Friday, November 30, 2007

La Casa de Hickman

Our living room has become the sanctuary for everything in the universe that walks, crawls, teleports, or lunges from its jet-propelled iron lung. Within those four walls, you'll find pretty much an interplanetary petting zoo of creatures, critters, rejects, DNA spills, and holiday elementals. Let me introduce you to just a few of the Living Room Gang:

Christmas Tree Guy (aka CTG, aka Arthur "Bushy" Thunderpants) - Christmas Tree Guy is the "glue" of the Living Room Gang, and so beloved in all our hearts. He was originally a demon from hell (along with his sister, American Idol's Melinda Doolittle), but one day Santa Claus came and rescued him, taking him to the North Pole to help with Christmas. Eventually CTG came to live with us, where he amuses us with his whimsical songs and dances. CTG always keeps a jelly bean and a nut under his hat in case he gets hungry (hence his song "Don't you wish you had jelly beans and nuts" to the tune of the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me"). When he was in hell, he ate Garvin, but we got that monkey off his back (Garvin is a food they give you in Hell; it's highly addictive, so that you won't try to escape). Recently CTG disappeared for a few months, and when he returned, we learned he'd been off helping Santa battle Satan and Insanity Claus in an epic confrontation. CTG is an amazing entity, and it's really impossible to look at him and not smile. He's brightened up a lot of gray days for us.

Valentine's Day Guy (aka "VDG," aka "Chester Q. 'Nurple' Gobstopper," aka "Malibu Pete) - Chester is an old friend of Christmas Tree Guy, and a fellow holiday elemental. He was in the recent war fighting alongside CTG, and showed up at our doorstep, saying that CTG had told him to stop by if he was ever in the neighborhood. He's been staying with us ever since. Chester is also a singer and dancer, and he and CTG will often do duets. Chester came to us with a long time drinking problem. He found himself drinking 3 or 4 very large Malibus every day, and was rarely sober. After an intervention by the Living Room Gang, Chester got on the wagon, and has been sober for over a month now.

El Jefe (aka "The Boss") - El Jefe is the most legendary luchadore of all time. He specializes in fighting monsters such as the Aztec Mummy, the wrestling robot, the amazon women (yeah, I know, but HE considers them monsters), and other perils from south of the border. El Jefe has a great love for American soda pop, and will drink voluminous amounts if allowed. El Jefe is very proud, and if he feels you've insulted him, he will often say "I chop at your neck, senor."

Junior (aka "Berjusa") - Junior is...well, he's a baby. But that doesn't stop him. Junior's favorite thing to do is kick you in the groin (or as he puts it, "right in the nutz," with an extreme umlaut over the "u" in "nutz"), then follow it up with the dreaded "T-Bag Combo Meal," in which he crotches you in the face with glee. Despite all this, Junior is still just a baby, and can be heard uttering phrases like "support my head," and, if caught doing something he shouldn't, "I didn't know; I'm just a baby." Junior has taken to wearing a overly-large t-shirt with a choo-choo on front (which he calls "the Pain Train") and a cape on his back proclaiming him a "Future Whopper Eater."

The Testiculoids - These three aliens, Nutty, Balsam, and Scrote-zilla, are from the planet Testicula. When they came to earth, a mistake in navigation trapped them in a claw machine at a miniature golf course for a while, until we won them their freedom. They initially rebelled and went about a devious plan to take over the world, but eventually they decided they were just as happy in our living room watching TV. For a while they were at odds with Junior who, of course, likes to kick nuts, and when you factor in that these guys are from the planet Testicula, well...

Dog with a Chicken on His Back - These guys came back with me from one of my trips to Vancouver. I really couldn't say no because...well, look at 'em. It's a dog with a chicken on his back. So far we've been able to discern the chicken's name is Rooster Cogburn, but we don't know for sure about the dog. In my mind I've been calling him Lucky Ned Pupper.

More later, including Roscoe, Lt. Extreme, Boss Hogg, and the rest!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

For Whom the Nobel Tolls...

Y'know, I got to thinking about Al Gore getting a Nobel Peace Prize, and rather than get in an uproar over an award that's almost always been a politicial machination, I started thinking about the folks who are, in my humble opinion, just as entitled to one as Der Woodmeister. Such as:

Michael Crichton - Hey, if Gore deserves one, then shouldn't his "player on the other side"? Crichton has written some brilliant stuff regarding radical environmentalism as a new religion, and it makes at least as much sense (oh, ok, it makes ten times more sense) as anything Senor Carbonfootprint has said to date.
Mahatma Gandhi - Yes, Gandhi, while nominated several times, was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But Al Gore was. Y'see why these things mean so little?

