Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Year's Celebrations

New Year's Day is this coming Saturday…welcome to 2011. This has become a traditional time of celebration. We party on New Year's Eve and celebrate the moment the clock strikes midnight signaling the beginning of a new year.

And, of course, when the year 2000 arrived we celebrated for twenty-four hours as each time zone around the earth welcomed the new millennium on live television broadcasts.

But why and how did the New Year's celebrations become part of our annual routine? The earliest recorded account of a celebration in honor of the new year dates back four thousand years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox announced the arrival of the new year. They celebrated this spring time event with a massive 11 day religious festival called Akitu. It was during this time that a new king was crowned or the current ruler's mandate renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed more sophisticated calendars with the first day of the year associated with an agricultural or astronomical event. For example, in Egypt the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. In China, the new year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice…a day that is still celebrated.

The early Roman calendar had 10 months and 304 days with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. Tradition holds that it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. Numa Pompilius, a later king, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the ensuing centuries, the Roman calendar grew out of sync with the sun. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar used today by most countries.

As part of his reform, Julius Caesar declared January 1 as the first day of the year and Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts, decorating their homes, and attending raucous parties. In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 as the anniversary of Christ's birth and March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation. It was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 who re-established January 1 as New Year's Day.

In many countries, New Year's celebrations begin on New Year's Eve and continue into the early hours of January 1st. These celebrations often include specific foods that are said to bring good luck for the coming year—grapes in Spain, round fruits in the Philippines, suckling pig in Austria, soba noodles in Japan, rice pudding in Norway, and black-eyed peas in the southern United States. Other customs that are common worldwide include making new year resolutions (a practice started by the Babylonians) and watching fireworks displays.

In the United States, the most famous New Year's tradition is the dropping of the giant ball in New York City's Times Square. This event, first instituted in 1906, occurs at the stroke of midnight. The original giant ball was made of iron and wood weighing 400 pounds. Today's giant ball is a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds.

So, however you celebrate the arrival of the new year…whether you go out to a party, have family or a few friends to your home, or simply curl up by a cozy fire and watch the festivities in Times Square…I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year.

And peace on earth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

This Saturday is December 25th, Christmas Day. Where did December 25 as a day of celebration originate?

Early Europeans celebrated light in the darkest days of winter. They rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the Winter Solstice on December 21 through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and set them on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out which could be as long as twelve days.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Odin. They believed he made night flights through the sky to observe his people and then decide who would prosper or perish.

In Rome, where winters weren't as harsh as in the far north, Saturnalia was celebrated beginning the week before winter solstice and continuing for a full month. It was a hedonistic time with lots of food and drink. For that month the social order was turned upside down with slaves becoming masters and peasants in charge of the city. Business and schools were closed so everyone could join in.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, on December 25 members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithras, the god of the unconquerable sun.

It wasn't until the fourth century that Christian church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. The Puritans denied the legitimacy of the celebration, pointing out that the Bible does not mention a date for his birth. Pope Julius I chose December 25. The common belief is that the church chose the date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had mostly replaced pagan religion. Christmas was celebrated by attending church then celebrating in a drunken carnival type of atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras celebration.

In the early seventeenth century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces gained control in England and vowed to do away with decadence. As part of their agenda, they cancelled Christmas. When Charles II regained the throne, he restored the holiday.

The pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston. In contrast, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all in the Jamestown settlement where they also enjoyed eggnog, first made in the United States in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Christmas wasn't a holiday in early America until June 26, 1870, when Congress declared it a federal holiday.

One of our Christmas traditions is kissing when standing under mistletoe. But why do people kiss under the mistletoe? After all, mistletoe is a parasitic plant you find in the forest attached to and gaining its sustenance from its host tree. The entire plant is poisonous, especially the berries which are extremely toxic. Ingesting the berries causes acute stomach and intestinal pains, diarrhea, weak pulse, mental disturbances, and the collapse of blood vessels. Death has occurred within ten hours after eating the berries. Not exactly what first comes to mind when you think of kissing. :)

The tradition of linking mistletoe and kissing started in Europe. According to Norse mythology, Baldur, the god of peace, was shot and killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. After the other gods brought him back to life, Frigga, the goddess of love, transformed mistletoe into a symbol of love and peace. And to this day, everyone who passes under the mistletoe must receive a kiss.

Any on that note, I'll close this week's blog.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season, whatever beliefs you follow. And most of all—Peace On Earth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lucky Locations To Visit

Lots of things claim to generate good fortune for the lucky holder—a found penny, a four-leaf clover, and a rabbit's foot, although apparently not all that lucky for the poor rabbit.  :)

There are also various locations around the world that are said to be lucky. Here's a smattering of lucky locations to visit.

The Blarney Stone in Cork, Ireland: Found at the top of Blarney Castle (a trek up old steep stone steps that provides quite a workout before you get near the famous stone), it has long been held that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone will be blessed with the gift of great eloquence and powers of persuasion. BUT, as someone who has been there…well, let's just say that it's not the most sanitary of activities. :)

Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois: In Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery is the tomb of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. And at that tomb is a large sculpture by Gutzon Borglum, the man responsible for Mt. Rushmore. For many years, visitors have rubbed Lincoln's nose for good luck.

Winged Figures of the Republic, Nevada: These thirty-foot-tall Art Deco bronze sculptures are on the Nevada side of Hoover Dam, overlooking the canyon. Rubbing their toes is said to bless you with good luck.

St. John of Nepomuk in Prague, Czech Republic: Although there are more than two dozen sculptures along the famed Charles Bridge, only one of them is said to be lucky. Rubbing the plaque on the statue of St.John of Nepomuk, Archbishop of Prague when he was tortured and thrown in the river in 1393, is supposed to be lucky.  Hopefully luckier than the location was for the Archbishop.  :)

Everard 't Serclaes in Brussels, Belgium: In 1356, Everard 't Serclaes, a resident of Brussels, saved his city from an attack by the Flemish. A relief likeness of him is displayed near the Grand Place. Rubbing it brings good luck.

Schoner Brunnen fountain in Nuremburg, Germany: A seamless brass ring set into one of the railings surrounding Schoner Brunnen fountain is attributed with the power to make wishes come true, but only if you turn the ring three times.  That reminds me of my childhood and grabbinig for the brass ring on the merry-go-round at Santa Monica Pier.

Laughing Buddha in Hangzhou, China: The concept of patting a Buddha's belly for luck started in Hangzhou's Lingyin Temple which has been around since 328 AD. The temple has thousands of Buddhas, but the one visitors love to see is the Laughing Buddha. Patting his belly will bring wealth, good luck, and prosperity.

Bull Mosaic in Milan, Italy: Being a bull in Spain does not guarantee you a long or even comfortable life. But there's one bull in Italy who really has it tough. The Bull Mosaic on the floor of Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is subjected to particularly rough treatment. It's said to be good luck if you place your heel on the bull's testicles and spin around in a circle. All I can say is ouch!

On next week's blog, the last Sunday before Christmas, I'll be talking about the ancient origins of the Christmas holiday.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Crazy Things Confiscated By Customs Agents

These days just getting on an airplane is a cause for nervous tension. There's the latest TSA regulations about full body scanners and pat-downs. And that's in addition to long lines at security check points and what seems to be a constantly changing list of what you can and can't take on the plane.  And there's the ever increasing list of items and services that were once included as part of your air fare but are now additional fees charged by the airlines.  (What?  You mean you want to take luggage with you on your two week vacation?)  All-in-all, flying is not the fun experience it used to be.

And that's just on domestic flights. You add to that the need to clear customs on international flights, both entering a foreign country and coming home, and it's enough to make your head spin.

There's certainly been enough written about the TSA restrictions and requirements, so I won't dwell on them. But I did find an interesting list of contraband seized by Customs agents around the world…a bit more than trying to sneak in with an extra bottle of Merlot hidden in your suitcase.

