Saturday, June 30, 2012

For The Uninspired, A Sign.

Failblog posted this photo of a little restaurant somewhere in which an employee couldn't come up with a great come on to entice customers. So they did this

Friday, June 29, 2012

Texas Republicans: Thinking is Bad?

I don't usually spend a lot of time reading the Democratic or Republican party platforms in states across the Great US of A, but the Texas Republican platform is getting a lot of attention this week.

The education plank in particular is inspiring a lot of critical thinking. That's because the plank calls for a ban on critical thinking in public school education.

Sometimes, politicians have
um, interesting educational ideas.  
Some updates coming through indicate this is all a mistake, that the Texas Republicans didn't actually want the ban on critical thinking on their platform. It got there by accident, according to Talking Points Memo.  I'm not sure how you accidentally do something like that, but these things do happen. And the fact that some people hate critical thinking is really worrisome.

Here's what the platform said:

"Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

Maybe I'm misunderstanding it all here, but isn't critical thinking part of life? We don't go through life by rote, just doing exactly what we always have, because the situation always changes. Taken to its logical extreme, if I avoided critical thinking, I wouldn't put a coat on during a December cold wave because I didn't wear one in July. 

Why make a decision based on changing conditions?

I see the people who wrote this thing worry that critical thinking would challenge the students fixed beliefs.  In some cases, shouldn't some, but not all of people's fixed beliefs change? 

Again, taken to its logical, weird conclusion, a kid who believes in the Easter Bunny at age three should continue to do so throughout life? Our beliefs inevitably change when we're confronted with new evidence. Should students not be exposed to any new evidence about anything, anywhere?

I wonder if the Republicans who wrote this are conflating critical thinking with rebellion. Critical thinking to me means you examine what you believe, and if it makes sense, it reinforces, not diminishes your beliefs.

And if it doesn't make sense, you make some adjustments.

True, nobody wants kids demanding WHY???  to every simple instruction.  But to stay competitive in the world, don't we want people to think through things, to figure out how problems develop and how to fix them.

A sure path to failure is to say, "But that's the way we've always done things."

Or do we want a society that has everybody just working menial jobs?  Because anything that takes skill means whoever's doing the task has to think critically.

The Texas education platform isn't the only oddball educational ideae floating out there. Politicians are always offering up novel solutions to education shortcomings.

A doozy came out of New Hampshire recently. According to the Laconia Daily Sun, a state legislator named Bob Kingsbury said a relatively high crime rate in Laconia is because they've instituted kindergarten, which takes kids away from their mothers too soon. 

Kingsbury said the crime rate would further be reduced if gun ownership went up and schools offered boxing classes and organized boxing as a school sport.

Also, some private schools, especially those run by Christian fundamentalists, say evolution is a myth. They cite the Loch Ness Monster as "proof" that dinosaurs coexist with us, so therefore, there was no evolution. 

It all makes you want to go home and put on a dunce cap.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Road Signs for Stupid Drivers

I just came off of writing an article for the Burlington Free Press about traffic problems in parts of northwestern Vermont
I wish the Vermont Transportatio
Department would install signs
like this.  

Yes, it's true Vermont highways aren't exactly like L.A. during rush hour and a storm, but we get our frustrating moments. Some people in Vermont have creative approaches to driving. It is kind of a free spirited state, after all.

We deal with people who can't decide which lane they want to drive in, so they pick both. It's scenic here in Vermont, so we expected a pretty view all the time. Which explains why when a traffic signal goes from red to green, people don't go, but sit there, waiting for the green to turn into a nicer shade, to match the surrounding trees.

They also wait for stop signs to turn green, too.

For some reason, Subaru drivers move very slowly. There's a LOT of Subarus in Vermont, so don't drive here if you are in a hurry. People don't like change, either.

So expect a slowdown when approaching a construction zone. After all, construction means change, and that's never good.

The signs say the speed is reduced to 40 or 50 mph at construction zones, which makes sense. You want it to be safe for the construction workers.

But people slow down to 10 or 20 mph, expecting a reward or something for slow driving. Also, if on Interstate 89, watch out if you see a police car with a trooper inside on the lookout for speeders. Even if you're obeying all traffic laws.

That's because people freak out near parked police cars along highways.  If the speed limit is 65 mph, people will slow down to 40 mph when the cop comes into view. I guess they think the nice police officer will hand out candy to people who drive really, really slowly.

Me, I miss out on the candy. I have this strange notion that if I'm not speeding and I'm not driving erratically, the cop will leave me alone. An odd viewpoint in Vermont, apparently.

But, we eventually get to where we are going. I guess it's better than a highway full of road ragers pointing machine guns at us as they pass.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Bullying Outrage: Coach vs 13 Year Old

The news has been abuzz the past week with that 68-year old bus monitor being bullied by middle school kids on a bus.

The outrage has been understandably intense, and people have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the victim in that case.

But the bullying continues for others. Another video, sure to shock, is hitting the airwaves this afternoon. In it, a hockey game among 10 to 13-year olds had just ended on Saturday. The coach of one team intentionally trips a 13-year-old at the post game handshake. The kid got a broken wrist out of the deal.

Watch and be mad, really mad: (Then more details below)

According to The Province, a British Columbia publication, the coach was arrested but released Saturday. 

A decision on whether to charge him with a crime is pending, and depends upon whether  the parents of the victim want to press charges.

CTV/Vancouver identified the coach as Martin Tremblay, but said he could not be reached for comment. (I'll bet!)  CTV said sources close to Tremblay said he slipped on the ice. Watch the video and judge for yourself. (Didn't look like a slip to me, but what do I know?)