Frank Capra - For my money, there may be no one else on the planet who has done more to shed light on the human condition, on the commonality that brings all men and women together, and on the hope we need to keep in our hearts. Here's just a small sample of Jefferson Smith as he speaks to the Senate in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington":

"Now, you're not gonna have a country that can make these kind of rules work, if you haven't got men that have learned to tell human rights from a punch in the nose. It's a funny thing about men, you know. They all start life being boys. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some of these Senators were boys once. And that's why it seemed like a pretty good idea for me to get boys out of crowded cities and stuffy basements for a couple of months out of the year. And build their bodies and minds for a man-sized job, because those boys are gonna be behind these desks some of these days. And it seemed like a pretty good idea, getting boys from all over the country, boys of all nationalities and ways of living. Getting them together. Let them find out what makes different people tick the way they do. Because I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a—a little lookin' out for the other fella, too…That's pretty important, all that. It's just the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great men handed down to the human race, that's all."

The guy that invented that thing on pop machines that whips them up to waist level, sitting upright - Hey, I don't know about you, but if there's one thing I hate, it's bending over to get the pop out of the machine, only to find the bottle is stuck in there at some odd angle, or trapped by the little flap thingy, or---ugggh. The guy that came up with this simple but oh-so-welcome device has done a hell of a lot more for any of us than Al Gore.

On the other hand, Al did give us...uh...well, these quotes:

"He is proposing to privatize a big part of Social Security and he's proposing to take $1 trillion, a million billion dollars out of the Social Security trust fund and give it as a tax incentive to young workers."

"A zebra does not change its spots."
"We can build a collective civic space large enough for all our separate identities, that we can be e pluribus unum -- out of one, many."

While watching the Chicago Bulls: "I tell you that Michael Jackson is unbelievable, isn't he. He's just unbelievable."

If this kind of dickery is what it takes to get the Nobel, why hasn't Dubya gotten one yet?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks! Danke! Blagodarya! Wa'-do! Shukrani!

In the spirit of the holiday, here are just a few of the things for which I'm grateful:

* I'm grateful for Lea. I say it a lot, but I mean it every time. My life is exponentially better because she's with me. Even when we're not physically together, just hearing her voice is like a lifeline for me; without her I'd be Major Matt Mason without his Space Crawler, adrift through the cosmos on a one-way trip to Nowheresville, Daddy-O (man, I've rarely seen a metaphor go so bad so fast). My point is that we often wonder, George Bailey-like, if our very existence has made any difference in the lives of others. Lea never has to wonder that.

*I'm grateful for Gabriel. Yeah, he can be a major pain in the general colo-rectal region. His grades are pretty awful, and he's probably going to have to do an extra semester or two just to graduate. His work ethic is for crap, and when he rolls his eyes at me, I'd just as soon smash his melon head with a shillelagh. I know: aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? But when it comes to it, I think his heart is basically in the right place. I think when the rubber hits the road, he'll make the ethical choices I'd want him to make. He's smart, and he's funny, and he's lucky enough to be the heir to my gene pool (thank god I've made some modifications to my DNA over the years).

*I'm grateful for my job. No, it's not the most rewarding thing in the world, trying to teach basic composition to a bunch of college kids. At times, I feel like I'm trying to explain the theory of relativity to Lenny from "Of Mice and Men" ("tell us about the dangling participles again, Troy. Tell us, huh?"). But every once in a while, something special happens. Like the Excellence in Teaching nominations I got last year (even though I didn't win 'em; that fucker Michael Chabon probably beat me outta that, too). Like the older lady in my class this semester, coming back to school after 20, 30, maybe 40 years, and telling me that my encouragement has given her the confidence to keep going. Like the goofy kid last semester that was wayyy too square to be real, and kept calling me Mr Hickman the whole time, no matter how many times I told him not to (bless his heart). Like the two kids who have changed their majors to pre-law because of the moot court sessions we run in class. Like the guy on house arrest who came class with an electronic ankle bracelet on, because he'd been convicted of statutory rape, and who wrote his final paper on Jennifer Love Hewett (complete with photo collage). Like the 35 year-old lady who got arrested for performing oral sex on a 14 year-old boy behind the Krispy Kreme donut shop, and came to every session of my class with a 44 ounce Big Gulp filled with booze. OK, the last two are hardly Sidney Poitier moments, but they were at least interesting). Yeah, I have no benefits, and I could make more money selling Grit, but sometimes I can see a student "getting it" (especially in my Creative Writing class), and it feels pretty darned good.

