Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Tragedy of the Scented Scarf

Scene: A large cave, well lit by torches. An elderly bear sits on a massive aspen throne, wearing a wooden crown and antler shoulder pauldrons and a regal golden cape. He also wears the typical long white wool wig of a judge. Before him are a bespectacled middle aged bear and a trembling adolescent bear. A twelve bear jury is seated behind them. All are silent as Judge LordBear speaks, his voice deep but kind.

"Troubled Youngbear. You have been brought here due to allegations of inappropriate behavior with Nice Old Lady. How plead you?"

"Not guilty, LordBear."

"Troubled Youngbear. Let me be frank. There seems undeniable prima facie evidence that, as four of your brothers have accused, that you are indeed guilty. And specifically, that you ate Nice Old Lady's scarf. What say you?"

"Excuse me, LordBear," said the Bespectacled Chill Lawyerbear. "But no evidence against my client has been presented, and I must-"

"Silence, Lawyerbear!" roared LordBear, pounding his paw on his throne. "We know you visiting Lawyerbears from Humboldt have different ways, more freedom in their courts. But we will not accept it here. And no puns in my court. Bear puns are too easy. Now. Youngbear, you have a piece of blue thread trailing from underneath your tail. What say you?"


"It is the same color as Nice Old Lady's scarf."

"Um. Yes, LordBear."

"Youngbear, this court has no time for such dishonesty. Now, you know what the Badgemen will do. They will hunt you with the Sleepsticks. They will put one Gay Tag in your ear. Who knows what else they do while you sleep. They will leave you quite far away, many days' journey from the Secret Meeting Place. And then there is the matter of justice before your fellow bears. We had a hard time choosing a fair jury of brown and black bears, for Nice Old Lady is beloved in our community. The judgment may be harsh."

"Yes, LordBear."

"Your honor, may I speak?"

"Yes, Laywerbear."

"Sir, there may be an alternate way to prevent the Badgemen from assaulting my client. In Humboldt, the local hippies are very sympathetic to bears, and they allow some leeway in their legal system. What we can do is-"

"We attack! We eat the Badgemen!" Troubled Youngbear rose and looked around the room for support, but the jury only shuddered.

"Silence, Troubled Youngbear!" LordBear angrily pounded both paws on his throne. "You will not even speak of that in this courtroom! The Badgemen also have Ouchsticks. Then you do not wake up. They have millions more Badgemen who will slaughter us for the mere association! They will- Youngbear, why are you trembling?"

"Um, I, um, I'm just so scared here in court, I-"

"Your honor, I do so apologize for this outburst," said Lawyerbear, putting his paw over his client's mouth. "I trust that my far more reasonable proposal may be aired before the court?" LordBear nodded. "Sirs, our laywers in Humboldt have learned of a powerful scroll called an Injunction. We can petition the local SPCA to prevent the assault on the grounds that my client has already endured a troubled youth, and would be further scarred by a forced relocation."

"Very well, Lawyerbear, but this theft and consumption will still anger the Badgemen."

"Please, LordBear, I have a plan. Youngbear, you said earlier that you smelled honey sauce?"


"And Nice Old Lady is known for feeding gourmet treats to local bears?"

"Yes. She made braised venison with cherry honey sauce demiglace and it was really good! And, and then she gave me some more, and some more. But I was still feeling a little peckish, and, and so-"

"And so you ate her scarf because you were hungry?"


"And you smelled honey sauce?"


"And the sauce may have been on the scarf?" Several members of the jury looked at each other, impressed. Even LordBear nodded sagely as Lawyerbear smugly continued. "So you just were hungry for more sauce? And as she left the scarf unattended, hanging on the laundry line, you thought it may have been a gift for you? Right?"

"Um. Uh. Right. Yes, that's right, sir." Yet LordBear frowned, for he could smell a lie.

"Youngbear! I think you are lying to this court again. And we will remember it when we dispense our bear justice." Many jurors nodded. "But now, we must apologize to Nice Old Lady. Fortunately, she has fed me many years, and when she took that sabbatical from cooking at El Bulli, I even assisted her in some dishes. So we shall go apologize now."

"Um. Sir, LordBear, I can't - I mean, we-"

LordBear's face softened. "You cannot apologize to Nice Old Lady?"

"No, sir."

"Well, Youngbear, I am proud of you. For it is right that you should be so ashamed of your actions that you cannot apologize. It shows that you are growing, and learning of responsibility. But you must go, for it is vital to become a less troubled young bear, and soon a recovering young adult bear."

"LordBear, I, um, I...." There was a sudden loud sound as the nervous young bear sprayed the chamber with terrified evacuation. Several jurors were covered, and Lawyerbear put his head in his hands.

