Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Best REM Songs That Prove They Should Stand Among The Giants Of Rock And Roll

Where does REM fit into the rock'n'roll pantheon? As U2's mediocre new album sells only half of what they'd hoped, as Coldplay stands astride the World of Rock while making music that, let's be honest, is not rock-and-roll, as people continue, inexplicably, to pay sporadic attention to Nirvana and Pearl Jam...

... and let's face it: Were shiny white suits, platform shoes, and flares any more or less embarrassing than flannel shirts, greasy hair, and cargo pants? No. Was the music put out by the "grunge" rockers of the early 90s any more or less influential than disco? No. Yet, it took about 35 minutes for people to begin making fun of disco; meanwhile, twenty years in, people are still pretending that grunge was "real" or "authentic" or whatever it is that makes people pretend to like grunge...

As all that happens, REM gets ignored, really. They even got ignored by me when I set the world straight on what Rock & Roll actually is (as I did here, and here, and here, and here, and here, too. )

Which is odd, if you consider, first, facts:

REM has released 14 studio albums. The Beatles released 13.

REM has had 6 singles hit number 5 or better in the U.S. The Police had three.

REM has been around and making albums for 29 years. Pearl Jam has only been around 19, if you count "technically, existing as a band even though nobody cares anymore" as "being around."

But Rock and roll isn't about facts, it's about... emotions and arm-pumping and wanting to get up and move and feeling alive and all that other stuff. And about being creative and doing it better than everyone else in the world. REM does that, too-- they don't just out-fact the competition, they also out-music them. But for some reason, even though REM does all that, they still get short shrift.

So, to set things right, I'm presenting today's SemiDaily List:

The Best REM Songs That Prove They Should Stand Among The Giants Of Rock And Roll

First up: Stadium Rock: If you're going to rock the world, you've got to be able to get 55,000 fans to stand on their feet and wave their lighters (for Olden Days' fans) and their iPhone Lighter Apps (kids these days) and shout the lyrics and sing along.

Quintessential Stadium Rocker: Queen, Radio Ga-Ga at Live Aid. Freddie Mercury gets people worldwide to fight hunger by waving their arms and chanting nonsense words:

REM's Answer: It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) (live). I'm not a fan of live songs, in general-- but REM does this song live more or less just like on the studio version. And what's more impressive than getting a crowd of people to say ga ga? Getting a crowd of people to dance to a jelly-bean based Armageddon:

Did you get a little chill when Michael Stipe got the crowd to CHEER for feeling fine at the end of the world? I did.

BONUS ROCKER CRED: "It's The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) was release two years before Billy Joel's more-famous stream-of-consciousness rock song "We Didn't Start The Fire."

Next comes Quasi-Mystical References/Historical Allusions: Great rock bands build up hype by having songs in which mystical, historical, weird things are said that seem to make sense, but which, if you parse them out, don't really. That adds to their credibility because they can claim that we just don't get it. They don't even have to get all "10 Summoners Tales" on us. They can simply throw in a couple of Tolkien references, or use words that nobody understands plus Roman numerals (Synchronicity II?).

Quintessential Quasi-mystical/historical songs: I'll give you two. First, there's "Space Oddity," By David Bowie:

Then, no pretentious Lit-Rock would be complete without Sting. Here's "Love Is The Seventh Wave." Note the chorus: "There is a deeper wave than this." Yes: And only STING can tell us about that. He even says so: "That you don't understand." That's because you're a Philistine:

REM's Answer to those songs? "Imitation Of Life"

How's THAT for inscrutable: "Thats sugarcane that tasted good/Thats who you are, thats what you could/Cmon cmon no one can see you cry." What? It's not obscure or literary enough for you? What if they pulled out a little-known celebrity and made him a figure of almost religious devotion, mentioned a bunch of child hood games and other obscure or academic folk, and then set it all to an orchestra?

Can do: Here's "Man In The Moon,"

And here's an orchestral version from the soundtrack to the movie. Remember when America had Kaufmania? No, neither do I:

You know who "Fred Blassie" was and why he's in a "breakfast mess," right? No? You Philistine. (Hint: He apparently coined, or maybe just popularized, the phrase "pencil-neck geek.") Don't miss the Charles Darwin reference in that song, either.

With all that, now, let's Slow It Down A Little. Great bands know that sometimes, the rockin' has to stop so that we can move in close and dance a slow one with that hot chick wearing the white, tight, halter top. (Or, in my teen-and-early-twenties' case, go sit back at the table and wait, impatiently, for the next fast song.) U2 laid a little "With Or Without You" on us, causing a generation of people to confuse "stalking" with "romance," and you know they did that because that same group of people then rallied around Guns & Roses' "Used To Love Her," then found solace in "November Rain," which -- no lie -- begins "When I look into your eyes/I can see a love restrained."

It's tough to look into someone's eyes from a minimum of 500 feet away, isn't it?

The quintessential Slow It Down A Little song, though, has to be INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart:"

INXS was a bunch of rave-rockers who tore it up with "What You Need" and "I Send A Message," and was hitting it big... but only hit it bigger still when they threw some violins and foggy days and angel metaphors and the like at us, with a wedding-vow friendly set of lines: Two worlds collided/and they could never, ever, tear us apart. Oh, the many mulleted weddings that must have been sealed with those lines, the speeches made by best men quoting that song to end their toast: "Tony was standing, and Tina was there. Two worlds collided, and nobody's going to tear them apart. I love you guys!"

Can REM match INXS step for step? Can they romance you and make you swoon? Can they give you something to say at your parents' 50th anniversary? Sure. Here's "Nightswimming."

Moon. Naked swimming. Photographs tucked into the dashboard. I love you guys!

Finally, all great rock bands know that behind the music lies ... tragedy. Lies sadness. Lies emotions that we only want to acknowledge when we are driving home late, late at night, and we're tired, and the drive-throughs are closed, so we can't even get a stupid chocolate shake to make us feel better... they know that we miss our friends and our family even though we saw them that morning and/or never really hung out all that much. Great bands know that they can get through to you by singing about that friend of theirs who overdosed...on his 21st birthday..., like U2 did on "Bad:"

What can REM say to that? How could they possibly top that tragedy, the pain felt by Bono over the loss of his friend... what are they supposed to do, universalize it and show that Everybody Hurts?

Well played, REM. Well played.

So, REM, step up and take your place on the pedestal among the other Legends of Rock and Roll. There's just one final question. You never, say, made an overly-pop song in an attempt to cash in on newfound fame, and then watered down your coolness a little bit more by singing it with puppets, did you? Because that might pose a problem...

Want to hear REM's amazingly cool version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight? Click here.

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Thinking The Lions is Life, only funnier. Ever try to find your way around Illinois using a high-school play as a reference? Ever wonder what "squid chili" has to do with romance? Ever think maybe those velociraptors weren't real after all? No? Well, I did, and you can read about it here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

No, you taste like failed ideology, which is more akin to root beer: (The Fourth Best Foods Shaped Like Other Things)

It's a MiniBest!

Here's a thought I had, the first of many, and a thought that just struck me as both sort of sad/sort of odd, just tonight:

People only maked shaped cookies for special occasions.

Weird, huh? We make shaped cookies for Christmas, and for Easter, and for Halloween, and maybe, if you're really into them, other occasions, like, I suppose, Arbor Day or Lenin's Birthday or something.

But everyday cookies aren't shaped like anything but cookies. Why is that, I wonder? Is it only worth the extra effort to shape the cookies like something else if it's for a special occasion? Would people think it was weird if I baked shaped cookies for just a "Tuesday?"

I bet they would. I bet if I went right now and baked cookies, nobody would say anything about it (other than Sweetie, who would likely say "I thought you said you were coming to bed. Why are you making cookies at 10 p.m.?")(What's oddly frightening is that she might not ask that last part. She might just figure that's par for the course, for me.)