I'm sure Internet sleuths are working on getting more information on Tremblay just as they quickly figured out the identities of the kids who abused the bus monitor in New York State.

You can see already what effect this guy's "leadership" has on the team, by this paragraph from the Province. (The coach was with a team called the Hornets, the injured 13-year old was with the Steel)

"Later footage also shows the man (the coach) trading words with a referee while a Steel coach standing in shock is ushered off the ice. A Hornets player is also caught on camera throwing a water bottle at the bleachers while others on the team applaud and gesture with their arms open. The Hornets coach also gives a middle finger to those yelling from the bleachers."

This coach is even worse than the miserable kids who abused the bus monitor. The kids with the bus monitor are young, immature, and more prone to doing stupid things. What's the Hornets coach's excuse?

I can't wait to hear Tremblay's explanation for this. I'm sure the kid did something during the game the coach didn't like, but tripping and injuring him? And so blatantly.

If he went out of his way to hurt that 13-year old hockey player, does he hurt other kids? Does he have kids, and does he abuse them? These are questions that need to be answered.

I'm predicting the coach will offer some lame excuse and lame semi apology at some point. But still. He's the latest installment of Worst Person of the Week.

Farmers Grow It, LMFAO Style

I think there's been every possible parody of the LMFAO hit, "I'm Sexy and I Know It," but this new one is the coolest.
The Peterson Farm Brothers are Sexy Farming and They Grow It. 

The Peterson Farm Brothers, I think from  Kansas have a hit on their hands with "I'm Farming
and I Grow It."  In the video, below, the three brothers strut their stuff. I think they are far better than LMFAO, to be honest.

The text below the video helpfully display the lyrics to their song. Sample:

When I'm in my tractor, I got more power than an arc reactor
And when I'm in the field, I try to raise crops to maximum yield
This is how I roll, without me the world would be outta control
The hours I work, there is no equal
Gotta feed the mouths of hungry people 

Much better than "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," don't you think?

I'm going to have to keep my eye out in the farm country here in Vermont for similar cow pasture and cropland talent. You never know.

Meanwhile, you've GOT to watch the Peterson Farm Brothers video, which has gone viral. It's an instant classic:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Weather Porn!

I admit it. I'm a big consumer of weather porn.

Before you write me off as a total pervert, I should define weather porn. It's images of really bad storms wrecking houses, smashing things, ripping towns apart. It gives you a rush to watch this stuff. Though I suppose the weather porn rush is different from the porn porn rush.

In some ways, weather porn, somewhat like regular sex porn, is morally problematic. Sex porn is exploitive, making objects out of the people depicted in the smut. Though many of those people chose to be in the porn films.

Weather porn is maybe exploitive too. Victims of severe weather almost always are not doing something that some would raise moral questions about.  I avoid the weather porn that shows victims crying over destroyed houses, or worse, relatives that had been killed by the storm.

But I do enthusiastically watch the videos of houses blowing away, or a tornado chewing up and spitting out a town.
In a classic weather porn money shot, a Texas tornado
flings tractor trailers around in April, 2012.  

Like sex porn, there are professional weather porn producers who make slick productions of tornadoes hitting their chase vehicles, or flood waters washing through a neighborhood, or hurricane force winds shredding Florida palm trees.

In the age of YouTube and social media, there's also an explosion of both amateur sex porn and weather porn. I indulge in making amateur weather porn myself, filming storms that roll through Vermont and posting them on YouTube, or taking photos and posting them to this blog or other sites.

Because Vermont isn't necessarily the epicenter of epic events like tornadoes and hurricanes, most of the weather porn I produce is soft core.  The storms I film are fairly dramatic, but also relatively harmless, causing little damage and not hurting anyone.

I do get lucky sometimes, though and get a money shot, like a very close lightning strike.

However, in the past couple of years, Vermont has experienced some extreme weather, so I've been able to dabble in hard core weather porn, with epic flooding from Hurricane Irene, record high Lake Champlain flooding smashing shoreline buildings and roads, and flash flooding chewing its way through roads and neighborhoods.

You can see one of my weather porn videos above, taken in Colchester, Vermont during a record Lake Champlain flood in May, 2011

Like a sex addicted porn afficianado, I'm going to stay hooked on weather porn for the foreseeable future.  It's getting out of control. I actually find myself hoping for a severe thunderstorm, and hoping I can position myself in the path of these storms.

I obviously don't want another Hurricane Irene disaster, or anything else that destroys homes and lives. I don't like watching that kind of suffering.

Even though it's not as great a rush as the hard stuff, I would still probably prefer to stick with the soft core weather porn.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Puppy Envy on YouTube!

I found myself feeling extremely jealous this morning.

I was looking at Buzzfeed, like I often do, and found a video of a dog barking madly at a lawn mower.

And that's why I was seething with jealousy. The video is fine. It shows a dog named Furious barking at the mower, wanting to fight it. As of 4 p.m. Monday, the video had 1,026 hits. Not huge, but not bad, and growing fast, presumably due to Buzzfeed.

But the jealousy comes from a very similar video I shot last September of my cocker spaniel Jackson, when he was just a puppy.  He confronts my lawn mower to charming effect. But alas, as of Monday, the Jackson video had just 65 hits.

If I think objectively, the lack of viewers might be because I haven't been marketing the video. Furious seems to have his own YouTube channel. I guess I have to learn how to push this kind of thing out there.

