Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Since you need to wash your hands more these days, now there's a site that'll put song lyrics to a hand-washing poster for you.

Oh, coronavirus. Sorry, Coronavirus-19. Or Corona-19. Or novel coronavirus. Or the silly hysteria gripping the world.

Whatever you call it, people are obsessed with hospital masks (they don't work for this virus, people), toilet paper (why?), and washing their hands these days. While washing your hands is always a good thing, a little spritz of water doesn't do the trick.

Since health officials for decades have recommended washing your hands for 20-seconds (usually the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday to yourself twice), this led a U.K. teenager named William Gibson to create a website that generates song lyrics to accompany hand-washing posters by the U.K.'s National Health Service: simply asks for an artist's name and song title, and it'll populate the hand-washing poster with lyrics timed to the poster's instructions:

And it's not just song lyrics. Even Shakespeare's plays work out:

Sure, the Reduced Shakespeare Company could've picked a more lighthearted play than Macbeth. But if everyone is lathered up in hysteria, you might as well choose a play where nearly everyone dies.

It's called synergy, folks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Kentucky's annual budget looks to cut 1/3 of funding to libraries, which would force some to close.

"Kentucky is a cultural bastion of intellectual pursuits,"
said no one ever.

Which explains why Kentucky legislators have proposed cutting state funding to libraries from $7.8 million to $5.3 million, with additional language written into the bill that funding only go toward construction costs--mainly to support government bonds already committed to.

As the Lexington Herald Leader notes, many poor, rural communities that rely heavily on state aid to maintain a library might need to close.

"For the Hickman County library, state aid makes up 57 percent of the budget. For Knott County's library, it's 23 percent. For Livington County's library, it's 22 percent."

Republican lawmakers believe libraries have been receiving too much support while sitting on reserves of cash, as if librarians are Scrooge McDuck diving into a sea of gold coins.

"Some of them are sitting on quite a bit of cash, and I’ve been contacted from a lot of fiscal courts and county judge-executives saying our libraries keep raising taxes and we can’t do anything about it," said House Budget chairman Steve Rudy (R), Paducah.

Yes--those pesky libraries that somehow have the authority to just raise taxes randomly. Happens all the time.

A close approximation of what Kentucky lawmakers think librarians are doing

Some counties are cripplingly poor. As the Herald Leader notes, 22% of Powell County's 12,442 residents live in poverty. They only receive $13,000 in library aid from the state, which covers the cost of electricity, internet services, and programming for adults. Not salaries, not for new books. Just basic functioning of the building.

"In our area, quite a lot of the community doesn't have access to the Internet," one librarian told the newspaper. "You can come to us or you can go to the McDonald's or the Dairy Queen. But the difference is, we don't make you order anything to use the Internet. And not everyone has five bucks to spend around here just to go online."

That's right. The Dairy Queen in town in where all poor children should go to learn after school. Where else can they get internet access AND learn about the culinary delights that is soft serve?

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Saturday Morning PSA of The Week: Snitchin' in the suburbs!

Today's public service announcements are all information and no imagination--but yesteryear's? Those were full of drama, plot lines, and cameos from B-grade celebrities, all wedged into one minute of absolute fantasticness.

Consider this a trip back in time to when PSAs were sometimes worth watching more than the Saturday morning cartoons.

Today:  Grandma's lurking in the shadows.

Random Thoughts and Questions:
1.)  Who knew Hartford was such a hotbed for criminal activity? Next thing you know, McGruff will say Sioux Falls is overrun by the Sicilian mob.
2.)  If McGruff sees all this crime, why doesn't HE call it in?
3.)  You're telling me that Mimi here has such keen eyesight to make out a van's license plate a couple hundred feet away?
4.)  How did the criminals not see Mimi and Albert's gigantic walkie-talkies from three blocks away? It's like a 20ft antenna strapped to a 10lb brick.
5.)  Isn't "neighborhood watch" just another way of saying "nosy neighbor"?

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Friday Poem: The Violet, by Jane Taylor

As another week concludes, we end with a random poem. Famous poets, obscure poets, amateur poets, whatever poets--just a poem to cap off the week.

Like this one:

The Violet,  by Jane Taylor

Down in a green and shady bed,
A modest violet grew,
Its stalk was bent, it hung its head,
As if to hide from view.