*I'm grateful for my talent. OK, so I haven't made Alan Moore money yet, and maybe one out of twenty comic fans could tell you what Common Grounds is. But you know, I haven't done so bad for myself, all things considered. Most of the folks in my family never got beyond grade school before they were sent away to some juvie facility. Pretty much every one of them eventually did serious prison time, ended up on the FBI's "most wanted" list, and such. Heck, my own mom and dad (for whom I am also grateful), while honorable people, had to drop out of school in the eighth grade to help support their families. And here I am, not only with an MA under my belt, but getting wonderful stuff said about my work by famous people, and finding myself in competition with Pulitzer Prize winners. I've only published about a dozen professional comics; half of those were nominated for Eisners, three others were popular enough to be adapted as part of a video game, and the other three were chances to write the Incredible Hulk, Witchblade, and Turok. I may not be on top of the world, ma, but I've got nothing to whine about. I'm thankful for the ideas that come into my giant melon-ish head.

*I'm grateful that there are still people in the world with common sense. It's hard to believe it sometimes, and god knows it gets hard to keep going at times, when you see all the ignorance and political correctness and lack of integrity out there. But for every mallet-head, there's someone who still thinks the world is a pretty cool place, and who believes that human beings are more than just one more species, that they're somewhere between the animalistic and the angelic, and as such about as special as can be. For every guy that cuts you off in traffic, there's another that'll help you push your car out of a snowbank. But Troy, do you actually believe that? Believe it, hell; I count on it.

* Time for our lightning round. I'm grateful I still have my hair. I'm grateful Friday Night Lights is still on the air. I'm grateful for popsicles. I'm grateful for Christmas music. I'm grateful for pornography, when used properly and with good intent. I'm grateful for chicken pot pies. I'm grateful for my voluminous collection of MST3K tapes. I'm grateful for our fantastic turtle, Eastman. I'm grateful for my ever-present leather jacket. I'm grateful for camel spiders (because I know God in his infinite wisdom has a reason for them being here). I'm grateful for the Andy Griffith Show. I'm grateful for long showers. I'm grateful for blog columns that eventually end.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Things Be Different in Hollywood

A thread on the City of Heroes boards got me thinking about this, so I'm going to doctor it up a bit for your consumption. Yeeeehaw! Never throw anything away!

Anyway, I was thinking about Hollywood, and what we've learned about the world from it, such as:

* In movies and television of the last thirty years, how often have you seen a major character who is a clergyman, and also a positive character? Now ask yourself how many you've seen who are the bad guy of the piece. Usually the priest or reverend is corrupt, a pederast, a hypocrite, etc. That is, assuming he's Christian clergy. You'll rarely see a bad rabbi (not counting that David Kaye perve on To Catch a Predator), and a bad muslim holy man? Forget it; TV producers like to avoid being blown up, just like everybody else.

* Along the same lines, how often have you seen movies where corporations or big business or CEOs are the villains? Now tell me how many you've seen where those same sort of entities are actually decent and moral? Hell, John Grisham has made a CAREER out of showing us how corrupt big business is (how about a few movies about evil mom & pop stores, Johnny?). According to Hollywood, big businesses exists only to pollute, screw people over, and commit covert acts of evil. Well...unless that big business is movie making or television...

* If you go by Hollywood's depiction, no one in prison, especially on death row, actually committed a crime. They were almost ALL falsely accused and convicted. I guess crimes must go around committing themselves, or...oh, yeah, that's right, the corporations are committing them all.

*If Hollywood is correct, most homeless folks are women (with children) escaping from abusive husbands, or people who were turned out of mental hospitals (usually during the Reagan era), or colorful old coots who just don't care to play by "the man's" rules, or people victimized by (wait for it) a big corporation. Strangely, few of them are heroin addicts or crackheads or severe alcoholics. Take a walk with me through a bad area of Chicago or Vancouver sometime, and we'll take a tally of why most folks there are living on the streets. Interestingly, by the way, if you look at a lot of the sociology textbooks now, you won't see a single mention of homelessness being caused by or linked to drug and alcohol addiction. It's just not there. In fact, it'll say that almost all folks living on the streets are there because of "mental illness." Know why? It's because the clinical definition of mental illness has been broadened enough that addiction is considered part of it. So you're not going to be seeing a lot of mentions of homeless folks doing crack or drinking Sterno. They're technically all "mentally ill." Now, that doesn't mean we can't be compassionate and try to help, but let's at least start by being honest about why so many of them are there. Is the truth a bad thing?