So in that spirit, here is Jackson in all his puppy cuteness last September, tangling with the lawn mower:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Vermont Flower Season Still Early

The entire spring was early in Vermont due to record warm temperatures this year, and now that we're into summer, everything is still running very early.
A day lily blooms in my St. Albans, Vermont garden this week.

Flowers in my gardens are about where'd you expect them in mid-July. The day lilies have been blooming for awhile now. Astilbe is also blooming nicely now. Black eyed Susans are ready to bloom.

All this leaves me wondering whether there will be any flowers at all in August.

Meanwhile, I'll just enjoy what I have. And if this trend continues, I'll have to find more late blooming perennials so that what usually blooms in September will brighten my garden in August.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Taylor Swift," Strange Horns, Barf in Burlington, Vt

One of the joys of summer in Burlington, Vermont is the, um, creative entertainers on the Church Street Marketplace.
The "Taylor Swift Experience"
in downtown Burlington, Vt.  

The Marketplace is the main tourist and shopping center in the city's downtown, and in the summer it really comes alive with outdoor dining and extremely interesting people to watch.

Such was the case Friday with the appearance of an entertainer who calls himself the Taylor Swift Experience.

Taylor is a tall young man who was clad in a blue, green and white flower print dress, moccassins and a brown cowboy hat.

When I saw him, he was singing "You're the One That I Want," that hit song by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John from the movie "Grease, " and accompanying himself with his ukelele.

It was a sight to behold, let me tell you, but it was false advertising in that I did not feel like I was experiencing Taylor Swift.

Taylor told me his real name is Mike and he gets a lot more money thrown into his ukelele case if he's dressed as he was. Judging by the pile of money there, I'd say he was right.

Here's a brief video I took of the Taylor Swift Experience's command performance.

A lot of the entertainers on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace are actually quite good and relatively normal. For instance, the other day I saw and heard an exquisite bluegrass band that reminded me a lot of the Old Crow Medicine Show. 

But sometimes, things devolve badly. Last summer I started filming this strange guy playing a strange horn wearing a strange cow skull mask. (He's back this year)

The video is below, but be forwarned. The action in the background gets pretty bad, and this musician seems to have created some strange reactions. I suggest you not eat anything while watching the video.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Homeowner Associations Annoy (Ctd.)

In the latest salvo in how neighborhood associations hate it, hate it, when any hint of personality or quirks invade their streets, a family is in trouble out near Denver because a three year old girl has been using chalk to draw pictures on sidewalks.
This dog, which fell asleep on a sidewalk chalk drawing,
shows the danger HOAs are trying to protect us from.

Apparently, the chalk violates an edict againast "anything that offends, disturbs or interferes with the peaceful enjoyment" of the neighborhood, according to a subcommittee of the neighborhood association in the development, on what was the old Stapleton Airport property.

Because, as we know anything beyond the bland beiges of the neighborhoods and the most boring of landscaping violates the peaceful enjoyment of the neighborhood.  And chalk drawings of flowers and dogs and houses are really offensive, even if the drawings wash away in the next rainfall.

Could you imagine the heart attack the neighborhood association would have with my house?  Stone walls, made of found rocks from the side of the road, are scattered around my property. I haven't finished building some of them yet.

Flowers and plants are placed randomly around the yard, just because it just felt right to put particular plants where they are. And worst of all, I have a clothes line!

I get Homeowners' Associations, known also as HOA's. Done right, they help prevent one homeowner from having 12 derelict cars up on blocks amid weeds as tall as an NBA player. And who wants a neighbor who's driveway is littered with the beer cans and used Trojans accumulated from their nighttly parties that blast on until dawn?  

Supposedly, about 20 percent of all U.S. homes fall under HOA rules, and presumably, most of them are OK.

When they get out of control, I thank gawd I don't have an HOA harassing me. I found an old Gawker article detailing some of the worst abuses. Among them:

--A guy spent $200,000+ in legal fees to combat an HOA edict that he couldn't park his pickup truck in his own driveway. As the article points out, the guy won, but the HOA probably jacked up homeowners' fees to pay for the ruling against it, so now everybody who lives there hates the pickup truck guy.

---Another homeowner got in trouble with his HOA because he had Marine decals on his car, again parked in his own driveway.

--A Colorado homeowner got in trouble because she hung a Christmas wreath shaped like a peace sign. The wreath was "divisive," according to the HOA. Yeah, we know how many people hate, HATE peace, especially around Christmas.

--A Florida retiree went to jail because his HOA got a court to order him to resod his lawn, which had pretty much died. He couldn't afford to fix it, but too bad, he went to jail. Since people who don't take care of their lawns are worse than child molesters, right? Because green lawns are more important than God, right?

Eventually, friends and neighbors collected money to fix the God Almighty Lawn, and the retiree was sprung from the pokey.

I know this is more difficult than leaving it to an HOA, but if my neighbors do something obnoxious, I can start by going over and talking to them and working out a solution. If that doesn't work, there's always the zoning board.

And besides, who has time to worry if there's an extra car in the driveway, or they paint their house a color I don't like?  I can close the window shade, or plant a bush obscuring the view of the offending house. Problem solved.

But that's not the American way.  Messy lawsuits are, I guess.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Two Awesome Thunderstorm Views

Last evening, in the midst of our first big heat wave of the summer, an isolated, but pretty intense thunderstorm hit my house in St. Albans, Vermont.