And yet it was a lovely flower,
Its colours bright and fair;
It might have graced a rosy bower,
Instead of hiding there,

Yet there it was content to bloom,
In modest tints arrayed;
And there diffused its sweet perfume,
Within the silent shade.

Then let me to the valley go,
This pretty flower to see;
That I may also learn to grow
In sweet humility.

Famous Writers Shrtiless: Hart Crane

Writers are never known as the studliest or sexiest of people, but that doesn't stop them from showing some skin for the camera once in awhile.

So, occasionally we'll post some literary beefcake for your perusal.

Today:  Hart Crane

This looks like a cross between a Tiger Beat photo shoot and an ad for Clorox.

I don't think the rooftop is the place to be wearing loafers or slippers. And the hands-in-the-pockets-while-standing-at-a-building's-edge look? He's an insurance nightmare.

Granted, this feature is Famous Writers Shirtless, and Crane is wearing an undershirt. But the photo was from the Great Depression era. He's thrilled to have any shirt at all.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Mormon Church fires back at LGBQT students at BYU, says being homosexual is still a no-go.

Nine years ago, this blog jokingly started writing about the comically curious, absurdly strict, and just plain odd codes of conduct at various colleges and universities.

The first school chosen to showcase? BYU. From haircuts to clothes to who uses your bathroom, BYU lists a delightful array of absurdity by modern conventions.

Things haven't really changed in the near decade since. That was until a few weeks ago, when the university's Honor Code Office (yes, they have a full office for this stuff) surprisingly deleted a passage in the honor code that banned gays and lesbians from hugging, hand-holding, or sharing a kiss on campus. Students of all sexuality backgrounds were thrilled and excited. It seemed like a new day at BYU!

That lasted about the time of a cup of coffee, if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints actually allowed adherents to enjoy coffee. (Psst: They don't.)

Church Elder Paul V. Johnson penned a letter rebuking Brigham Young University and its students regarding homosexual behavior.

"Lasting joy comes when we live the spirit as well as the letter of God's laws," Johnson states.

This is where the trouble starts. The same passage of the Bible that says a man shall not lay down with another man also notes a cloth should not be made out of two types of thread, or a garden made with different seeds. I don't know about you, but I love me some cotton/poly blends and a good cucumber and tomato salad I grew myself. But I guess I'm packing a suitcase to Satan as I speak.

"Same-sex behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code," Johnson continues.

So, if we're following Johnson's declaration about "the word" of God, then he also REALLY doesn't want you wearing those 98% cotton shorts with 2% spandex that stretches over your love-handles. Sorry, BYU.

CNN decided to write a bio of Dr. Seuss in rhyme. Children will not be interested.

Beloved children's author Theodor Geisel (aka: Dr. Seuss) would have turned 104 this past Monday. Not the most obvious anniversary to remember, especially since the good doctor died 29 years ago. 50th? 100th? 300th? Nah, let's remember 104th.

But Seuss is still beloved by generations regardless, which led to CNN fishing for some quick web clicks this week where they wrote the briefest bio of the man in rhyme. It was supposed to be cute, as if it was one of his books--but really it's only if Dr. Seuss hit-the-bottle-and-regretted-his-career kind of book. Little tidbits like the following:

But do you know how it all started?
Do you know where it all began?
The story of the man who
brought the world "Green Eggs and Ham"?
No need to sit and worry
No — we'll explain it all
Just sit back in your chair, relax and
Silent that next call

Oh, boy. First of all, they think I'm taking calls? Listen, CNN, you text me if you need me.

Secondly, it's "silence," not "silent." It doesn't even change the number of syllables. Not that CNN was remotely counting syllables with this.

But I digress:

Then Suess, he was approached
By the director of a board
They needed something new, they said
The kids -- they are so bored!
So he began to make a book
With not too many words
Less words, he figured, that might work
That's what the kids preferred

"Fewer," not "less." Does CNN ever hire proofreaders or editors for their website? Oh, don't be silly! Proper grammar when writing about books is overrated.

And "the kids"?

The book he made, it had a name
"The Cat in the Hat"
A blend of rhythms and cartoons
A different format
That same year, he dropped another
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"
A story of an odd green man
who's rude and too ambitious


Yeeeah, sorry CNN, but the "The" in "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" is capitalized, as Random House's own book--and the following photo CNN attached to the story--shows:

You literally had the photo on your site, CNN, and still spelled the word incorrectly.

You know what Dr. Seuss would think?

You need to read more children's books.