And here is that list.

10) Shoes Stuffed With Heroin: Smugglers might be a scheming lot, but that doesn't mean they always use their brains. In October 2010, a 32 year old US citizen and her younger brother disembarked from a Caribbean cruise and were tagged by Customs for a secondary screening process. When they opened the woman's luggage they found 15 pairs of 1980s style men's shoes…definitely suspicious items for a woman to be bringing back from the Caribbean. They discovered over 6 kilos of heroin duct taped inside the shoes.

9) Human Skulls: And we're not talking about creepy Halloween decorations. In September 2010, two American tourists had 6 human skulls confiscated from their luggage at the Athens International Airport in Greece. They had purchased the 6 skulls at a souvenir shop on the island of Mykonos and thought they were fake. They were charged with desecrating the dead.

8) Tiger Cub: The 3 month old tiger cub was found sedated and hidden among stuffed animal tigers inside a woman's luggage at Bangkok International Airport when the oversize suitcase went through an X-ray machine. The woman was headed to Iran where the tiger cub could have brought in more than $3,000 on the black market. The cub was sent to a wildlife conservation center and the woman faced wildlife smuggling charges and fines.

7) Fake $100,000 Bills: In 2009, agents confiscated two $100,000 counterfeit bills from a passenger arriving at New York's JFK Airport from Seoul. In 1934, rare $100,000 bills were printed to be circulated between the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve Banks. The bills were never put into general circulation. The man claimed to have found the bills in an old book belonging to his father. The bills were determined to be counterfeit and turned over to the Secret Service.  The largest denomination bill printed in the United States today (and for many years) is the $100 bill.  It's possible that some larger demonination bills might still be out there and are legal tender, but they are taken out of circulation whenever discovered.

6) Cocaine Cast: A leg in a cast may garner some sympathy, but it didn't work for a Chilean passenger arriving at the Barcelona, Spain, airport from Santiago. Customs agents decided to spray the cast with a chemical that turns bright blue when it comes in contact with cocaine. And it did.

5) Bear Paws: And I'm not talking about the bear claw pastry, either. In October 2010, a dozen genuine furry bear paws were confiscated from a Vietnam man's luggage in Ho Chi Minh City Airport upon his return from Hong Kong. Bear paw soup is considered a delicacy.

4) Snakes and Lizards: You're familiar with the movie, Snakes On A Plane?  Well, in 2009 a would be smuggler taped 14 snakes and 10 lizards onto his body in an attempt to sneak them into Norway. Oddly enough, it was a tarantula spotted in his luggage that led to a full body search.

3) Bonytongue Fish: When an airline loses your luggage, it's an inconvenience. However, it's even worse when you're smuggling fish in your suitcases. In 2009 a man returning from Malaysia to his home in Queens, New York City, unfortunately did not have his luggage arrive on the same flight. The next day a Customs agent doing random checks on lost luggage discovered 16 fish packed in individual plastic bags and cushioned with Styrofoam. Considered good luck charms in Asian cultures, they sell for $5,000 to $10,000 apiece.

2) Rhinoceros Horns: Ireland is not where you'd expect to find pieces of safari animals. Over a period of time in late 2009 and 2010, three Irish passengers were busted at Shannon Airport for smuggling 10 rhinoceros horns valued at approximately 500,000 Euros, which at today's (Dec. 4) exchange rate is $670,700. Rhino horns are often ground down and used as a prized ingredient in Chinese medicine.

1) Snake Wine: A glass of snake wine might not have the same appeal as a nice Merlot. However, in Southeast Asian countries, a whole snake soaking in alcohol is a specialty. In May 2009, a routine Customs inspection in Miami revealed a cobra and other poisonous snakes packed into a jar of liquid in an express mail package from Thailand.  Snakes On A Plane part 2?

It makes that additional bottle of Merlot wrapped inside the sweater and stuffed into the corner of your suitcase not seem as bad.  :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lame Remakes Of Great Television Shows

As is blatantly obvious, television quite often looks to the past when searching for new series ideas. This situation occurs for two different reasons.

1) The network has a current hit and wants to capitalize on that popularity by creating a spinoff.

Spinoffs have long been a popular and successful (for the most part) tactic for the networks. Some shows have been so finely crafted that they were the genesis of several spinoffs. For example, ALL IN THE FAMILY gave us THE JEFFERSONS, MAUDE, and GOOD TIMES. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW gave us LOU GRANT, RHODA, and PHYLLIS. And we can't overlook the entire LAW AND ORDER franchise with the most recent being LAW AND ORDER LOS ANGELES and the highly successful CSI franchise. And, of course, JAG begat NCIS which begat NCIS LOS ANGELES

2) The network is looking for a ratings boost so it turns to hit series from the past and hopes that reviving them will be a ratings winner.

And in that department they have come up with some significant blunders when trying to capture that elusive lightning in the bottle for the second time. Far more remakes have been total disasters rather than a once again successful television series.

One remake that seems to be paying off for the network and one I'm enjoying is HAWAII 5-0.  They've updated the characters and given them more interesting backgrounds and interactions than the original but they were smart enough to keep the original theme song and the style of the opening main titles. A good mix of the old and comfortable along with the new.

But let's take a look at some remakes that just didn't work at all.

DRAGNET (2003):  Law and Order kingpin, Dick Wolf, tried to bring back Jack Webb's classic cop drama. It wasn't a bad idea. The original Jack Webb series had a very specific style that was totally Jack Webb's vision right down to the almost wooden dialogue. "Just the facts, Ma'am." It was an iconic style everyone knew. The remake, however, fell victim to the decision by committee mentality of constant tinkering by TV executives and it became a jumble of needless characters.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2002):  An attempt by UPN to remake one of the most creative and interesting series on television was a colossal failure. Without the guiding hand and creative genius of Rod Serling, including his iconic physical presence as the host introducing each episode, it was a dismal failure. They even went so far as to replace those great musical notes that made up the theme song with an updated version. All you need to hear is "do do do do" for the first eight notes and the theme song is not only recognized but its message is clear.

GET SMART (1995):  Fox brought back the classic spy spoof comedy originally created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. And they brought it back with the original cast and it still failed. This remake picked up where the original left off with Maxwell Smart bumbling his way to the top of Control as the chief. But instead of letting Don Adams continue with the role that made him famous, the secret agent work was handled by his nerdy son which made the whole series feel like a lukewarm second rate attempt.

THE PRISONER (2009):  The original classic British series starred Patrick McGoohan as Number six in The Village…a place that seemed to shift and change before our eyes and before the eyes of the main character so that not believing what you're seeing and hearing was the only rule that seemed to be true. The original had a subtext that said it never really took itself seriously. The remake had a bigger budget, larger cast, and better production values but somewhere in there it lost the feeling of the original.

THE FUGITIVE (2000):  CBS thought they could not only cash in on the highly successful original series, but also the hit movie starring Harrison Ford. But with a series and also a movie, everything about THE FUGITIVE was known. Who the characters were, their motives, and even the outcome. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, they pretty much exactly copied it. No surprises, no edge of the seat action, nothing to hold the audience's interest.

FAWLTY TOWERS (every remake ever attempted):  Don't screw around with perfection! There were only twelve episodes made of John Cleese's FAWLTY TOWERS and each one was the epitome of what a sitcom should be—brilliant writing, marvelous characters brought to life by an excellent cast. There have been so many attempts to capture the success of this British sitcom with one remake after another in several countries. Even here in the U.S. we gave it three attempts before finally realizing that it can't be done.

With successful American translations of British sitcoms (All In The Family from the British Till Death Do Us Part, Sanford And Son from the British Steptoe And Son, and Three's Company from the British Man About The House), we obviously thought we could strike gold again. The first one starred Harvey Korman and Betty White and never got beyond the pilot stage. The second one tried a switch by putting Bea Author in a female Basil Fawlty role and it was cancelled after one season. The third attempt starred John Larroquette in a show that copied the original plots but not the characters. Another failure. The original FAWLTY TOWERS was done in the late 1970s and is as funny today as it was then. I have the twelve episodes on DVD and each time I see them I break up even though I know what's coming.