In this photo taken by the Mount Washington Observatory
an isolated thunderstorm is seen at sunset over northwestern Vermont

The storm did nothing to erase the humidity, but I appreciated the rain. It was getting dry, and watering the gardens has been getting tedious. This gives me a lucky break. Luckier than most of Vermont, because I live in one of the few towns that got any rain.

The storm was visually beautiful and I went outside afterward as the setting sun lit up the storm.  I took a few photos of it.

Unbeknownst to me, at the Mount Washington Observatory at the top of New England's highest peak in New Hampshire, somebody was photographing the same storm to the distant northwest at the same time I was shooting the storm clouds in St. Albans.

The first photo in this post is what the folks at Mount Washington saw at sunset. The second photo is what I saw at sunset. Two very different perspectives on the storm, but two examples of how beautiful a thunderstorm can be.

The same storm the Mt. Washington
Observatory saw taken just southeast
of my house after it passed over just
before sunset. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Despicable Kids Abuse Old Woman, Retribution Coming

UPDATE: READ THE LINK To a column about this incident at the bottom of this post:

Just when I start thinking the kids are alright, that they're intelligent, smart, compassionate and will change the world, something like this terrible news from western New York pops my Pollyanna bubble.

Some really, really, creepy teenagers verbally abused an elderly bus monitor on a school bus in the Greece,  N.Y. school district until she cried.  Then they posted their handiwork on YouTube. They  must be so proud.

Here's the video, which I'm sure you won't be able to get through (I couldn't, too painful) but looking at it gives you a sample:

The animals on the bus gleefully, repeatedly informed the woman of their perception she is fat, and old, and worst of all, not rich! Hey, if you don't have much money, you're fair game for abuse or worse, right? Just check out all those videos of kids beating up homeless people for fun and profit. ( or at least notoriety)

Why is it that the creepiest kids seem to focus on income when mistreating people.  I hope those types of kids ends up in utter poverty, to teach them a lesson.

Meanwhile, the nice thing about social media is it works both ways. The morons on the bus put this up on YouTube, because they're way too stupid to realize that most people aren't as fond of their activities.

So now, Internet sleuths are seeking out the kids, with some success, so that people can heap abuse on them. I don't know if it's a good idea doing the eye for the eye thing, you stoop to their level.  Although I've provided the link that gives (I think) the kids' names and other information, please don't do anything bad to them, as much as they deserve negativity. Go ahead and criticize them and call them out, but no crimes, please.

But maybe identifying the creeps will get them punished. If they're old enough, maybe they can be criminally charged with harassment?

The Internet researchers also figured out who the victim is, and her Facebook page, so that people can send their support. She needs it. I just hope trolls don't go after her, too.

Rochester television station WHAM reports that the Greece Athena Middle School, where the moronic kid are from, are facing disciplinary actions and might face criminal charges from the Greece, N.Y. Police Department. 

Since the creeps are probably juveniles, they'll probably be shielded from public scrutiny, especially since schools don't really publicize how they punish kids. That's too bad, because I'd love to hear what kind of explanation these little monsters come up with for their behavior.

The most upsetting part of WHAM's report is that the victim, Karen Klein, said she got most upset when the kids said "You're so ugly your kid should kill themselves." (sic)

Klein said her son took his own life about a decade ago.

I also wonder about a weird dichotomy I noticed: Seems kids these days are either horrible, like the morons from Greece, N.Y., or their brilliant, poised, incredible. It seems like there's no mediocre kids these days. Either total winners or total zeros.

Now that I've totally depressed you about the state of humanity, I offer this series of pictures from Buzzfeed to help restore your faith in mankind. 

Also, Nestor Ramos wrote this beautiful column in the Rochester  Democrat and  Chronicle 

Two Delightfully Weird Music Covers

I lose track, I might have posted these videos before, awhile back, but I just LOVE these two YouTube performances.  The people in these videos are   at the pinnacle of talent.  Watch these unforgettable performances, even if you end up wanting to forget them.

Some people might argue I'm picking on the "entertainers"    unfairly, but really, they put themselves out there. And it appears they have a sense of humor about themselves. Which is the way it should be, after all.

I just love happy train wrecks. Judging by the huge number of hits the videos have gotten, a lot of people agree with me. First, "edarem" performs the Roy Orbison classic, "Pretty Woman."


Next, we get a delicious rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Shooting Self for Publicity?

Ray Dolin, 39, decided to write a memoir called "Kindness in America" about how people are nice to him as he hitchhikes across the Grand Old USA.

Last week, he reported he'd been shot, unprovoked by a passerby somewhere in the wilds of Montana. Nice irony. I was going to blog about it last week, but something didn't smell right. It was too ironic. Too perfect.
No, Ray Dolin, you shot yourself. It wasn't a random assailant.

Sure enough, As the Missoulian reported in the past couple of days, Dolin shot himself in an apparent bid for publicity. I guess if you need to call attention to your work, your writing, you have to do something dramatic.

I guess that means I'll never gain success as a writer. I'm clearly bad at publicity.  I'm totally unwilling to shoot myself to let people know what a great writer I am. . And now, I'd have to outdo Dolin, by being even more ironic, and shooting myself somewhere on my body that's more dangerous. Or destructive. Maybe I'm expected to blow my hands off with a Glock 9 mm. then write my stories.

I don't have the stomach for that. Plus I don't want to shoot myself in the stomach.

Or maybe Dolin shot himself by accident and tried to cover up his stupidity.  Maybe he wasn't too confident in the kindness of strangers if he was carrying a gun for protection.

A poor schmuck, Lloyd Christopher Danielson III, was initially charged in the shooting, but apparently the local sheriff was able to figure out that Danielson's story held up but Dolin's story didn't, according to the Missoulan.

