California, then and Now

Over on the forums of Free Republic, I just saw this sound-bite version of California’s history:

Do you know what happened 159 years ago this summer… back in 1850?

California became a state.

The people had no electricity.

The state had no money.

Almost everyone spoke Spanish.

There were gunfights in the streets.

So basically very little has changed except the men didn’t hold hands.

What Is Our State Department Thinking?

According to a blog I just saw, a “gay pride” party was just held in a US embassy, in Baghdad, of all places!  Clearly there wasn’t much thought about what the repercussions of the event might be.  Never mind that quite a few folks in this country still think homosexuality is wrong; the thing the Arabs hate most about western culture is its open displays of sexual practices, especially deviant ones.  Has anyone besides me noticed that no Middle Eastern flag (and very few anywhere else, for that matter) has pink or lavender among its colors?  No wonder the State Dept. is sometimes called “Foggy Bottom.”

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US embassy to hold first-ever gay pride party — in Iraq

Meanwhile, We have learned that when President Obama visits Egypt next week, he’ll be giving an important speech for the purpose of bridging the gap between the United States and the Islamic world.  Well, I don’t think he approved of the Baghdad party.  To me this looks like a case where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Obama speech to offer personal commitment to Muslims

Er, Mr. President, aren’t we already doing that?  When Saudi Arabia’s crown prince visited the US in 2002, then-President Bush removed women from airport control towers all over the country, to avoid offending a prince who doesn’t want a woman telling his pilot where to go.  It seems to me that Bush was more sensitive to Moslem concerns than the folks currently in the State Dept.  And since the breakup of the Soviet Union, every conflict involving American troops has mainly benefited Moslems (Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq).  I don’t think you can do more to demonstrate a desire for friendship than sacrificing the lives of your own countrymen.

News for the Obtuse

Our intellectual elite can be so dense, when it comes to things that are common sense to the rest of us.  In the early 1990s, for example, the media made a big deal about some scientists discovering that men and women are born different! My oh my, anybody who’s had children of both sexes could have told the reporters that, but the discovery was still considered important enough to put it on the cover of Time Magazine.  Then more recently, another of those “Venus” figurines, the statues of naked women that cavemen made, was found in Germany.  Ever since I was old enough to read books on cavemen, I’ve seen these statuettes described as representing some form of fertility goddess, the original “Gaia” or “Mother Earth.”  However, in the past few months I’ve heard some professors suggest that the Venuses were really stone age pornography.  Golly, anybody who doesn’t have an anthropology degree could have figured that out by now!

The Newest Uppity Stone-Age Venus

Critter Links and News

Just the other day, my brother Chris sent me a link to a YouTube video of a Florida Panther on a boardwalk in his neighborhood.  Because the Florida panther is so rare, this is indeed a rare sight.  When I first heard about the panther, twenty years ago, there were only about two dozen of them; now population estimates put them at 80-100.

Chris, this week I also stumbled upon a website that you and Dad are sure to enjoy.  Here it is, in case you haven’t been there already:

FlyingSquirrels.com

And today there was a news story from New Zealand about a Kea parrot stealing the passport of a Scottish tourist.  Well, not having been there, all I can say is that it’s not the first case of identity theft involving a parrot.  I’m reminded of the Saturday Night Live sketch called “Safari Planet” where a dimwitted nature show host, Brian Fellow, accused an Amazon parrot (one that looked very much like our Brin-Brin) of stealing his credit card and using it to buy a stereo!

Brazen parrot steals passport, heads into bush

Finally, I forgot to mention previously that today was the Jewish spring harvest festival, Shavuot, better known to Christians as Pentecost.  Chag Sameach and G-d Bless!

Disappearing Times

Once of the characteristics of the modern era is how everything seems to be moving, changing, and happening faster than ever.  For most of history, the human race was limited to wind and animal power for transportation, and about the only forms of communication that were faster than transportation were signal beacons and carrier pigeons.  Then with the industrial revolution came steam engines, railroads, and telegraphs, and everything speeded up.  In the past, the typical person could go through his whole life without experiencing any major changes, unless his community suffered from a war or some other disaster.  Inventions like gunpowder or printing made their mark, but they usually only affected one aspect of life.  In the past 200 years, however, every generation has basically lived in a different culture from those before and after it.  I’ve experienced more than one culture myself, going from black-and-white TV to Internet broadcasts in five decades.

Thus, “change” may have been the big buzzword in last year’s elections, but it’s hardly new; in today’s society, more things seem to change than stay the same.  Yesterday, I wrote about an endangered animal, the Tasmanian devil; now here is a list I saw today of 25 other endangered things.  How many will you miss?