* Here's an interesting one: think of how many movies you've seen in the last 25 years where there's a courtroom scene, and the judge is a black woman. Now, I'd be happy to see more female black judges in the real world, but the truth of the matter is there are currently only a handful of them out there. If you go by Hollywood, though, at least half the judges out there are black women. Doubt me? Keep track of movies and TV shows made from about 1980 to 2000, and see what you get.Hell, Lynne Thigpen has made it her "thing"...

That's en-ter-tain-menttttt!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Just a quick post to my baby, Lea, to tell her how very much I love her. I think Mr. Joe Cocker said it best:

Next up, Mr. Paul Anka...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I'm Crazy Nostalgia Face. Gimmee Some Candy!

I came across a neat site: the Victory Seed Company Old Time Candy Store. From it, you can order all sorts of old timey candy (they're silly with it!). Here are some that brought back memories for me:

Chick-O-Sticks - Mmmmmm, I loves me the crunchy, coconutty, peanut buttery goodness of a Chick-O-Stick. They're just the right size for a quick, sweet snack. I remember Lea had never seen one, so I mailed her one, early in our relationship. She probably thought "why is this idiot sending me an envelope full of candy crumbs" but what the hell.

Bottle Caps - Probably my favorite of the Wonka candies. I remember when I was around 8 or so, and there was this obscure little mom and pop place about a block from us. I'd walk over there and buy candy, and more often than not, it was a pack of Bottle Caps. I would've frequented that place more often, but just across the street from it was Stone's Drug Store, which carried not only candy, but also model kits, and most importantly, a whole rack full of comics!

Candy Necklaces - We always had these things as kids, always wore 'em around our neck or wrist, and never, ever particularly enjoyed them. The problem is they didn't really have much in the way of flavor. Like Necco Wafers, they were just sweet without being tangy, fruity, etc. The ones pictured here are Smarties brand, so maybe they taste better than the other ones (for you Canucks, these are the American Smarties, which for you are "Rockets," not your Canadian Smarties, which are an M&M rip-off...

Lemon-Heads - Oooooh, I love all the Ferrara Pan "head" candies. Lemonheads, Grapeheads, Cherryheads, Appleheads, you name it. You get a box of these bad boys, you sit on the porch swing on a breezy summer day with your copy of Avengers #115, and boy, you got yourself one damned good time.

Fizzies - OK, this is one of those wonder products of our youth that we remember fondly, but that never really did pay off for us at the time. As I recall, they did fizz in water, and they did slightly flavor that water like root beer, cherry, apple, whatever, but it was hardly like drinking an actual soda. It was more like drinking rainwater that someone had whispered "root beer" into. Great idea, though, and a damned lot of fun for kids, especially in the old days, when all we had to play with were rocks and fear of persecution.

Necco Wafers - Christ on a cracker, don't eat these things. As mentioned above, they're just discs made of chalk with a little sugar thrown in to fool you. I'd rather suck the blood out of a racoons ass that eat a whole package of these. They didn't even look good, with their pastels colors and chalky disposition. They looked like a candy your grandpa had eaten as a child, and had hated, and truth be told, I think that's exactly what they were...

Nik L Nips - No, not a racist candy, but tiny wax pop bottles filled with fruity syrup. God, I loved these things. They seemed to be seasonal when I was a kid, though, so you couldn't always find 'em. I dug the fact that they came in a tiny cardboard package to simulate a six pack of soda. I think they were probably called Nik L Nips because they were original a nickel for the pack. These days? Seventy-five cents. Oh, well..

Slo-Pokes - For those times when a Sugar Daddy was just too high-falootin', a Slo-Poke would do just fine. It was a block of caramel on a stick; those candy scientists are geniuses! Of course, on a particularly hot summer day...well, then it turned into embroidery for your jeans, but what the hell.

Wax Lips - I bought a bunch of these over the years, and never really understood the point. You could wear 'em like big red lips (now there's some fun), and when you were tired of 'em, you could chew them like gum. Except they weren't gum, they were wax. How often have you been at home, maybe during a blackout, and said to yourself "Man, I'd like to gnaw on that candle for a while"?

I miss those days...I guess that's why a company like this can probably make out pretty good with the Gen X if I could just get them to start making Freakies cereal again...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Morals Ain't Just a Mushroom

Not long ago, I posted some questions I asked my students about the general knowledge they possess (if you haven't checked it out, you might want to do so, as the results were fascinating.

In a similar vein, when my classes begin working on persuasive papers, we usually go through a few exercises to get their "argumentative juices" flowing. One such exercise is sort of a version of the board game "Scruples," where they're confronted with an ethical dilemma, and they say what they would do in a given situation, and why.

Below are the questions, then a brief summary of what the answers look like. Again, interesting stuff. Answer 'em yourself, and see what you get.