Worked out kind of like a Montana version of CSI, didn't it?

Details are still sparse on exactly how Dolin concocted his story, exactly what he expected to happen and what charges he might face, according to the Missoulin article.

Chopping Wood to Make Chopper

Here's a creative summer project, especially for those of you who are coming fresh from Motorcycle Week in Laconia, N.H.

It appears a guy in Hungary has made a nice brand new motorcycle made almost entirely from wood. He chopped wood to make a chopper, essentially.

It's not entirely made out of wood, of course. The handlebars and exhaust are made from the horns from cattle, and decorations made of deer antlers festoon the machine.

The guy who made it, Istvan Puskas, says the bike is fully functional. Just hope there's no gas or oil leaks to set things aflame.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Connecting to the Animals

My cocker spaniel Jackson and I went through our usual routine this morning.

He becomes increasingly alarmed as I get ready to go to work. He knows when I get closer and closer to being ready to leave. He gets agitated when I eat breakfast, worried as I shave, scared when I get dressed, panicked when I gather up my wallet, phone and keys.

All during this process, he engages in more and more desperate attempts to play with me, the more to stall me, to keep me with him.

See, he knows me like the back of his paw. He loves being around people, and me getting ready to leave makes Jackson think he will be abandoned. He'll howl piteously if I go outside for a minute to retrieve something from the truck and leave him in the house for a moment. He feels abandoned, sad.

Then, when I open the door to leave, I turn to him and say, "Wanna go for a ride?" His reaction is as grateful as if I'd saved him from certain death. "Wanna go for a ride," means he gets to do just that, which is one of his favorite activities. Plus, he knows that if I'm giving him a ride as I go to work in the morning, that means I'm taking him to doggie daycare, where he gets to play with his posse for the day.

I go through this whole story because I love how animals and humans find ways to form connections.   Two videos I found on the Daily What made me smile. I'll show them to you. First up: A chimpanzee makes a new friend in Wichita, Kansas/

Then, after that, a duckling  behaves just like my Jackson in the morning. (love the pose in the duck vid before you start it.

Animals almost always make us smile, no?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

School Punishment Follies

Geez, I'm glad school administrators aren't supervising me.

Now that school's pretty much done for the summer, I've collected some of the worst examples of school discipine out there. Just for fun.

I've done so because I have problems with a lot of zero tolerance policies that schools maintain. I get it that they're important to keep kids safe and to provide clear, understandable rules for the kiddies.

Where we run into trouble is at the minority of schools where administrators have no common sense, and no sense of perspective.  It's amazing that some adults who should be in charge can't make the distinction between, say, a butter knife accidentally left in a backpack and brought to school vs. a cache of grenades and automatic weapons that would make a Third World army proud. These bad administrators don't see the difference.

In one  example, a girl was deemed to slutty, I guess, because her outfit was supposedly provocative, according to the girl's dad, who luckily for us is a blogger (Adult Onset Atheist) and went on about this extensively.

You can see her photo in this post so judge for yourself.

 I dunno. She seems fine to me. A simple outfit. Worn on a warm day, so it is a skirt/short sleeve shirt combination. Fashionable enough. But slutty and too revealing? Um, she's wearing standard business casual clothes, the kind you see in any office, any day.  But what do I know about fashion and sluts?

The principal who called the girl on being dressed "inappropriately" seems creepy to me, if you think about it. Says the father/blogger:

"It turns out that the principal himself had personally identified her as inappropriately dressed. He had walked up to her during lunchtime and identified her crime where nobody else could. I can’t help but think that the principal’s action creates an unhealthy atmosphere in his school. What does it say to the teachers who had her in class earlier in the day, and not noticed her inappropriate dress? Will there be punitive actions taken against the teachers who could not look at my daughter with perversion in their eyes?"

The dad suspects that because this high school is rural and in a conservative district, women need to be kept in their place. Says the blogger, again: (AOD is the girl's initials)

Tooele offered her the choice of social dance or seminary. Social dance requires that girls wear high heals, and AOD is 6 feet tall in her stocking feet. My girls have a history of trying to excel beyond the bounds of what girls should be capable of. They succeed in excelling beyond the bounds of what normal humans are capable of. They certainly exceed both my capability and expectation.

One commentor on the blog post was obviously a school administrator, and offered up this reasoning, from the perspective of the school.

Parents, PLEASE, support your school administration! For ONCE!!! Yes, the outfit looks quite appropriate compared to what we are generally subjected to on a daily basis in public schools. And why are we subjected to this much worse form of dress? Because parents like THIS BLOGGER question administrators and teachers constantly. You took a picture and posted it? And wrote an entire article? And then bashed how junior high students are treated? Seriously? This is what you do with your time? You have NO IDEA why our rules are in place, the corrosive nature of your actions, or how hard we work every day to make junior high students feel good about themselves and valued. You have no idea how we are constantly attacked by students and teachers who don't agree with what a teacher or administrator has done. YOU are the reason our schools have no recourse when students break rules. Yes, it seems silly, but evidently your child was not complying with a rule. Have you ever tried to enforce a dress code in a school? Back off on one inch, and then skirts inch up another and another. Back off 1/4 inch on a shirt strap, and then they get thinner and thinner and turn into camis and bra tops. BACK UP THE SCHOOL FOR ONCE, PARENTS! STOP THINKING YOU KNOW BETTER and that your chidl's civil rights and dignity are being violated just because a decision inconveniences you and you don't agree with it.

