Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chlorinating the Gene Pool

Kevin Coolidge

“Only two things are infinite—the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.”… Albert Einstein

One day a park ranger joined a crowd that had gathered to watch a bear. One woman and her little boy stood out in the crowd. She was smearing something all over the boy’s face. The ranger asked the woman what she was doing. She answered. “Putting honey on him, of course!” Stunned, he asked the obvious question: Why?

She answered matter-of-factly, “I want to take a picture of the bear licking it off his face!”……

Survival of the fittest, better known as natural selection, is a basic tenant of modern biology. Any individual organism which succeeds in reproducing itself will contribute to the survival of the species, though sometimes the sole purpose is to serve as a bad example to others. These individuals will unlikely ever be recipients of the Nobel Prize, but they can be honored with their very own “Darwin” award.

A Darwin award is an “honor” named after evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin. Awards are given for people who "do a service to Humanity by removing themselves from the Gene pool”. According to Wendy Northcutt, author of the Darwin Award books: "The Awards honor people who ensure the long-term survival of the human race by removing themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.”

All races, cultures, and socioeconomic groups are eligible to compete. Contenders are evaluated using the following criteria:

The candidate must remove himself from the gene pool: The Darwin awards celebrate the self-removal of incompetent genetic material from humanity. The potential winner must render himself deceased or incapable of reproducing. The man who “tried to make a horse do something she didn’t want to do”, and was bitten in the process qualifies…

The candidate must exhibit an astounding misapplication of judgment: The award is intended to be funny, and we aren’t talking about common stupidities—such as smoking in bed. We’re talking as using live ammunition as a fuse…

The candidate must be the cause of his own demise: The candidate’s own gross ineptitude must be the cause of the incident. A hapless bystander killed with a rock dropped from a great height is a terrible accident. If a do-it-yourselfer is killed by an anvil he rigged to kill that annoying chipmunk in his backyard, that’s comedy…

The candidate must be a capable of sound judgment: Humans are generally capable of sound judgment. Nominees must be 16 years or older and free of mental defect. That means no children, Alzheimer’s disease sufferers, or Down syndrome patients. Remembering to measure the length of the bungee cords, and having the foresight to anchor the bitter end, but not accounting for the stretched length being greater than the distance between the bridge and the ground, that qualifies you…

The event must be verified: The story must be documented by a reliable source—such a newspaper article or responsible eyewitness. No Photoshop or chain emails please. If a story is found to be untrue, it is disqualified, but particularly amusing ones are placed in the urban legend section. The jet-assisted Impala may have been debunked, but the need for speed and poor judgment is forever with us…

The Darwin Awards books by Wendy Northcutt are cautionary tales of misadventure assembled and intended to be viewed as a comical safety manual, not a how-to guide. Please do not try these at home. These stories are not meant to be read all at once, but savored, and are most appealing when consumed a few at a time. Wendy walks that fine line between horror and humor. So pay attention, stay alive, and celebrate the survival of the fit enough… where the winner is …eliminated!

Evolution? Or intelligent design? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net For past incarnations of former columns, visit frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Hobo is a cat with nine lives, read about his current existence in “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s story about a cat who left the farm for adventure and a new life.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sweet Memories

Kevin Coolidge

“More rain, more rain.” I look out my window and see a fat robin hopping across the lawn. The calendar says March 20th. It must be spring, even though there’s a light dusting of snow on the ground. Spring is coming, I can taste it in the air, and soon we’ll be planting gardens and pulling weeds, complaining that it is “too hot.” When you are working in the field, there’s nothing like a cool glass of switzel.

I grew up drinking switzel. My Grandma would make a cold pitcher for my dad and me when we were hauling wood or doing chores. Just what is switzel? Switzel – also known as switchel, swizzle, ginger-water or haymaker's punch – is a beverage made of water mixed with vinegar and honey, then seasoned with ginger.

Switzel is believed to have originated in the Caribbean, where molasses was often used for a sweetener. By the late 1600s, it had become a popular drink in the American colonies and by the 1800s it had become a traditional drink to serve to thirsty farmers at hay harvest time, hence the nickname haymaker’s punch.

Sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup is also sometimes used to sweeten the drink instead of honey. In Vermont oatmeal was sometimes added to give the drink extra body and lemon juice is also occasionally added to the beverage. My grandma and mom only ever made switzel with honey. The ratio of sweetener and vinegar to water varies widely in traditional and modern recipes, but here’s a basic recipe to get you started.