But if I were to get up and bake cookies shaped like other things, then everyone who saw me would probably say "What's the occasion?" and if I said "Nothing," they'd think I was weird.

But there's really no reason not to make cookies shaped like other things during regular periods of time. If I could have baked shamrock-shaped cookies last week for St. Patrick's Day and nobody would have thought it was strange, then why can't I bake, say, Pirate-Shaped Cookies this week and have everyone think it was okay?

That's the second thought I had tonight: I could invent pirate-shaped cookies, and popularize them, and make my fortune, and retire, probably by Friday at the latest.

Unfortunately for me and my get-rich-quick ideas, someone else had already done just that. Invented pirate-shaped cookies, at least. I don't know if they're rich. Probably not, because if they were, that would mean that pirate-shaped cookies were a big deal and I have never heard of them before, so they're probably not rich.

At least, though, I could bake pirate-shaped cookies, since it turns out there are pirate-shaped cookie cutters. I could get a pirate ship, a pirate pistol, and a treasure-chest shaped cookie cutter, which looks, when you see it, as thought I would not need it, after all, but, then again, if I was capable of making a treasure-chest shaped cookie on my own, I'd have done it by now, wouldn't I?

I found those cookie cutters online and was enthralled by the idea of making pirate-themed cookies, but that enthrallation was replaced instantly with a new obsession, prompted by this:

The "Princess Pig, Prince Frog" cookie cutter set -- seemingly based on some cookie-esque fairy tale that I never heard, but which, combined with the pirate cookie cutters, promised to give me at least a day of fun.

That was the third thought I had tonight, and then I had the fourth: then I thought about what I'd written here, and decided to find out if it was possible, in fact, to celebrate Lenin's birthday in cookie form.

Sadly, I learned that the world has yet to invent a Lenin-shaped cookie cutter and/or a Lenin Cookie (and, honestly, I'm astounded that Madison, Wisconsin, doesn't have, like, a million of them.)

But don't fret, because while you cannot sit down and dip Lenin in your glass of milk, you can eat a Lenin Pop:

Which means a couple of things: (A) Sweetie's going to wonder about this latest charge on my credit card, (B) the market for Communist Cookie Cutters is mine to take over like a modern-day Rockefeller only with less capitalism and more cookies ("Less Capitalism and More Cookies" sounds like Obama's 2012 re-election theme) and (C), well, I don't really have a C. I just got carried away with letters.

Life's like that sometimes: You set out thinking maybe you'll bake some Princess Pig and the Pirate Frog King cookies and you end up instead with a pocketful of Dictator candy and some big dreams.

Also, no matter where I go, those Lenin eyes on that sucker keep looking at me. Weird.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Best (And Only Real) Explanation For How Humans Ended Up Being Alive And Running A Planet.

All this has been written before. And it will all be written again. Provided that someone makes a show like this again and I happen to see it...

I thought I would start this nomination off in a more literary manner, hoping to gain a little credibility by piggy-backing on the shoulders of a more respected writer. After all, how can half-thought-out literary references that make no real sense, in the context of whatever else you're doing, not make things seem a little better and more weighty.


Let me try this, then:

Are you not liter-tained?

Still nothing? Well, I'm sure I'll come up with something to prove to you that this is a weighty, thoughtful, symbolic literary enterprise, and not some throwaway crap that I more or less copied from some memories I had of books I read back in high school. And, if I'm lucky, I will also remember that for a couple of years now, I've been calling one of my characters a harbinger of death, and I will therefore make sure that comes true instead of, you know, forgetting about it along the way.

Since the dawn of time, men have speculated about how we got here, whether we were put here or evolved or both, whether we are alone in the universe, whether we are the pinnacle of creation and master of everything, or whether we are instead just one among many. I say men because women have not, to my knowledge, speculated about that. Women have been busy promulgating the myth that they (women) don't care about physical appearance while simultaneously writing odes to Tom Brady's butt, leaving all the important thinking (and the Disney-movie-quoting, and the crappy-let's-hope-it's-a-tribute-and-not-plagiarism-ending-to-series'-writing) to men.

And men have come up with a couple of theories in that time, theories which can be boiled down to these:

1. Men were put here by God, who created them in his image and then created women, who, when not trying to convince Adam that they "really didn't care about physical appearance" spent their time eating apples and getting men kicked out of Eden.

2. Men evolved from... um... absolute nothingness. Or rocks, maybe. Yes, something like that: the universe suddenly came into existence but wasn't created or anything like that, so shut up! and then stars formed and created elements and then the elements combined into rocks that in a one-in-a-mochazillion chance happened to break down into amino acids that then recombined into life forms that grew increasingly complex, and it all happened more or less by accident.

3. We were all vomited up by a god who suffered from indigestion. (Really!)

4. We were all made from ashes by gods whothemselves were the products of a cow eating a popsicle, only women weren't ash, they were made out of vines. (Really!)


5. Mankind was taught the art of surfing by Kamohoali'i, the Shark God of Hawaii.

I know that last one didn't, technically, deal with the subject of how man (and women) got here, but isn't it kind of cool to imagine the Shark God teaching a girl how to surf, and a parent letting him do that? Nowadays, the Shark God would be sitting and talking to Chris Hanson.

Chris Hanson: Why don't you have a seat, Mr. Shark God.

Kamohoali'i: I was really here just to teach Hi'iaka'i- ka-poli-o-Pele how to surf.

Chris: Uh-huh. Just have a seat. I have some printouts of your chats with Hi'iaka'i- ka-poli-o-Pele.

Kamohoali'i: Did Lohi'au put you up to this? That guy's always been jealous of me ever since he was engulfed in flames. I wish Pele had just left him dead. Besides, I'm in love with Hopoe.

Chris: Isn't she a stone statue?

Kamohaoli'i: To each his own, man.

But of all the creation myths, and surfing-lesson myths, that mankind has ever devised, only one appears to be the correct one, and by "correct" I mean "it must be so true that Battlestar Galactica couldn't help sort of copying it because otherwise it looks a lot like maybe they just sort of plagiarized it," and I have no desire to accuse the Battlestar Galactica writers of plagiarizing someone, because we all know what plagiarism leads to:

Law school.

At least it does if you are Kaavya Viswanathan, who cut-and-pasted "her" "novel" into a $500,000 advance and a movie deal only to get caught.

Not that I'm saying that the Battlestar Galactica writers plagiarized anything; let me emphasize that: Battlestar writers, I'm not saying you plagiarized anything.

I'm saying you simply reported the truth.

That's what I've concluded: the Battlestar Galactica TV series ended the way it did because the writers wanted to show people the actual, true, real explanation for how humans ended up being alive and running a planet.

So all you other creation myths, you've been exposed as the fictional pieces of work that you are. Yes, even the one that posits that life was created when the world pushed its parents apart, causing Dad to cry. All fake.

Myths about how mankind learned to surf: still true.

If you didn't watch the ending to Battlestar Galactica, then allow me to get you caught up: After a couple of years of wandering in space looking for "Earth," with repeated references to Kara "Starbuck" Thrace being a harbinger of death, Battlestar wrapped things up on Friday, March 20, with a doubly-long episode that was not in any way padded out at all. And I would give you a [SPOILER ALERT!] except that the storyline is not SPOIL-ABLE because it is true, so don't worry about having it spoiled for you.

The double-episode began with a first hour devoted, primarily, to demonstrating just how awful the "Bad"Cylons are at fighting: roughly 100 humans and some Cylon allies, piloting a damaged and woefully-understaffed Battlestar, are able to teleport directly next to the Cylon base colony, ram their ship into it, and then walk into the Colony and back out in about 8 minutes (not counting commercials) while firing more or less three bullets. Total.

The subplot to that first half of the episode was this: Yeah, well humans are equally bad at fighting, a subplot that was demonstrated by having the humans find the little girl they were there to rescue...

... and let me note that in the end, the entire rescue mission turns out to be entirely unnecessary.