1. You're walking down the street, and in front of you is a well-dressed man counting a wad of money. He drops a $100 bill, but doesn't notice, and walks on. No one else is around. What do you do?

2. You accidentally find out your romantic partner's email password. What do you do?

3. You're friends with a couple, and one of them confides in you that they're having an affair with someone. What do you do?

4. You're in a department store, and you see a woman strike her young child hard across the face. What do you do?

5. You see someone's car stuck in the snow, and they're trying to push it out. What do you do?

6. Your neighbor's dog regularly barks all night long, sometimes keeping you awake. Then one day you see your neighbor kick his dog. What do you do?

7. You're working as a volunteer for a political candidate whose policies you strongly support. Then one day you find that they're secretly putting some campaign funds into their own personal account. What do you do?

8. You see a woman in the supermarket with three shabbily-dressed kids. You watch her put a jar of peanut butter into her purse, and walk out without paying for it. What do you do?

9. You're in a store and you break something expensive, but no one is around to witness it. What do you do?

10. You have a co-worker who regular slips out of work early, but the boss is unaware of it. What do you do?


1. Most of my students say they'd give the cash back. Of the few who wouldn't, the reason usually given is "he doesn't need it as much as I do." A couple would give it back hoping for a reward. A couple of them had the smarts to ask "What if he was dressed well because he was going to his wife's funeral, and he had the money to pay the funeral home" or similar hypotheticals. One guy said he'd sack the man and take the rest of his cash, but I hope he was joking.

2. This one went about 50/50. About half of them said they would either tell their partner, or they would just never use the info. The other half either said they'd look (mainly out of nosiness), or they'd only look if they felt "there was good reason."

3. Half the class said they'd basically stay out of it. About a third of them said they would tell the other partner (or give the person confiding in them the chance to do so first). A large number of them said it depended on which partner was the better or older friend to them. An alarming number of them said that if the confider were the same sex as them, they'd keep their secret, but not otherwise. Talk about your gender loyalty. One guy said that if it were the woman confiding in him, he'd use the info to blackmail her for sex.

4. About half the class said that it depended on (A) how hard the slap was, (B) the age of the child, and (C) what the child had done to provoke it. About a third said they'd do nothing, as it wasn't their business. The rest said they'd go to some kind of authority, whether it was the store's management, the police, or Child Protective Services (though there's a real fear of CPS and their overzealousness).

5. Most folks said they wouldn't stop to help, but they would offer to call for help on their cellphone. Of the ones who would help, most of them said they'd stop if it was a woman, but not if it were a guy (so if Laurie Dann or Aileen Wuornos were stranded, they'd stop, but bearded, scary-looking pussycat Troy Hickman would die from exposure).

6. About two thirds of them would do something, whether it was contacting the authorities, confronting the guy, or stealing the dog. Interestingly, a lot more folks were willing to help the dog being kicked than the little kid being struck in the face.

7. Most everyone said they would either turn the guy in, or confront him and give him the chance to do so. Wheeewwww. Unfortunately, a handful said that if they supported his causes, they would let it slide (what do you want to bet those are exactly the folks who WILL end up in politics?). One guy said he'd blackmail the politician (I sense a trend here).

Very few folks would turn her in. Some said they would offer to pay for her peanut butter. One guy said he'd slip a jar of jelly into her bag so the sandwiches weren't too dry. This question provoked a truly amazing interchange, however. I have an old hippie guy in one of my classes, and he's got some truly loco ideas. So when this question came up, he said he thought it was OK for her to steal it, because the store had more money than the woman did. Here's how the convo went from that point on:

ME: So, it's ok to steal from someone as long as they have more than you do?


ME: Soooo...if I'm living below poverty level, is it ok for me to steal from someone else below poverty level, as long as they make a little more than me?


ME: So what's the cut-off point? How much do you have to make for it to be ok to steal from you.

HIPPIE (without a hesitation): $24,000 a year.

ME (gasping for breath): $24,000 a year???? How...what...where did you come up with that amount?

HIPPIE: Well, that's assuming we're talking about someone who's single with no children.

So not only did he have an actual number at which you could be robbed, but he must've worked out some sort of chart that made adjustments for spouses and dependents!!!

9. About half said they'd tell the store owner, assuming they probably wouldn't have to pay for it anyway. The other half would either walk away inconspicuously or hide the item.

10. With this one, almost every person said it depended on whether they LIKED their co-worker. Of the ones who would act, most said they'd let he boss know indirectly.

So what about you?


