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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lies, Danged Lies & Statistics - "The Grey" Gets the PETA Treatment

It couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. Lliam Neeson has been all over the map lately trying to explain why the character Aslan, whom he voiced in the Narnia movies, isn't Jesus and assuring us that he might be thinking about becoming Muslim as his movie characters slaughter terrorists and engage in all sorts of politically incorrect activities.

PETA and other animal activist groups are calling for a boycott of Neeson's new movie "The Grey" because it depicts humans being attacked by wolves, something the pro-wolf faction characterizes as rare to the point of ridiculousness. Activists confidently point out that there are only two documented cases of wolves attacking people in the past hundred years. 

At this point it's time for a little caveat emptor. Before you "buy" this statistic there are some things you should know about the calculations behind it. The two official "deaths by wolf" were :
  1. Candace Berner, a 32 year-old teacher out for a jog near her Alaskan village in 2010. The attack was witnessed and investigated by the sheriff's department. They killed two wolves that they believed likely were responsible. Circumstantial, but enough to get "wolf killing" on the coroner's report.
  2. Kenton Joel, a 22-year old Ontario engineering student in 2005 out for a walk from a construction camp. His body was found a few days after he disappeared. He had been "partially consumed". Some wolves in the area were killed and clothing fibers were found in their stomachs. CSI was satisfied it was wolves what done it. PETA, not so much.
Seem fair to say wolves aren't terribly dangerous does it? If those are the only killings of humans by wolves in a hundred years, how dangerous could wolves be?

Please remember that a single adjective can alter a "statistic". British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics." The quote was so useful, it's been attributed to all sorts of famous wits and sages ever since--from Mark Twain (who claimed to be quoting Disraeli) to Leonard H. Courtney who later became president of the Royal Statistical Society. This "statistic" about wolves,so confidently quoted by PETA and it's ilk, contains the adjective delimiter "documented".

Adding that word means you can only count killings in the past hundred years that were positively done by wolves and which have pictures, DNA or other forensic evidence, two or more witnesses to the attack (which means someone not killed in the attack, only injured or safely up a tree at the time) or a coroner's or police report saying definitively that it was a wolf what killed that particular corpse. Having eaten the corpse doesn't prove the wolf killed the person by the way. Also, note that this statistic only includes people who were "killed" by wolves. It doesn't include wolf attacks where people were mamed, injured or hospitalized. It doesn't include gnarly old trappers who crawled back to their cabins and succumbed later to gangrene or rabies or blood loss and nobody found their dessicated corpses till years later and shoved their bones into a shallow grave without further inquiry as to cause of death. It doesn't include folk gone missing whom the wolves successfully dismembered and hid their leftover bits in some handy wolf den or cave.

Also note the dates -- both within the past 7 years. You're tell me wolves only started killing folk 7 years ago. Not bloody likely!

Wolves are opportunistic feeders. They go after meaty creatures that appear to be vulnerable. Humans are vulnerable-looking meaty creatures (some of us meatier than others). How many people have gone missing in the wild who were torn apart by packs of wolves and had their remnants scattered here there and everywhere. There is little likelihood those sorts of wolf kills will ever be found, much less pass muster as "documented" kills?  The fact that CSI has only investigated two known incidents means nothing. The very nature of wolf attacks, especially successful attacks, means you're not going to have much of a body left to examine.

Remember canines like to bury their bones.

Wolves, you must remember, are not dogs.  A dog can go wild and join a wolf pack if he's been abandoned or mistreated by humans and if it's very large and strong enough to hold its own with the wolves. A wolf, on the other hand, is unlikely to join a human family, unless it has been raised in the family from a pup and even then, he can never be fully trusted.  If you do feed or try to befriend a wolf, you've made a very dangerous friend that you don't want to turn your back on. All the zoologists say so.

It is irresponsible for animal activists to promote this idea that wolves aren't dangerous creatures and that all you have to do to escape a pack of wolves is make yourself look bigger and scarier than they are. Tell that to the skinny engineering student and the petite Alaskan schoolteacher. Oh, wait! You can't. They're dead.

As humans cross paths with wolves, wolves look us up and down to determine whether it's safe to kill us or not. It's what they do. They're predators. If you've got a gun, they'll probably leave you alone. If you look weak?  Well a dog's gotta eat!

In the meantime, Lliam, probably should make a large donation to PETA or his new movie is going down the dumper. He's already got Christians boycotting his pictures for his revisionist take on a Christian children's classic story and by far-right conservatives (a primary audience for Neeson's very violent tough guy films like "Taken") because of his pro-Muslim rhetoric. The way he's going, Lliam's gonna have to bribe a lot of people to make them like him or else the studios may decide to pick themselves a new action hero -- one of those strong silent types that gets along with all the little woodland creatures.