...and after they find the little girl, getting her back onto the Battlestar, only to find that somehow the Cylons have walked onto the bridge of the Battlestar... and gotten there first.

It's important to keep in mind that the writers had a character on the Battlestar command that the blast doors be closed. So those Cylons that stormed the Battlestar did that by going through the closed blast doors.

Then there is, of course, a big fight prompted by one of the Final Five Cylons killing one of the other Final Five cylons and losing the secret to resurrection -- a secret that the Final Five were going to give to the Bad Cylons to help settle the war, a secret that apparently only all five of them could tell, even the brain-damaged one that was living in a bathtub on the bridge of a spaceship (remember that; it's important) even though one of the Final Five -- Ellen The Cylon-- apparently knew it all herself, too.

I realize this is getting a little complicated and is only really able to be followed by those of you who, like me, sat there Friday night slowly realizing that you'd wasted an hour every Friday night for about three years, and took some small consolation in the fact, at least, that you were right when you said they'd wreck it. So I won't dwell on it. If you watched Battlestar, then you know I'm right about all of this. If you didn't, well, then, you're among the lucky.

Anyway, on to the second part, the part that revealed the truth of The Best (And Only Real) Explanation For How Humans Ended Up Being Alive And Running A Planet.

Here's what happened: After the humans waltzed onto the Cylon ship and the Cylons waltzed onto the human ship, a bunch of cylons have been killed and the Battlestar is under attack from a Raptor that's sort of floating in space, carrying nuclear weapons (even though a character earlier in the episode said that nukes wouldn't be usable in this fight) and Starbuck has to punch in a code to warp them out of there using the FTL (Faster Than Light) drive which apparently works like a teleporter, given that it's activated when the Battlestar is pointing right at the Cylon ship, so if it just accelerated to light speed it would simply ram the Cylon ship...

... stick with me, here, I'm getting to the point...

... and Starbuck punches in numbers that she randomly assigned to musical notes to a song that her father taught her when she was a kid, the same song that "activates" Cylons, and the same song that was written down by the little girl they were there to


rescue, at which point the Battlestar teleports to...

... Earth.

But not "Earth" the planet that the Cylons were originally from; instead, this is just some random planet that the Battlestar humans and some Cylons decide to name Earth because, well, I don't know why. But they do: they name it Earth and it is, as it turns out, our Earth, with an Africa and all, so, hey, what're the odds of that, and now they're going to settle down on Earth, and as it turns out, there are aboriginal people living on Earth, too, and then, as it turns out, all the survivors opt not to use any of their advanced technology and instead want to go walkabout, living on "Earth" by their wits and stuff.

And... fade out. But not yet: first, flash ahead 150,000 years and show ghosts of Baltar and Number Six commenting on "Lucy," the hominid that's presumed by scientists to be the ancestor of modern humans, and who, we are led to believe, is the little girl who the Battlestar fight was there to save.

Whew. Got all that?

Also, Starbuck disappears and is probably an angel.

Okay, so I'm not going to get into why it was completely unnecessary to rescue the little girl, other than to say that if Starbuck knew the Numbers Song from her childhood, she could have at any point programmed it in and taken them there, and in fact gotten them there without having to risk a bunch of people's lives, and probably gotten them there earlier, too.

Nor will I get into anything about how people in the 150,000-years-in-the-future Earth were pretty clearly not solely descended from that little girl, given that about 38,000 Battlestarian humans landed on "Earth," while only four Cylons did so, and two of those four were in their 70s, and one of those four went off to live in Iceland or something by himself.

I even will not mention any further the repeated references to Disney's Peter Pan beyond pointing out that it appears the writers were trying to make a literary reference with the several-times-over-use of "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again," or variations of that phrase. The phrase doesn't actually appear in James Barrie's book, to my mind; instead, it's the opening line to Disney's movie about the boy who wouldn't grow up, and is quoted to try to show the "cyclical nature of time," according to the show's producers. So I won't bring up whether it makes, in the context of a space opera building on religious themes and making pointed references to current politics, any sense to make references to movies based on literary works about the whimsy of youth and the way that adult lives tend to crush that out.

And I won't dwell on the fact that in the end, the harbinger of death turned out to be the one who saved all of humanity and the remainder of the Cylons by finding them the needle-in-a-haystack that is "Earth." Whatever death Starbuck harbinged (it's probably a verb!), nobody saw.

I won't dwell on all of that because I'm overwhelmed by the greater purpose of the final episode, which obviously had to drop some plot points and take some creative hints to, as I said, point out the real truth of The Best (And Only Real) Explanation For How Humans Ended Up Being Alive And Running A Planet, and that truth is not that humans were people who somehow existed in a world that was constantly eaten by a pulled-apart monster. No, the truth is that humans were the result of people from another planet accidentally arriving at Earth via a spaceship piloted by a man in a bathtub, and then displacing the aborigines that were here to become the "humans" we know.

That's the truth. Pure and simple. That's it. That's how we got here. It has to be -- because if that was not the truth, how else would two separate people have come up with exactly the same story?

You see, I am a reader of mystical texts and ancient works, and that is how I am familiar with the fact that this particular Creation story -- not a myth, because it's true, as evidenced by the fact that two separate people came up with it without knowing of the other one -- has been told before.

All this has been written before. And it will all be written again.

That's liter-tainment.

Let's call it the Bathtub Spaceship Creation Myth.

The Bathtub Spaceship Creation Myth was just dramatized on Battlestar Galactica. Remember when I said to remember that there was a brain-damaged guy on a spaceship bridge? That was important, and it was also true: As a part of the final episode, one of the Cylons was put in a bathtub on the bridge of the Battlestar, where he helped pilot the ship by being wired into the central command unit. So, in a nutshell, here is what Battlestar Galactica posits as the Bathtub Spaceship Creation Myth:

A bunch of people adrift in space on a ship piloted by a guy in a bathtub end up on Earth and displace the aborigines that were already there, becoming the progen
itors of the entire human race.

And here is how I know that is the One True Creation Story: Because someone else, independently, ages ago, told that exact same story as an Explanati
on For How Humans Ended Up Being Alive And Running A Planet.

So it's either true, or it's copying, right? And remember, Battlestar writers -- and your lawyers-- I'm not saying it's copying. I'm saying it's true.

The ancient texts I read had this to say, more or less:

Two guys one day stole a spaceship and had to teleport out of it. Because of problems with the teleporter, they had to randomly teleport somewhere in th
e universe. Their "random" teleportation lands them on a spaceship where they are taken to the bridge and meet the Captain. The Captain has spent the entire space cruise in a bathtub, on the bridge of a spaceship. The two guys talk with the captain for a while, at which point they learn that the fleet is made up of people who had to leave a planet because of a terrible cataclysm or problem, and that they are going to set up a new civilization somewhere.

The Bathtub Spaceship eventually ends up on ... Earth, where the people have to rough it without their technology, and where they displace the aborigines who were living on Earth, to become the progenitors of the human race.

The two guys who witness all of this were not "Baltar" and "Number Six." They were, in the ancient text I read, named "Ford Prefect" and "Arthur Dent." The ancient text I read was The Restaurant at the End Of The Universe, by Douglas Adams, and it was published in 1980, and featured more or less that exact sequence that I just spelled out: the Bathtub Spaceship Creation Myth: people on Earth are the result of a spaceship of survivors piloted by a guy in a bathtub accidentally winding up here.

As Creation stories go, that theory is no more or less ridiculous than, say, the idea that we were created by a god that spontaneously hatched from an egg. (Where'd the egg come from, Ancient Egyptian scientists?) And it has the virtue of being the absolute truth, as shown by the fact that two totally independent people came up with it totally independently, 29 years apart, one first writing it into a hilarious and excellent space novel, and the other totally independently also writing it into... a television series-finale which effectively wrapped up all the loose... no? Well, then, a finale which put a satisfying cap on the... no, still? Fine: A television series-finale which fulfilled their contractual obligations, and which demonstrated that the Bathtub Spaceship Creation Story is The Best (And Only Real) Explanation For How Humans Ended Up Being Alive And Running A Planet.