I just got back from taking my son to practice driving. How do I feel? I think that's best expressed by this video:

The "To Catch a Predator" Song

Everybody sing! (to the tune of "Three Blind Mice")

Chris Han-son,
Chris Han-son,
In the Kitch-en,
In the Kitch-en,

He nabs pedos while they're drinking sweet tea,
He puts a stop to their perv-os-it-y,
Oh, god, I pray that he doesn't catch me,
That Chris Han-son...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Hickman's College of Very Little Knowledge

So the other day my class gets into a discussion about who's smarter, their generation, or their parents'. Most of the class felt they're more on the ball than the older folks, so I decided to give them a "general knowledge" questionaire when we had a few minutes to spare. Below is the quiz in its unanswered form first, in case you want to test yourself. Then I present the answers, along with how my classes did on each one. Bear in mind that between my five classes, I had exactly 100 students take the quiz, so even I was able to figure up the percentages. Also keep in mind that the students in my classes run the gamut of ages, but most are between 18-25.

1. Name the continents of the planet Earth.

2. Who is the current U.S. Secretary of Defense?

3. What does the word "opaque" mean?

4. Who was Pol Pot?

5. What is a "clavicle"?

6. What does NAACP stand for?

7. Who was Socrates?

8. Name five European nations.

9. What is Ramadan?

10. In what country would you find the Sphinx?

11. Who wrote "The Odyssey"?

12. Who was the first man to walk on the moon?

13. What does "AIDS" stand for?

14. Name the four members of the Beatles.

15. What does "E Pluribus Unum" mean?

16. Who is Mamoud Ahmadinejad?

17. What is NaCl?

18. How many sides does an octagon have?

19. Where will you find this quote: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?

20. Who is the current governor of Indiana?

21. Meteorology is the study of...?

22. Name a book by Mark Twain.

23. The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deals with what?

24. What currency replaced the French franc, the Italian lira, and the German mark?

25. Where does the Pope live?

Simple enough, right? Well, you'd think so. Here are the results:

1. Name the continents of the planet earth.

57% of them were able to answer correctly: Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, North America, South America, and Europe. I guess I was happy that 57% knew that...until I realized that meant 43% did not.
Among the incorrect answers were "the Middle East," "the United States," "Russia," and "Eastern, Western, Northern, and Southern" (confusing them with hemispheres or something?).

2. Who is the current U.S. Secretary of Defense?

0% knew the correct answer: Robert Gates. Even if I accept Donald Rumsfeld (who hasn't been SoD for quite some time) as a correct answer, only 8 percent even knew THAT. Given the number of my students who have a definite opinion on the war in the middle east, one way or the other, you'd think someone might know, wouldn't ya?

Among the incorrect answers were "Dick Cheney," (well, I guess he was SoD some 15 years ago or so) "Colin Powell," "Condoleeza Rice," and "George Bush." (maybe confusing SoD with "commander-in-chief"?)

3. What does the word "opaque" mean?

I accepted anything having to do with not letting light through, or the inability to see through something. Even so, only 25% got it right.
Among the incorrect answers: 40% said it meant "able to see through it" (so they were right...on the Bizarro world).

4. Who was Pol Pot?

I accepted anything even remotely to do with the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia, genocide, communism, you name it. And yet only 9% were even close. It's interesting. If I had mentioned Hitler, most of the class would've had at least a clue. I guess Pol Pot has had better PR men.

Among the wrong answers: "British Prime Minister," "a pothead," and "a cannibalistic African dictator" (with "The Last King of Scotland" out recently, maybe they were confusing him with Idi Amin?).

5. What is a "clavicle"?

Only 48% knew it's your collarbone. I think it was so relatively high because I have quite a few nursing students in my classes.

Among the incorrect answers were "a kind of musical instrument" (I once sprained myself trying to play my clavicle...).

6. What does NAACP stand for?

A whopping 21% were able to answer this correctly or close to it. A number of folks gave me answers like "a group for black people," though they couldn't tell me what the acronym was.

Among the incorrect answers "Something something for Cancer Patients" and my favorite, "The National Association for the Appreciation of Colored People." Awww...I wish I had a group out there appreciating me...

7. Who was Socrates

I accepted "philosopher," of course, and anything close to it. Still, only 33% were anywhere near the mark. Heck, I figured if nothing else, "Soe-crates") from Bill & Ted would've tipped 'em off.

Among the incorrect answers: 21% said Socrates was "a Greek god." Also "a Greek hero" (I loved it when he cut off Medusa's head), "a Roman god," and my favorite "a famous writer from back in the day," which makes him sound like a rapper (he was an OG: Original Greek).

8. Name five European nations.
Well, there are obviously a bunch. Unfortunately, only 27% of my classes could name five of them.