PS: Lest you wonder why I don't begrudge CNN for their spelling of "The Cat in the Hat," it's because damn near all versions of Random House's editions capitalize every letter of every word in the title. No media outlet, CNN or anyone else, is going to capitalize every letter of every word like they're screaming.

Semantics? Damn right, it's semantics.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Roughly 38,153 people are going to be pretty upset at Harvard in a few weeks.

Harvard University announced that 40,246 students have applied this selection cycle.

According to the school's newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, it's the fewest applicants in three years. So far, the school has already accepted 825 students in December as part of the "Early Action" program, while "Regular Decision" students will learn their fate on March 26th.

An estimated 5.2% of students gain admittance each year. Using some quick math, that means a total of 2,093 will receive their golden ticket for life.

Don't feel too badly for the remaining 38,153 who find themselves rejected. I'm sure many will make do with the plebeian masses at Yale or Princeton or--dare say--even Columbia.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Columnist joins The New York Times, then writes how the newspaper's power might be bad news.

Point #1: 
Ben Smith used to work at BuzzFeed when it was a startup company.

Point #2:  The New York Times has more digital subscribers than the COMBINED subscribers of The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, The Dallas Morning News, and San Francisco Chronicle.

Point #3:  Ben Smith left BuzzFeed, joined The New York Times as a columnist, and on Sunday wrote his first piece about how his now-employer's consolidation of media power might not be so good.

He joined the very problem he fears.

The New York Times has become such a monopoly of information that it can hire people to criticize the company, publish it, play it as self-aware, and simply laugh as they watch more money roll in.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Famous Writers with Cats: Philip K. Dick

Writers need inspiration somewhere in life, and for many that inspiration comes from their pet cats.

This is a running series where we post pictures of famous writers with their feline companions--the cute, the cuddly, the creepy. And that's just the writers.

Today:  Philip K. Dick

Considering Philip K. Dick's stories have been made into movies like Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall, there's a strong chance this cat is just some sort of android that had vengeance and murder on its mind. Look at it. You can't tell me that cat wasn't wondering about murder.

Okay, and maybe catnip.

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Friday Poem: Words, by Kamala Das

As another week concludes, we end with a random poem. Famous poets, obscure poets, amateur poets, whatever poets--just a poem to cap off the week.

Like this one:

Words,  by Kamala Das

All round me are words, and words and words,
They grow on me like leaves, they never
Seem to stop their slow growing
From within... But I tell my self, words
Are a nuisance, beware of them, they
Can be so many things, a
Chasm where running feet must pause, to
Look, a sea with paralyzing waves,
A blast of burning air or,
A knife most willing to cut your best
Friend's throat... Words are a nuisance, but.
They grow on me like leaves on a tree,
They never seem to stop their coming,
From a silence, somewhere deep within...

Randomness Corner: Did you steal three tons of chickpeas recently?

Thieves are on the run with three tons of chickpeas, it what can only be defined as the Great Hummus Theft of 2020.

A small, two-location Middle Eastern chain restaurant in Washington, DC, called Little Sesame is in a lot of trouble, as a recent UPS delivery of 6,150 pounds of chickpeas has gone missing, according to the Washington City Paper.

Little Sesame purchases the chickpeas from a grower in Montana, who typically sends quarterly shipments year-round of three pallets, or one ton each, per pallet.

Tracking records from UPS show the purloined 'peas at a distribution warehouse in Landover, MD, on February 10th. The delivery was supposedly made in an alley out behind one of the two restaurant locations two weeks later on February 24th, in what is apparently the slowest and most casual Big Brown drop-off ever.

Little Sesame's co-owner, Nick Wiseman, tells the Washington City Paper that they're working with other farmers for an emergency shipment of chickpeas before they run out. He notes that three tons of chickpeas roughly equals the weight of an African elephant. That's not necessarily the visual you had mingling with thoughts of hummus, but let it simmer.

In the meantime, clearly someone needs to keep an eye out on a ton of shipped tahini, too. If you happen to see a galore of garbanzos in your local neighborhood, you're urged to contact police.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

High school student collects books for people in jail.

Greenfield (MA) High School junior Ella McDaniel is collecting books for inmates at the Franklin County Jail and House of Corrections until March 24.

According to the Greenfield Recorder, the 16-year old is going through Confirmation at her local Catholic Church and is required to perform acts of community service. McDaniel chose collecting books for inmates.