I could help you with your PR problem, Lliam, but it's gonna cost you, dude!

Just one man's opinion.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Sheila Has a Mini-Me

Justin dusts!
My Sweet Baboo is a legendary clean freak. The woman cleans daily the way most people do spring cleaning. She can't stop. I've found her at nine o'clock at night scrubbing ceilings with bleeding knuckles. I've practically had to sit on her to get her to stop when she gets going on a cleaning project.

Lately the bane of her weekly cleaning regimen has been Justin's room.  Justin is her 30 year-old nephew. He occupies the room next door. His most recent incarnation is "The Music Man" -- not the Robert Preston/76 Trombones music man. More like the Puff Daddy music man.

He sits in his room and plays CDs and listens through his head phones and occasionally sings along while beating on a painfully out-of-tune guitar that's missing some strings. He earns stickers for not insulting the food at mealtimes and I make him mix CDs when he collects a week's worth of stickers. It sometimes takes a while.

He's gone through several other iterations. For a long time he ran around the house with a spray bottle after he became a "Bug Sprayer". His uncle worked for a pest control agency, so Justin decided he was a bug spray man.

Later after a series of funerals he took to wearing a tie and when people would visit he would direct them to their seats and show them where to go to view the body.

Then he went through his "Weatherman" period. Not the terrorist group, but the TV type weatherman. He entertained us for years with his colorful weather reports.

Now he's a music man with the T-shirt to prove it.....until this morning.

Suddenly, this morning during the weekly struggle to get Justin to pick up the CDs and tapes scattered all over the floor so Sheila could vacuum and dust his room, Justin transformed into a new super hero -- Tidy Man!

Before we knew what was happening, the boy had picked up his floor and presented himself to Sheila, dustrag in hand, prepared to DUST. Sheila spritzed his towel and off he went tediously dusting every corner of his room. But it didn't stop there! She stepped out of the room for a minute and he fired up the vacuum cleaner - an instrument he has never touched to my certain knowledge.

For the rest of the morning he was Sheila's own personal mini-me, running around washing windows and dusting lamps and tables. Shela sneaked around behind him and redid it, of course, but it was really fun to watch. He did give it his all. Sheila finally talked him into going back to his room to "pay his bills", something he's seen his Dad do. He does it on his TV in lieu of a computer.  Before he went, though, he went around and disinfected all the door knobs including the bathroom door.

Then, he looked straight at me with a stern look and said, "If you need to go to the bathroom, you'll have to go down to the Texaco."

Later as he was getting ready to go upstairs, I decided to get up and get myself a piece of the pound cake I made last night. Justin looked at me horrified. "How can you do this to me," he moaned. "We just cleaned that!"

I nearly died laughing. I'll remind him of that tonight when he dumps leftover potato chips in my nice clean sink!


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fresh Powder

(c) 2012 by Tom King

A Texas boy, I’ve never seen
   Fresh powder, soft, nearly dry
It kicks up on my boot toes
   As I pass shuffle-footed alongside the dog
Two pair of footprints and a row of holes
   Where my cane punctures the pristine sheet of snow.

It’s night now – me and the dog
   Lookin’ for a place to pee.
She’s never seen snow like this before
   And rambles herky-jerky ranging back and forth
Sticking her nose under bushes, into little drifts
   Snorting when she gets a noseful, shaking her head.

The path and snow-packed road wend away
   Toward a lamppost at a corner someway off
Tempting us along like children
   Sneaking down the aisle of an empty church
To steal a peek at things upon the altar
   The snow, like linen drapes lying softly over the pews.

Fresh powder softly laid lends a holy stillness
   Over the cold, dark world tonight.
Reflects the moonlight scattering little stars
   Like jewels along the way ahead.
Breathless, still, yet almost a kind of music
   An aerie song of distantly remembered home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What's With All the Zombies Lately?

(c) 2012 by Tom King

But you're not at all what I was expecting.
Seems like zombies are everywhere of late. You can hardly get through a movie preview or an evening's television these days that isn't littered with rotting zombie corpses. So what's the deal?

Zombies are part of what I call the 'get teenage girls to climb into teenage boys' laps in a darkened theater" movie genre. Movie-makers make a fortune on date movies. Chick movies work pretty well for inducing romantic feelings in teenage girls, but they are also expensive to make. You have to have popular adolescent actors and those get kind of expensive. Whereas all you need for zombie movies to get the same effect (trembling teenage female) is a bunch of inexpensive extras in crumbling flesh makeup, wearing clothes from homeless people..

This has been going on for a long time in various forms.  At one time it was sharks eating girls in bikinis or sharks eating girls who were skinny-dipping or sharks eating naked girls lying on surfboards.  Well, you get the theme here.

