “I didn’t know you could do that” Department, an Australian man invented a new letter for the alphabet.

Paul Mathis, a restaurant owner felt that people waste too much time writing out the word “the” and invented a letter to replace the word in typing, texting and writing to be more efficient.

“The” is the most commonly used word in the English language, but it is only three letters long, so I don’t know if a one-letter representation of the word is exactly “efficient,” but I give the guy credit for trying I guess.

Somehow he even spent $38,000 developing and promoting the letter. I figure he will try and sell the letter to phone developers to include in their text features, because I don’t see any other way he could possibly make money off a letter.

Since my keyboard doesn’t have the letter on it, yet, I can’t show you what it looks like, but I can describe it: Imagine if a capital “T” merged with a lower case “h.” the curve of the “h” comes out of the stalk of the “T” forming the letter “the.”

One interesting fact that emerged as I researched this “discovery,” we used to actually have a 27th letter of the alphabet – The ampersand (&).

It’s true. The ampersand is actually a recognized short form of the word “and,” and was recognized for a while as an actual letter.

The letter came after “z” and to distinguish the letter “and” from the actual word, you would add “per se” before it. For example: “x, y, z, per se and.” Over time that got shortened to ampersand. It became quite popular in 1837, but dropped out of common usage some time in the last century.

In other interesting news this week, I read a story concerning the American flags planted on the surface of the moon.

Photos taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have shown that five of the six flags planted by astronauts are still standing, which is an amazing fact. The real interesting thing is that those flags are probably faded to white after forty-odd years of exposure.

A cloth flag here on Earth would be in pretty bad shape after four decades of continual outdoor use. But on the moon, with no atmosphere to filter out ultra-violet rays from the sun, the red and blue colors have most assuredly faded into nothingness over the years.

It’s interesting that these testaments to human achievement are still standing, but if an alien stumbled across them sometime in the distant future, they would have no idea what nation on the big blue marble in the distance it represented. I think that is kinda nice.

Even though Americans still have been the only nation to have landed men on the satellite, I would like to believe that it was an achievement to mankind in general.

The 80’s sound

Ah, the 80’s. The “Me”decade. A time of big hair, dance clubs, and brightly colored shirts. The decade responsible for the majority of the development of my personality. In 1980 I was still in grade school and by the end of the decade I was in college. So there was a pretty fair chunk of my development in that era.

The 80’s officially began with the election of Ronald Reagan and really didn’t end until 1992 with the beginning of the Clinton administration. In those years there was a tremendous amount of change and upheaval in the economy and mentality of the people, and a lot of it is reflected in the music.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the music of that era. Not that there was really anything of substance in most of it. In the 1960’s the music, for the most part, had an underlying message, a social conscience. The 70’s saw the birth of heavy metal, angst, and disco. In the 90’s up to today the music industry has changed so much that the message is less important than the medium. Everything is packaged for quick sales and flashy images. But most is pure, unadulterated crap.

The 80’s were different. We saw the beginnings of today’s trends, but it wasn’t perfected yet. You had your teeny-bopper performers like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson doing mall tours and big stadium shows filled with screaming guitars, lasers and tons of hair spray.

Big bands like Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones and Genesis saw a resurgence of popularity during the 80’s, but the music was designed to fit into the expectations of the listening public. For every groundbreaking and exciting song that hit the airwaves there were literally hundreds of formulaic so-called hits that popped up for a short time before returning to obscurity.

If I had my choice, I’d listen to 70’s music over anything from the 80’s any day, but as anybody in the office can attest, I probably know just about every song that made the charts from the decade.

I guess that proves how superficial the music really was. But there is something infectious about it.

I have to admit that when a song comes on the radio from that era I find myself tapping my feet and singing along. It is a guilty pleasure of mine.

Just in the past few years I have seen a movement in the music industry away from the pop-factory style of recording songs. There are more and more artists who are breaking out of the mold and going in different directions and I appreciate it.

It reminds me of the early 70’s, before the advent of disco; when James Taylor, Neil Young, Harry Chapin, Elton John and Billy Joel helped create a new sound on the heels of such seminal acts like the Beatles.

We don’t have the likes of John Lennon anymore, and likely never will again, but I hope these new artists will try and come close.

Spinning my wheels

I have nothing against watching TV, but I do realize what an ultimate waste of time it is for many people. The stream of nonsense spewed forth places the viewer in a catatonic state watching a fantasy world, and that is just the advertisements.

Car commercials are the worst. You cannot go for half an hour without having one automobile manufacturer tell you why you should buy their car over a competitor’s. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths they will go to sell you on the newest re-hash of what basically amounts to a steel box on wheels.