All this has been written before. And it will all be written again. Unless people demand originality.

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In the future, everyone will eat squid jerky and the fate of the 73 dimensions will rest on the sexy shoulders of Rachel, the lesbian zombie who may just be trying to take over the world. Read Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sweetie would probably prefer I carve a Butter Jamie Bamber: (The Third Of The Best Foods Shaped Like Other Things!)

It's a MiniBest!

If crunchy saviors and Commerce Radishes cannot help me retire in style -- and retire now, so that I could properly prepare to watch the last-ever Battlestar Galactica (Titled: "Maybe They'll Forget All Those Teasers We've Planted For Years If We Have A Big Fight?"), then I might have found the next best thing: A Giant Butter Elvis:

"Butter Elvis" is definitely going to be my ticket to riches and fame and retirement, provided that (a) I learn how to sculpt, and (b) federal copyright law is inapplicable to food-based sculptures.

That last is particularly important, given that Butter Elvis was first created by The Butter Cow Lady, who is not a lady made out of butter cows (false advertising!) but is, instead, the world's most renowned butter sculptor.

The Butter Cow Lady's real name is Norma Lyon, and Norma Lyon became famous (?) for sculpting, for 45 years, the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow. From 1960-2005, Norma sculpted Iowa's annual cow, as well as other butter sculptures -- the pictures shown here are all hers, including her buttery endorsement of Barack Obama -- retiring in 2005 and passing the torch to her apprentice, Sarah Pratt.

Sarah Pratt is no novice to butter sculpting: she apprenticed for 15 years before getting the prestigious post of Official Iowa Butter Sculptor. How prestious is that? Really prestigious: Consider this. There've been 43 presidents in US history. (That number is right. Barack is not the 44th president, as has been widely misreported. He's the 43rd.) There have been 27 Superbowl-winning quarterbacks. There have even been five people who have run a mile in 4:20 or less (curiously, three of those people were named William).

But there have only been four Official Iowa State Fair Butter Sculptors in all of history. So your children have a better chance of growing up to become the first super-fast, Superbowl-winning quarterback/President than they do of growing up to become the Official Iowa State Fair Butter Sculptor.

As for me, I'm not interested in apprenticing 15 years to get that post, and I can't count on Sarah Pratt to retire and hand it to me. But I don't need to, because Butter Elvis sculpting is obviously big business and a key to fame and fortune: Norma may have created the first one, but there is a hue and cry out for Butter Elvises, and a dearth of Butter Artists fulfilling that need. Sure, people like Sharon BuMann have stepped in to create Butter Elvises for the Texas State Fair and the Oklahoma State Fair, but that's only three state fairs, total, meaning there are at least... a lot of other state fairs out there, just waiting for me to wheel my own Butter Elvis in there and reap the rewards that naturally flow from combining two things that America loves.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whodathunkit?!: The 64 Best Things You Want To Know About the 2009 NCAA Tournament!

It's Whodathunkit?! for the NCAA Tournament! Maybe you like the Tournament, and maybe you like basketball. Me, I like the Tournament but I hate watching basketball -- so every year, I get excited about March Madness and follow who wins and loses, all without ever watching a single moment of the actual games.

Which puts me at a loss about what to say when people talk about, you know, actual basketball stuff. If you're like me, then you need Whodathunkit?! -- the only source of the stuff you actually want to know about the NCAA Tournament.

And I don't skimp, either -- I'm giving you not one, not ten, not 20, but sixty-four things you want to know -- one for each team in the Tournament. It's a long one, so get going:

The 64 Best Things You Want To Know
About the 2009 NCAA Tournament:

Louisville: With Louisville again making it into a college playoff, it's time for the annual review of how to pronounce "Louisville." This site will tell you it's "loo-uh-vul., and you can hear a voice that doesn't sound dumb in any way (note: sarcasm) say it that way. That site notes that many people outside of Kentucky say Loo-EE-Vill. But to most people, it'll always be pronounced "They really don't stand a chance of winning." (Note: if you use this joke in a conversation, you must immediately follow it with Trademark The Best of Everything All Rights Reserved.)

Morehead State: Morehead State raises this question: when does the Tournament begin? Morehead State won the "play-in" game, the game that's featured on the Tuesday before the Tournament. I say "if it's a play-in game, they're not in the Tournament until they win." The Boy says that they're in if they're in the play-in game. Considering the caliber of school The Boy goes to, I'm going to say I'm right. Morehead State raises other questions, too, like "Do they understand the meaning of the word 'famous?' I'm going to say no, because under "Famous Alumni" on their site, they list, among other people, Olympic Bobsledding Bronze Medalist Brian Shimer. On a site devoted to Shimer, the first couple of things they note about him are (a) he failed a lot, and (b) legendary football bust Herschel Walker was his bobsled teammate on what is described as "the most famous two-man team in history."

So it's not just Morehead State but their graduates who are a little unclear on the definition of "famous." Then again, it would not take very much fame, at all, to become the most famous two-man bobsled team in history.

Morehead would be better off highlighting their ghost: Phebe Button's ghost is said to haunt "Button Auditorium." Phebe was the mother of Morehead State's founder. And while she's the only ghost mentioned on the front page of the college's site, this site says there are scads of other ghosts at Morehead. And it includes this disturbing description:
"In the 1980's, a janitor was cleaning a large clock hanging off the balcony and apparently he fell off the balcony and a chair broke his back and sometimes if you're sitting in the area he fell on you get a crushing sensation and a very odd smell."

To which I say: Has somebody thought to remove the body?

Ohio State: Remember that UConn coach who asked that reporter if he's "really that stupid?" when the reporter questioned the coach's salary. (I'd have answered: If I was that stupid, I guess I'd only be qualified to coach a game involving bouncing a ball...")(Yes, it took me a month to come up with that, so I'd have answered the coach that, one month later.) Ah, "teachable moments," as educators like to say. That distinguished coach taught his athletes this lesson: when questioned, throw a hissy fit. But he could have said something like athletic departments have massive budgets and bring money into the community. Take Ohio State's athletic department budget: $109 million in 2007-2008 -- all of it raised by the department itself, no tax dollars at work whatsoever. $45 million of that was apparently gifts-- people who could think of nothing better to do with their money than to give it to Ohio State University's athletics department.

I think a neat thing to do would be to create a database to allow anyone to cross-reference the people who (a) gave $45 million to an athletics department and then (b) complained about the possibility of a 3% tax increase on quarter-millionaires.

Siena: Siena is a Catholic private college. As we go along, count how many Catholic schools are in the tournament, and then, the next time you want to get down on the Catholic church, think about what that number proves about whose side God is really on.

To give you an idea what life is like at Siena College, here is the actual listing of upcoming events shown on the college's website Tuesday:

That, though, doesn't answer the key question I have about any college, which is this: What kind of stuff can I buy from that college for less than $5.00?

To answer that, I've gone to the Siena Athletics Store, where I have learned that Siena is the only NCAA-Competing Catholic school in America where you can buy a "Chip Clip" with the name of the college for only $1.00:

So, Siena: Sell 91,000,000 of those, and you will be on an even footing with Ohio State. (Fitness alert: Siena's athletics department doesn't just promote fitness by selling clips designed to keep your Pajedas crispy; it also partnered up with Dunkin' Doughnuts. Expect the Siena basketball players to need about fifteen more "time outs" than their opponents.)

Utah: The Utah "Utes" has to be the worst possible nickname for a sports team. Ever. How's that meeting go?

Boss: What can we call the team? Let's see. Utah... Utah... gosh, that's tiring to say. Maybe I shouldn't say the whole name. Let's see. Ute... ute...