25 THINGS ABOUT TO BECOME EXTINCT IN AMERICA

25. U.S. Post Office
They are pricing themselves out of existence.  Thanks to e-mail and on-line bill-paying services they are a relic of the past (see also #9).  Packages are also sent faster and cheaper with UPS.

24. Yellow Pages
This year will be pivotal for the global Yellow Pages industry.  Much like newspapers, the Yellow Pages will continue to bleed dollars to their various digital counterparts, from Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs), to local search engines and combination search/listing services like Reach Local and Yodel Factors.  An acceleration of the print ‘fade rate’ and the looming recession will contribute to the onslaught.  One research firm predicts the falloff in usage of newspapers and print Yellow Pages could even reach 10% this year — much higher than the 2%-3% fade rate seen in past years.

23. Classified Ads
The Internet has made so many things obsolete that newspaper classified ads might sound like just another trivial item on a long list.  But this is one of those harbingers of the future that could signal the end of civilization as we know it.  The argument is that if newspaper classifieds are replaced by free on-line listings at sites like Craigslist.org and Google Base, then newspapers cannot be far behind.

22. Movie Rental Stores
While Netflix is looking up at the moment, Blockbuster keeps closing store locations by the hundreds.  It still has about 6,000 left across the world, but those keep dwindling and the stock is down considerably in 2008, especially since the company gave up a quest for Circuit City.  Movie Gallery, which owned the Hollywood Video brand, closed up shop earlier this year.  Countless small video chains and mom-and-pop stores have given up the ghost already.

21. Dial-up Internet Access
Dial-up connections have fallen from 40% in 2001 to 10% in 2008.  The combination of an infrastructure to accommodate affordable high speed Internet connections and the disappearing home phone have all but pounded the final nail in the coffin of dial-up Internet access.

20. Land Line Phones
According to a survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, at the end of 2007, nearly one in six homes was cell-only and, of those homes that had land lines, one in eight only received calls on their cells.

19. Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs
Maryland’s icon, the blue crab, has been fading away in Chesapeake Bay.  Last year Maryland saw the lowest harvest (22 million pounds) since 1945.  Just four decades ago the bay produced 96 million pounds.  The population is down 70% since 1990, when the first formal count was done.  There are about 120 million crabs in the bay, and the crab census-takers think they need 200 million for a sustainable population.  Over-fishing, pollution, invasive species and global warming get the blame.

18. VCRs
For the last two decades of the twentieth century, the VCR was a best-seller and staple in every American household, until being completely decimated by the DVD, and now the Digital Video Recorder (DVR).  In fact, the only remnants of the VHS age at your local Wal-Mart or Radio Shack are blank VHS tapes these days.  Pre-recorded VHS tapes are largely gone and VHS decks are practically nowhere to be found.  They served us so well (I still have mine).

17. Ash Trees
In the late 1990’s, a pretty, iridescent green beetle, now known as the emerald ash borer, hitched a ride to North America with ash wood products imported from eastern Asia.  In less than a decade, its larvae have killed millions of trees in the Midwest, and continue to spread.  They’ve killed more than 30 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan alone, with tens of millions more lost in Ohio and Indiana.  More than 7.5 billion ash trees are currently at risk.

16. Ham Radio
Amateur radio operators enjoy personal (and often worldwide) wireless communications with each other and are able to support their communities with emergency and disaster communications if necessary, while increasing their personal knowledge of electronics and radio theory.  However, proliferation of the Internet and its popularity among youth has caused the decline of amateur radio.  In the past five years alone, the number of people holding active ham radio licenses has dropped by 50,000, even though Morse Code is no longer a requirement.

15. The Swimming Hole
Thanks to our litigious society, swimming holes are becoming a thing of the past.  “20/20” reports that swimming hole owners, like Robert Every in High Falls, NY, are shutting them down out of worry that if someone gets hurt they’ll sue.  And that’s exactly what happened in Washington State.  The city of Bellingham was sued by Katie Hofstetter, who was paralyzed in a fall at a popular swimming hole in Whatcom Falls Park.  As injuries occur and lawsuits follow, expect more swimming holes to post “Keep out!” signs.

14. Answering Machines
The increasing disappearance of answering machines is directly tied to #20 our list — the decline of landlines.  According to USA Today, the number of homes that only use cell phones jumped 159% between 2004 and 2007.  It has been particularly bad in New York; since 2000, landline usage has dropped 55%.  It’s logical that as cell phones with voice mail replace traditional landlines, that there will be fewer answering machines.

13. Cameras That Use Film
It doesn’t require a statistician to prove the rapid disappearance of the film camera in America.  Just look to companies like Nikon, the professional’s choice for quality camera equipment.  In 2006, it announced that it would stop making film cameras, pointing to the shrinking market — only 3% of its sales in 2005, compared to 75% of sales from digital cameras and equipment.