Then came the acid dripping aliens, swamp monsters and bigfoots, vampires, werewolves and now zombies.
Who knows what will be next?

The vicious monster cycle is nothing more than movie producers with malice and aforethought, providing a powerful tool to help teenage boys get their dates so scared enough, they won't notice they are being groped. It always works for a while until the latest slavering beast becomes passe'.

When the genre succumbs to oversaturation, the movie producers simply move on to a new kind of monster. The moment teenage girls stop being scared by whatever the latest monster is, predatory teenage males stop taking their girls to zombie or vampire flicks or whatever. It can happen almost overnight. Word that sharks are "boring" spreads through the female grapevine like wildfire and almost overnight a horror genre becomes extinct.

No problem, just stick the newly out-dated monster into a can and save him for whenever the genre comes around again.

They kind of messed up with the Twilight series, though.  Girls are so hot for the vampires and werewolves on the screen in Twilight that they often disdain the boys that brung 'em to the theater in the first place. Twilight is kind of a Vampires/chick flick. The male vampire is so much the ultimate in bad boy boyfriends that girls, looking over at the pimply mouth-breather sitting next to them and find the available crop of males pales by comparison. Girls are, after all, not only looking for someone their mothers won't approve of, but also for someone they can change into a good person with the power of their love.  Let's face it, girls. The whole point of dating bad boys is to drive your mother crazy and to change his naughty ways with your love.You know it is.

The pale-faced movie Lotharios of Twilight have been drawing flocks of girls to the theaters lately in packs - often without boyfriends along. There's a reason the boys aren't going along.  I mean, what's the use? The "monsters" in Twilight aren't terribly scary (so girls would notice if her date made a move on her and distracted her from the plot). And that's another problem, there is an actual plot to the thing that girls pay very close attention. Their dates, meanwhile have nothing to do but go to the lobby to get their free popcorn refill.

Finally, no mortal teenage male could ever measure up to a vampire for steamy sensuality. As a guy, your sympathies are with the werewolves anyway. In Twilight, ironically, the werewolves are actually the good boys and they aren't as much fun to date as the ones that will suck out your blood and make you one of the undead. That's puts any girl's hapless "date" in third place. And who wants to be a poor third behind vampires and werewolves. As expensive as first-run movies are and as poor your chances of scoring after two hours of "Twilight", the guys just aren't even trying anymore.  And it's the boyfriends that buy the snack foods upon which theaters depend. Girls in love with vampires, don't chug root beer and throw down jumbo tubs of popcorn. They are too busy dieting - working on that pale, wan, blood-drained look - like Belle on the outside chance they might attract the attention of a sexy teenaged vampire.
It's safe to say zombie movies are making a comeback of late.
I suspect it's teenage boys driving the sudden popularity of the zombie. There's tons of blood and gore, nonstop shooting and zombies jumping out at you in 3D. And zombie's don't make you look bad by comparison. I mean girls don't find zombies particularly attractive and it is vaguely possible that, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, you might even pick up a shotgun and annihilate some zombies to save her life. 

I've noticed, most girls won't go to zombie movies without a boyfriend. And that's good for popcorn sales. I suspect that in some secret meeting of whatever passes for the Illuminati among Hollywood producers, somebody recently stood up and said, "Enough with the vampires already. You're killing concession sales!"

"Yeah, how about zombies this time? Isn't it about time for them again?" suggests another. "And zombie movies are real cheap to make."

I'm just sayin'


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Anthropoloical Studies Down at the Walmart Parking Lot

(c) 2012 by Tom King

Plenty of people have weighed  in opinions of Wal-Mart and its customers. Comedians, pop psychologists, community organizers and armchair anthropologists have ridiculed and/or looked down their noses at the folk who congregate at the Wal-Mart. You will notice that I myself place the definite article "the" in front of "Wal-Mart" as is the general usage throughout the South. I suppose we do that unconsciously to identify THE Wal-Mart as opposed to would-be Wal-Marts like K-Mart, Target and Gibson's Discount Centers.

Wal-Mart is something of a barometer of local lower middle class culture in any community. And since the folk who live below the median 50% of the economic classes tend to be the primary Wal-Mart shoppers, it is fair to say that you could likely find a fairly representative sample of mainstream Americans by observing folk who shop at Wally World.

For instance, this morning I discovered a difference between Wal-Marts in Washington State and Texas that points to a difference in the two cultures or at least in how the cultures react to an outside stimulus - in this case snow. I come from Texas. When it snows in Texas everyone goes to the Wal-Mart and buys enough food and supplies to survive an apocalypse. For some reason we also buy huge packages of toilet paper. The parking lot of the Wal-Mart is inevitably packed with pickups and SUVs the moment more than a handful of snowflakes begin to fall.  Not sure why. Perhaps we're expecting massive power failures and want to have plenty of perishable food on hand if it does. Then, of course, when the power fails, we'll have to eat all the perishable food right quick before it perishes because the refrigerator will go out without power and then we're really going to need plenty of extra toilet paper you can bet on it.