"Youngbear!" screamed LordBear, rising and then thudding his whole body into the throne. "You have fouled this chamber!"

"I'm sorry, sir, I'm so sorry!"

"Please, LordBear, my client was so scared, and this only proves the sincerity of his remorse, and-"

"What's that glittering thing over there?" LordBear pointed to one of the jurors, a black and brown bear with something gleaming stuck in her fur.

"Oh Great LordBear," said one of the jurors, "it seems to be an earring."

"Bring it here!" She did so, and LordBear then fixed his gaze on Youngbear. "This looks like Nice Old Lady's earring!"

"Sir, I'm sorry, I-"

"Lawyerbear! You should inform your client that he may be due for a double Gay Tag. Two strikes!"

"Youngbear, this is very serious," said Lawyerbear. "Two tags! Do you understand?"

"No, sir."

"Well. You youngbears follow soccer, right? The World Cup was big news. You saw it, right?" Youngbear nodded. "Remember when I explained that one Gay Tag is like a yellow card? Now, you will have two of them! No leeway!"

"Yes, sir."

"You have to avoid people from now on! And- wait. Is there anything else should know?"

Youngbear shuddered. LordBear stood up, roared, and lumbered down from his throne to yell at YoungBear. "Speak! Out with it! What else did you eat from Nice Old Lady's property?"



"Well, look, I was still hungry, and my widsom tooth really hurt, and Cute Wigglyrump went off with some other bear, and the honey sauce smelled really good, and so I, well, everyone was talking about all the different food, and I wanted something too, and I, well-"


Youngbear looked guiltily at Lawyerbear. "I mean, young sir. Please detail the full scope of your interaction with Nice Old Lady. Did you eat some of her food that she didn't offer to you?"

"Yes. Well, I mean, sort of."

"What did you eat?"

"Um. Her. Sir."

"Dude!" Lawyerbear slumped back in his chair. "You ate a bit of Nice Old Lady?"


"How much?"




The room as silent for a moment, and then the entire jury began looking at each other nervously and chatting. Lawyerbear stood up and slowly backed out of the room. "Esteemed sirs. Your honor, distinguished jurors, unknown young bear. Clearly, I have been to the wrong cave. Please accept my humble apologies as I promptly depart." He turned around and shot out of the room, followed by twelve terrified jurors. The room was then silent again.

"Youngbear?" asked the judge. "Do you understand what this means?"

"Like a yellow card?"

"No, Youngbear. Not even a red card. The Badgemen have the death penalty even for suspicion of association with mankillers. You. Me. Some of them. All dead. Just a matter of time."

"I'm sorry, LordBear."

(Long silence.)

"How did she taste?"

The scene goes dark as a gunshot is heard, followed by a muffled thud.

Lunch with Badge Man

Two pictures from a hike this morning. No bears are visible.

Last summer, when I was out in Colorado, I explained how a bear becomes a bad bear. A bear that digs through trash, lumbers too close to humans, or ignores the ample "Bear left" road signs and ambles into traffic, or otherwise seems just a bit too unafraid of our species, gets sedated and dragged to the middle of nowhere, with an ear tag as a souvenir. The second time, the bear earns another ear tag. The third - well, bears have only two ears, and not nine lives, and certainly no lawyers. So the third time a bear gets too chummy, they make damn sure it is his last.

Sadly, the injustices against the ursine community were fur-ther laid bear during a recent lunch with Uncle Junior, the local sheriff. I should preface our exchange with background information about a local who was an animal lover. She loved the local animals. Like our beloved old next door neighbor, Helen, she loved to feed the crows. Like many residents, including us, she had a hummingbird feeder. Like many people, she loved to feed other birds. Like some people, she also loved to feed the chipmunks. Oh, and also, she loved to feed the bears.

You think you know where this is going, don't you? You think that lady has to be nuts, and there's something berry fishy in that bear diet coming up: her. You think our local black bears are just wild animals, and would maul her the moment her picnic basket ran dry. You think I'd be amused by such black humor, by the pandamonium that any tail of feeding a bear must en-tail. You think I'm the kind of person who would not even paws before mocking a whole polar system just to try to paint a kodiak moment or write a witty claws.

But you don't know me. You don't know where my story is going. Yes, she really did feed the bears. A lot. And no, they were not mindless savages. She had many bear friends. Local bears knew her and would visit her regularly to be fed. Routinely, bears would go to her home and eat from her and leave peacefully. So there.

One year, the local ranger visited her home. He dropped a bombshell: feeding bears is a bad idea. And there was more: she should stop! She kindly thanked the ranger, but continued feeding the bears.