Are there any television remakes that you found particularly disappointing?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Those Naughty Pilgrims

Thanksgiving is this week. Time to turn our thoughts to turkey and dressing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. The holiday also conjurs up images of the pilgrims at the dinner table looking all prim and proper. But what about those pious pilgrims? As with so much in life, there's the façade and then there's the reality. :)

They certainly have a reputation for being a rigid and humorless group. But there are a few surprises to be found. Even though drunkenness was discouraged, beer was accepted as a drink by men, women, and children. The daily ration on the Mayflower was a gallon a day for each individual. Even sex was not taboo under the right circumstances. They had a matter-of-fact attitude about sex as long as it was between a married couple. It's when sex strayed from being the exclusive right between a married couple that the stories get interesting.

Studies by a group of anthropologists at the University of Virginia found that the pilgrims spent a great deal of time thinking about how to punish those with impure thoughts and actions. Studies also discovered that in 11 percent of the marriages at Plymouth Colony the bride was already pregnant. The same study estimates that as many as 50 percent of the pilgrims engaged in premarital sex. Definitely not an image that fits the staid pilgrims.

According to the Mayflower Compact, the colony was to establish laws based on Biblical teachings "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith." The Old Testament book of Leviticus was the basis for most of their laws. Adultery? Death. A man has sex with his daughter-in-law? Death. Sodomy? Death. Bestiality? Death. Are you beginning to see a pattern? :)

But interestingly, the pilgrims did not typically enforce the death penalty for sex offenses. There was only one case in which the convicted offender was actually put to death for sex crimes. It was the case of Thomas Graunger, a teenage boy apparently at the peak of his raging hormones who sought satisfaction from any and all sources available to him…the farm animals.

According to Plymouth Governor William Bradford, "He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey."

Even though Thomas was the only one executed for a sex crime, punishments were routinely severe even with far lesser sex crimes and usually meant whippings, being put into the stocks, and fines.

Although not liberal in their thinking or lifestyle, the pilgrims were not as uptight as history would have us believe. They tried to create a strict religious society, but had an understanding and mercy unusual for their time. As time passed, intolerance grew and was reflected in their laws as demonstrated by the notorious Salem witch trials.

Men were not the only offenders in Plymouth colony. The prim women weren't always so pious either. Women were often caught with the evidence of their dalliances: babies. The records of the times are filled with one out-of-wedlock child after another. Babies showing up just a few months after marriage were also evidence of wrong doing. Pre-marital sex was severely punished. Fines were levied even for making passes, for appearing to have a "lascivious carriage" in public, or partying in mixed company at an unseemly time of night.

Sex outside marriage, even between two unmarried consenting adults, usually meant a whipping and fines. If the woman became pregnant, the man had to either marry her or pay for the child's upbringing. The man was usually placed in the stocks and whipped while the woman was made to watch. Sometimes mercy was granted as in the case of a servant, Jane Powell. Following years of hard servitude, she was destitute and had agreed to having sex in the hopes of marrying the man. Apparently the court found her plea convincing and she went unpunished.

Even though the pilgrims imposed strict punishment for crimes, they also understood human temptations. In 1656, Katheren Aines and William Paule were sentenced for committing adultery. William was whipped and forced to pay the costs of his imprisonment. Katheren was whipped, imprisoned and forced to wear a letter on her shoulder designating her as an adulteress. (Calling Nathaniel Hawthorne!) However, Katheren's husband, Alexander, was also punished. Alexander had left his family for some time and treated her badly during their marriage. The pilgrims viewed him as guilty of "exposing his wife to such temptations." Alexander was required to pay for his wife's imprisonment, and sit in the stocks while William and Katheren were whipped.

This Thanksgiving as you sit down to your turkey dinner, it might be a good idea to take a moment to be thankful you aren't a pilgrim. :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eagle Vs. Turkey: America's National Symbol

We all know that the bald eagle is America's National Symbol…a proud and majestic bird. And turkey is what we serve every year at Thanksgiving…a tasty bird made all the more appetizing when accompanied by dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy.

But did you know if Benjamin Franklin had gotten his way, the turkey would have been our national symbol?

In 1776, right after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress appointed a special committee to select a design for an official national seal. This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. They each had their own ideas, none of which included the bald eagle. They finally came to agreement on a drawing of a woman holding a shield to represent the states. However, the design did nothing to inspire the members of Congress.

So Congress consulted a Philadelphia artist named William Barton who created a new design that included a golden eagle. At the time we were still at war with England and the fierce looking bird was deemed an appropriate symbol…with one small change. The golden eagle also flew over Europe so the federal lawmakers declared that the bird in the seal had to be an American bald eagle.

On June 20, 1782, they approved the design that we recognize today.

From the start, the eagle had been a controversial choice. Benjamin Franklin was quite vocal in his objection to the selection of the eagle. He considered it a bird of "bad moral character." A year after the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war with Great Britain, Franklin argued that the turkey would have been a more appropriate symbol. "A much more respected bird and a true native of America."

Unfortunately for Franklin, Congress was not convinced and the bald eagle remained our national symbol.

Whereas both the bald eagle and the turkey are native to America, we can't lay exclusive claim to either species since both were traditionally found in Canada and Mexico as well as the U.S.

And all of this leads us to one important question. If the turkey had been chosen as our national symbol, what would we serve as our traditional Thanksgiving dinner?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How To Be A Supervillain: Six Tips For Ruling The World

This trying to take over the world business isn't as easy as it seems. Even with legions of henchmen and all kinds of super toys available to you, there's always some superhero out there to thwart your plans just when you're on the verge of success.

If world domination is your goal, here's a list of the top six essentials you'll need for a career as a supervillain.

Persian Cat (or equally sinister animal adornment)

Why It's Necessary: A supervillain needs to be holding the cat when he makes his grand entrance. The Persian breed says you're wealthy and that mankind's most aloof creature is no match for your icy resolve.
Who Did It Best: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, possibly James Bond's greatest enemy, was the trendsetter for many supervillain staples.

Bald Head

Why It's Necessary: Any supervillain worthy of the name has a spectacular chrome dome holding his genius brain.
Who Did It Best: Lex Luthor immediately leaps to mind.


Why It's Essential: The truth about supervillains can be summed up as why have dogs around you if you're going to end up doing your own barking. The true supervillain is too busy creating super plots to take over the world to have time for the minor interruptions such as kidnapping enemies and making Starbucks runs.
Who Did It Best: Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader had an army of Stormtroopers to send after the Rebel Alliance. Of course, that didn't help them win in the end.

Inventive Death Traps

Why It's Essential: A supervillain can't simply kill his adversary, he has to come up with an ingenious method of doing away with him that offers maximum dramatic impact. Of course, the downside of this is that it gives the hero ample opportunity to escape.
Who Did It Best: From Blofeld's piranha pool to all the torturous devices Indiana Jones encountered, there are just too many to try to pick only one.

Secret Hideaway

Why It's Essential: In order to have a dramatic showdown you need to have a suitably impressive backdrop and a secret hideaway is just the place.
Who Did It Best: Austin Powers' nemesis, Dr. Evil may have been inept in many areas, but he definitely had an eye for impressive lairs.

Evil Plan

Why It's Essential: Anyone with a genius IQ can built a super weapon and rain havoc on the population. However, a true supervillain has to do more than just destroy stuff. He needs an evil plan to justify all the destruction and there needs to be something for the hero to thwart.
Who Did It Best: The history of villainy give us a wealth of truly moronic evil plans. But for a scheme we can all believe in, we need to look at Magneto, the metal-molding mutant from X-Men. He can show us how an evil plan is done.

Who are your favorite supervillains?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Candy Nightmares

Halloween aftermath usually means two things—putting the witch and goblin decorations away and fighting the battle of all that candy in the house. There's the leftover candy from what you bought to hand out and then there's all the candy the kids collected on their trick or treat rounds. Sacks full of candy. Enough potential tooth decay material to last until next Halloween.

And what kind of candy is it that we now have in abundance? It seems that all the candy manufacturers, in addition to their regular size candy bars, make the little fun size candy—the mini candy bars or individual pieces. Those little bite size morsels that give us just a taste.

These little tidbits aren't as harmless as you'd like to believe. Many of the small treats are worse for you than eating a normal size candy bar. But that can't be, you tell yourself, because you're only going to eat one of those little things and that's certainly not the same as a regular size candy bar. Well, you and I both know that's a lie! :)

I recently saw a list of the ten worse choices of these mini candy snacks and I'd like to share it with you.

1) Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins (1 piece): You convince yourself that you're getting lots of protein from the peanut butter. Think again. One pumpkin has 180 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 17 grams of sugar.

2) Dove Milk Chocolate Promises (5 pieces): Chocolate is marvelous stuff, full of antioxidants that help decrease the risk of heart disease. Think again. It's DARK chocolate that has the antioxidants, not milk chocolate. You're eating 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 22 grams of sugar.

3) Twix Miniatures (3 pieces): Like the Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins, another choice that might not seem so bad for you. This gooey caramel and cookie crunch treat has 150 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 15 grams of sugar.

4) Almond Joy Snack-Size Bars (3 pieces): Coconut milk and coconut water might be popular in healthy eating circles, but that doesn't mean it's ok to cover it with chocolate and still consider it healthy. With these, you're eating 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 19 grams of sugar.

5) Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Miniature (5 pieces): Remember the comments about Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins? Well, the same rules apply here only this time it's 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 23 grams of sugar.

6) Hershey's Miniatures (5 pieces): These are staples every year at Halloween time. The mixed bag of treats begs you to try at least one of each kind. You'll be consuming 200 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 19 grams of sugar.

7) Hershey's Kisses Caramel-Filled (9 pieces): These seem safe, but don't be fooled. You're looking at 190 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar.

8) York Dark Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Patties (3 pieces): The cool minty chocolate that melts in your mouth gives you 150 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 27 grams of sugar.

9) Snickers Fun Size (2 bars): The commercials say, "Hungry? Grab a Snickers." If you do, you'll be grabbing 144 calories, 7.4 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugar.

10) Kit Kat Snack Size (3 2-piece bars): These little beauties are worth 210 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Halloween is the number of calories, grams of fat, and grams of sugar we consume under the guise of it's little, it won't hurt me.

And strictly for adults…having a glass of wine with our Halloween candy. What type of wine goes with Candy Corn, you might ask.  Master Sommelier and Director of Wines at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants has put together some pairings of Halloween candy and wine for your pleasure.

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars go nicely with a fruity, low-alcohol wine like Brachetto d'Aqui from Northern Italy. It's bright pink and tastes like raspberries and roses.

Hot Tamales are intensely spicy and sweet. That demands a high acid wine with low alcohol to cut the spice and high sugar content, something like a German Riesling.

Tootsie Rolls go very well with a Tawny Port. A twenty year old Tawny Port will taste like nuts and orange peel.

Reese's Pieces go perfectly with Vin Santo from Italy. This wine has a nutty flavor, a great match with the peanut buttery candy.

And finally…what wine goes with Candy Corn? According to the expert, this super sugary candy pairs well with a very floral wine like Muscat de Beaumes de Venise which is a fortified Muscat from the South of France with a rich orange blossom flavor.

So…sort out your candy and don't over do it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halloween Is Almost Here...

And this week I have more about ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. Starting with the ancient origins of the Halloween holiday and then a bit about Jack O'Lanterns.

The roots of Halloween date back 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow). The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of the dark winter. They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead wasn't clearly defined. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory. During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st to be All Saints' Day. It's believed today that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-Hallows. So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2nd All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes. Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits. They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world. Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

And speaking of superstitions…have you ever wondered about where these strange beliefs came from? British author Harry Oliver has written a book titled Black Cats and Four-Leaf Clovers where he explores the origins of superstitions and old wives' tales from around the world. Here are a few of his observations.

Black Cats Bring Bad Luck: black cats have been linked to witchcraft through the centuries which is why many people think they're unlucky. If a cat crosses your path, it's considered unlucky. However, if a cat walks toward you, it's a good omen.

Carrots Are Good For Your Eyesight: although studies have shown that the vitamin A in carrots is good for your eyes, the vegetable isn't enough to create 20/20 vision. Many believe that it was a smart attempt by parents to get their children to eat their vegetables. There is another belief that it started during World War II. It was rumored that British pilots were eating huge amounts of carrots so they could see from high altitudes and in the dark. The rumor was created to keep the public from discovering that radar had been invented and was being used against the enemy.

Wear Your Underwear Inside Out: when you're having a bad day, superstition says that if you turn your underwear inside out things will get better. No one is sure where this one came from, but it's likely the result of a wild college fraternity party.

And then there's the Jack O'Lantern. Making a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween is a centuries old practice that originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack. He played tricks on the Devil and made Satan promise not to take his soul when he died. When the time came, God refused to allow him into heaven because he was an unsavory character. The Devil wouldn't allow him into hell because Jack had made him promise. With nowhere to go, Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack Of The Lantern which morphed into Jack O'Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, and in England they used large beets. Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States where they soon found that pumpkins made the perfect Jack O'Lantern.

Do you have a favorite costume this year? Are you planning on going to a party? Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.

Next week, since Halloween falls on Sunday and I have to post another new blog, I'm going to talk about what there will be an abundance of that night and for the next few days…Halloween candy. It will be Halloween Candy Nightmares (the worst choices) and the pairing of Halloween wine with Halloween candy. Do you have any idea which wine goes with candy corn? :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Haunted Houses Are Now Big Business

I remember when I was a child in West Los Angeles. We had a very large garage and one year my mother and father fixed it up like a haunted house for my Halloween party. They set up a winding, twisty route through the garage that led my friends through a maze of all kinds of scary things. It was a lot of fun and totally different from anything anyone else in the neighborhood did for Halloween. Of course, back in those days, scary things were not the same type of bloody gruesome attractions that are the main features at today's professional Halloween attractions.

Halloween attractions have moved far beyond the innocent neighborhood scare as a fun thing for the trick-or-treaters. Today they are big business. Operators of the large attractions spend most of the year coming up with new and better scary ideas and then implementing them. They take pleasure in dreaming up even more diabolical ways of giving us nightmares.

And guess what – a group of these scary attraction operators even have an organization of their own. Eighteen of the most famous haunted house attractions in the nation have formed America Haunts and count among their members Erebus, Netherworld, The Beast, The ScareHouse, and Edge of Hell. They even hold a national convention every summer in Pittsburgh. The haunted houses that belong to America Haunts are as diverse as the men and women who operate them.

Some, like Erebus, offer high tech features such as moving walls that push people into bottomless pits. They use pneumatics and programmable logic controllers to trigger various events. Erebus is seeking to reclaim its Guinness World Record for the largest haunted house with 2,450 linear feet (the equivalent of over seven football fields) of horror. With competition from seventy haunted house attractions within a fifty mile radius of their southeast Michigan location, they are constantly improving the attraction with innovative new features.

The ScareHouse is three horrifying haunted houses in one. In Rampage, the theme is steampunk meets George Orwell's 1984 meets Pink Floyd. Delirium 3D requires that you wear 3D glasses to go inside the conglomeration of bright colors, neon, European rave music and cybergothic aesthetic. Forsaken is the most traditional haunted house of the three.

But what's the oldest and largest Halloween haunt? Knott's Berry Farm theme park located in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles. Or as it's known this time of year, Knott's Scary Farm.

The Aslyam, one of the Haunt areas of Knott's Scary Farm
This month is the park's 38th annual Halloween Haunt. Knott's hosts the world's first and longest running Halloween theme park event, and the largest event in the amusement park industry. They make it clear that the event is not recommended for children under thirteen years of age. Horror and terror runs rampant through the park every night during October.

But what about real haunted houses? A Denver attraction, The 13th Floor, is housed in a former vocational school. The building has been studied by paranormal investigators who believe it to be truly haunted.

Do any of you have a genuine haunted house in your area?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Most Haunted Cities In America

With the approach of Halloween, it's natural for thoughts to turn to ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. I decided to dedicate all my weekly blogs (for the four applicable Sundays remaining in October) to the holiday of spooky things starting with America's most haunted cities.

Most every city in the country can boast of at least one ghost or place of paranormal happening.  There are several lists of the most haunted cities in the United States, most of them basically naming the same cities in varying order. Here's one list that recently came to my attention.

10) Portland, Oregon: Portland has a reputation for being the most haunted city in the Pacific Northwest. It's a city of many haunts, both seasonal tourist attractions and historical happenings where the participants refuse to leave. One of the most famous…or more accurately, infamous…historical haunts are the Shanghai Tunnels. We've all heard the slang expression of someone being Shanghaied, meaning abducted. This is where it originated. In the Victorian era (around the 1870s), ship captains would put into Portland on the Columbia River looking for fresh crew members. Local 'middlemen' would drug pub goers, dropped the bodies through trapdoors into the tunnels below where they were held until they could be carted to the waterfront and sold to the captain for $50/each. These ships were quite often headed for China, thus the term being Shanghaied. Many of these drugged unfortunates died while being held in the tunnels. Today, the Shanghai Tunnels have several ghosts, some menacing and others apparently confused.

9) San Francisco, California: A city of many haunted locations and happenings. One of the most interesting is Alcatraz. The island was a military prison during the Civil War. It was used off and on by many different groups to house various prisoners from that time until 1933 when it was officially turned over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and used as a maximum security prison for the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. On March 23, 1963, Alcatraz closed its prison doors for good. Over the one hundred plus years that the island housed prisoners of all types, many died in cruel and terrible ways. Those spirits still inhabit Alcatraz. Even today as part of the National Park system, tourists taking one of the park ranger guided tours report seeing and hearing strange things that can't be explained.

8) Chicago, Illinois: Chicago was the center of gangland activity during Prohibition, including the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Many gangsters of the era used Chicago as a body dumping ground. There were also six thousand Confederate soldiers and sailors buried during the Civil War at Oak Woods Cemetery which has ongoing paranormal activity. Chicago's most famous ghost is Resurrection Mary named for Resurrection Cemetery. She was killed by a hit and run driver on the street in front of the cemetery and now is often seen hitch hiking along that street.

7) Charleston, South Carolina: The downtown area known as The Battery was a protective artillery installation during the Civil War. The area is known for its ghost stories. The Battery Carriage House Inn is the city's famous haunted hotel where visitors often see strange happenings. The inn's two most famous ghosts are the gentleman ghost and the headless torso. The gentleman ghost is thought to be a young man whose family owned the house in the early 1900s and, for no known reason, jumped off the roof and killed himself. The headless torso is believed to be military from the Civil War. There is no evidence that he intends any harm, but guests have felt threatened when he has suddenly materialized in their room.

6) St. Augustine, Florida: The nation's oldest city and the first permanently occupied European settlement. Castillo de San Marcos is a star-shaped fort and is considered to be one of the most haunted places in a city filled with unexplained phenomenon. The construction of The Old Fort began in 1672 and took twenty-three years to build. Many strange sightings, including a Spanish soldier, have been reported. It is not uncommon for individuals to capture on film strange lights, orbs, rods, spheres, and even distinct apparitions composed of strange mists.

5) San Antonio, Texas: The home of the Alamo is regarded as the most haunted city in Texas. Prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the ground was a cemetery between 1724 and 1793. It's estimated that about one thousand people were buried during those years. On the morning of March 6, 1836, following the thirteen day Battle of the Alamo, one thousand six hundred Mexican shoulders lay dead along with the approximately one hundred forty-five defenders of the old mission. The remaining buildings at the Alamo as well as the surrounding area is one of the most haunted places in the nation. Tales of ghostly sightings have been reported for almost two centuries.

4) New Orleans, Louisiana: With a history of voodoo and slavery in its past, it's no wonder that New Orleans is considered a very haunted city. Its most famous ghost is voodoo priestess Marie Laveau who was buried at St. Louis Cemetery #1, considered one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country. New Orleans is well below sea level, so the dead are buried in above ground tombs or vaults resembling small architectural buildings. Located on the edge of the haunted French Quarter, this oldest still in service cemetery has been the setting for many Haunted New Orleans movies such as Easy Rider, Interview With The Vampire, and Johnny Handsome. But its biggest draw is the tomb of Marie Laveau.

3) Salem, Massachusetts: This site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s certainly makes the list of haunted cities. Gallows Hill is believed to be haunted by the spirits of the nineteen women accused of being witches who were hanged there. It also shouldn't be surprising that Salem has one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the country for people of all ages.

2) Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Civil War battle at Gettysburg resulted is fifty-one thousand casualties. It is believed that nearly all forty miles of the Gettysburg battlefields have paranormal activity. Many of the ghosts show up in photos, including the ghost of Robert E. Lee. In July 1863, Gettysburg's living population was out numbered twenty to one by the dead.

1) Savannah, Georgia: Savannah was named "America's Most Haunted City" in 2002 by the American Institute of Parapsychology. The city was home to a Revolutionary War battleground and also the site of the Civil War capture of General Sherman. Savannah offers several different haunted tours and is also famous as the location of the bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Have any of you ever had any first hand experience with hauntings?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The New Fall Television Season

Now that the new fall television season has premiered (at least most of the shows), what do you think? Hits and misses? Used to watch every week but not any more? Always meant to give it a try but never got around to it?

Two new broadcast network shows I'm trying out are both remakes on old shows from many, many years ago—The Defenders and Hawaii 5-0, both on CBS.

The Defenders originally debuted in 1961 (in black and white, before the days of color television!). It was a father-son lawyer team who always wore suits and ties and defended the wrongly accused and righteous causes. It starred E.G. Marshal as the father and Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch dad) as the son. Contrast that to the remake of The Defenders. The 2010 version is not a father-son lawyer team. It's set in Las Vegas which automatically says flashy and outrageous situations. I've only seen one episode so far, but it appears that ethical conduct and doing things by the book is not an essential part of their business day. :)

The original Hawaii 5-0 debuted in 1968 and was actually filmed in Hawaii which was most unusual for a television series of that era. Back in those days television shows were shot entirely in studio and on the the back lot with generic establishing shots and the occasional scene being shot on the streets of Los Angeles close to the studio. And like The Defenders, the characters wore suits. There they were, doing cop stuff and chasing down the bad guys in white shirts, suits, and ties. The specific changes with Hawaii 5-0 circa 2010 definitely bring the show into today's world. I am pleased to see that they kept the original theme music and same style of main title opening.

McGarrett is still the former Navy Lt. Commander who heads the elite 5-0 team and reports directly to the governor (who, in the pilot, was a woman). However his key team members were not recruited from the Honolulu Police Department. Danny was Honolulu PD, but had just transferred six months earlier from New Jersey so he could be close to his five year old daughter. Chin Ho used to be Honolulu PD until he got involved in a scandal (wrongfully accused type thing) and is now on the outs with them. And Kono…well, Kono is now a woman who happens to be Chin Ho's cousin and a brand new graduate of the police academy. Suits and ties? Only Danny wears a tie and it isn't exactly neat and tidy—shirt unbuttoned at the neck with shirt tail barely tucked in, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up. McGarrett? The basic jeans and T-shirt wardrobe. They also explained Danno as a nickname for Danny, at least the explanation that fits the 2010 version.

And then there's a new series from the long running and highly successful Law & Order franchise…Law & Order/Los Angeles. I watched the debut episode. It was okay, but I wasn't wowed by it. I read that USA cable renewed Law & Order/Criminal Intent for another season and they're bringing back Vincent De Onofrio as his Robert Goren character to replace Jeff Goldblum who departed the series. I like that, always thought Goren was an interesting character. In fact, I think I find that more interesting than Law & Order/Los Angeles. :)

CSI/New York (CBS) has a new detective forensics person, a woman from Virginia who replaces the departed Stella. She seems like a good character.  I've only seen one episode and she did not leave me with a negative impression, but I don't really have any opinion about her yet.

And, of course, The Mentalist, NCIS (have you noticed how much weight McGee lost over the summer?), and NCIS/Los Angeles are all back. I like the character NCIS/Los Angeles added at the end of last season, Deeks, the police detective who is their liaison with the Los Angeles police department.

And there's the new season of Bones (Fox) and Castle (ABC). Seems to be lots of speculation about whether Booth and Brennan will finally get together and same for Castle and Beckett. Hmmm…let's think about that. Moonlighting—as soon as David and Maddie got together and it was goodbye series. And Remington Steele—as soon as Remington and Laura got together it was goodbye series. Once that sexual tension and the what if is resolved, the spark in the series (as in continuing episodes week after week) usually dies as does the series. For the start of this season, the guys seem to have found other love interests for the time being even though we know those relationships won't last. Booth has the woman (a journalist?) he met during his summer training duty in Afghanistan and over the summer Castle got back together with his second wife for a fling.

And a sad note…one of the little bits of business that Castle used was to give their main character, best selling mystery writer Richard Castle, some real life best selling mystery writers as his poker buddies with them making occasional cameo appearances. James Patterson, Michael Connelly, and Stephen J. Cannell. Unfortunately, Stephen J. Cannell passed away a couple of days ago, on Sept. 30, 2010. A prolific creater, producer, and writer of television shows before turning his hand to writing novels. 

And The Mentalist? Simon Baker is such a cutie!

Criminal Minds…JJ departed. I heard Criminal Minds is going to have a spin off Criminal Minds (Los Angeles?) and the Penelope Garcia character will be a recurring character on the new one in addition to staying where she is. She's a great character, really like her.

CSI Miami moved to a new night with the season premiere tonight (Sunday, Oct 3). I kind of lost interest in CSI Miami when they started messing with the characters. Wolf is a good guy this week, he's a jerk next week, back and forth. And then we didn't know who Delco was any more.

And about to wind up its first season is another show I really like, The Glades on A&E cable. There's another cutie, Matt Passmore.

Lots of Aussies starring in American television series…The Glades, The Mentalist, and Hawaii 5-0. Maybe a third attempt at an American television series with Hawaii 5-0 will be a charm for Alex O'Loughlin after short runs with both Moonlight (he was definitely a sexy vampire) and Three Rivers.

Looking forward to the (November or December ?) start of the new season for White Collar and also Psyche on USA cable.

How about you? Any new shows you're into or returning ones that are favorites?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fifty Years After Emily Post

Fifty years ago this week, etiquette expert Emily Post died. In a recent Vanity Fair poll of 18 – 44 year-olds, forty percent of those queried had no idea who Emily Post was or why she was famous.

Society has changed quite a bit in the fifty years since her death. So, how relevant are Emily Post's etiquette rules to modern life in today's fast paced society of five second sound bites, social media, and instant global communication?

Some of the topics she covered in her 1922 book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, seem totally irrelevant today. Subjects such as one of my favorites—how to keep your fan, gloves, and napkin on your lap at fancy dinner parties. That skill has always been a stumbling block for me at the many fancy dinner parties I routinely attend. :) Some of her other advice, however, is still relevant today.

Fashion: For men she recommended suits for everywhere and all occasions except what she referred to as "the country." When on a country outing, breeches and polished leather riding boots were acceptable. Her thoughts on female style are more relevant. She said most women were fashion sheep, that they should take trends and personalize them.

Conversational Skills: After you dismiss all the complicated stuff about when to doff a hat or curtsy, a lot of her advice is still common sense today. Things such as—will what you have to say be interesting to those around you, don't repeat yourself, let other people talk, and don't pretend to know more than you do.

At a Live Performance: Her book has lots of advice about things like how to dress and whether it's acceptable for a woman to attend with a man who is not her husband. Bear in mind that she was referring to the theater, opera, or the symphony. Her two biggest rules are one hundred percent relevant today—shut up and be on time!

Introductions: She apparently loved all the formalities of meeting new people, presenting calling cards, and how to properly address each other. In today's society it's very common for people to know each other even without having been properly introduced face-to-face. We're friends on Facebook, I saw your video on YouTube, I read your tweet. I imagine that would have thrown Emily into quite a tizzy. :)

Mustn't: Emily Post had lots of mustn'ts. Here are a couple of examples. "A lady mustn't carry a bundle of anything on the streets, but if she has to, a man must carry it for her." "If a man doesn't enjoy the conversation a lady has offered, a woman mustn't be offended, but rather keep fishing for topics he might find agreeable." This sort of reminds me of that magazine article from the mid 1950s about how to be a good wife. Definitely advice to make today's woman cringe. :)

Houses: Her advice in this area seems the most outdated and indicates that her advice was apparently a luxury for the wealthy. She advised that a house must have servants on hand to collect a visitor's things when they visit.

It's easy to make fun of etiquette rules published eighty-eight years ago, but Emily Post's most basic rule is as necessary today as it was back then. "Never do anything that is unpleasant to others."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weird and Wacky Laws

My mother is now at a rehab hospital for her broken hip. I'm still spending a lot of time running between my house, my mother' house, and the rehab facility.  So, as I did last week, I'm reposting one of my blogs from about a year ago.  My life should be back into a "normal" mode by next Sunday so that I can post a new blog.  But until then, here's another trip down memory lane.  :)
There is no question that many weird and wacky laws exist out there. You can only scratch your head and wonder what the various state legislatures were thinking about when they actually took the time to pass these strange ideas into law. And to take it a step farther, you can only wonder how some of these antiquated laws could possibly be enforced...and why they weren't repealed a long time ago. It would be interesting to know what the penalty would be if convicted of breaking some of these laws.

Here are ten such laws that caught my attention (and tickled my funny bone).

In TEXAS, an anti-crime law requires criminals to give their victims notice—oral or written—twenty-four hours in advance of the crime they're planning to commit and the nature of that crime.

In WAYNESBORO, VIRGINIA, it was once illegal for a woman to drive a car up Main Street unless her husband walked in front of the car waving a red flag.

In the state of WASHINGTON, it is mandatory for a motorist with criminal intentions to stop at the city limits and telephone the local chief of police before entering the town.

In IOWA, one-armed piano players who perform must do it for free.

In ALABAMA, it's illegal to wear a funny fake mustache to church.

In NEW HAMPSHIRE, you may not tap your feet, nod your head or in any way keep time with the music played in a tavern, restaurant or café.

In CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, it is forbidden to fish while sitting on a giraffe's neck.

In FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, a person can be jailed for wearing a hat while dancing or wearing a hat to an event where dancing is taking place.

In MINNESOTA, no one is allowed to cross the line into the state with a duck on his/her head.

In DENVER, COLORADO, next door neighbors may not lend each other vacuum cleaners.

And here's a bonus offering that truly boggles the mind:

In MICHIGAN, beavers can be fined up to $10,000 per day for building unlicensed dams, according to a letter the state once sent certain beavers in Grand Rapids. This actually happened! After complaints about flooding on neighboring property, the state sent a letter to the land owner ordering him to remove unauthorized wood debris dams. The reply sent by the landowner was widely circulated around the internet as he pointed out that the "wood debris dams" belonged to beavers and he was not responsible for it. Eventually the matter was dropped and it seems unlikely that this would actually happen again. :)

Do any of you have weird laws in your state or country that have long ago outlived their original purpose but are still on the books?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Secondary Characters And How To Use Them

I've had a hectic week.  On Labor Day (Monday, September 6), my mother fell and broke her hip.  At that time she was preparing for knee replacement surgery.  Left hip and right knee, which compounded her recovery.  I feel as if I've been spending all my time either at the hospital or in my car going to and from.  They moved her to a rehab facility yesterday, but no prognosis on how long she'll be there.  So, to make a long story short [I know, I'm too late on that count :) ], this week's blog is one I originally posted a little over a year and a half ago as a guest blogger elsewhere.  For those who may recognize it, I hope you enjoy it a second time.  For those who don't recognize it, I hope you enjoy it for the first time. :)

Here's the repost of my blog about secondary characters:

While trying to decide on a topic for today's blog, I was torn between a writing type topic or something of a more general nature. The decision came to me while watching a couple of movies last night. One of them was Murder On The Orient Express with its all star cast where almost everyone in the movie was a major character. It occurred to me that there were very few characters other than the many primary ones. So I started thinking about secondary characters and how they can be used to prod, shove and push the main characters into and along the necessary path for the story line.

So, let's talk a bit about secondary characters.

When I say secondary characters, I'm not referring to the minor characters that decorate a scene and maybe have a couple of lines of dialogue. I'm talking about the characters who have a prominent place in your story but are not your main characters. These are the characters you can use to maneuver your main characters into and along the path toward achieving the story goal. They are a key factor in moving your story along and determining what direction it takes.

In developing these characters you need to decide what you want them to accomplish and how you want them to relate to and interact with your main characters in addition to each other in order to move your story line along to its conclusion. Let's take a look at how a set of secondary characters can be used to move a story line in a specific direction. Remember, it's not who they are, it's what they do and how they relate to the main characters and how the main characters respond to them.

Example: You have a story about a teenager who is the leader of a gang. He has been stealing cars for some mobsters. You have two ways you can go with your main character of the teenage gang leader, in other words, two directions your story line can take and you must choose one of them.

1) He wants to leave the gang and make something of his life

2) He runs his gang with a iron hand and threatens anyone who wants out.

With the first scenario, your choice of secondary characters who will influence the story line can be his girl friend, his little brother, and one of his teachers. That tells you who they are, but doesn't tell you how they move the story. His girl friend fears for his safety and finally gives him the ultimatum of leave the gang or she's leaving him. His little brother idolizes him and wants to be just like him, but he doesn't want his little brother to make the same mistakes he did. His teacher is mentoring him by helping him with his studies and finding him an after school job.

With the second scenario, your choice of secondary characters can be his girl friend, a rival gang leader, and his contact with the mobsters who pay him for the stolen cars. Again, that tells you who they are but not what they do to move the story in a specific direction. His girl friend demands more and more in the way of material things so he needs the money from stealing cars to keep her happy. The rival gang leader is trying to take over his stolen car business so he needs to watch his back to protect his own interests. The mobster gives him access to the easy money he needs to keep his girl friend happy and the promise of being able to move into their organization and advance in the criminal world.

Each scenario has the same secondary character of the girl friend, but her function is different in the two scenarios so that the character helps move the two story lines in different directions.

One of the great things about secondary characters is that you can make them as outrageous, unconventional and over-the-top as you want. You don't have the same parameters and cautions with secondary characters as you do with your main characters. The primary thing you need to be careful with is not making them more interesting than your main characters so that they don't steal the show and shove your main characters into the background.

So, I'd like to hear from you. Any comments about developing and using secondary characters in your writing? Or any television shows, movies, or books where the secondary characters stood out in your mind with the way they were able to guide the story line?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Those Lusty Gods Of Mythology And Their Sexy Pursuits

Whether Deity or Demon, the supernatural entities of the ancient world had one thing in common. More often than not, they used their magical skills for the pursuit of sex…lots of it.

In today's world, someone with the powers attributed to the gods and monsters of ancient mythology might use those abilities to banish ignorance, intolerance, and hate to make the world a better place for everyone. But in the ancient world, the rulers of mythology used their special powers for a far more down-to-earth human type pursuit—that of participating in hot sex as often as possible.

Here are six such immortals from the ancient world who seem to be in a perpetual state of heat, always chasing after the pleasures derived from seducing mortals.

6) Zeus: The ancient Greeks didn't have reality television, but they did have the exploits of Zeus, king of the gods, to keep them entertained. Zeus wasn't at all picky. He engaged in sex with goddesses, nymphs and mortals and did whatever it took to get what he wanted. Kinky, freaky, voracious. It all described his sexual appetite. On one occasion he even took on the physical appearance of the husband of a human woman named Alcmene and they had a son named Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology). But even the king of the gods ended up in trouble on the home front. High up on Mt. Olympus, his wife, Hera, was a woman of earth-shattering powers and didn't hesitate to use them.

5) The Incubus/Succubus: Today wet dreams are easily explained. In medieval times, however, they were believed to be the result of demonic forces. Folklore from centuries ago says there was a demonic creature whose sole purpose was to have sex with people during their sleep. The incubus put a spell on a woman to make her compliant then proceeded to have his way with her. The succubus was the female version of this demon who seduced men in their sleep. Sex with an incubus or succubus was considered dangerous for the mortal, but not always lethal. A one time only encounter said the mortal would most likely survive. But continued encounters with the same mortal were definitely bad for the mortal's health.

4) Odin: King of the Norse gods, Odin only had one eye. He traded the other one for infinite wisdom. And what knowledge did this infinite wisdom impart to him? That hot sex was a lot of fun. One time he found himself really turned on by a female giant named Jord. He refused to allow the fact that his non-giant manhood was dwarfed by her giant body to stand in his way. He figured out a physical means for them to have sex. Nine months later Thor was born.

3) Krishna: The Hindu god Krishna wasn't only about hot sex and good times. When his good-for-nothing uncle, Kamsa, crossed that hypothetical line in the sand one too many times, Krishna put him six feet under the sand without giving it a second thought. Krishna loved to get freaky with the ladies. He had a flute and when he played it women would flock to him.

2) Pan: The Greek god, Pan, had a goat-like appearance. He would have fit in perfectly with one of today's college frat houses—he was all about partying. He liked to drink and was cursed (or blessed, depending on how you look at it) with an intense sex drive. He often ran around with his bare erection visible for all to see. Like Krishna, he used his magic flute to draw in the ladies. He seduced Selene, the moon goddess, and convinced her that having sex with him was a great idea.

1) The Meek-Moos-Ak: The Native American tribe known as the Abenaki believed in these short twin creatures called the Meek-moos-ak. They ran around drunk, killing hunters and having sex with women. Their legend said that once a woman had sex with them, she was cursed to never desire marriage.

So, the moral of this story is that should you find yourself covered in a strange substance and it gives you the power to shape-shift or play a mean flute, use it for sex. Everyone else did.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gum and Magnets--What Do They Have In Common?

Well, perhaps that title is a little misleading. What they have in common is alternative every day uses other than what they were originally intended to do.

Let's start with gum. There are several creative uses for the sticky stuff other than being an annoying substance stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

Memory Builder: No need to concern yourself with Ginkgo Biloba when all you need to do is chew a stick of Big Red. People who chewed gum during memory tests scored higher than those who didn't, according to Purple Slinky dot com.

Glue Substitute: According to Reader's Digest you can fix a broken ceramic flower pot or mend a doggie bowl with well-chewed gum. And in a pinch you can also use a tiny piece to fasten papers together when you don't have any staples or paper clips.

Glass Fixer: Gum can be used as a substitute for putty on a loose window pane or in an emergency it can be used to hold your glasses together. It is, however, recommended that you get your glasses properly repaired as quickly as possible.

Tummy Tamer: Again, according to Reader's Digest, a stick of spearmint gum will provide gastrointestinal relief. The spearmint oils ease gas and the chewing produces acid-neutralizing saliva.

Auto Repair: Plug your leaky radiator with gum until you can reach a mechanic.

Key Picker-upper: As demonstrated in movies and on television shows, by putting gum on the tip of a hanger or some sort of wooden stick you can pick up small items that have fallen through a grate.

Bait: Bubble gum, in particular the Bazooka brand, allegedly attracts catfish. Spearmint gum reportedly lures crabs, but make sure the gum is only partially chewed so that some of the flavor remains.

Of course, there is the standard warning of no guarantee that any of these suggestions actually work. :)

So, let's move on to magnets and a few ways they can be used other than attaching children's drawings to the refrigerator.

Magnetic Wall: Turn any wall into a giant magnet with magnetic paint. This paint can be used on several surface materials such as drywall, plaster, wood, and metal. Then you can hang things using a small magnet without having to put any holes in the wall.

Stubborn Battery Remover: Trying to remove one of those tiny batteries so you can replace it with a fresh one? Use a magnet to grab hold of it and save your fingernails.

Screw/Nail/Needle/Pin Locator: Did you ever drop screws or nails when doing one of those assemble-it-yourself projects? Or when sewing, drop needles or pins? Use a magnet to pick them up quick and easy.

Have any of you ever used chewing gum for some type of emergency repair? Ever used a magnet in an unusual way? Leave a comment to share your experiences with us.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Words Added To The Oxford Dictionary Of English

Two weeks ago I blogged about non-words…new words that had been rejected by the prestigious and very picky Oxford English Dictionary. This week I'm talking about words that have been added to the Oxford Dictionary of English, a dictionary based on how the English language is used in everyday life, published by the very same Oxford University Press.

Over the last few years, the internet has been responsible for the addition of many new words. Another source of new words has been the current economic crisis, words such as staycation—a holiday or vacation spent in one's home country.

And the proliferation of social media (itself a new internet term) has produced some unusual words and phrases. Words previously considered as non-words are now properly used in everyday conversations. To say that you plan to defriend someone (remove that person from a list of friends or contact on a social networking site) or arrange a tweetup (organize a meeting via Twitter) are now common terminology.

Here's a sampling of fifteen new entries to the Oxford Dictionary of English.  Several of the words on the complete list of thirty-nine are not new in the U.S. but show how long it has taken for some well-established Americanisms to take root in other parts of the world.  Some have been universally around but are just now making it into the Oxford Dictionary of English as common usage.

Buzzkill: a person or thing that has a depressing or dispiriting effect

Catastrophizing: view or present a situation as considerably worse than it actually is

Cheeseball: lacking taste, style or originality

Chillax: calm down and relax

Chill Pill: an "idea" pill given to someone to calm them down

Cool Hunter: a person whose job it is to make observations or predictions about new styles and trends

Exit Strategy: a preplanned means of extricating one self from a situation

Freemium: a business tactic, especially on the internet, where basic services are provided for free with more advanced (and more desirable) features needing to be paid for

Frenemy: a person you are friendly with despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry

LBD: little black dress

Microblogging: the posting of very short entries on a blog

Overthink: think about something too much or for too long

Steampunk: a genre of science fiction that typically features steam powered machinery emulating far more advanced technology (think Wild Wild West, the old television series and the movie)

The only one of the new words that passed spell check was Chill Pill, but that was only because it was two acceptable separate words, not the new term. Of course, as quickly as these words became common usage is as quickly as they might disappear from our daily life.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Did You Survive Friday the 13th?

We just experienced another Friday the 13th, the only one for the year 2010. Even if you don't believe in the superstitions, it's still a date that makes you stop and think.

Triskaidekaphobia: Fear of the number thirteen.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia: Fear of Friday the 13th.

An obviously irrational concept that a mere number can bring bad luck to someone. Or that a specific day of the week can be unlucky. But that doesn't stop us from dwelling on the possibility. :)

A date so infamous that it was chosen as the title for a series of horror movies.

The tradition of Friday being a day of bad luck goes back centuries with some of the more common theories linking it to significant events in Christian tradition believed to have taken place on Friday such as the Crucifixion, Eve offering Adam the apple in the Garden of Eden, the beginning of the great flood.

Many sources for the superstition surrounding the number thirteen and its association with bad luck also derive from Christianity with the Last Supper being cited as the origin. Judas was the thirteenth person to be seated at the table.

And when you put the two bad luck symbols together you get Friday the 13th…the day traditionally associated with misfortune.

Superstition is a belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge. An irrational belief. Lots of superstitions came into being during the Dark Ages, a time when living conditions were so severe that people reached out to anything that might bring them help and solace with the results being explanations for what seemed unexplainable at the time. Religious beliefs and lack of scientific knowledge helped to spawn many superstitions.

Superstitions differ from culture to culture, but we all have them even if it's only paying surface homage to the concept. We don't believe in the good luck vs. bad luck of chain letters, yet it often comes down to saying what's the harm or couldn't hurt, then sending out the letters.

We often follow the tradition of the superstition without really knowing why it's the traditional thing to do. If we blow out all the candles on our birthday cake with one breath while making a silent wish, then the wish will come true. When expressing a desire for good luck (we'll be able to go on the picnic if it doesn't rain), we grin, then we knock on wood as we emit an embarrassed chuckle.

In Western folklore, many superstitions are associated with bad luck. In addition to Friday the 13th, there's walking under a ladder, having a black cat cross your path, spilling salt, stepping on a crack, and breaking a mirror among others.

In addition to cultural superstitions, there's also certain occupations that evoke various rituals to bring on good luck. It seems to me that gamblers and sports figures have the most superstitions and rituals to insure good luck.

Do you have any superstitions that you hold dear? Are they more of a traditional situation handed down through your family or are they superstitions that have come down through the ages?

I'd like to hear about them.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Oxford English Dictionary Rejects

Non-Words—by definition, these are words that have been submitted to the Oxford English Dictionary and were rejected because, according to the powers that be in charge of the dictionary, too few people currently use them.

A twenty-two year old recent graphic designer graduate claims to have found a secret vault at Oxford containing many filing cabinets crammed with thousands of failed words that had been hidden away, some dating as far back as 1918.

Oxford University Press, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary, denied him access to the vaults. So he did extensive searches of the internet and compiled a list of 39 words that The Oxford English Dictionary had rejected.

Following are fifteen of my favorites from his list.

Accordionated: Being able to drive and refold a road map at the same time.

Asphinxiation: Being sick to death of unanswerable puzzles or riddles.

Blogish: A variety of English that uses a large number of initialisms, frequently used on blogs.

Dunandunate: The overuse of a word or phrase that has recently been added to your own vocabulary.

Griefer: Someone who spends their on-line time harassing others.

Lexpionage: The sleuthing of words and phrases.

Nonversation: A worthless conversation, wherein nothing is explained or otherwise elaborated upon.

Pharming: The practice of creating a dummy website for phishing data.

Pregreening: To creep forward while waiting for a red traffic light to change.

Scrax: The waxy coating that is scratched off an instant lottery ticket.

Sprummer: When summer and springtime can't decide which is to come first, usually hot one day then cold the next.

Stealth-geek: Someone who hides their nerdy interests while maintaining a normal outward appearance.

Wurfing: The act of surfing the internet while at work.

Wikism: A piece of information that claims to be true but is wildly inaccurate.

And finally…

Xenolexica: A grave confusion when faced with unusual words.

I ran this through spell check before posting it to my blog. As expected, spell check did not recognize any of the non-words. I was amused and surprised that spell check did recognize the word phishing.  :)

Who knows, maybe someday The Oxford English Dictionary will include some of these words.