Sunday, January 30, 2011

26 Things That Might Not Be True

You've heard them your whole life.

“Facts” and inside information that you really have to wonder about.

There are the multiple explanations for the facts of life, for instance, from birds dropping babies down chimneys (is there ever really an age when that seems plausible?) to sharing a straw to using the rest room of the opposite sex.

True, in the particular case of procreation, the truth turns out to be even more bizarre than most of the fiction, but that's a discussion for another day.

There was the story that aspirin in a Coke had the same approximate effect as LSD. And the rumor that Walt Disney was frozen after his death (he was cremated, but substitute Ted Williams and you're closer to the truth). And myths like giant alligators in the sewers, muggers who steal kidneys, tee-totaling college students and on and on ….

I come to this topic genetically, I think. One of my uncles once described my Grandfather Huber as “the biggest mass of misinformation” he had ever met. And so I bring you these nonfacts. Some I have heard over the years, and some have occurred to me as interesting ways to change the world if I were in charge.

Also ... I've included three true items just for the fun of it. See if you can pick them out.

1. All birds can talk, but so far only parrots and a very few others have chosen to.

2. Left in the sun, mayonnaise becomes mustard.

3. The arrow was invented decades before the bow, and was originally used simply as a pointing device.

4. Worldwide, women named Stella are taller than men named Mickey.

5. Coke the drink once contained coke the drug.

6. People who can't sing also can't bake.

7. During the American Revolution, over 600 people were executed for keeping the “u” in words like colour and flavour.

8. The word “stout” was invented as a way to describe King Henry VIII without insulting him.

9. Everyone in Ireland knows everyone else there.

10. The first man to milk a cow spent the rest of his life in prison as a pervert.

11. Benjamin Franklin proposed that the turkey be the symbol of America, not the eagle.

12. Every McDonald's has a secret VIP room where gourmet burgers and fries are served by supermodel waitresses.

13. The French horn got its name from the punch line of an off-color joke.

14. As he took office in January 1981, Ronald Reagan was under the mistaken impression that he had promised all Americans free sausages.

15. Babe Ruth is one miracle away from being declared a saint.

16. Potato chips were invented by a chef who was trying to spite a complaining customer.

17. More automobile accidents are caused each year by bees trapped inside the car than by texting and cell phoning combined.

18. No drummer has ever lived to be 70.

19. Small portions of the King James Bible were actually rewritten by William Shakespeare.

20. Two out of five men think of brassieres when they hear the word “infrastructure.”

21. In Argentina they sell men's suits that expand or contract with you as you gain or lose weight.

22. Voters in Delaware will decide this March which name is correct: cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount or panther.

23. People in glass houses hate being told what to do.

24. William “Bill” Fontaine was named Meteorologist of the Year for coming up with the term “Thundersnow.”

25. Before prizefighters were known as “boxers” they were called “spaniels.”

26. The most interesting man in the world always drinks beer. In fact, it's kind of a problem.

So there is my contribution to what government agencies and political campaign managers like to call “disinformation.” If you were playing along, the actual true information is contained in numbers 5, 11 and 16.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What If Your Religion Is Wrong?

I choose to believe in a higher power, mainly because that's the smart move.

If I'm right, I tip my hat and strut on through those Pearly Gates into an afterlife filled with non-stop fun with my favorite people for all of eternity. At least that's my heaven, your results may vary.

If I'm wrong, there's no one to apologize to. It's just a sigh, an “Oops!” and a move on to the next thing (or no thing, if that's the case).

My god has an odd sense of humor. Or maybe one just so advanced that mere mortals are at a loss to explain it, other than to say that he “works in strange ways.” Among his best jokes are hammerhead sharks, college football's non-playoff BCS system and sex. (He never really thought we'd figure out that last one on our own … or if we did that we'd actually do it.)

But I think his very best joke is the invention of religion.

Now, I should be clear on this point … no matter what religion you believe in (or don't believe in) there is a chance that you are absolutely right.

However, given the odds, it might be a slimmer chance than you think. That's just the sort of thing that gives my god the giggles. You see, my god made the universe so grand and so overwhelming that it is impossible for humans to comprehend or even imagine. You know how dogs can't understand algebra? It's something like that.

The more we try to figure it out, the more fun it is for him. Each path we create to salvation and each bizarre practice or prohibition we establish to please him … pleases him.

And we just keep amusing him with our fervent shots in the dark:

There are 19 major world religions. These 19 can be subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups. Within these groups, there are 34,000 separate ones just within the Christian heading.