Among the incorrect answers: Sydney, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Afganistan, Japan, China, Rome, Amsterdam, and London.

9. What is Ramadan?

I accepted anything that even had "holiday" in it, so I even accepted the 10% of the folks who answered "a JEWISH holiday" (and pointed out to them the hell they might catch for trying to observe Ramadan in a Jewish household). Only 27% were even close to the right answer.
Among the incorrect answers: "a holy book," and, I kid you not, 12 percent said Ramadan is a hotel chain...

10. In what country would you find the Sphinx?
A massive 62% correctly said Egypt (and then someone pointed out that some folks might have known it because of something that happened in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movi).

Among the incorrect answers were India, and Australia (hell of a distance to move something that big).

11. Who wrote "The Odyssey"?

Only 24% knew it was Homer (and not Simpson, thankfully).

12. Who was the first man to walk on the moon?

A big 66% knew it was Neil Armstrong (or at least said "Armstrong"; maybe they meant Lance).

Among the incorrect answers: "a guy in a space suit," fifteen percent said "Buzz Aldrin," and the most perplexing for me, "A white guy!" (the exclamation point leads me to believe they're either proud of the white race for the accomplishment, or pissed off that, say, an Asian woman didn't get the honor).

13. What does "AIDS" stand for?
A grand total of 15% of them knew it's "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome." A few others were within a word or two.

Among the incorrect answers: one guy only knew "immune," although he spelled it "ammune."

14. Name the four members of the Beatles.

This one broke my heart. Only 15% of folks could name all four. A few could name one or two (usually Paul or Ringo). One guy said "George Harris" and I gave it to him.
Among the incorrect answers: "Rico Star" (Ringo's brother, probably), and simply "Rizzo" (probably the sixth Beatle, after Billy Preston). More disheartening, though, were the number of folks who said "I don't know. I don't listen to them" or even worse, "That was before my time." (Hey, ya tool, almost 100% of everything that ever happened was before your time. You're only concerned with stuff that's occurred since 1987?)

15. What does "E Pluribus Unum" mean?

I accepted that was even VAGUELY close to "one out of many," or, "from many, one." Only 10% were anywhere close.

Among the incorrect answers: "In God We Trust" and "Speak English!"

16. Who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Well, only 12% knew he's the president of Iran. Again, given the folks in my classes with political opinions, you'd hope a few more might actually be aware of who the guy is (cripes, he's been all over the @#$% news lately!).

Among the incorrect answers: I'm ashamed to say 14% of my students think Mamoud Ahmadinejad is a boxer. Hell, I guess I would like to go a few rounds with him myself. One guy said he's "Gaundi" (misspelling aside, I have to wonder what he means; does he think Mahmoud moonlights as the Indian holy man?). Someone said he's "a prophet" (I didn't know I had any members of Al-Qaeda in my classes). A big 14% thought he was the prime minister of Iraq (oh, hell, all those countries over there are the same anyhow).

17. What is NaCl?

I was happy to see 63% of my students knew this to be table salt. That was until I realized that half my classes have a period chart behind me on the wall...

No incorrect answers here. They either knew it, or didn't answer.

18. How many sides does an octagon have?

This one got the most correct answers at 84%. I assumed they were able to figure out what "octo" means, or they saw the Chuck Norris movie of the same name.

No incorrect answers.

19. Where will you find this quote: "Give me your tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to breathe free"?

Well, 18% knew is was from the Statue of Liberty. Sadly, 82% did not.

Among the wrong answers: "an almanac," "in church," "Romeo and Juliet," and strangely "it's dialogue from Braveheart" (right after the big mooning scene, I guess).

20. Who is the current governor of Indiana?

OK, bear in mind that I live and teach in Indiana, so these kids, citizens of the state all, should probably know that. In fact, only 51% did, which means half of them have no clue who governs their state. The correct answer, by the way, is Mitch Daniels.

Among the incorrect answers: Evan Bayh (spelled "Bi" like he's unsure of his sexuality), Dick Lugar, and Al Gore (I'd like to leave my carbon footprint on that kid's ass).

21. Meteorology is the study of...?

Only 60% knew the answer is "weather."

Among the incorrect answers: do I put this...33 freakin' percent of 'em thought meteorology is the study of meteors! No, I'm not kidding. I imagine them going home at night, hearing their newscaster say "Next up is our meteorologist," and hunkering down for a report on what kind of space rocks are falling that night.

22. Name a book by Mark Twain.

It's not great, but at least 57% of them were able to name Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Connecticutt Yankee, or some other Twain work.

