Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep

We survived the December 21, 2012, Doomsday predictions. We survived the holidays and following New Year's Day things return to normal. Once again we'll know what day of the week it is—every day won't feel like a Saturday-Sunday weekend. :)

Therefore…it seemed that a New Years themed blog would be appropriate.

New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke. Every January 1st we make resolutions for the upcoming year and if we're lucky, they could actually remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2013? Here's a list of several such resolutions. I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered. If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance.

1. Gain Weight: Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks.

2. Go Deeper Into Debt: You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping. After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3. Spend More Money: This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list. Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4. Don't Get A Better Job: Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5. Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine: Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6. Don't Go Back To School: Look at your current life and time schedule. Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new 60-inch HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks. Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7. Drink More Alcohol: Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new HDTV.

8. Smoke Like A Chimney: When someone chastises you for putting second hand smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9. Stay At Home: If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10. Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).

As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.

Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses. Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason. Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved totemic status. At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cakelike substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem. Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts. It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…

While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover. According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin. And what are congeners, you might ask? They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic. They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste. They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :) And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning. According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges. The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail). The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover. The credit goes to the alcohol itself

Wishing everyone a marvelous New Year, and health and happiness for 2013.

And most of all Peace On Earth for everyone.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

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.

Some Christmas facts:

Each year 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

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

The first eggnog made in the United States was in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of an advertising campaign to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

The first tinsel decoration was made from real silver and originally used to reflect light from candles placed on Christmas trees (in the days before electric lights replaced candles). Tinsel came into popularity in 1610 in Germany. Silver was hammered out and cut into thin strips to hang on the tree. Real silver tarnished, so the tinsel rarely lasted more than one season. Silver tinsel was used until the early 1900s and was seen as a status symbol. Today's tinsel is made of PVC. Due to its environmentally unfriendly nature, it has mostly gone out of style.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season. And most of all – Peace On Earth.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 21, 2012—Doomsday?

Most of the Doomsday talk about December 21, 2012, being the day the world will come to some sort of an apocalyptic end is related to a Mayan calendar from centuries ago. Over the years, the Mayan calendar end date has been misinterpreted as a prophecy of the earth's end not to mention that the end date was never specified as December 21st. The date in question as shown on the Mayan calendar is winter solstice in Northern hemisphere (summer solstice in Southern hemisphere) of 2012 which, for this year, happens to fall on December 21st but can occur anywhere on December 20 through December 23 depending on the year.

For those who are thinking that modern changes to the calendar such as converting from the Julian calendar to the current Gregorian calendar and adding a leap day every four years means the moment of doom would have already come and gone, you can set that notion aside since it's not the specific date of December 21st that's in question. The moment of truth is the moment of the solstice which is not determined by modern man's calendar.

The Mayan calendar actually consists of three calendars working together simultaneously. The Long Count calendar is divided into bak'tuns (144,000-day cycles) that began at the Maya creation date. The winter solstice of the year 2012 is the last day of the 13th bak'tun…the end date of that specific cycle of that calendar, not the end of the world. In addition to the Long Count calendar, there is the Tzolkin (divine calendar) and the Haab (civil calendar). Time goes in cycles in the Mayan calendars meaning that a specific number of days must occur before a new cycle can begin.

The current cycle of the Long Count calendar ends with this month's solstice, thus all the corresponding doomsday predictions. So, where is the calendar that picks up where the current one leaves off? One of the saddest events of Mayan history can be attributed to the Spanish explorers of the 16th century. In 1562, Spanish Inquisitor, Friar Diego de Landa, destroyed over 5000 Mayan artifacts carved in stone and made of clay and burned most of the written manuscripts. It was his attempt to force the Maya to abandon their pagan practices, thus losing all those valuable artifacts as part of history.

There are several current world-wide fears of Doomsday predictions, many connected to the specific means of our alleged demise.

Mayan Calendar: The Maya calendar is made up of different cycles of day counts but the calendar does not end this year. What ends is one cycle of 144,000 days (394 years) then the next cycle begins.

Mayan Prophecy: The ancient Maya did not predict the end of the world. Such Doomsday predictions were created by modern man. The Maya were gifted mathematicians and astronomers who made observations and charted future scientific occurrences based on those observations. They did not make prophecies.

Planet Nibiru: Nibiru is most likely the name of a minor god found in ancient Mesopotamia, not the name of a planet.

Rogue Planet Headed For Earth: Reports of this unknown planet colliding with Earth on December 21, 2012, have circulated for the last decade. IF such a thing existed, by now it would be the brightest object in the sky visible to everyone so that its existence couldn't be denied or hidden, astronomers would have been tracking it for years, and its gravitational pull would be distorting the orbits of other planets (especially Earth and Mars). None of these situations exist.