12. Incandescent Bulbs
Before a few years ago, the standard 60-watt (or, yikes, 100-watt) bulb was the mainstay of every U.S. home.  With the green movement and all-things-sustainable-energy crowd, the Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL) is largely replacing the older, Edison-era incandescent bulb.  The EPA reports that 2007 sales for Energy Star CFLs nearly doubled from 2006, and these sales accounted for approximately 20 percent of the U.S. light bulb market.  And according to USA Today, a new energy bill plans to phase out incandescent bulbs in the next four to 12 years.

11. Stand-Alone Bowling Alleys
Bowling Balls US claims there are still 60 million Americans who bowl at least once a year, but many are not bowling in stand-alone bowling alleys.  Today most new bowling alleys are part of facilities for all types or recreation including laser tag, go-karts, bumper cars, video game arcades, climbing walls and miniature golf.  Bowling lanes also have been added to many non-traditional venues such as adult communities, hotels and resorts, and gambling casinos.

10. The Milkman
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1950, over half of the milk delivered was to the home in quart bottles, by 1963, it was about a third and by 2001, it represented only 0.4% percent.  Nowadays most milk is sold through supermarkets in gallon jugs.  The steady decline in home-delivered milk is blamed, of course, on the rise of the supermarket, better home refrigeration and longer-lasting milk.  Although some milkmen still make the rounds in pockets of the U.S., they are certainly a dying breed.

Unquote:  I didn’t think there were any milkmen left!  And it has nothing to do with this heavy metal band.

9. Hand-Written Letters
In 2006, the Radicati Group estimated that, worldwide, 183 billion e-mails were sent each day.  Two million each second.  By November of 2007, an estimated 3.3 billion Earthlings owned cell phones, and 80% of the world’s population had access to cell phone coverage.  In 2004, half-a-trillion text messages were sent, and the number has no doubt increased exponentially since then.  So where amongst this gorge of gabble is there room for the elegant, polite hand-written letter?

8. Wild Horses
It is estimated that 100 years ago, as many as two million horses were roaming free within the United States.  In 2001, National Geographic News estimated that the wild horse population has decreased to about 50,000 head.  Currently, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory board states that there are 32,000 free roaming horses in ten Western states, with half of them residing in Nevada.  The Bureau of Land Management is seeking to reduce the total number of free range horses to 27,000, possibly by selective euthanasia.

7. Personal Checks
According to an American Bankers Assoc. report, a net 23% of consumers plan to decrease their use of checks over the next two years, while a net 14% plan to increase their use of PIN debit.  Bill payment remains the last stronghold of paper-based payments — for the time being.  Checks continue to be the most commonly used bill payment method, with 71% of consumers paying at least one recurring bill per month by writing a check.  However, a bill-by-bill basis, checks account for only 49% of consumers’ recurring bill payments (down from 72% in 2001 and 60% in 2003).

Unquote:  I guess the last place where I’ll be writing checks is for the collection plate at church.

6. Drive-in Theaters
During the peak in 1958, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in this country, but in 2007 only 405 drive-ins were still operating.  Exactly zero new drive-ins have been built since 2005.  Only one reopened in 2005 and five reopened in 2006, so there isn’t much of a movement toward reviving the closed ones.

Unquote:  I remember when the last drive-in closed in the Orlando area, and there’s one left where I live now, between Lexington and Winchester, KY.  No wonder Joe Bob Briggs, the drive-in movie critic, writes about other subjects these days.

5. Mumps & Measles
Despite what’s been in the news lately, the measles and mumps actually, truly are disappearing from the United States.  In 1964, 212,000 cases of mumps were reported in the U.S.  By 1983, this figure had dropped to 3,000, thanks to a vigorous vaccination program.  Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine, approximately half a million cases of measles were reported in the U.S. annually, resulting in 450 deaths.  In 2005, only 66 cases were recorded.

4. Honey Bees
Perhaps nothing on our list of disappearing things is so frightening; plummeting so enormously; and so necessary to the survival of our food supply as the honey bee.  Very scary.  Colony Collapse Disorder,’ or CCD, has spread throughout the U.S. and Europe over the past few years, wiping out 50% to 90% of the colonies of many beekeepers — and along with it, their livelihood.

3. News Magazines and TV News
While the TV evening newscasts haven’t gone anywhere over the last several decades, their audiences have.  In 1984, in a story about the diminishing returns of the evening news, the New York Times reported that all three network evening-news programs combined had only 40.9 million viewers.  That was when the only real competition was from CNN.  Fast forward to today, and what the big three have is half that.