I especially enjoy the types of car commercials that show someone “enjoying” his new car. Inevitably the driver speeds along a winding road at unsafe speeds, or demonstrates the handling of the car by hitting the breaks to send the car into a Hollywood type spin. The best part of these commercials is the little caveat or disclaimer they always show: “Warning, professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt.” I don’t know what is worse, the fact that these companies are so afraid of being sued or the idea that people will see the commercial and drive their new SUV off of a cliff.

Why is it then that auto manufactures feel the need to show their cars doing things they advise us not to do? I know how expensive tires are, so I don’t think I want to take my new $40,000 vehicle and tear it up driving like a fool.

And how come every car commercial shows young twenty-something people on a trip to some exotic extreme sport location. They seem to imply that the rest of us who use their cars to drive to work or go to the store are not fit to own a SUV or sports coupe. Or if you happen to own a pick-up, you need to be dragging large rocks or dead trees while hauling a ton of dirt, rather than taking an old mattress to the dump.

Sooner or later truth in advertising will have to prevail. Show me a car ad that features a man clearing yard waste from his property and scratching the paint with broken limbs. Or show me a mother with two crying children in the back and groceries spilling in the trunk. Don’t tell me a sports car is priced at only $15,999 and then say the fancy one shown in the commercial is the special edition model and actually costs closer to $30,000.

Don’t tempt me with offers of low interest rates (with approved credit of course), when Bill Gates himself would have trouble qualifying for payments as low as $159 a month! Tell me the truth, “If you want this car…it’s going to cost you!” Don’t show me that my weekends will be filled with grand adventures with my great looking friends if I bought your car! None of my friends are that good looking and I don’t think any of us are in shape to go snowboarding without killing ourselves.

Behind the Fairy Tale

Fairy tales are simple stories that are used to entertain children. But, in the land of fairy tales, things are not always as they seem. What is presented to the public as stories with happy endings, in reality is just the tip of the iceberg. So often, the rest of the story is left out. So I took it upon myself, as a dedicated newspaperman, to research some of the stories we all grew up hearing and find out what happened next. Some of these stories could have ended up on the Jerry Springer Show.

Snow White and the 7 Dwarves: Let us forget the fact that it was just one girl living with 7 men, and ignore that she did all the cooking and cleaning while the guys worked. It is a little known fact that in actuality there were originally 80 dwarves. One-by-one they all began to disappear. It wasn’t until there was just 8 left that they suspected one of their own, Hungry. In the trial of the century, rivaling even OJ’s, the fat, bloated, miniature, man-eater finally was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Rumplestilskin: Everyone remembers the tale of the imp that saved the life of the miller’s daughter by spinning straw into gold and how the only payment he wanted was the first-born child of the girl. According to the story, when the girl tricked the imp by sending out her spies to invade the privacy of Rumplestilskin and discovered his name he vanished forever. In reality, he went right to his lawyers and filed a breach of contract suit and won a cool million dollars.

The Three Little Pigs: Soon after failing to blow down the last Pig’s brick house, the police arrived, called by a concerned neighbor. The Big Bad Wolf was arrested and put on trial for attempted murder, wanton endangerment and destruction of private property. BBW made waves when he hired famed attorney Johnnie Cochran to represent him at the trial.

Jack, of beanstalk fame, was sued for damages after cutting down the large stalk to slay the giant. Allegedly Jack didn’t properly secure the area around the site where the stalk fell. The resulting damage from the crash left four families homeless and over $200,000 in property damages.

In January, the parents of Little Red Riding Hood were charged with child endangerment after sending their pre-teen daughter on a dangerous journey through the woods without adult supervision. And in February, PETA accused the grandmother and the hunter for interfering with the natural predatory practices of the wolf.

Which brings us to perhaps the most disturbing tale of all, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. After Goldilocks ran away, the Bear family pressed charges and Goldilocks was tried for B&E and theft. After serving a three-year spell in Mother Goose State Penitentiary, she was released back into society. Unfortunately she had developed a bad porridge habit and soon had to resort to selling her hair to Rapunzel for her fix. On several occasions she was caught trying to break into the Bear residence and was jailed for violation of her parole. She was released for the final time and disappeared, never to be seen again. Shortly there after, the Bear family, looking quite well-fed, moved away to Florida.

So the next time you read your children a bed-time story, take a moment to reflect on the difficult lives they have lived. Next time on Behind the Fairy Tale, Gepetto goes before congress to discuss cloning.




Word From Bird Archives

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