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Archive for July, 2008

One of the more common fashion accessories to appear in recent years has been the tiny yapping dog. Made popular by such amazing visionaries as Paris Hilton and Tara Reid, these miniature canines can be found under the arms of popular celebrities and blonde sorority girls across the nation. Their diminutive size makes them ideal for fitting into Gucci handbags, and their constant high-pitched barking ensures that all eyes will be permanently focused on you. They are also quite good at adding a little yellow splash to a sidewalk in order to spruce up the color of an area.

Now, these toy dogs did not naturally occur on their own. They were the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding, in which useful traits (strength, tracking skills, the ability to devour a burglar who has broken into one’s home) were replaced with tiny size and the maximum amount of hyperactivity possible. They are a perfect example of form over function, with the form being that of a large rodent and the function being to run around in circles for several minutes before getting sick on your shoes. Be prepared for constant cooing and shaking of the little dogs whenever such an adorable thing occurs.

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Superheroes suffered a secret shame through the late seventies and early eighties. In between stopping supervillains from taking over the world and rescuing cats trapped up in trees, they hawked a wide variety of Hostess food products in the back pages of their comic books. Fruit Pies, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Cup Cakes, as long as it was filled with sugar and guaranteed to bring about juvenile diabetes, you could expect Captain America to offer the snack for sale while standing next to a huge American flag.

The advertisements came in the form of one-page comics in which Batman (or some other caped crusader) stopped a crime through judicious use of the food products. The Mummy, in the above ad, vows revenge against those who violated his tomb. He’s about to trap the offending professor and his daughter in a cave, when the Dark Knight appears and tosses some Hostess Twinkies in his path. The Mummy can’t resist the moist sponge cake and creamy filling, and so foregoes the murder attempt in exchange for sustenance that his three thousand year-old body has little chance of processing.

Many of the ads bordered on the completely absurd. The Fantastic Four are attacked by an afroed woman with a giant hair dryer in one who falls in love with Johnny Storm after he gives her some Hostess Cup Cakes. Thor fights astronaut hillbillies in another, stopping their assault with carefully placed Fruit Pies. The important factor with each of these comics was the strangely hypnotic power of Hostess Snack products. No one, not even Plastic Man himself, could stand fast against their delicious flavor. It’s somewhat surprising that the government never took the treats off the shelves and horded them for national security purposes.

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BAD NATURE – Kudzu


Kudzu is an invasive, creepy-crawly type of perennial vine that originally comes from Japan. Farmers there have used it for centuries to improve the topsoil, allowing its natural processes to enhance nitrogen levels and transfer rich minerals to the earth. The substance can also be made into a jelly that tastes not unlike bubble gum, so it’s a win-win situation. It was thus introduced to the United States in 1876 as a clever means to reduce soil erosion, and conservationists everywhere planted it in great numbers at the solid recommendation of the federal government.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the southeastern U.S. has absolutely perfect conditions for kudzu to thrive. The sweltering heat, coupled with heavy rainfall and mild winters, enables the thick vines to blanket everything in sight. House abandoned? Covered in kudzu. Man stopping a moment to pick up a quarter? Covered in kudzu. The United States currently loses $500 million a year attempting to combat the perpetual expansion, and it’s a losing battle. Kudzu has already been found as far north as Pennsylvania, and while the environment there is not quite as ideal, the Amish are just far too polite to ask the offending vegetation to leave.

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The St. Francis Dam seemed like such a good idea at the time. It was intended to serve as a reservoir for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which provided fresh water to city residents who hadn’t quite noticed that they’re living in a desert. The liquid comes from a full 233 miles away, and engineers figured a reservoir would help safeguard against future droughts should the canals ever be damaged by earthquakes. The city was growing rapidly, so it made sound financial sense to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

Unfortunately, the dam would be a worst-case scenario. It was designed by William Mulholland, a self-taught engineer who had risen up through the ranks of the Bureau of Water Works and Supply. He seemed like a natural choice, being renowned for his economic restraint (cheapness), and ability to finish projects on time (he shouted at people a lot.) Mulholland decided to place the dam in the middle of the San Fransquito canyon, and decided to add about ten feet to the top of the structure for no particular reason.

Shortly after the massive dam was completed, numerous cracks began to appear in the side of the barrier. Some of them sprung sizeable leaks, pouring a continuous dredge of muddy water into the reservoir. Mulholland took a trip out to the dam and investigated the visible deterioration, but dismissed the breaches as normal. It is unknown if he dismissed the Grim Reaper rubbing his hands together fiendishly at the nearby flow station as well.

On March 12, 1928, the St. Francis dam broke. Twelve billion gallons of water immediately rushed through the base of the canyon, washing away homes, vehicles, and the local hydroelectric plant. The flood continued south to decimate the town of Castaic Junction, and then pushed through the cities of Fillmore and Bardsdale before rolling through Ventura County and finally plunging its soaked and battered contents into the Pacific Ocean. At that point, the deluge was nearly two miles wide; that’s the size of thirty-five football fields.

The source of the calamity was later determined to be due to three factors: the instability of the surface rock (known, quite literally, as paleomegalandslide), the mistake of not addressing the additional height that was added to the dam, and the fact that Mulholland was pretty stupid. More than 600 people lost their lives to the catastrophe, which would later become known as the worst U.S. engineering failure of the 20th century.

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Happy Days was a break-out hit during the 1970’s. It depicted a simpler time, or rather, people’s memories of a simpler time, with classic cars and bee-hive hairdos and such stirring dialogue as “Sit on it, Potsie.” The show featured Henry Winkler as ‘The Fonz’, a leather jacket wearing greaser who was known for his trademark double thumbs up gesture, and supernatural ability to force jukeboxes to succumb to his will. He was the epitome of cool, and no matter where he went a constant stream of girlish squeals was sure to follow.

Shortly into the fifth season, it was decided that ‘the Fonz’ would jump over a deadly shark on some water-skis. This was a perfect companion piece to an earlier episode in which he had jumped over a set of garbage cans with his motorcycle (and, unexpectedly, had frozen in mid-air for a full week before landing back down again.) Suffice it to say, ‘the Fonz’ succeeded in his daring attempt, but not before viewers realized that maybe, just maybe, the show had veered into ludicrous territory. Happy Days naturally lasted for six more seasons.

The phrase “Jump the Shark” now refers to the sad point in a television program where the quality has obviously passed its peak. This may be due to a shift in location, a Very Special Episode, or the fact that Ted McGinley has been added to the cast. Once something like that occurs, there’s no going back, and though you can keep pumping out episodes, the magic that once filled the town of Mayberry with so much charm will have departed for greener pastures.

Famous examples of TV shows jumping the shark:

– Dick Sargent replacing Dick York as Darrin on Bewitched. They both had the same first name, so who would notice?
– The Beverly Hillbillies switching to color, y’all.
– Laverne and Shirley moving to Los Angeles, for reasons that still aren’t clear to the viewing audience.
– Nancy Reagan appearing on Different Strokes to tell viewers to “Just Say No.”
– Leonardo DiCaprio joining the cast of Growing Pains as a troubled teen when TV executives realized that Jeremy Miller was not going to be the totally hot replacement for Kirk Cameron that they had hoped.
– David and Maddie finally getting together on Moonlighting, thereby removing all sexual tension and the main draw of the show.

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It’s happened to anyone who owns a computer. You’re surfing the internet, looking for that video of the cat falling off the television, when you click on a link and, instead of going to the website in question, a massive pop-up ad appears. If you’re lucky, it’s just a minor irritation that you can close and continue on to the feline hilarity, but more often than not, this action simply opens another pop-up, and then another one, until your taskbar has been cluttered with dozens of flashing advertisements offering herbal Viagra at amazing discount prices.

Most web users ignore the banner advertisements at the top of the screen, so pop-up ads force them to take a moment to look at the incredibly awesome deal in question. What this fails to take into account is the highly negative emotions which are transferred to the subject due to the intrusive nature of the ads. You generally don’t want people associating your product with torn shirts and screams of impotent rage. The fact that many pop-up ads attempt to infect the computers with spyware makes them even more dubious, but rest assured they’ll often provide a pop-up ad offering software to remove the offending programs at the same time.

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Here’s a question: What do you do if a dead sperm whale accidentally washes onto the local beach shore?

That was the problem faced by the Oregon Highway Division in November of 1970. They knew that they couldn’t just bury the whale, because scavengers would dig up the corpse, and the thing weighed nearly eight tons, so they couldn’t haul it away. The Oregon Highway Division is known for its preponderance of bad backs. After some deliberation, they finally decided to use dynamite to blow the remains up. The idea was to break the whale into tiny bite-sized pieces, which would then be eaten by the seagull population (who are notoriously fastidious about such things).

The local Channel 2 News team heard about the planned detonation, and so decided to film it for a special segment. A small crowd of onlookers gathered as well, because, let’s face it, how often does a person get to see something like this occur? George Thornton (the engineer in charge) laid out twenty cases of dynamite, ordered everyone to keep a safe distance, and after a short countdown, gave the fateful order. The sperm whale immediately exploded, and there were numerous cheers as pieces of the gargantuan carcass were launched skyward at incredible speeds.

That’s when the cries of horror began. Huge chunks of rotting whale meat started to rain down upon the scattered crowd, forcing them to flee in horror. Cars as far as a quarter of a mile away were hit by the putrescent blubber, splattering windows and in one case, smashing the passenger compartment. Plus, if you hadn’t guessed, the smell of exploded whale meat never comes out. Eventually, the terror ended, but not before a startling revelation had occurred to everyone there present – blowing up a whale with dynamite is an extraordinarily bad idea. Also, that people are stupid.

There is a website dedicated to the incident at The Exploding Whale. You can see video footage of the disintegrating whale, find newspaper articles on the subject, and even read about other whales that have exploded. Sad to say, it’s a more common phenomenon that one might think.

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