Tag: school

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life

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I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.

As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.

The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.

Milton Bradley, 1860s

Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…

Day 977: The Last American Witch

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In the throes of one of America’s most delightfully absurd episodes of mass hysteria, twenty people were executed in 1692-93 for the crime of probably being witches. Maybe. The Salem Witch Trials – which were merely the American performance of a fad that had been lighting it up in Europe for decades – have leaked into all formats of American high art: poems, novels, movies, and a segment of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror VIII” episode.

But while we, the sophisticated and wise citizenry of the modern age, can look back upon our ancestral paranoia with a wry titter, our bubbly sense of smug urbanity goes flat upon learning that witch trials are still happening in 2014. So-called witch-children were slaughtered in the Congo in 1999. An angry Kenyan mob burned eleven suspected sorcerers in 2008. In India, it’s estimated that between 150 and 200 women are lynched each year for being witches – some are accused of such simply because they turned down a sexual advance.

This is an era in which a car can pilot you to your destination while you restructure your fantasy football league in the back seat, and people still freak out over witchcraft? Fortunately, the good ol’ U.S. of A. has evolved significantly in the last 321 years. In fact, there hasn’t been an actual case of witchcraft accusation since… wait, 1970?

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Welcome to Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, Arizona; a solid 6/10 on the national GreatSchools rating system, and home of the Mustangs. It’s also the kind of place where a rumor can be as dangerous as a drunk holding a lit match in a tumbleweed factory. This fact became evident in the aftermath of a late 1969 visit by Dr. Byrd Granger from the University of Arizona. Yes, this story about witchcraft features a woman named Granger – Harry Potter fans, feel free to rejoice. This prof happened to be an expert on witchcraft and folklore, and was happy to pass on her knowledge to the local juniors and seniors. Read more…

Day 973: Richard III’s Weird Goodbye

University Of Leicester Makes Announcement Following Discovery Of Human Remains Which Are Possibly King Richard III

A depressingly small amount of great historical tales end up in a parking lot. In the case of Richard III, King of England and the final monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty, that’s exactly where the conclusion was written. A public parking lot – probably the kind of place where young lovers searched for a way across home plate, where despondent laid-off businessmen wept in their Saabs before going home to their families, and where illicit exchanges of cash for drugs no doubt peppered the veil of darkness.

It’s an unlikely closing chapter for a king who spent his final day in a gruesome battle for control of the throne in what would be the blood-splattered climax of the War of the Roses. But deceased winners get sent to the unknown in a flourish of pageantry; the dead on the other side get swept beneath the planetary carpet and forgotten about. And the guy who was in charge of the losing side? It’s fair game for that poor schlub.

The fate of Richard III endured the typical kaleidoscope of historical record, branching out in luminous tales of colorful desecration and mesmerizing hyperbole. But the truth? The real truth? Grab a shovel, move that Miata out of the way and let’s do some digging.

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Back in the days before leaders conscripted the poor to fight their battles, Richard III wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. The War of the Roses had been raging for four decades, with the House of Lancaster yearning to snag the crown away from the House of York. Richard was new to the throne, having acted as Lord Protector for his 12-year-old nephew, Edward V until 1483 when it was decided that Edward was just not up to kinging. There was skepticism about Richard: why did Edward and his younger brother disappear suddenly? Why did Richard’s wife die under mysterious circumstances? Was Richard involved? Read more…

Day 893: The Weird Cocoon-Like Prison Of The Gibbons Twins

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Growing up as an only child, whose only companions were the top-notch offerings of prime-time network television, I always wanted a sibling. But beyond that, I was downright fascinated with twins. That unspoken connection – some even say psychic communication – poked at the crusty, ashen embers of my imagination with a tempting stick. I always wanted that intrinsic bond, and I just wasn’t finding it with Mr. Belvedere.

Researchers have found that as many as one in eight pregnancies starts off as a twin pregnancy. One in eight. Sometimes one of the little zygotes dies so early in the pregnancy it isn’t detected, other times they might fuse together and form a single embryo. That’s a creepy thought, that there’s a real possibility that I might be made up of two pre-people.

But I’m interested in actual twins, those who split the rent on their womb with a view. And there’s a particular set of twins that has piqued my interest today, a pair of Barbados-born, Welsh-raised girls named June and Jennifer Gibbons. Their story grabs hold of the symbiotic closeness of twin lore and twists into something remarkably strange.