[interrupting underling/henchman]: Why not just go with ute?

Boss: Are you sure you're not just trying to get out of here to go Google "root beer" or "lingerie?"*

Henchman: Um.

Boss: Never mind. I'm tired. We'll go with it.

*Note: Utah was widely reported to rank number 1 in various pornography or Harry Potter related searches in 2007 -- but does anyone bother to mention that Utahns searched for "root beer" more than anyone else in the world in 2007? No-- until now.

The University of Utah is located in Salt Lake City, which did more searches in 2007 for "Frodo" than any other city in the entire world. So if your team is playing the Utes in the NCAA, and makes a good play, a great put-down would be "Let's see Frodo do THAT."

That put-down works less well in other walks of life, like, say, my employment review. As I've found out.

Salt Lake City appears to have gotten over its Frodo obsession; now the worldwide lead is held by Zagreb, Croatia. (In the US, Portland is number one in Frodo-related searches.)

Arizona: Here's what John McCain -- remember him?-- had to say about Arizona's heartbreaking loss in the Superbowl: "Where--the old guy, Warner, almost won. For a change, an old guy almost won. I'm proud of him."

For a change, an old guy almost won? Do you suppose nobody told McCain what happened in November?

People in and around the University of Arizona have a lot more important matters on their minds than remembering who won the presidential election, and who almost won, and more important, even than the NCAA tournament: Someone is stealing their lunches. That's what I surmise, anyway, from the fact that they're sponsoring a lecture on "Regional Food Security."

The fight song for the Arizona Wildcats is "Bear Down," and you can hear it played on something called a "tubaccordianjo" by clicking this link. Awesome! I can picture the Arizona Wildcats Jug Band playing that at halftime.

Wake Forest: The fight song for the "Demon Deacons" of Wake Forest is called "O Here's To Wake Forest." It includes this lyric: A glass of the finest red ruby rhenish filled up to the brim."

So Wake Forest, in its fight song, is saying that it is like "a glass of finest red ruby rhenish." Good work -- no other college is likely to make that claim, right?

Wrong: Hampden-Sydney College claims that it is like "a glass of finest red ruby rhenish." So which college, exactly, is more like a "glass of finest red ruby rhenish?" That's impossible to tell unless you know what rhenish is, and I did not. However, I did look it up and found that "rhenish" is...

... drum roll...

White wine from the Rhine River valley in Germany.

White wine.

So both Wake Forest and Hampden-Sydney College are like a red version of a white wine -- that is, they're like things that don't exist.

Did you know that a liebfraumilch is a "sweetened Rhenish wine?" I think the Wake Forest Demon Deacons should be the "Wake Forest Liebfraumilches." Unless those jerks at Hampden-Sydney have stolen that, too.

Cleveland State: Cleveland State's athletic department budget for 2007 was about $6.8 million - -and both they and Ohio State qualified for the NCAA tournament. But CSU did it for 0.07% of the budget that Ohio State did it, so at Cleveland State you're getting more bang for your basketball buck. Then again, CSU men's basketball coach makes at least $225,000 per year in base salary, putting him $25,000 over the limit I feel people can earn before they're simply hoarding resources. Since I don't know if he's married or what his wife makes, I'll cut him some slack; Thad Matta, the OSU coach, makes about $2.5 million per year, which means he is definitely guilty of hoarding resources. (The Angry UConn Coach who feels he should never be questioned? His Imperiousness makes about $1.6 million.)

Cleveland State students have the opportunity to pursue CLAM: The "Bachelor of Arts in Classical and Medieval Studies." Presumably, students who major in "CLAM" will not be moving into the lucrative field of "Making Up Acronyms That Make Sense," or, as CSU students refer to it "CNN/HLN." They will, though, have a vast knowledge of Chaucer's works. They'll also study Greek mythology. A better bet, career-wise, might be to major in something useful, and spend the weekends watching Disney's Hercules.

West Virginia: West Virginia U. is located in Morgantown, WV, which actually has kind of a fun website (as municipal websites go-- fun being a relative thing, here.) The entire budget for the city of Morgantown ranges between $22,000,000 and $25,000,000 per year , of which $14-$18 million is paid from property taxes-- so those people who gave $45,000,000 to Ohio State could have, for example, allowed everyone in Morgantown, WV, to get municipal services without paying any property taxes or fees for three years. Of course, if they'd done that-- donated $45 million to the City of Morgantown, WV, then the Ohio State Buckeyes might have won 2 or 3 fewer games each year, so it's probably for the best that they made their gifts to OSU.

West Virginia students celebrate their victories by burning couches -- prompting the city to ban furniture from front porches in student neighborhoods back in 2005. Note that they did not ban burning couches -- they simply banned having the couch on the porch.

I wasn't able to find any statistics on "house fires in student areas in Morgantown in 2006." But you know the number went up. Drastically.

Along with counting Catholic schools, we could count "schools from Ohio" in the NCAA tournament; God likes people who fear the Pope/live in middle America, apparently. Dayton is a double whammy in that department: Catholic and located in Ohio. Beyond achieving the exact same basketball goals as OSU on a fraction of the budget, Dayton University is known for ghosts.

So we could keep track of Catholic Schools, schools from Ohio, and schools with ghosts to see which is more likely to land a school in the NCAA tournament.

Dayton has two ghosts, to be exact: One a disfigured old man with a limp and bad teeth. The other is a male ghost living in a sorority house. Strangely, the Theta Phi Alpha web page makes no mention of the ghost, but it does have this picture of hot sorority babes...

... circa 1912.

Kansas: Every year, The Boy and I bet on the NCAA Tournament. We each pick 32 of the starting teams, and the person whose team wins gets a t-shirt of that team. I'm undefeated in this bet -- I've never lost -- and I will be wearing my Kansas t-shirt this year to not watch the Tournament.

Whodathunkit? isn't about winning t-shirts, though. It's about giving you, the casual sports fan, the inside information needed to keep you ahead of your fellow tournament watchers, bracket-poolers, and partygoers, and I've got a doozy here. As everyone else is talking about whether Kansas suffered from losing all their starters, or some such nonsense, lay this one on them. Just say: "Did you know that members of the KU basketball team appeared in a porn film?"

It's true. Kansas U. basketball players appeared in Linda Lovelace for President, which was filmed on the KU campus. The filmmakers paid about $3,000 for the right to use the campus in filming -- so OSU alumni, you could have funded 15,000 porn flicks with one year's worth of donations.

Linda Lovelace For President isn't just a wry political commentary - -it's also the title of a rock album by "Marc With A C." Here's "Marc With A C"'s song, Bitchin In the Kitchen:

North Dakota State: North Dakota State somehow made the tournament despite the fact that nobody actually lives in North Dakota. But North Dakota actually has a strong basketball pedigree: Former, or maybe still, NBA Coach Phil Jackson is from there, and Phil proves that anyone, even a North Dakotan, can grow up to become a stellar basketball coach, provided that that person is not only from North Dakota but also has either Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal on his team.

North Dakota is the only college I found that offered to give me an NDSU "ringtone." From their site, you can personalize your phone with the "sights and sounds" of North Dakota State. I assume it's a blank field with a cloudy, cold sky, and when someone calls you, your phone starts saying, over and over again, "You went Where? Why?"

You know what I wonder? Why nobody has yet managed to make ringtone into a double entendre. Let's get with it, people.

Boston College: Do you know what a college's "endowment" is? That's the money they've got just sitting around. People give to an "endowment" with the stipulation that the money they give will never be spent; it will be invested and held and the income can be used by the university. So basically, someone gives money to a college and says Hold this forever, use the interest, but deny humanity the benefit of this money for all time.

Just thought I'd mention that as we debate whether there is enough money in America to provide health care for people. Just thought I'd bring that up.

Another thing I thought I'd bring up? Boston College's "endowment" is $1.6 million. Boston College has $1.6 million dollars that people gave it to never spend. Ohio State's is $2 million.