As The Recorder reports:

"I heard about a project in eastern Massachusetts that provides books to inmates and I thought, 'Why can't we do that here?'" McDaniel said. "Not only does it give (inmates) access to books, but the community at large. I'm a big believer in advocacy."

[...] McDaniel shares that among released inmates, "recidivism rates drop significantly after completing their education."

And that's just the thing. Education does work in all walks of life, but especially within prison populations. I should know. I taught prisoners. Murderers and drug dealers--the vast majority of whom would be released back into local communities largely shunned for a crime of passion--who would now lack not only education, but support from locals to begin a new life.

Prisons are often titled as a "Department of Corrections" or "Correctional Facility." Yet, so often we don't care about "correcting" the issue that led some individual to years behind bars in the first place, which is often a lack of education. We punish and punish and punish again.

There is no logic in taking away someone's freedom, leaving them in a cage, only to release them back into society and expect a positive change.

Instead of punish, it should be educate and educate and educate again.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Philadelphia Little Free Library is filled with yarn instead of books.

There are over 90,000 Little Free Libraries around the world, but one of the first dedicated to yarn popped up outside Philadelphia.

According to news site Billy Penn, local proprietor Liz Sytsma fills up her Little Free Fiber Library with a bevy of yarn, and each day it's cleared out. Don't let BIG STRING learn about this.

Sytsma owns the Wild Hand yarn shop and uses the Little Free Library box her dad created as a sort of outreach to the community. It's caught a fan base on Instagram and Twitter as a result.

It's been a huge success in the one month since it started. "I was surprised," Sytsma tells Billy Penn. "Yarn shops all over the country reached out. Also people from all over wanting to put yarn in it."

Aww, wait until Hobby Lobby or Michael's gets a whiff of this and starts a crackdown.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Math was found in a child's library book!

It's so great to see children learning in various STEM areas!

(((re-reads news headline)))

OHHHH, sorry! Meth was found in a child's library book. Meth. Like, the drug. Not math. Small mistake, but I digress.

According to The Tribune-Democrat Newspaper, a 4-year old dropped off a book to the Shanksville-Stonycreek school library (about 80 miles outside of Pittsburgh, PA) packed with a small surprise of meth.

Being a rural town where the biggest crime is burnt cookies and an overcooked noodle casserole, the local police turned over the case to the Pennsylvania State Police, where the investigation is ongoing.

The Weird History of College Mascots: Stanford University really is afraid to make a decision and stay with it.

Some colleges have perfectly boring mascots with no history outside a public relations-approved cartoon character. Other colleges have histories--often weird--behind their mascots. This is where we recount the oddities.

Today:  Stanford University and their inability to decide upon much.

For a university that is so discerning to decide who joins the student body, Stanford University seemingly can't decide much else.

You know that person at a restaurant who can't decide whether they want steak or fish? That's sort of like Stanford. Let's explain:

Shortly after the university opened its doors in 1891, the school's color was going to be gold. This was quickly abandoned after a school assembly then chose cardinal. (Don't simply call it red. Stanford folks will wave an "Oh, hell no!" finger in your face if you call it red.) Local sports reporters gravitated toward cardinal whenever reporting on the university's football team, so the color stuck.

Woooo! Feel the excitement!

Choosing an official mascot became a larger problem though. Indeed, for the first 40 years of the school's existence, they never adopted one.

By 1930, seemingly at random, Stanford chose to call themselves the Indians. Their own website explains that--uhh, well, uhh, funny enough--they have no explanation for how Indians was chosen. For one of the world's supposed elite universities, it seems to have trouble keeping track of its own history. Their best guess is that--perhaps--since rivals at the University of California-Berkeley chose to be called the Bears, Stanford chose the Indians.

If you're asking what's the correlation between bears and Indians--(((shoulder shrug)))--your guess is as good as Stanford's.

Good guess.

By 1972, through student activism, the school's mascot of the Indian was replaced because of concerns over cultural insensitivity. As a result, Stanford started looking for a new mascot. Huns, Sequoias, Trees, Cardinals, Spikes, Railroaders, and Robber Barons were all proposed. Yes--the Huns. The same nomadic people of the 4th, 5th, and 6th century made popular by Attila the Hun. That's a man who really got a party started.

All proposed ideas were rejected, including Huns. But for a school that most recently charged $51,354 for tuition and fees, the idea of Robber Barons as a mascot feels like a missed opportunity.