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Language development in twins has always been of interest to those who like to poke and prod at young’uns. There is a higher rate of delay among twins in grabbing hold of language, and not because of any hiccup in their cerebral wiring. Twins often exhibit something called idioglossia, which is a made-up language (okay, I suppose all languages are ‘made-up’ if you want to be picky about it) spoken by only a few people, sometimes only one. Read more…

Day 850: When Society Slaps Back At The Intelligentsia

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The dumbing-down mentality within our popular culture is so pervasive, even those at the bottom of the intellectual food chain are aware it’s happening. Lest you worry that this will turn into a kvetch-laden rant about the Grand Media Conspiracy, let me assure you that we are doing this to ourselves. We are collectively opting to pour more of our time into formulaic singing competitions like The Voice and American Idol than into listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson explain the mysteries of the universe on Cosmos.

And that’s fine – I’m not here to place myself on a pedestal of intellectual lucidity and preach to the unwashed masses who while away their hours watching the lowbrow hijinks on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Hell, I’m one of those people; that show is deviously hilarious. And while I don’t believe it’s an obligation to devote one’s recreational boob-tubery solely to educational pursuits and high art, I think overall we can do a little better.

To be honest, I’m more concerned about dumbing-down as it applies to the greater threat of anti-intellectualism – a form of outright discrimination against those who over-emphasize their think-muscles. It’s frustrating to consider that Avril Lavigne’s insipid Kitty song is going to earn her more money than Sharon Jones will make off her brilliant new album, but when anti-intellectualism is allowed to become policy, we are in serious trouble.

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So why the hate for intellectuals? Is it jealousy? Hypocrisy? A deep-seeded loathing for free-form jazz and prog-rock? The most sensible answer I could find was a disdain for the abject disconnect between the intellectual’s calculated ideal and the world of realistic application. To put it bluntly, unless the intellectual has gotten their hands dirty at some point, they don’t really know the whole story. It’s one thing to design an elaborate factory, tweaked to the last dusty micron to produce at maximum efficiency for an unheralded profit, but quite another to actually toil in that factory, and to experience how soul-sucking and physically exhausting that “brilliant design” can be. Read more…

Day 849: From Bark To Boom – The Unflinching Spirit Of Our Animal Military

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James Joyce once said that one’s writing should inevitably become the pool of one’s deepest confessions. Actually he didn’t, but that sounded like a plausible opening sentence and it conveniently nudges me into the first point I want to make, which is a confession. It’s true that, for a brief but notable time when I was young, I honestly believed that animals assisted in the performance of numerous household chores during the prehistoric era, just like on The Flintstones. I didn’t think they made sassy remarks – I was gullible, not an idiot – but I could picture an elephant helping out with the dishes.

In reality, animals have been used to help out with human tasks for most of our history. Oxen and donkeys would drag stuff around for us, horses could be posed in comical oversized sunglasses for our amusement, and dogs would sniff our butts and check for worms (that was a big trend during the Renaissance, I believe). These are all well-known practical benefits to having animals around, but animals have also been a huge part of mankind’s most oft-enjoyed task throughout our duration on this planet: blowing each other up.

I’ve already written about great dogs and cats in the military, so today I’m going to open up the proverbial barn doors and check out some of the lesser-known contributors to the war effort. This might be good news for you; if you’ve been having trouble filling the bunks in your compound with die-hard adherents to your militia’s agenda, maybe you can build an army from some of these noble creatures. We’ll start with the big guys.

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At some point in the millennium before year zero (actually, there may not have been a “year zero”, but that’s a discussion for another day), kingdoms in India began utilizing elephants as part of their armies. As Alexander the Great began working his way from Europe through Persia toward India’s doorstep, he encountered numerous foes with war elephants, both to carry heavy equipment and to charge at the enemy. Read more…

Day 830: Welcome To Liberal, Missouri – Leave Your God At The Door

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For those who dance the steps of atheism, agnosticism, Jediism and so on, this world has always been a precarious place. It seems odd that one person’s lack of belief in an established monotheistic principle – even if that person is an otherwise caring, giving, deep-down good dude – can lead to such harsh hatred and judgment by the alleged “moral” majority.

It’s not a big deal these days to forsake the Biblical tenets held dear by so many of this country’s founders. We have lived through the 60’s, through new-age mysticism, through wacky spiritual hoodoo and comet-worshipping cults. To most everyone, a stranger’s religion is not a big deal anymore. But leap back in time to just over a century ago and you’ll find that the best a non-Christian could hope for in this part of the world was tolerance. Not acceptance, not a back-slapping welcome into the community, just tolerance.