Those pale in comparision, though, to what Harvard has. Harvard's endowment in 2008? $36 million.

Boston's basketballers have some stiff competition for attendance: The NCAA game will be going head-to-head with the BC "ALC Showdown 2009." Here's the description for that even:

The best dance groups on campus battle it out to see who will be the 2009 ALC Showdown Champions! Featuring performances by Synergy, PATU, Fuego, AeroK, Phaymus, FISTS, Masti, Bulletproof Theory, PSBC, Hawaii Club, Capoeira, SC and more! Doors open at 5:30pm. Show starts at 7PM but come early because seats go fast (no assigned seating). Metal detectors will be in use and take some time to get through as well. No food or drinks allowed in.

USC: As if life in Southern California is not awesome enough -- so awesome that former Trojan QB Matt Leinart sacrificed millions and a career to stay around an extra year, thereby proving that life as USC is great, but the education is... not so much -- the schooling made it a little more
awesome/less useful by introducing a major in video game design at the USC Gamepipe Lab.

Students who major in video gaming - -that is, video game designing, or so you'll tell mom and dad -- get to take "Survey of Digital Games And Their Technologies," where among other things they'll study the history of game consoles.

Grading in the class is done by score -- and I expect that if a student scores high enough, he or she gets an extra life.

Michigan State: If you're not into basketball and go to Michigan State, what else could you do? Maybe join one of the more than 500 student organizations cited by MSU. Choosing the right one could be kind of tough, because MSU's website doesn't sort them by, say, areas of interest; instead, they're sorted only alphabetically.

Let's say you're interested in... music. So you click on "K-O" and hope that "Music" is the first word in your potential group's name. Hmmm... nothing. Maybe radio? They play music on the radio, right? Dang. Nothing in P-T. What about student radio? Hum-de-dum... Students for McCain? Didn't anyone tell them, either? What else could I try in order to find other students who share my love for music... band? A-E it is: But it goes from Baja SAE Racing to Ballroom Dance Club. Screw it. I'm doing this the old-fashioned way: getting drunk, pointing my speakers out the window, and blasting Sigue Sigue Sputnik:

Robert Morris: All schools named after a person get the same review: Who was this person and why does he get a school named after him but I don't? Robert Morris, it turns out, takes sole credit for winning the Revolutionary War: their website says this:

without Robert Morris, the American colonies’ bold attempt to throw off British rule never could have succeeded.

Morris was emceeing a party -- being, I guess, the 1700's equivalent of Brody Jenner -- when news broke out about fighting. Immediately, Morris the Self-Made Millionaire (and this was a time when a million dollars meant something) began plotting with Ben Franklin on how to get rich off the war.

It doesn't say that, exactly, on the site. It just says he helped smuggle in weapons, lent money to the army, and used his ships as "privateers," private pirates seizing goods. He was, in fact, accused of war profiteering, but was cleared... by the same people he'd helped put in power.

Morris ended his years in debtor's prison, being handsomely repaid by those he'd helped. They visited him in prison, and eventually got around to inventing bankruptcy so Morris could die, alone and destitute... but at home.

Connecticut: Connecticut's state animal is the sperm whale. They apparently picked that because they were proud of being second in terms of whaling back in the day. That explains their state motto: Connecticut: More than Content To Be Second Best.

Chattanooga: There's a joke I've always liked, and I will spare you the torturous set-up that leads to the punch line, and jump right to the good part: The punch-line to the joke is: Pardon me, boy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoe?

Think about it for a while. Or say it aloud. Also, if memory serves me correct, Barbara Eden was in a movie based on the song Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

BYU: BYU, up until recently, housed one of the finest collections of dinosaur bones anywhere -- keeping them under the stadium. They employed people called "preparators," -- "preparers" was apparently too mundane a title -- to prepare the bones, but faced a funding shortage. The bones were eventually donated to something called "Thanksgiving Point," but this past July, a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex was made out of 2,500 balloons by a guy nicknamed "The Balloon Guy" to celebrate a dinosaur birthday party. The hardest part, according to Balloon Guy? The ankles.

Texas A&M: Texas A&M is, according to "Urban Dictionary," "often falsely stereotyped as being full of hicks." So if you're sitting near an A&M fan, turn to him or her and say this: I'm sorry that your school is often -- but not always -- falsely stereotyped as being full of hicks." Then ask him to take off his cowboy hat so you can see the game. Texas A&M also claims to be the the "Home of the 12th Man." That's only going to lead to trouble with Seahawks Nation -- which claims to be the official home of the 12th Man.

Purdue: Purdue's athletes are nicknamed the Boilermakers, but they weren't always called that. A reporter started that nickname in 1891; before that, the football team was, at times, called either the "haymakers," the "railsplitters," or, my personal favorite, the "cornfield sailors."

Northern Iowa: In close competition with Utah for dumbest nickname come the "Northern Iowa Uni Panthers." I was wondering how the "Uni Panthers" got their name and googled that question. Then, while waiting for my answers -- my computer is slow -- I figured it out: The University of Northern Iowa." See that? So officially, they are the University of Northern Iowa Uni Panthers, which is a short way of saying that they're the University of Northern Iowa University of Northern Iowa Panthers.

I bet Northern Iowa students also go to the ATM Machine.

Washington: Washington has a major identity crisis. Google "Washington University" and "Washington University in St. Louis" shows up higher on the page than the NCAA-Tournament bound Washington. Get yourself to their home page, and they identify themselves as "UW," which everyone whose anyone knows refers to the University of Wisconsin.

The school is carving out a niche for itself, though: The website's front page has a link to an article about Curtis Ebbensmayer, a Washington Alum who is the world's leading expert on "flotsam."

"Flotsam" is the wreckage that floats after a ship has sunk, such as the 61,280 sneakers that started Curtis on his career. (Curtis tested the floatability of some sneakers in a hotel spa, making him even less romantic on a honeymoon than I am.)

"Jetsam," by contrast, is the stuff that's thrown overboard to lighten a ship in distress. So Kate & Leo were flotsam, not jetsam.

Mississippi State: Mississippi State's most famous alumnus is John Grisham. There's even a room at the school's library in his honor. The school also gives out MSU Grisham Awards, links to Grisham's intro to other books, and serves Grisham-and-eggs for breakfast. (Note: I made that last one up. But I'm sure they've thought about it.)

Marquette: Remember when Marquette gave into to protesters and changed its school team names from "Warriors" to the bland "Golden Eagles?" I do, because I lived in Milwaukee when they did it. I've gotten over it -- I never cared much, beyond thinking it was stupid to change. But the debate continued for more than a decade. Or longer. Or longer still. Seriously? More than 13 years later, people are still debating what the team should be called? Isn't it time to pack up and graduate? Get a job? Begin worrying about what pro teams are called?

Utah State: How bummed do you think the people at Utah State were that "Utes" was already taken as a nickname? Not very, I bet. Then again, the Utah State folks didn't do much better, coming up with "Aggies," -- which is also the nickname for Texas A&M's team. That explains Utah State's entry in Urban Dictionary: "Often falsely stereotyped as being full of copycat hicks."

Other schools nicknamed Aggies include New Mexico State and UConn (until 1933).

How unoriginal is the nickname "Aggies?" New Mexico State is in the same conference as Utah State -- so Utah State isn't even the first school in its conference to be called that.

Missouri: Contrary to popular belief, most Missourians do not pronounce their state "Missour-uh." In two polls, "Missour-ee" won by 60% or more. (That fact brought to you courtesy of The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations." That book was recently updated to include "bruschetta." (Correct pronunciation: garlic bread.)

Cornell: Cornell is named for "Ezra Cornell," who gets a university named after him because he came up with a special kind of plow that would dig a ditch, lay telegraph wire in it, and then cover the pipe and wire afterwards. Wasn't "ditch digger" a sort of insult at some point or another?