This morning the ground was covered with snow, the roads were icy and, of course, my brother-in-law and I noticed we were low on bread. So, off we went to the Wal-Mart or just plain Wal-Mart as it's known up here in the Seattle area.  I fully expected to see the parking lot jammed, but to my surprise there appeared to be fewer people than usual in the store. Cashiers were standing idle waiting for customers - something I'd never seen at the South Hill Wal-Mart.

When snow starts falling Daisy and I get an urge to play in it.
Apparently, people in Washington do not feel the need to go out and drive in the snow if it's not absolutely necessary. The don't really need a lot of toilet paper when it snows either. The few people who were there were buying DVDs and snack food and stuff like that.

They say familiarity breeds contempt. I suppose as often as they get snow around here, the folk don't think they have to get in supplies  every time there is a flurry. 

Me, I'm carrying my trusty Swiss Army knife and a cigarette lighter (I don't smoke) with me at all times while there is snow in the air or on the ground.  I can still build a lean-to and start a fire with wet wood. I'm ready for whatever the Pacific Northwest can throw at me. Except for maybe that volcano over across the valley.

I wonder if the Wal-Mart parking lot would fill up if Mt. Ranier erupted?  I'll go check it out if it does and let you know.

Tom King - Puyallup, WA, late of East Texas

Thursday, January 05, 2012

If Doctor’s Were on Baseball Cards

(c) 2012 by Tom King

I just went through the process of helping my wife select a doctor for her new medical plan. Choosing a doctor is a pretty serious business. After all, this is a person who may someday have to look at your hoo-hah in order to tell you what’s wrong with it.

You don’t want to pick just anyone for that duty, I don’t care how many sheepskins are hanging on his or her office wall. 

I once went in for a surgery called a uvulopalatoplasty/ethmoidechtomy – a delightful little procedures where they jerk bits of you out through your nose, tear out your tonsils, adenoids and lop off your uvula – that dangling down bit at the back of your throat. This was supposed to cure my sleep apnea and snoring.

It did not.

Be that as it may, before the surgery, a surgical nurse or some similar sort of data collector interviewed me. His job, it seemed, was to determine my physical and mental state prior to surgery. I was pretty okay about the thing. I liked Dr. Shea, the surgeon. He seemed competent enough and the surgery was an hour-long outpatient procedure. Unfortunately, I chose this point in the process to quip.

A word to folk going into surgery. You aren’t supposed to be funny. Hospital data collectors don’t understand why anyone would make pithy remarks before a surgical procedure. I think hospitals data collectors must have to undergo a funnyboneectomy or something before they get the job.

“I think you guys should put all your surgeons,” I quipped, “On, like baseball cards or something. You know, list their batting averages for their surgeries. I’d really like to know how many people survive and how many they kill. Seasonal averages would be okay.”

The hospital data collector had gone pale.

“I just think it would help you to know how worried you should be, you know, like you might want to get your affairs in order and stuff,” I explained helpfully.

The hospital data collector scribbled furiously, then folded the data collection sheet and tucked it in my chart. “Excuse me,” he said and stepped out of the room.

Well, being of a curious bent, I scooted over to the table and flipped open the chart. “Patient appears agitated,” the data collector had written at the bottom of the intake form. Later the nurse returned to collect me and double-checked the chart.

“Come with me,” she said casting an appraising eye over me. I followed meekly. She weighed me, then gave me a handful of pills, stretched me out on the gurney and slipped a mask over my face. I remember the anesthetist coming in and fiddling with some valves.

“Count backwards from one hundred,” he commanded.

“Sure,” I said light-heartedly. “One hun……………….” That’s all I remember till I woke with the curious sensation that someone had touched off a stick of dynamite in my head.

I still think the baseball cards thing was a good idea. Group Health, my wife’s HMO has a side by side comparison thing that gives you the physicians educational background, his philosophy of medical practice and a list of hobbies and pastimes (I like walking on the beach, playing the zither and am a fourth level Voodoo priestess).

Still, though it's nice to know some personal tidbits about your doc, there's nothing yet in the info pages about won/loss rates, saves, miraculous recoveries or how the doc feels about prescribing Valium, Oxycodone or medical marijuana, number of malpractice suits in the past year – useful things of that sort. It would certainly help us anxiety-ridden potential patients.

A Surgical Batting Average (SBA) of 352 would mean something. I mean, hey, I've got to give the docs my cholesterol count. Fair's fair.

I'm just sayin'.