Planet Alignments: Another myth that this astronomical quirk would tear the Earth apart. There is an approximate lining up of the Earth and Sun with the center of our Galaxy in late December which is not unusual.

Pole Shift: The magnetic polarity changes every million years or so. A sudden change in the rotational axis has never happened and is not possible.

Increasing Disasters: The Earth is behaving normally in 2012 in spite of the fact that we're seeing more and more news stories about natural disasters. There has been an increase in extreme weather, including droughts and floods, partly due to global warming. Remember—the Earth is still a living planet going through cycles of change just as it has for over 4 billion years.

Solar Outbursts: The Sun's ongoing 11-year activity cycle is expected to peak in 2013 with its maximum strength predicted to be lower than average.

Of course, the final truth will be told when we wake up the morning of December 22 to find it's just another day. And for those who have been holding off on holiday plans just in case, you'll only have a couple of shopping days remaining until Christmas.

And for those of you who maxed out your credit cards thinking you didn't need to worry about paying them, those January bills will be in the mail before you know it!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


With the winter solstice of 2012 now less than two weeks away and some people putting forth the theory that the Mayan calendar shows Friday, December 21, 2012, as the end of the world, this seems like a good time to look at some of the failed doomsday predictions that were proclaimed to be absolute in their accuracy at the time. Then next week (December 16) I'll look at the information (facts and myths) surrounding the Doomsday prediction for December 21.

Doomsday predictions have been around for many centuries. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say millenniums. No sooner has one prophecy come and gone without the earth coming to an apocalyptic ending than another one pops up to take its place.

Needless to say, so far none of these prophecies have come to fruition. Regardless of the dire predictions and the credentials of the doomsday prophet du jour, the world is still here.

The Prophet Hen Of Leeds, 1806
For the last two thousand years many of the doomsday predictions have been associated with the imminent return of Jesus. One of the strangest is a hen in the English town of Leeds. In 1806 the hen began laying eggs that had "Christ is coming" written on the shell. Many people believed the miracle and claimed the end was at hand—until a curious neighbor watched the hen laying eggs and discovered that the entire thing was a hoax.

The Millerites, April 23, 1843
William Miller, a New England farmer, came to the conclusion that the date God had chosen to destroy the world could be determined by a strict and literal interpretation of scripture. He eventually had thousands of followers known as Millerites who decided the actual date for the end of the world was April 23, 1843. When the date arrived and nothing happened, the group disbanded.

Mormon Armageddon, 1891 or earlier
At a meeting of his church leaders in February 1835, Joseph Smith announced he had spoken with God and learned Jesus would return within the next 56 years and immediately afterward the End Times would begin.

Halley's Comet, 1910
In 1881, an astronomer discovered that comet tails include a deadly gas called cyanogen. This was of no particular interest until someone realized that Earth would pass through the tail of Halley's comet in 1910 which would subject everyone on the planet to the deadly gas.

Pat Robertson, 1982
Televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, informed his 700 Club television audience that he knew when the world would end. He guaranteed that by the end of 1982 there would be a judgment on the world.

Heaven's Gate, 1997
In 1997 with the appearance of comet Hale-Bopp, rumors circulated that an alien spacecraft was following the comet and NASA was covering up this fact. A San Diego UFO cult, Heaven's Gate, concluded that this meant the world would end soon. On March 26, 1997, 39 members of the cult committed suicide.

Y2K, January 1, 2000
With the turn of the millennium, rumors were flying fast and furious that the world's computers would fail and what they controlled would cease to function because the computers wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the year 1900 and 2000. Catastrophic problems were predicted. Planes would fall out of the sky. However, the new millennium began with only a few minor glitches.

May 5, 2000
And just in case the Y2K bug didn't finish us off on January 1st, the year 2000 had another shot at it. A 1997 book titled 5/5/2000 Ice: the Ultimate Disaster assured us that specific date when the planets would be aligned in the heavens and would result in a global icy death. Guess they forgot about global warming.  :)

Nostradamus, August 1999
The writings of Nostradamus have intrigued people for over 400 years. However, the accuracy of his predictions depends on a very flexible interpretation. One of his quatrains said,
The year 1999, seventh month
From the sky will come great king of terror
Many believed this was Nostradamus' vision of Armageddon.

God's Church Ministry, Fall 2008
Ronald Weinland, minister of God's Church, said in his 2006 book that hundreds of millions of people will die and by the end of 2006 there will be a maximum of only two years remaining before the world will be plunged into the worst time in all human history.

And most recently…

Harold Camping, 2011
On his radio program, Harold Camping proclaimed that Judgment Day would be May 21, 2011, and would begin with global earthquakes and a rapture of the faithful. This would be followed by months of catastrophe and the world would end of October 21, 2011.