Cornell offers a service called "Ask Uncle Ezra," which allows students to ask questions and get answers, and the questions are archived. The first question ever? Dear Uncle Ezra, My girlfriend is frigid, what can I do?-- Chilly Willy. To which Uncle Ezra replied that the student could get help being a better lover from the Health Education Office. Seriously.

California: Just to clear up the matter, because it's always confused me: When sportscasters say "Cal" they mean the University of California-Berkeley -- not UCLA, or any of the other California schools, or University of California schools. I was never quite sure what they were talking about.

"Cal" has tons of famous alumni. My own personal favorite: Philip K. Dick, who wrote the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. You know that book as "Blade Runner." My second favorite? Jerry Mathers. I loved that episode where The Beav climbed into the billboard to see if there really was soup in the cup.

Maryland: I bet people in Maryland are excited their team made the Tournament. Or not. Probably not, considering the official state sport of Maryland is... jousting. Get this: Maryland was the first state to pick an official sport, so they had every single sport in the world to choose from, and chose jousting.

But they've stuck with it: they've had state jousting championships and everything. The season doesn't start 'til May, so there's still time to sign up.

Memphis: Apparently, Memphis losing last year's final to Kansas was considered shocking in the sports world. What was shocking to me was that Memphis had a university. All I ever knew about Memphis was that it was home to Graceland, and that Marc Cohn went Walking in Memphis, walking with his feet ten feet off of Beale.

Although it's not generally known, we have Memphis' first student class to thank for saving our country. They picked Blue and Gray as the school's colors in commemoration of the reuniting of the country after the Civil War.

They did that in 1912. No word on why they picked the tiger as a mascot -- probably to commemorate the way America totally got owned by Canada in the war of 1812.

Cal St. Northridge: Here's a song I like:

It's "Give a Little Love," by "Noah and The Whale." I realize this has nothing to do with Cal St. Northridge. I just was getting a little worn out here and needed a palate-cleanser.

Pittsburgh: Forget Pittsburgh's men's basketball team; Pitt has a website devoted entirely to "Shavonte Zellous," who is apparently a women's basketball player there. Thanks to that site, I know that Shavonte (a) likes shrimp pasta, and (b) can't read all the way to the end of a question. Here's an actual question and response on her site:

If you could relive one day over and over, what would it be and why?
The day the coaches go recruiting. :)

ETSU: "Etsu, Brute?" You know you're cool when you can just rip out a Shakespeare quote, right?


"ETSU" stands for "East Tennessee State University," a school that boasts that it is "...becoming the best regional university in the country." ETSU's school motto is, apparently: Aim Sort Of High, Or At Least Middle-Range, And Loudly Proclaim Your Progress Toward Your Goals."

Oklahoma State: Investments not doing so good these days? Maybe you should hire the people who run Oklahoma State's endowment fund. They got a 31.4% increase in their fund last year. So either they convinced people to donate 1/3 more than they had the year before, or they managed the fund so well it returned 31% on the investments. Either way, I'm hiring them to manage my money. I hope they have someone who can carry large jars of change.

Tennessee: I wonder if the folks at Tennessee are looking over their shoulder at ETSU, wondering what if we become only the SECOND best regional university in the country? That's not likely to happen, though -- Tennessee, after all, is the only college in the country that will let you buy, for only $12.99, a flattened version of the Wheaties box featuring "Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols." It is, as the site suggests, "Perfect for Framing!" (exclamation point in the original.)

Florida State: This just in: Six FSU scientists were among the elite few who were the first humans in history to view the "elusive top quark." Anyone can view pairs of top quarks; viewing a single top quark is quite an achievement. (Apparently, quarks mate for life.) The top quark, which is totally not made up, has a mass of 200 times that of a proton -- but no size. No size at all. It has not a single dimension, which to you and me would mean that it doesn't exist, but to FSU scientists means "several more years of cushy research grants."

Also, the evidence of a single top quark, called an "event," occurs only about 1 time in every 20 billion particle collisions -- while false evidence of that thing is, and I quote, "easily mimicked by other processes, referred to as "background," that occur at much higher rates."

So, to recap our top story: Six FSU scientists have viewed evidence of an object that does not exist, but they are absolutely certain that it is the only-rarely occuring actual evidence and that it is not the far-more-frequent false evidence.

Back to basketball:

Wisconsin: Bo Ryan, UW's basketball coach, makes $1.25 million per year. I've seen his house -- it's very nice. Ordinarily, I would say something snarky about how much he makes (and he makes at least 5 times what any person should be allowed to make, constituting resource hoarding) but I'm giving Bo Ryan a pass, for two reasons:

1. I met Bo in person once, and asked him to autograph a basketball for my father-in-law. He did so -- even though I was wearing a North Carolina Tarheels shirt, and doing so when the Tarheels had just beaten the Badgers in the NCAA, so he's a nice guy, and

2. Bo Ryan used to coach at the UW-Platteville, where he was paid so little money that his family had to be on food stamps for a while.

Xavier: Another Catholic school, another Ohio school. But do they hit the trifecta? Do they have ghosts? Sadly, a search leads nowhere, and if googling "Does Xavier University have ghosts" doesn't answer the question, nothing will.

They do have a class offered by a master puppeteer, but that's small consolation. Although it does let me ask: what ever happened to Mummenschanz?


Portland State: At first, I thought "Portland State" must be in Oregon. Then I noticed that their nickname was the "Vikings," and so I thought this: Well, the Vikings never made it to the West Coast, so maybe Portland State is in Maine, where maybe the Vikings were? But, no, it's in Oregon. You learn something every day. I also learned that you can learn Swing Dance, for credit, at Portland State. In case that video-gaming degree from USC didn't open a lot of doors.

UCLA: Like many schools, UCLA's website offers an "interesting facts" section of its site. Like many schools, UCLA seems to not really be able to distinguish what an "interesting fact" really is. Here's one question on that site:

Who caught a tipped pass and ran 50 yards for the winning touchdown in a 20-17 win over USC in the 1980 game?

The answer: "Freeman McNeil."

Note that it's not a big game, or the title game, or anything. Just "who caught a pass and UCLA won?"

But just saying that it was Freeman McNeil doesn't do the actual answer justice. So here is the actual, full answer UCLA gives to that question:

"Freeman McNeil. Jay Schroeder's pass was tipped by Jeff Fisher (later the head coach of the NFL's Tennessee Titans) and landed in McNeil's hands. He then rambled down the sideline for the winning score. JoJo Starbuck was an ice skater who was later married to Terry Bradshaw.

No. I don't know why that last sentence is there, either.

VCU: Don't you get tired of always hearing how Virginia is a "Commonwealth" and not a "state?" You know what the difference is? Not a darn thing. So shut up, Virginia.

Villanova: Catholic: check. Ohio? close-- Pennsylvania. Ghosts? Check: The town has a lady with a spear sticking out of her head, a sack-headed lady, a partially transparent man, and the "ghost of a bum," among other ghosts. Plus, there's "Hell's Tunnel," where one can hear a father calling out for his son, who hanged himself there. Look for Villanova to go far in the Tournament.

Villanova was founded by the Augustinians, who follow St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine wrote a lot, but that alone doesn't make you a saint. St. Augustine converted from a life of partying (he's the patron saint of brewers) who experienced a powerful conversion when he heard a child singing "Take up and read!"

It's St. Augustine who came up with the concept of a "just war," but he also said that we should not interpret the Bible literally when it conflicts with science and reason.

Sort of makes you wonder why people choose "literal interpretation of the Bible coupled with rejection of science and no drinking or dancing" when they could have chosen "Party a lot and believe the parts of the Bible that make sense."
American U. Man, there are a lot of teams in this thing. I've got to move it along. Here's a quick one: American University has a tailgate policy that includes specifically designating the tailgate area for fans of visiting field hockey teams. Don't you sometimes get the feeling that some people don't have enough to do in their jobs? (Present company excluded.)