Six years later, in 1978, students proposed the mythological griffin (lion and eagle hybrid) as a mascot. The university rejected that as well.

Sort of like a Harry Potter mascot, but less lame.

Instead of a griffin, Hun, or Robber Baron, Stanford spent the duration of the decade going by the nickname of Cardinals. Specifically, they meant a pluralization of the color, NOT the bird. Yes, the cardinal bird is cardinal red, but Stanford was determined to be known by color only, yet plural. In 1981, the university's president officially adopted the color cardinal as representation of the school's athletic teams. A color as nickname, but not a mascot? Pluralization of colors? These are the sorts of philosophical debates you never imagined having.

This bird wants to know why Stanford be hatin'.

Meanwhile, the university's student band adopted a tree as their mascot. Not just any tree, but a very specific 1,000-year old Sequoia named El Palo Alto which is located in--you guessed it--Palo Alto, CA, where Stanford calls home. No one said anyone was terribly creative here.

Still, the university refused to adopt the tree or the band's interpretation of El Palo Alto as mascot, because apparently a tree is too crazy as a symbol. It's no Hun after all. Yet, the band still uses a fairly frightening wide-eyed looking tree as their mascot, where it remains running around the sidelines of football games and confusing generations of students as to why a costumed tree exists in the first place.

Oh, Jesus, the tree is loose again.

Today, Stanford goes simply by the singular Cardinal--the color, not the bird--as its nickname, with no mascot, no representation to be had.

But down deep, when we look back at it all, we all sort of wish they called themselves Attila.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Friday Poem: Resumé, by Dorothy Parker

As another week concludes, we end with a random poem. Famous poets, obscure poets, amateur poets, whatever poets--just a poem to cap off the week.

Like this one:

Resumé, by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

The most stolen book at the San Francisco Public Library a conservative writer?

Typically, the most stolen item anywhere is a matter of demand. People desire it so much, they immediately resort to a little five-finger discount.

Which is why the San Francisco Public Library's most stolen book is curious on the surface. In a city known for its unabashed liberalism, the most stolen book is by a conservative commentator, according to the website The Gate.

"The one author our head of collections has to check regularly and purchase new copies of [are] books by Michael Savage," library spokesperson Kate Patterson wrote in an email to the paper.

"We check once a year to see if all the copies are gone and reorder. We have moved to e-book for most of them, so we can ensure copies are around.  The main title that disappears quickly is 'Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder.'"

First off, if you have to check whether ALL the copies are gone, you might want to check more than once a year.

Secondly, why Savage? Why that book? Are people embarrassed to take the book out? Or do they hate Michael Savage and want to rid the library of his books?

The library told The Gate that books about conspiracy theories and paranormal activity often go amongst the missing--and Savage is often included in the conspiracy theory crowd.

When told he had the most stolen book, Savage said he he was honored, but also questioned why. "Who is stealing it?" he asked. "Is it people who are poor who agree with my message and want it, or is it people taking it out and trashing it to throw it away?"

Eh, both? Neither?

When asked why she thought Savage's books are always stolen, Patterson had a simple reply. "Your guess is as good as ours."

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Famous Writers with Dogs: Langston Hughes

Writers need inspiration somewhere in life, and for many that inspiration comes from their pet dogs.

This is a running series where we post pictures of famous writers with their canine companions--the cute, the cuddly, the creepy. And that's just the writers.

Today:  Langston Hughes

This looks like an ad for some off-brand cologne for men, the type that's sold at a suburban mall kiosk, where the bottles say "Tuscany," but the smells say "Tampa."

The old saying is dogs look like their owners. But in this case, what if the dog looks like Langston Hughes' poetry? Lean, stately, and more beautiful than your own?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Someone threw out $1,000 worth of savings bonds with some books.

Employees at the "Never Enough Books" store in Easthampton, MA, try to make sure books don't end up in landfills.

They inadvertently just made sure they didn't throw out a small fortune, too.

According to local television station WWLP, employee Veronica Eggleston and other workers were recently combing the store's warehouse when stray pieces of paper caught her eye. The stray pieces of paper turned out to be a handful of Series EE bonds stuck to a used book. Added-up, they're roughly worth $1,000.

"[T]hat’s a lot of money. A family could certainly use that, especially now," Eggleston told the station.

There was no identifying information tied to the bonds, no names, no addresses--nothing to track down the original owners.

Which is to say that if we all get out story straight, we can pretend we lost the bonds and split the $1,000 together.