You think the story gets grizzly, but don't pooh-pooh it yet. She remained ungashed for another year. Not the least boo boo. Bears grew up and told their honeys about her, and the excited bears and their hyper mates beelined to her home. He kindness would in-cub-ate another generation of baby bears, whatever they are called. End of story. So there.


Oh, so anyway, back to that other story. "Hey Junior," I said.


"Heard you were first on the scene at that bear eating."

"Oh, yeah. That was last year."

"Luck finally ran out, huh?"


"And it was a full-fledged eating? Not a biting, or mauling, or even eviscerating?"


"So that's like instant three tags, right? They hunt that bear down immediately?"

"Yeah. Well, I did."

"You shot the offending bear?"

"Yeah. We had to get three of them."

"Three bears ate her?"

"No, but it takes a while for Animal Conttol to verify the right bear. And until then, there may be a dangerous animal out there."

This seemed quite reasonable to me. I mean, I think the safety of humans should indeed be prioritized way, way over bears'. But others may disagree, and hence we have the tale immediately following this casual exchange.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Star Alliance Bold

Three hours after I posted my last blog entry, from my hotel. The trip to Heathrow was uneventful. The Lufthansa terminal had signs advertising that they usually a security line of less than 5 minutes. Great, I thought. Cleverly, they did not mention any stats about how long it took to get through the security line. It took over an hour to check in and drop off my bag.

I was then wandering around and noticed the tantalizing sign "Star Alliance Gold Lounge." I don't know how many frequent flyer miles I am from that lounge, but it is more than two. I also noticed the winning combination of a long line and overstressed employees checking ID of people to get in. Hm. One of them was complaining that they wouldn't let him in because he is only silver, creating further distraction. I guessed that I could just stroll right in there if I stand up straight, avoid contact, and look officious and confident. So here I am.

Someday, I hope to get used to such lounges, so I can look back and laugh at how pleased I was way back in the day. At the moment, I am pretty pleased, all the more so because I snuck in. The area has comfy chairs, free newspapers, and free coffee and tea. This is nice, but so far, no better than the international terminal in Frankfurt is (or was). But the lounge here has fancier, more flexible coffee machines, with more drink choices, and also more tea options. And more comfy chairs, and waiter service. Why waiters? They also have:

Grolsch blond on tap.
several beers and ciders.
several bottles of wine.
several varieties of hard liquor.
water, coke, soda, etc.
apple and orange juice
shower rooms
free laptop area
free internet and charging
free newspapers
free magazines (shitty ones)
childrens play area
croissants, cereal with milk, fresh fruit
sandwiches with fresh bacon or sausage
good coffee machines, with cookies
lots of gourmet tea
nice chairs and decorations
and absolutely nobody questioning me.

Of course, in a way, my experience is just what the Star Alliance wants. I'm motivated to get more FF miles, and am telling numerous loyal readers about it. Yes! Get more FF miles. Or, consider the alternate plan I propose here. In the worst case, they tell you to leave. And of course, this tale is purely hypothetical, like anything that I write that could be remotely used against me. The (hypothetical) fact that I am violating my usual prohibition on 2 posts in the same day just so I can post this from inside the lounge is irrelevant. Not worth the trouble to trace the IP, which would provide ironclad proof of my so-called misdemeanor.

Now for the fun part - walking out.


Yesterday was a pleasant and full London day. The hotel serves a full English breakfeast every morning, and I got some of that with labmate Josef and 2 colleagues from Barcelona. The four of us then walked quite far from our Strand Palace Hotel, through Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park, thus seeing numerous sights along the way, then walked around the museums of science and natural history before we had to head back to the hotel so they could get back to Barcelona.

I expressed to the cabbie, quite sincerely, how disappointed I was that they no longer made the incoming French trains go through Waterloo station. The only other time I went to London was 10 years ago, from Paris, with Chris Lohr. I noticed that train from Paris exited at Waterloo station, which just couldn't be a coincidence. And there's that Trafalgar Square I mentioned. But now the French trains go somewhere not named after a time the British kicked their asses. The cabbie agreed, and pointed out that the French could not elicit revenge, since there were no great French victories over the British. Right, I said. Rename it Agincourt Station or something, and there is nothing they can do in revenge. So this was fun, and we had great nationalist bonding (in front of an Austrian, Spaniard, and Venezuelan living in Barcelona). Small world.

I hit the local gym, then Josef and I were entertained by Stomp! This was a fun show, although my seat at the Ambassador Theater had literally less legroom than a United flight. I know, cause I have a lot of experience with that hated knee-gouging wall, and will gain a lot more during my most odious upcoming flight to Frankfurt then Denver then Montrose, which departs in about 4 hours.