One man decided to fight back. He created his own community, a land where atheism was to be the norm and where people could pontificate amid boundless intellectualism. John Lennon said, “Imagine no religion.” 91 years earlier, George Walser made it happen, cranking up the volume on atheism until it achieved the same intolerant, finger-pointing cacophony he had spent his entire life rallying against.

Welcome to Liberal, Missouri.

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George Walser was a successful lawyer, a devoted agnostic, and by 1880 he had developed into a staunch anti-religionist. To George, it was offensive for those who do not follow the Christian faith to be branded as amoral, societally detrimental and the cause of all the world’s ills. He yearned for a utopian escape, a place where like-minded folk could go on about their lives without being persecuted by Christians. His solution? Persecute the Christians. Read more…

Day 819: How To Talk Like A Geek, Circa 1993

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As romantically as it may roll from the tongue, the notion of September, 1993 being referred to as “the Eternal September” is far from the fodder for another Nicholas Sparks melodramatic novel (which he has no doubt penned in the time it has taken me to write this opening sentence). The Eternal September is a gripe, not a blessing. It’s a common kvetch among those in the cyber-know, or the Information Age hipsters. You know, those folks who swooned to their telephonic modem’s screech before it was cool to do so.

Back in the days when the online population consisted of hackers, crackers and e-thwackers, September was traditionally the month they’d have to endure a fresh crop of newbies – the fall-semester college crowd who had been granted Usenet access through their schools. These kids would swarm all over the discussion forums, staining each one with the stench of their inexperience.

Perhaps it has something to do with the primordial netizens’ having been burdened with the label of the outcast in their offline lives, I don’t know. Maybe the hackers of yore didn’t want anyone new in their clubhouse. It’s also entirely possible the college Usenet crowd was obnoxious and foul, dropping into the alt.2600 forum and asking if someone can teach them to hack into Visa’s server and clear off their credit card debt.

It was standard September procedure to put up with these newbies until they either learned the protocols or dropped out from lack of interest. Then these bastards changed it all:

AOL

In September of 1993, AOL started offering Usenet access to its users as part of their early efforts to dominate the entire webosphere. The so-called ‘Eternal September’ meant that not only did the Usenet insiders from the green-screen era have to contend with a new batch of fall freshmen, they’d be fending off every Johnny and Janie Schmuckstein who plugged in a free AOL trial CD just to see what all the fuss was about. Read more…

Day 816: Gettin’ High Off Last Week’s Munchies

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If there is one constant in human nature – and I hope there’s more than one, or I’ll never again be able to employ this opening – it’s that people love to get high. Some get their highs from adrenaline, others from religious fulfillment, and still others simply from exhuming the joyous moments from the depths of every waking moment. For the rest of us, we have other options.

I’m not one to judge another person’s form of escapism, unless that escapism somehow infringes upon my life. If your intake of bath salts instills a desire to consume my flesh as though it were made from Doritos, we have a problem. If your eleventh Jaeger-bomb has convinced you that you’re just fine to drive home despite the fact that your keys feel “fuzzy” in your fingertips, that ain’t right. But if you can get high while posing a danger only to yourself, simply because you feel the need for a swizzled splash of tweaked consciousness, I say go for it.

Even if that splash comes from a polyethylene bag of human poop.

Hey, we’ve all been there. Well, maybe not there, but we’ve all… actually no, most of us have never been anywhere near there. I might have to rethink my lack of judginess on this one. If jenkem is your thing, you really might need to re-evaluate your life.

Jenkem

I’m just going to lay this out there. Jenkem is an inhalant drug, created solely from the stench of fermented human waste. I don’t know the backstory of the first person to have discovered this – though I would certainly tune in for the TV movie based on his or her journey – but for a period in the mid 1990’s, jenkem was all the rage among street children in Zambia. You see, parents? Take away your kids’ Playstations and they’ll have nothing to do but run around in the street and huff doody.

The human waste is scraped from pipes or scooped up from the fringes of the sewer ponds into old cans or containers. The mere fact that these pipes and sewer ponds are so easily accessible to passers-by already bumps Zambia way down near the bottom of my travel bucket-list, alongside North Korea, any place currently at war, and Regina, Saskatchewan. Read more…