Among the incorrect answers: Frankenstein (about a monster going down the Mississippi on a raft, no doubt), Civil War, Flowers in the Attic, and Webster's Dictionary (you'd think that'd make it Twain's Dictionary, wouldn't ya?).

23. The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution deals with what?

I accepted the right to bear arms, guns, even the pinkboy who said "militias," but still only 24% were close to correct.

Among the incorrect answers: freedom of speech, "the rights of the people" (thank you, Senor Generico), slavery, "the bill of rights" (!!!), voting, and my favorite, prostitution (those founding fathers knew what they were doing).

24. What currency replaced the French franc, the Italian lira, and the German mark?

So 45% of them knew it was the Euro, which means more than half didn't.

Among the incorrect answers: "U.S. money," "the quarter," and of course, "the peso" (that's someone wayyyyyyy too worried about immigration).

25. Where does the Pope live?

Folks, for this one I would accept "the Vatican," "Vatican City," "Rome," and even "Italy," but still only 40% got it right.
Among the incorrect answers: 15% of them thought the Pope lived in England; 10% of them thought it was France (5% of them can see your underpants). Also named were Russia and Germany. One guy said "in a parsonage" and another said "in Westminster Abbey." My personal favorite? "The Navatican." The Navatican? Yeah, like he's right outside of Reno...

So anyway, there ya go. What does all this mean? I dunno, aside from the fact that it gives me the willies (and a bit of pride, as my similarly-aged son was able to get 18 of 'em right). What do you folks think?

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Camel Spider: Not As Scary As The Unfiltered Marlboro Spider

As a few of you may know, one of my areas of knowledge is folklore, especially urban legends. So earlier this week when I gave one of my classes a journal assignment dealing with what scares them, and the subject of camel spiders came up, I listened intently. It was interesting to hear what they'd heard about these guys, and even moreso to try and follow the trajectory of the legends.

The camel spider recently received his fifteen minutes of fame because of this photo on the right. Yeah, it's a damn big, creepy-crawly thingy, no two ways about it. And what did my class "know" about the camel spider?

1. It can be as big as a garbage can lid when its legs are extended.

2. It can jump three feet vertically in the air.

3. It can run 25 miles per hour.

4. It lives in and feeds off the stomachs of camels, hence its name.

5. It has a novacaine-like sting that keeps you from noticing it's slowly taking big chunks out of your flesh.

6. It runs alongside military vehicles in Iraq, making a screaming noise as it chases them.

Scary, huh? From the sound of it, these things make the facehuggers in Alien seem like Monchhichis in comparison. But how much of what my class is so sure of is really true? Well...

1. It's a big SOB, but it doesn't get as large as a garbage can lid. A frisbee MAYBE...

2. Much like white men, camel spiders can't jump.

3. It runs about ten miles an hour. So it could probably keep pace with a man, but it's Michael Johnson is safe.

4. It's called a camel spider because it lives in the desert, not because it lives inside or feeds on camels.

5. Not venomous. In fact, they aren't generally dangerous to humans, preferring to eat insects and maybe the occasional lizard or very small bird. Camel spiders actual aren't even spiders; they're of the order Solifugae, which makes them arachnids, but not true spiders.

6. The reason that some folks have accused them of being aggressive is because they're nocturnal creatures, preferring to stay out of the hot desert sun, and so when humans or other creatures are around, they try to get in your SHADOW for shade (this may be where the camel stomach rumor came from; perhaps they tend to sit under a camel's abdomen to keep cool).

So where do the rumors come from? Well, as you can see in the somewhat infamous photo above, and a number of the camel spider videos on YouTube, our soldiers in Iraq have been encountering these thingies since they've been over there. If I may do a bit of urban legend psychoanalysis here (like the "king" of urban legends, Jan Harold Brunvand, who I was lucky enough to correspond with for a while many years ago), I would suggest that it stems from our fears (A) for our troops in a strange foreign land, and (B) our own sense of xenophobia about "those people" and "that place" over there. It's a hard thing to think of our own sons and daughters over there in harm's way, and even harder to think about them killing and being killed by other human beings. And I think perhaps we express all that fear and uncertainty by creating an even more alien enemy and landscape in our minds. Hence things like the camel spider.

The thing is, the camel spider is not even a middle eastern phenomenon. They exist is most of the world's desert in one form or another, including the southwestern part of the United States. In other places they might be called the wind scorpion or sun spider, but when we talk about them, they tend to be the camel spider, because what's more middle eastern in the collective consciousness of the United States than a camel?

So when it comes down to it, if the camel spider is a monster, it's mainly a monster created by our subconscious, and our psycho-sociological need to create scapegoats and cautionary tales.

Also, it's one big, scary freakin' bug...