We then went to the icebar, which is indeed made of ice and kept quite cold. They serve Absolut drinks there in little ice cups. Good fun. New. Pictures later. I was then planning to get some local Moroccan food, after telling Josef how good tajine can be, but we ended up meeting some locals, some of whom were Italians (Europe is a melting pot too). When they said they were going for good Italian food and invited us, we figured a plan change was in order. Good call. Rossopomodoro has particularly good pizza. And, more importantly, quality conversation with good people. As I said, hard to find novelty in your live entertainment, and thus all the more enjoyable when you find it for free, through good company. Viva flaneur.

And now off to return to America. The last time I was there, I enjoyed it, but it was ungodly cloudy in San Diego. I remember talking with the grad coordinator of my old cog sci department at UC San Diego (Beverley Walton, herself from this emerald isle), as she commented that she never saw a "June gloom" like this. Further adding to proof of the imminent apocalypse: I just enjoyed 5 days of fairly good London weather. Great temperatue, not humid, no threat of rain, even the odd speck of sun. Eerie. I hope Colorado doesn't freeze in the summer or rain blood or anything. At least, not until after I finisn hiking.


Greey-tings from Jolly Owlde London. Chilly knickers fouw-lee rumpowle. Right fluff groo-willy chezzwhuff yellowteeth. Eh, what what? Flahrrngwynnwhyth caerphilly whump whump.

I always thought the Jabber Walk was a genuine linguistic innovation, trumpeting the triumph of syntax over semantics. (No surprise, then, that no such poem exists in German.) No. Carroll is a lying fraud, whose legacy deserves to fade like a leering snotty feline grin. That poem is actually a straightforward rendition of how Londoners speak, with only a few minor changes. And you can learn some useful history once it is properly translated. For example, locals complain of low quality lumber resulting from tree rot (flimsy were the borough groves).

I logged many hours listening to the walking locals jabber, and I am learning quickly. My British skills advanced to where my German was after several weeks of exposure in Germany. I think I am learning so quickly because I took four years of English in my American high school, which has some similar roots. I can order food and get basic directions, and even tea and theater tickets. I did in fact manage to order an official British afternoon tea, which I always wanted to do in England.

Good tea. Liked the scone with fresh strawberries. Cute presentation. Worth maybe 8 bucks, not 16 quid. They could have saved quite a lot by giving me about one tenth of that much butter and jam, which would have been plenty. It is a minor strike against my hotel, the Strand Palace. Most of us who attended these meetings in London stayed here because it is across the street from the meeting location. It is certainly not horrid. And they do have a tea kettle in the room. Yes. And they are most assiduous about providing tea. And they sure do have a lot of tea with their breakfast. No complaints about the availability of tea. This can keep you busy while you are waiting for the elevator, which takes long enough that I took to using the stairs (to the 8th floor). But they do warn you in the name. You will be stranded. This is what I get for that zanahorias trick.

The hotel also happens to be near Soho, so I hung out there a fair amount. Saw old Dietrich Benjes, who I last saw in London 10 years ago. Got surprisingly good last-minute tickets to see “We Will Rock You,” figuring that Queen always was intended to go with theater, and I should see it in its proper context. And this did work. Good idea. Essentially, perform their greatest hits CD, with lots of costumes and dancing and visual effects, interleaved with the usual plotline about music and creativity becoming subsumed in the future by an evil corporation. And thus only a prophesied prodigy can restore genuine creativity and spread it amongst an initially unreceptive and doped populace. “Amateur artists imitate; professional artists steal.” Nothing wrong with it. It worked. It worked, in fact, better than anything I can think of. I’m just annoyed that it took me so long to learn that basic truism. Plus, they did rewrite a lot of lyrics to my amusement, and provide some engaging dialog, with talented people and sexy dancers. I wish they didn’t kill Britney Spears at the end of the first act, since he was an amusing dancer, and could sing like Freddie pretty well for a black guy.

I walked back to my hotel to change before going back to jabber walk around Soho. I noticed a lot of other shows – Legally Blonde, The Lion King, Sister Act, Grease. Probably fun shows, but I do wonder how much the level of imitation/theft has changed. It’s less impressive to make a successful show out of something that was already tested and validated. It makes sense. It’s more likely to make money. I have seen many such shows, and enjoyed them. But what inspired Oklahoma! ?