2. Analog TV
According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 85% of homes in the U.S. get their television programming through cable or satellite providers.  For the remaining 15% — or 13 million individuals — who are using rabbit ears or a large outdoor antenna to get their local stations, change is in the air.  If you are one of these people you’ll need to get a new TV or a converter box in order to get the new stations which will only be broadcast in a digital format.

Unquote:  The TV I brought up from Florida didn’t survive the trip, so my pastor gave me a hand-me-down set that was made in 1981.  Last April I bought my converter box, but I haven’t installed it yet, because nobody in this house has watched TV in months!  Leive and I get all the entertainment and information we could want from the Internet.

1. The Family Farm
Since the 1930s, the number of family farms has been declining rapidly.  According to the USDA, 5.3 million farms dotted the nation in 1950, but this number had declined to 2.1 million by the 2003 farm census (data from the 2007 farm census hasn’t yet been published). Ninety-one percent of U.S. fARMS are small family farms.

Lions and Tigers and Devils, Oh My!

Australian animals have made the news lately.  First of all, the Tasmanian devil is now on the endangered species list, not because of any manmade activity, but because of a facial cancer that is both deadly and contagious.  This is a new one to me, I’ve never heard of a contagious cancer before.  God forbid, if somebody in my family developed cancer and I went to visit him or her, I wouldn’t expect to catch it.

Anyway, the cartoon version of the Tasmanian Devil (“Taz”) is exaggerated, but the real one has a ferocious temper nonetheless.  Who’d have thought that the toughest Looney Toons character, who spins like a tornado and has a mouth like a steel trap, would meet his nemesis in the form of a microbe?

taz

Australia’s Tasmanian Devil joins endagered list

In other news, for a long time paleontologists have known that quite a few marsupial animals once existed that are now extinct, especially in Australia.  One of them is usually called the marsupial lion, because the skeletons found showed it looked like a big cat.  Usually it is portrayed as looking like a good old American mountain lion.  Of course you can only learn so much from bones; they don’t tell you if an animal had a mane, for instance. Now an aboriginal rock-art painting has been found which shows what they really looked like.  It turns out they had stripes and pointed ears, so they looked more like a tiger than a lion.  Here’s the stone age painting, behind a previous reconstruction of the animal.

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Marsupial lion found in Aboriginal rock art

Unfortunately, it’s too late to rename this the marsupial tiger, because there’s already an animal with a name like that:  the thylacine, better known as the Tasmanian tiger.  As far as we know, the last Tasmanian tiger died in 1936.  Here’s some old video footage of it:

Personally I prefer to call it the Tasmanian wolf, even if it had stripes, because the head looked more like a wolf’s head than a tiger’s head, but that’s just me.  Now, how are the kangaroo and the koala doing?

Memorial Day 2009

card2thanks-vi

Before I tell you what we did, I want everyone to take a moment to remember those servicemen who paid the price so that we can take today off.  A lot of folks just see today as the unofficial beginning of summer, and it seems that our culture is heading to the point where we could see all holidays–including Christmas–as made for our convenience, an excuse to take a day off from work and go shopping at the mall.  Here’s a video that Kim Komando pointed out on her website, which pays tribute to our heroes; it was made last year but the message isn’t out of date.

Two weeks ago, Leive and I met the first leaders of the local Fil-Am club, BFAAI (Bluegrass Filipino-American Association, Inc.).  We knew there was a club for Filipinos in Louisville, but I didn’t think there were enough of them in Lexington to have one here, so this was a pleasant surprise.  They invited us to the group’s Memorial Day picnic, and we went to it yesterday.  It was held at Shillito Park, behind the Fayette Square Mall, and while it took a few minutes to find the right pavillion, there was no mistaking it once we got there, since the main decorations were flags of the USA and the Philippines.  We had to pay a $2 admission since we weren’t club members yet, but we joined before the picnic was over, and everyone seemed to appreciate the pancit (Philippince noodle dish) Leive brought; the pan was half empty by the time I got to put some on my plate.  After we came home, I joined BFAAI’s online group, so we’ll receive e-mail announcements of future events.

Gene and Rezia were there, and Gene won one of the contests when they had a ticket drawing–he got a gift card for Meijer.  I took a few pictures, but they weren’t anything to brag about.  A google search took me to some pictures of the club’s Labor Day picnic from last year, and they were better.  In fact, it looks like that picnic was held in the same spot as the one we attended.

BFAAI Labor Day Picnic, 2008

Besides a trip to Louisville on Saturday (for another Prepaid Legal seminar), that was the main event of our holiday weekend.  I hope your weekend was pleasant, too.