So, no matter how stupid the ruling, we have to support it or all the other reasonable rules will go out the window somehow?  Exactly how does all this make kids "feel good about themselves and valued.?"Do we teach kids that we should blindly follow any rule, no matter how boneheaded, without having the right to legally and ethically challenge the rule? Do we really want to raise kids who don't question unfair and unjust laws?   Well, some people do, if those unjust and unfair laws favor them, I guess.

  Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a social studies teacher, who should know better, said a kid who was criticizing President Obama must Shut Up Now, or would end up in jail for the comments, according to an article in the Salisbury, N.C. Post and later picked up by other media.
You are free to criticize this guy if you want, despite
what a North Carolina social studies teacher says.

Said the teacher: “Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” she says of former President Bush. “Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?” 

Um, no. You can criticize a president's policies and actions as long as you offer no threats to him or her.  At least the student had it right. We pick up the story again from the Salisbury Post:

The student responds by saying being arrested for talking badly about the president would violate the right to free speech.
“You would have to say some pretty f’d up crap about him to be arrested,” he says. “They cannot take away your right to have your opinion. ... They can’t take that away unless you threaten the president.”

So maybe the kid should get the job of social studies teacher and the teacher should go back to school, no?

Now we go to Houston, where one Diane Tran, 17, got into Big Trouble for skipping school.  As well she should. She got 24 hours in the slammer because she played hooky.

Oh, wait. There's mitigating circumstances! Turns out her parents bailed, she has to work all night, take care of her siblings, then go to school without ANY sleep.  Nobody bothered to tell the judge who sent her to jail these little issues.
Diane Tran did miss school, but nobody paid
attention to her (very good) excuse.

Shouldn't the school have tried to figure out why such a bright girl who was taking AP classes was suddenly blowing off school? No, it doesn't matter! She was blowing off school. The reasons are none of the school's business!

Luckily, when the full story came out, the judge dismissed the charges and an advocacy group raised $100,000 to help the poor girl out. 

Finally, we learn that students can get in trouble even if they behave perfectly, but their relatives don't. In Ohio, a school withheld diplomas from some graduating seniors because their families cheered too boisterously during the graduation ceremony.

Now, I can see why there's a rule for the audience to keep it in their sneaker a little bit. We all want to hear the names of our beloved graduates being called, and we don't want Mr. and Mrs. Loud drowning out our little darlings' moment of glory.

But punish the kids whose deafening family disrupts things.  By that logic, if my sibling was a mass murderer, I should go to jail too because I know her?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Journalist Meets The Most Interesting People

Here's another installment in how us journalists stumble on some of the most, uh, compelling people.

In Detroit, the local ABC affiliated pursued a routine story about somebody who dumped parts of a cut up tree on a residential street. The report proceeded normally enough until our intrepid reporter caught up with our alleged tree dumper, Ihor Stekewycz.

Normally the gender of the reporter is way besides the point, but here it becomes central, and the reporter somehow manages to get through the report without bashing Stekewycz in the skull. You'll see what I mean.

Maybe customs are just different on Mars. Again, you'll see what I mean whem you watch this most entertaining news segment:

Driving In Russia is Fun! Really!

It seems everybody has a dashcam in their car in Russia.

They're a necessarily appliance because people need added proof of their crashes, apparently. The cops and the insurance companies are less than, shall we say, completely on the up and up. So they resort to dashcams so they have the evidence they need.

The side effect of all these dash cams are a plethora of YouTube videos showing wild car crashes. Apparently, Russian drivers aren't the most skilled in the world. And there does seem to be a bit of a road rage problem, given the fist fights on the highways that seem to outnumber the cars.

Somebody made a compilation of these wonderful scenes for you and me to enjoy. So enjoy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Violent Duo" Look Friendly to Me

The newspaper where I work, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, recently went through a major change in layout, looks, philosphy, presses, and more.

Such wholesale changes, happening all at once, are bound to cause a few glitches, and they did. But in our case, due to some good talent and a little luck, the glitches were minor and easily fixed.

On the other hand, I don't know what the excuse was in the paper pictured in this post, where somebody really wasn't paying attention to the photos and the stories as they put the paper together. Or maybe the violent crime duo in the story were masters of disguise. You decide:

Vermont is Early Summer is Perfect

Flowers enjoy the warmth in my St. Albans, Vt. garden
Clouds billow over Lake Champlain, off Burlington, Vt.
Hostas in my St. Albans, Vt, garden
The first blossom appears recently on my newly
planted rose bush in St. Albans, Vt.
A rainbow appears at the end
of a thunderstorm recently
in St. Albans, Vt. 
Some photographs I took over the past week or so, just because early June in Vermont is my favorite time of year, and the photos partly capture the season.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Make Money, Lose Friends With These Bets

A hot new video on YouTube (2 million hits!) shows you how to make ten simple bets with people that you are guaranteed to win.

Your friends will part with their money, and you will part with your friends. Then you can buy new friends and repeat the process. Here's the video:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Weather Channel Casino?

I love the idea floated by The Onion: They report The Weather Channel will open a casino in Vegas!

I wish The Onion weren't satirical and the Weather Channel was really opening a weather casino.  If you win, you get a sunny day. You lose big? A dangerous, EF5 tornado. trashes your house.

An example of the wall decor in the
new Weather Channel casino?  

Maybe you can put bets on which city you want destroyed in a hurricane.  Does it rain or snow in the hotel rooms?  Is there batting cages where you use baseball-sized hailstones to practice? Does the spa have lightning treatment to really give you a charge?  Is the sauna just a one way flight to Houston in August?