Here's a quick rundown of our Top Dozen Guesses:

Christianity: 2.1 billion
Islam: 1.5 billion
Secular/Non-Religious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
Hindu: 900 million
Chinese Traditional: 394 million
Buddhist: 376 million
Primal/Indigenous: 300 million
African Traditional: 100 million
Sikhism: 23 million
Juche: 19 million
Spiritualism: 15 million
Judaism: 14 million

It stands to reason that every true believer in a religion believes that religion is the one true religion. But simple math (not even algebra) tells us that the vast majority of the people on Earth who consider themselves members of a particular religion are just plain wrong.

That's hard to accept, and so sometimes people want to stress how strong their faith is by stating what they think is stronger than faith. They say they know.

This leads to statements like: “I know I'm being saved because I've accepted Jesus,” or “I know I will be with Allah by becoming one of his martyrs,” or “I know Zeus will smile down on me because I killed my third-favorite goat for him.”

What they don't realize is that knowing is the opposite of faith. Faith is believing what you do not know.

The strongest, most well-meaning faith that humans are capable of mustering doesn't change the basic truth: No one knows.

All this doesn't mean that people should run out and switch religions. (I have found that my influence on the world is substantially less than that, anyway.) But maybe just a little tolerance is in order. People whose beliefs are different from yours may be just as good and kind and faithful (and right) as you are.

As for me, I think I'll continue to put my faith in a god that knows how to have a good time.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Things That Make No Sense to Me

With age comes wisdom. Or so I was led to believe.

But the truth is, unless you're a cult member (they have answers for everything), the questions that occur to you over the years far outweigh the knowledge you acquire. The existence of a higher power and life after death are a couple of the bigger mysteries that enter our minds with the passing years.

Those two are more or less out of my league. However, I can address just a very few ... a tip of the iceberg so to speak ... of the lesser things in life that baffle me:

Bottled Water
I may be penny wise or frugal or just plain cheap, but I just can't bring myself to purchase water in a store. How does this sound for a business plan? Charge people a tidy sum for virtually the same thing they can get for free at home. Give it a fancy name, French if you can think of one, and you can charge even more. And, oh yeah, package it in a material that kills the planet like … oh … let's say ... plastic.

I could access ancient records of my grades to prove this, but suffice it to say that I can't even understand enough calculus to give you an example of how baffling calculus is to me. Wait a second … here's something I sort of remember: Calculus has “imaginary numbers.” Even with an infinite number of numbers available, calculus feels the need to imagine more numbers. Come on, calculus! I mean … really?

“Stock futures are up four points before the opening bell.”
I'll admit that I don't know the first thing about the stock market. Well, that's not strictly true. I do remember learning in sixth grade that people jumped out of tall buildings when it crashed in 1929. (Some lessons you learn in school are just too cool to forget.) But even given my ignorance of the subject, isn't this statement about the same as saying, “The Phillies lead the Mets 4-0 as we prepare to start the first inning.”?

I realize that where food is concerned it's quite literally a matter of taste, but to me these are like eating tiny balls of snot.

I have never understood the amazing appeal of this pretend soccer game where you twist poles to spin attached players who attempt to push the ball into the goal. To me, it's a tremendously cumbersome simulation of an unpopular sport on an unwieldy table. But I have resigned myself to the fact that this is an indication of some kind of defect in me. Almost everyone I know loves it … I don't … I now concede that they're probably right.

And there is one more item that I'll bring up as part of my “Hall of Fame of Things That Never Made Any Sense to Me” …

8-Track Tapes
For the benefit of those of you under 45 or so, I'll explain that these were approximately 4-inch by 8-inch cartridges filled with a theoretically never-ending loop of the greatest music from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. Just about every car I rode in during those years had an 8-track player in the glove compartment and a back seat filled with the tapes. (I believe Led Zeppelin tapes came with every player.)

The sound was pretty good, but the one (I would call it major) flaw was this: The lengths of the tracks did not coordinate with the lengths of the songs. The music would fade out in mid-song at the end of one track, there would be about a 3-second silence, followed by a mechanical click (or clunk, if you prefer), 3 more seconds of silence and then a fade in continuing where the music left off.

Having heard these albums on 8-track enough times, a person started to believe that the pause-click-pause was part of the songs. (It was a dumber, more innocent age, I'll admit.)

I have a hard time envisioning today's iTunes generation putting up with that sort of flaw. But what made the 8-track so difficult for me to understand even then is that for most of the time that it was popular there was a far better alternative.

Standard cassette tapes existed. You know, the mini reel-to-reel inside that little plastic case. I know they were available because I had one in my car. These were the obvious, no-brainer choice ... technologically superior, musically non-interruptive, smaller, easier to store, longer playing time with better sound and … I'd better stop here before I blow a gasket.

I'm suddenly reliving a 30-year-old argument with my 8-track-loving friend, Tony.

Feel free to chime in with some things in this wild world that make no sense to you!