And now we wait for December 21, 2012. More on that next week.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Frivolous Lawsuits—Almost Too Ludicrous For Words

Is the U.S. the most lawsuit-happy country in the world? Am I the only one who is sick and tired of reading/hearing about frivolous lawsuits where people are suing someone (or more often a company that they assume has deep pockets) for something that's the result of their own stupidity or carelessness? Apparently it's easier to sue someone rather than take responsibility for their own actions. Of course, the humor element of the lawsuit content is fun, but the reality of the cost to tax payers and having the court calendar bogged down isn't funny. It just seems to me that in something like the last maybe 20 years frivolous lawsuits have skyrocketed—not only in number, but also in how ludicrous and ridiculous they are. There is the reality that many reports of frivolous lawsuits are nothing more than internet hoaxes, but there are as many that are legitimate.

Ever wonder why those weird warnings are sometimes on the packages of items you purchase? Things like telling you not to operate various electrical appliances while in the bathtub, something that seems so blatantly obvious that it shouldn't require a special warning. But, obviously the manufacturer was sued at some time by someone who did just that.

And why the warning to tell you that hot coffee is actually hot? Well, that goes back to another lawsuit.

I think my conscious disgust with frivolous lawsuits dates back to the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit of several years ago. Woman buys a cup of coffee at McDonalds then puts the cup between her legs in her car so she could drive. Well…surprise, surprise…the coffee spilled and she suffered burns. Needless to say, she certainly didn't take any responsibility for what happened. After all, it was McDonald's fault because their hot coffee was actually hot. So she sued them. And the clincher is that a jury awarded her an obscene amount of money thus rewarding her for her poor decision making and actions.

And here's one I read in a news report a few months ago. In March 2012 a man died of heart failure while engaged in a threesome with a woman (not his wife) and another man. The dead man's family sued his cardiologist claiming the doctor should have warned him not to become involved in strenuous physical activity. The man had been to the cardiologist the week before with chest pains. The doctor determined he was at high risk of having clogged heart arteries and ordered a nuclear stress test for 8 days later. The threesome and the man's death occurred the day before the scheduled stress test. The jury awarded the man's family $3 million in damages even though the doctor had instructed his patient to "avoid exertional activity until after the nuclear stress test was completed." Apparently he should have explained that avoiding exertional activity included staying away from sexual threesomes.

And there's the guy who, in 1991, tried to sue Anheuser-Busch for $10,000 because, after drinking large quantities of Bud Light, beautiful women didn't come to life in tropical settings and pursue him like they did in the commercials.

As we all know, staged haunted houses at Halloween are there for the specific purpose of scaring people. But in 2000 a woman sued Universal Studios for $15,000 because their Halloween Horror Nights haunted house caused her "extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress." Makes you wonder exactly what she thought something called Halloween Horror Nights haunted house would be.

A woman sued Starbucks for serving her tea that was "unreasonably hot." Makes you wonder which came first…McDonalds or Starbucks?

An Israeli woman sued a television station for predicting fair weather. Because of the forecast, she dressed in light clothes but later that day the weather turned cooler and it rained. She ended up sick and had to miss work so she sued for $1000. Bottom line, she sued over an act of nature…and won. I do have to admit that it's nice to come across one that isn't U.S.

And speaking of suing for an act of nature, isn't that like suing God?

A man living in Minnesota thinks he's a god of some sort. He became upset after seeing David Copperfield and David Blaine perform their magic acts and sued both of them for using his "godly powers." (this is me shaking my head in disbelief)

Two teen girls in Colorado decided to bake some cookies and share them with neighbors. One neighbor woman was so shocked by two 15-year-old girls at her door at 10:30pm that she had an anxiety attack. She sued for medical expenses and won $930 to cover the expense of her trip to the emergency room but was denied money for "pain and suffering."

And here's a truly bizarre one. A woman standing on a train platform was pelted by portions of an unfortunate young man who had just been hit by an oncoming train. She tried to sue the victim but the judge dismissed the suit because the young man had no way of knowing where his body parts were going to land…due to the fact that he was dead.

A fugitive murder suspect kidnapped a couple and claimed he entered into a verbal contract with them where they would hide him from the law in exchange for an unspecified amount of money. The couple turned him in and during the subsequent arrest he was shot. The couple sued the fugitive for $75,000 for trespassing, intrusion, and emotional distress. He countersued for $235,000 claiming the couple violated their verbal contract with him. The judge dismissed the fugitive's counterclaim because the couple could not have entered into that contract as hiding a fugitive was illegal.

And that's just a sampling of the idiocy clogging our legal system. It does make you wonder how any legitimate legal business get resolved.