Similarly, most movies are based on 80s shows, comic books, established fantasy genres, and/or the last successful movie in the franchise, often differentiated only by a single Roman numeral at the end of the title. Not sure if this really is a reduction in global creativity, or that the explosion of mass global culture has forced most or all successful themes forward, or it’s just a side effect of me getting older and thus seeing more and more different efforts at creativity. The second hypothesis is hard to reconcile with Joseph Campbell Hero with a Thousand Faces, which lays out the hero myth across so many different cultures that it can be used as a roadmap for new hero myths, from the Seven Samurai to Star Wars to We Will Rock You. Yet some elements are relatively new. Gilgamesh never struggled with massive, faceless, evil corporations. Homer did not see any problems with techno-oppression. Siddhartha was not escaping mall music and boy bands. There is some novelty left out there. You just have to bedrock it with the right amount of inspired adaptation.

And so kudos to whoever the hell thought of making a musical to mock Enron. This is not uncreative, since they are not really ripping off anything adaptable to the stage. Enron, to my knowledge, did not produce any audience-tested dances, music, catchphrases, or costumes. It is hence relatively brave to invent a musical to mock a tragedy that harrowed my home state and paved the way for its Schwarzennegerization.

I’d see it, but it doesn’t play today. They also have Macbeth in the park. This sounds fantastic – Shakespeare in the Park in Regent’s Park in London. I hope I can make it. But, if not, I’m sure they will be there tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow….

I also found where you can go if you want to change your hairstyle to a long beard and really long curly sideburns:

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Zanahorias are Mexican carrots. These are less well known than refried beans, tamales, tacos, and burritos, which are already quite obscure out here. I brought back a few bags along with all the other Mexican food, and gave them to some locals. I would typically hand them one, then (while they turn it over and sniff it) warn them that they are spicy, then casually eat one, and watch them seal their fate with one bite.

This is precisely what I was going for with Pop Rocks. Didn't work, cause they have Pop Rocks out here. Fortunately, Mexican capitalism and distribution is somewhat less aggressive, and they do not have zanahorias out here. They do have carrots, of course. And since 100% of the many, many carrots that 100% of Austrians have ever eaten were not remotely spicy, they assume that zanahorias aren't either. Even after I warn them. Even after I explain that zanahorias are made by pickling carrots in vinegar and chiles. Oh, how many eyes I've seen widen, the confused and vaguely accusatory look toward me, the rapid grab of whatever drink is available.


"Yes?" Calmly munch another one.

"These are spicy!"

"I told you."

Our Tuesday Pub Quiz team, Rabbits on Fire, lost in the semifinals. Perhaps it was zanahoria-induced trauma, or torpor from the chicken enchilada feast I brought to make sure nobody exiled me over the zanahorias. Maybe it's cause we did not seek the endorsement of the increasingly visionary Paul the Octopus. Could be cause we had half as many people as the winning team. But our team was never so appropriately named.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pablo El Pulpo

I want it noted that I sided with Paul the Octopus in his upset prediction that Spain will beat Germany BEFORE the game began. I even put money on it, thereby beating a native German speaker who (sorry to be redundant) must be obsessed with soccer. Actually, he never talks about it, or plays it, or wears soccer clothes, or wears shin guards to work. But Europeans love soccer, and indeed I can hear some exceptionally huge speakers and a really big crowd from my office here, even though the closest place where such a crowd could gather is about 1 km away. They're really into it.

The decision to support Paul was not based on any sincere belief that the octopus is, in fact, psychic. Come on. I am a scientist. A brain scientist, no less. I based it on simple psychoanalysis of the octopus. Everyone knows that the Spaniards eat odd squiggly seafood, including a lot of pulpo. And the octopus has an owner that says he has nine brains, which is seven more than even Steve Martin ever managed. Therefore, octopuses must be several times smarter than humans. A human might throw the game to Germany out of annoyance at all his eaten relatives. And even more pathetically, seeing all the little baby octopi struggling around the Thanksgiving table, trying to hold the requisite 8 utensils when some of their tentacles have been cut off by bastardly Barcelonans. Poor little squidlies, to young to even squirt some defensive ink, forever detenticated. It makes me mad, and I'm not even the same species. But Paul, being smarter and wiser, realized that throwing the game to Spain would make millions of Spaniards feel extremely guilty.

Or, it should. I mean, be reasonable, you ingrates! You love soccer, you think it's the golden age of Barcelona soccer, and you STILL EAT OCTOPUS? You're really tempting fate.

I predict the upcoming end of the Spanish soccer supremacy. They may have some fun for a while, but that's it. You guys ate one pulpo de gallega too many. You, specifically, Bill Tortora. It is your fault. Also, the Spanish economy will not do so well in the near future. And lots of immigration problems from Africa. All because you bit the tentacle that feeds.