8 cups water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For more great recipes with honey, I recommend checking out The Healthy Taste of Honey: Recipes, Anecdotes & Lore by Larry Lonik, published RKT Publishing. There are recipes from around the world, including old German, Croatian, Slavic, Russian, Polish, Canadian, and American. There are twelve categories of honey recipes here: for cooking, baking, canning, roasting, barbequing, freezing and more—and all for eating or drinking. The majority of the recipes are “sugarless” meaning they require no white sugar. A few, however, do call for sugar as well as honey, as the author did not wish to alter the ingredients of these long-treasured secrets.

The Healthy Taste of Honey is more than just a book of recipes. It’s filled with fascinating facts about the social insect which produces honey. For example, there are 500 honeybees for every human being. Larry Lonik also includes a brief history of the honeybee in North America. The honeybee is not native, but introduced to the continent by early settlers.

Honey has been a part of mankind’s history. In many cultures, honey has associations that go beyond its use as a food. The Egyptians sometimes used honey for embalming, and in the Roman Empire, honey was possibly used to pay taxes instead of gold. The Old Testament has many references to honey, the most famous being from the book of Exodus describing the Promised Land as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” Yes, the fate of man and honeybee are intertwined. It has been said, that “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left”…

Switzel? Gatorade™ or an ice cold beer? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Buzz on over to http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com to check the hive for past columns. Hobo prefers butterflies to bees -- read all about it in “Hobo Finds A Home,” a children’s book about a cat who doesn’t want to drink switzel.

Author Profile, Wilson Rawls

Kevin Coolidge

It’s a cold night with rain beating against the window – a good night for sleeping. Well, it would be if my neighbor’s dog would only settle down and quit his yowling. Just what is causing that dog to bark so? I go to the door and in the yard I see an old hound pawing through the garbage. His coat is mud-caked and his fur stretched tight over a bony frame. I start to talk to him, “Come here, boy. It’s all right. Come on.”

Limping up with his head bowed and his long tail thumping, I see he has no tags, only a simple collar. He doesn’t belong to anyone in this neighborhood. I raise one of his paws and read his story. His pads are worn and ragged. He has come a long way, and doubtless has a long way to go. I feed him some hamburger left from supper. The old boy, growing restless, whimpers and heads into the darkness.

Sleep isn’t going to come easy tonight. It’s time to grab a good book. I go over to my bookshelf and pick up Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. It’s one of the great American dog stories. But it’s more than a dog story: it’s about life in the Ozark Mountains before the Great Depression, and it’s about hunting, which means it’s also about death. Interestingly, it’s also a book that came close to not being published.

Wilson Rawls was born “Woodrow Wilson Rawls” in 1913 in the Oklahoma Ozarks. There were no public schools, and Rawls was home-schooled by his mother. He had little interest in reading, thinking that all books were “girl stories”. All that changed when he read a story of a man and a dog – that book was Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Rawls became a voracious reader and began to dream of writing his own book.

In 1928, his family moved to West Virginia, and Rawls started attending high school until he was forced to leave when the Great Depression began. During this time, Rawls bounced from place to place as an itinerant handyman. Along the way, he began to write stories, but without a formal education, his spelling and grammar kept them unsold, and the stories remained hidden in his traveling trunk

In 1958 he married, and, not wanting Sophie, his wife-to-be, to know about his failed dreams, he burned all of the tales he had written. Eventually his wife learned of the burned manuscripts and encouraged him to start writing again. Hesitantly, he rewrote a short story, this time typed and edited by Sophie, and in 1961, it appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and was called The Hounds of Youth, which would later become Where the Red Fern Grows.Wilson Rawls wrote one more book, Summer of the Monkeys before he died in 1984 at the age of 71.

Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys established a large following for Rawls. His work resonated with readers and critics alike. What he lacked in formal education Rawls more than made up with determination, grit and a love of writing. This young boy once shared his dream with his father, and his father gave him the encouraging advice, "Son, a man can do anything he sets out to do, if he doesn't give up." Rawls never forgot…

Buck? or Old Dan and Little Ann? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Sniff out past columns at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo says dogs might be man’s best friend, but cats are where it’s at, check out “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat who found a friend and a home.