 Does the HVAC system in the hotel run on air from a Pheonix heat wave to warm the rooms  and air from a winter Barrow, Alaska cold snap for the summer air conditioning?

Does Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore get awe struck by lightning in the ballrooms as part of the casino's entertainment? Does Mike Bettes chase tornadoes down the hallways?

The best line of The Onion report  comes at the end (spoiler alert!) of the Onion report when they talk about the deal with Celine Dion despite her fear of sleet.

You know, I don't usually feel a kinship to Celine Dion, but in this case I agree. I hate sleet, too.

Jackson the Dog and I are Twins!

It occured to me that our cocker spaniel Jackson and I have way too much in common.

This might be especially true from the perspective of my long suffering fiance Jeff. He's pretty much saddled with taking care of both of us. That's not entirely my fault. He's the one who accepted my invite to move in with me two summers ago. It was his idea to get Jackson last summer, though I enthusiastically supported the move.

Now, he's got two hyper, scattered beings to contend with. No wonder he went to Europe for two weeks to teach. Every parent needs a vacation.  But seriously, Jeff seems very well suited to managing the wackos who live in the same house as he.

Jeff, left, is stuck with taking care of me
and the dog. He's doing fine, though.  
It's Jeff that feeds both Jackson and me.  I never have time to fix dinner, and Jackson needs some controls, otherwise, he'd eat everything.  So Jeff handles all that.

Other similarities between Jackson and me are startling.

My routines are similar to Jackson's. When he gets up in the morning, it's up and at 'em! He immediately runs around and plays, and chases around the house.

True, I'm slightly slower, but not much. Within moments of getting up, I'm at the computer, pulling stuff out of the dishwater, or if I'm particularly ambitious, dashing out the door to do some early morning gardening.

When Jeff leaves, Jackson howls in misery and misses him immediately.
When Jeff  leaves, I don't exactly howl in misery but I miss him immediately.

When Jeff comes home, Jackson wags his tail in joy, leaps up and embraces him.   
When Jeff comes home , I wag my tail in joy, leap up and embrace him.  

When Jackson gets home from doggy day care, his first instinct is to run into the house, see if anything is amiss, then want to go back outside and play by digging holes in the dirt.
When I get home from work, my first instinct is to run into the house, see if anything is amiss, then  I go back outside and play outside by digging holes in the dirt. The only difference is, Jackson leaves the holes open, I fill them with new perennials or other plants I've bought.
Jackson, my mental and emotional twin
takes a break on the couch. 

Jackson barks when he sees something which is not familar to him.
I bark when somebody does something unfamiliar, but only if I really don't like it.

Now that Jeff is gone for a couple weeks, Jackson looks forlornly at Jeff's Jeep parked in the driveway and hopes he gets out and comes to greet him
Now that Jeff is gone for a couple weeks, I look forlornly at Jeff's Jeep parked in the driveway and wish he would magically appear, get out of the Jeep and greet me.

I've been called a dog before, and maybe that label is just a little bit accurate.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bang! Lightning Strikes Close

I was out watching the thunderstorms that rumbled through Vermont Friday. I always do that, weather geek that I am.  I always go to these storms well armed with camera equipment.

Talk about turning the video camera to a new view at the right moment. Watch the video. (It needs editing, I might put up a new version later. Skip to just before the 0:40 mark and enjoy!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Evil Teddy Bear Cloud?

I was taking pictures of some thunderheads developing Wednesday in the Adirondacks, across Lake Champlain from Burlington, Vermont.

Maybe my imagination is overactive, but don't you think there's something that looks like an evil teddy bear looming in the middle of the cloud formation?  (Click on the pic to embiggen it.
You be the judge.

Friday, June 8, 2012

I Love the Goth Opera Singer

When I watched "America's Got Talent" Tuesday night, I knew as soon as I saw it that Andrew De Leon's performance would instantly become a viral hit on this here Internet thingy.

Sure enough, he's all over the place. The show was still in its audition mode this week, and they saved De Leon for the end of the broadcast, because he had the most dramatic effect. (AGT loves its kickers!)

Anyway, De Leon, 19, is a classic goth, channeling Marilyn Manson with his black clothes, black eye makeup and weird contact lenses. Hey, fine. everybody's got their style. He's cool.

He announced he was going to sing, so I figured it would be some dark feedbacky grunge thing.  You knew he would be good, since it was the end of the show and they wanted people to leave happy, despite De Leon's protestations that he never sang in front of anybody, even his own parents.

He belted out a beautiful opera rendition, to create the classic "don't judge the book by the cover"  moment. He's already being called the Goth Susan Boyle. (Boyle is the famous singer who appeared as the frumpy, awkward middle aged woman a few years ago on "Britain's Got Talent" who wowed the world and went on to fame and fortune. )

AGT is a sucker for these surprising moments, but I'm a sucker who loves to watch them. The seven minute video is worth watching, for sure, so do so here. More commentary below the video:

Somehow I doubt the story that De Leon's parents never heard him sing. How could they not know what he was up to?  When he was practicing his singing, and he had to practice A LOT to be that good, that makes noise. Much more noise than the negative things that some youths do in secret, like drugs or unprotected sex,

But that doesn't matter. He clearly has some self esteem issues, because he kept saying he wasn't good at anything and is an outcast.  "I'm just so used to being rejected and I'm not really good at anything," he said.

 I don't know De Leon, obviously, but he seems like a nice enough kid. And as judge Howie Mandel said, he is a great singer. So I think it's safe to say we all respectfully disagree with De Leon's contention that he's not good at anything.

He might not win AGT this season, but so what? He certainly has a lot of people's attention, and I'm sure talent scouts and record company executives are taking notice, writing memos, salivating.

In fact, I think he won't win, if AGT wants to vary its story line. The 2011 AGT winner, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. was in the same boat as De Leon. He was a carwash employee from West Virgina who looked a bit disheveled, but wowed everyone with his Sinatra-like crooning. The unlikely man conquers the unlikely.

Then again, a lot of the influence of who wins depends on audience votes, so De Leon might go all the way.

I always wonder what happens to people like this when lightning strikes, as has happened to De Leon. Susan Boyle seems to be doing OK.

I worry though. I wish De Leon all the success in the world, he deserves it. But, I know I'm being too patronizing and paternalistic here, I  hope the success that comes to him doesn't somehow crush him.

He's got a hurricane coming at him. Everybody will want a piece of him. That's the negative way of putting. The positive way of putting it is he's going to gain a helluva a lot of fans.

De Leon will either ride the hurricane out and conquer it, or it will drown him. Let's just cheer him on, so he rides the happy storm out.

That Damn Homo Sapien Agenda!

Some conservatives, as we all well know, are really, really mad about advances in rights for the LGBT community.  There's been a lot of letters to the editor, including this one in some newspaper somewhere from someone who was Fed. Up!!!

Could be a hoax, but it appears to be a real letter to the editor.

Those damn homo sapiens even getting into the science curriculum!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Is Spiderman Cheesy or Romantic?

"Spiderman, " really a guy dressed like him, fights off three guys who were 'harassing" his girlfriend. Then he unmasks himself and proposes marriage.

 You be the judge: Is this marriage proposal cheesy or romantic or both? It certainly caused quite a stir, given how it took place on a busy day in Provo, Utah. Watch and determine the level of corniness, or non-corniness, and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sportsmanship Award?

I always llke a nice sports story, since you get a lot of negative ones. You know, the steroids, the fights, the overinflated salaries.

Meghan Vogel, right, helps Arden McMath across
the finish line at an Ohio track meet.  
But good news happens from time to time. Good news that has nothing to do with who won and by how much.

Such was the case in Ohio, when a runner and at a high school track meet struggled, and a runner from an opposing team intervened.  

This high school system has a rule against one runner helping another, but they wisely decided to waive the rules in this case.  Rules are rules, yes, but there are times when they need to be bent.

So hats off to Meghan Vogel, who demonstrated that you ought to know when to compete and compete hard, and when to not compete.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Guy Turns Dead Cat Into Flying Drone (Yup!)

It's never a happy event when a pet dies. You want little Fluffy or Fido to live on forever, but Wham!  Tragedy strikes and they're gone.

One Dutch artist has allowed his cat to live on forever. He turned it into Orvillecopter! Half taxidermied cat corpse, half little flying drone or helicopter!.

Yep, poor little Orville got hit by a car and died. A taxidermist allowed Orville to look, well, sort of the same as when he was alive.  Cat owner Bart Jansen, a Dutch artist, converted the cat into a flying drone. Watch the video, with commentary (naturally!) after the video:

I dunno. This seems a little disrespectful to the cat. Look at the expression on the thing's face. Looks like shock and mortification to me.  Would you like to be turned into an unmanned drone, or at least a dead man drone, after you pass away?

According to The Guardian UK, Jansen says his cat would have liked to have been turned into a helicopter drone, as has happened. He loved birds, now he can fly with them, goes the logic.

On the other hand, President Obama has come into criticism for those unmanned drone strikes in Afghanistan. Those unmanned little planes drop bombs on suspected terrorists, but some possibly innocent people  might be getting killed, too.

Orvillecopter just might be the solution. One of those things buzzing around terrorists' heads is more than enough to scare them into being peaceful. We can try scarier animals, too.  How about a squadron of dead skunks dropping their smell onto a suspected terrorist holdout?  Giant drone chickens can drop eggs that are really hand grenades, to do away with the enemy. If we really want to bring out the big guns, we can attach powerful plane engines to dead bulls, and have them buzz the enemy.

I smell victory, people! Or is that just a decomposing animal carcass?

I think we should stick with the tried and true when our beloved animals pass. Bury the poor thing among the flowers in the back yard, make a nice little headstone out of a nice heavy rock you find in the field, and just remember the good times you had playing with the little rascal.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Car Alarm Symphony

Here's a fun prank I found out here on the Internet Thingy: What would you do if you went to the local big box store with its humongous parking lots and all the car alarms went off?

This was all done by a group called Improve Everywhere, a New York based group whose mission is to pull off strange and joyful (usually) public scenes.  What I like about their pranks is they're not out to hurt or embarass people. Just puzzle them.

Another recent prank was to take a random, unsuspecting couple sitting in a park and treat them to an orchestra and a four star dinner. Just fun!

Here, they got a bunch of people to simultaneously set off their car alarms, to the bemusement of shoppers and workers who really, really didn't know what was going on.

This prank by Improve Everywhere went off at a Staten Island shopping mall and it's fun to watch. So go ahead and watch!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rhododendron Survivor

Two years ago, this rhododendron was just a stick, poking out of a railroad tie that the previous owner of my house in St. Albans, Vermont had placed in front of the house as "landscaping."

For some reason, I didn't just throw the rhododendron stick out. I put it in the corner of the yard, in good dirt, and this was the result. It lives!