Texas: Did you see where Chuck Norris said he might run for president... of Texas? Texas stopped being an independent country in 1845. Doesn't anyone tell Republicans anything?

Minnesota: Minnesota's nickname is the Golden Gophers. Because that makes it cool, right? I mean, gophers would be just lame. But golden gophers. That's a name you can tie your shoe to. Or put on a bar -- especially a bar that's described as what it would look like "If Liberace and the Rolling Stones got together in the '70s to do an extreme makeover of a downtrodden dive bar."

Duke: I ask the question nobody else asks, like Why Is Duke Called Duke? And I get answers, too -- like the answer that it's called Duke because it was founded by the Dukes. The Dukes were a tobacco-growin' family; that's where they got their money before going into a business that didn't deliberately kill its customers (see also: Iams' pet food.) The Dukes did focus on philanthropy, though, giving away millions over their lifetime.

: Binghamton's nickname is the "Bearcats." I hear that a lot -- Bearcats are the mascots for something like 50 schools -- and so I wondered what a "bearcat" was and whether it actually existed. Turns out it did - -as a 1971 TV series. "Bearcats!" (exclamation in original) was described as "Two tough guys looking for adventure at the turn of the century in their fancy Stutz Bearcat." They don't make TV shows like that anymore. Although if they did, they'd probably still put Charlie Sheen in them.

North Carolina: Time for my annual feature, "Let's Point Out That The Legend Of The Tarheel Makes No Sense And Maybe Makes North Carolinuses Look Like Cowards." The "tarheel," according to popular myth, came about because North Carolinites, having fought bravely while others retreated, teased other troops about how, in the future, the North Carolinocks would put tar on the heels of other soldiers to make the soldiers stay and fight -- thus earning the North Carolinopottamuses the nickname "tarheels."

But... but... wouldn't the other soldiers be the Tarheels? And isn't a tarheel someone who won't stay and fight unless he's glued to the ground?

Radford: Radford is another Virginia school in the Tournament -- Virginia rivals Ohio in getting schools into the tournament, what with VCU and Radford and Duke and North Carolina all hailing from Virginia. (I'm guessing on a few of those.) Radford began it's life as "The State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Radford" and when it first opened, people could get either a high school or college degree there. The school was created in 1910, but construction on its first building didn't begin until 1911, and took 14 months-- so classes started a little late.

LSU: Louisian State U. students may like their basketball team -- but they love their ultimate frisbee. The campus features not one, but two groups devoted to it: a league, and a club. Not interested in frisbee? Join one of the four clubs devoted to martial arts.

Butler: Who's Butler, and why does he have a school named after him and I don't? Ovid Butler, the school's namesake and founder, was an abolitionist and lawyer who appears to have done nothing more significant than simply founding a school. Not that I'm much better; I only founded a blog. And a hot dog. If by "founded" you mean "ate for lunch."

Illinois: Like with "Cal," you have to ask Which Illinois are we talking about? In this case, it's the "University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign" that gets to be called "Illinois." The Fighting Illini of Urbana-Champaign practice and study on a campus from whence 11 Nobel laureates have graduated, and at which 10 Nobel Laureates have taught. This being an institution of higher learning, that fact is naturally all over the website's front page, right?


I guess people just aren't as into reversible protein phosphorylation as they used to be.
W. Kentucky: Why are universities so modest these days? ETSU was becoming pretty good, while Western Kentucky is a leading American University With International Reach. With billions in endowments, couldn't they maybe hire someone to come up with a slogan? Get the guy that did the slogan for Tang. "Tang: It's a Kick in A Glass." Now, that's a slogan. It even works here: "Western Kentucky University: It's a Kick In A Glass."

Gonzaga: Catholic: check. Ohio? Not...quite. Gonzaga is located in located in Spokane, Washington -- so Washington, too, ranks right up there with sending schools to March Madness. Gonzaga's mascot is the "Bulldogs," although it's website notes that they go by "Zags," too. So the "Zags" will play...

Akron:... the Zips of Akron-- Ohio, again -- in what promises to be the most fun-to-pronounce game of the tournament. The "Zips" are called that because they took their name from "Zippers," which were said to be a popular shoe in the 1920s and 1930s. Naturally, the Zips' mascot is... a kangaroo.

Arizona State: When I first read ASU's website, I noted that it said that Phoenix is America's fifth largest city. And my first thought was really? I was going to google it, but then I thought, do I care? So instead, I googled this:

did anyone really famous and good-looking come from Phoenix, Arizona?

And the answer is: no.

Temple: Everyone knows that the Temple Owls for a while there had the longest losing streak in college sports. But I bet you didn't know that the world record for most basketballs spun simultaneously is held by Michael Kettman of the UK -- 28 at once. Unless you are Michael Kettman. If you're him, you probably knew that already.

Syracuse: Used to be the Orangemen, and then became just the Orange. But jettisoning (remember jetsam?) part of the nickname shouldn't indicate to you that Syracuse doesn't care about tradition. They do. They've even got an exhibit, "The Spirit of Tradition," in which you can learn about "Dot Grover," the star of "100 Men and A Girl."

No, it's not that kind of show. "100 Men and A Girl" was apparently a halftime show featuring a band and majorette Dot Grover, who along with that lists these accomplishments on her resume:

  1. National sweetheart of Sigma Chi.
  2. 1951 National Drum Majorette.
  3. Look Magazine cover girl.
  4. Old Forge Winter Carnival Queen.
  5. Miss Syracuse - 1952.
  6. Barnstorming Queen for the College All-stars.
She was so hot that their website says: "there are a lot of guys... who'd trample down a Maxwell prof just to open those 20-ton doors for you."

That probably made sense once. I'm going to go home tonight and try it on Sweetie: Sweetie, I'd trample down a Maxwell prof just to open those 20-ton doors for you."

I'll let you know how it works.

Stephen F. Austin: No need to look this one up; everyone knows that Steve Austin not only founded a college, but also was the world's first Bionic Man. na na na na na na na.

He deserves a college named after him.

Clemson: Go to the Clemson website today and you'll see an article on the "CSI of WMDs", an article about two people who are "literally" making the world safe from weapons of mass destruction. Which is not to be confused with practically making the world safe, or poetically making the world safe from WMDs, or some such. The article also describes, as I noted, the scientists as "CSIs," but "CSIs" are crime scene investigators. They don't prevent crimes; they investigate the crimes that have occurred. So it would be more accurate, I think, to say: "Meet Two Clemson Alumni Who Are Literally A Kick In The Glass."

Michigan: Michigan's nickname is the "Wolverines," which naturally prompted me to wonder: Did Wolverines ever live in Michigan? I'm not the only one questioning that, as shown by this actual question posed on the Internet:

Where their ever wolverines in Michigan?

And here is the actual answer posted on the Internet:

"Yes! And there is one currently living in the Thumb also just south of Bad Axe!! " (Exclamation points in the original.)

So, that settles that. No need for, say, proof or facts or attribution.

That question, by the way, was posted in Pets. So the questioner was a little more confused than might have originally been thought.

Oklahoma: Looking for that perfect gift that says "I love you, almost as much as I love the Oklahoma Sooners and being on time?" Look no further:

The "Oklahoma Sooners Silver Tone Double Heart Clock" sends exactly that message -- and sends it in style. With "Oklahoma Sooners" and the clock on the larger heart, there's no mistaking where she fits into your world-- just to the side of your beloved Sooners. And why not pair it with a stylish set of Sooners Bobby Pins?

Nothing's too good for your Sweetie. Plus, she'll be so busy fixing her hair and watching the second hand on the clock, she'll leave you alone for the entire Tournament!

Morgan State: I'm going to finish up by celebrating the Morgan State University Cheerleaders -- the All-Girl Champions of their conference 12 of the last 14 years. They cheer at every basketball game -- so while you're watching a bunch of guys dribble around, I'll be watching this: