Tag Archives: humor

346. Science, just for fun

rat-hereTeaching should be fun for teacher and student alike. That’s my perspective, but I have to admit that I had it easy on that front because I taught science. Science is full of falling things, and flying things, and squishy things, and stinky things. If I had to teach English, or social studies, or math, I would certainly have a different view of how much fun teaching is.

Here is an example. CH4 is the formula for methane gas. Teaching chemical formulas could get a little obscure and uninteresting if you let it, but there are always “interesting facts” that you can throw in to help keep things rolling. For instance, methane is what comes out of the gas pipes that you cook with if you live in a city. It’s also what comes out of cows and ends up in the news as a bovine generated greenhouse gas. If you leave a stove on without lighting it, you smell it, but methane is odorless. How does this happen? The gas company puts a chemical in with the methane that stinks when fresh, but burns up without stinking if a fire is lit.

This is the point when some wiseacre will say, “If methane is odorless, why do farts stink?”

And you can answer with a straight face, “Well, if you consider where they come from, and what the gasses have to push their way through, and the little particles they are carrying with them . . .”

If you can’t make science fun, you probably shouldn’t be teaching it.

One of the things that come up in middle school science is the conservation of matter. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, except in nuclear reactions; it just changes form. Methane gas combines with oxygen to create carbon dioxide and water. You know the equation, and you’ve probably had to balance it. My students had to do it, too. You have to do the work if you are going to learn.

But there is nothing wrong with spicing things up occasionally with an illustrative story. Even Jesus used parables.

Consider the story of Billy, who never believed what he was told.

I would begin this story with a drawing on the board like the one at the top of this post, except that there would be a cartoon of a dead rat, on its back, where the word “rat” is.

The story begins — When Billy came into science class one day, his teacher had put a dead rat on a scale and covered it with a bell jar. The scale read 7262.5 grams, the weight of the bell jar plus the rat. Billy’s teacher said, “This is part of a two week long experiment. Don’t touch the setup.” Then he taught something else.

The next day, things didn’t change. After the third day, the rat had started to swell up. (I didn’t take two weeks for this. The whole story took about fifteen minutes. At this point I erased and redrew the rat with a distended belly.)

By Friday, the rat was huge, and it was all Billy could do to keep from lifting the bell jar and poking it. But he didn’t. Even though the rat was huge, the scale still said 7262.5 grams.

Over the weekend, the rat blew up. When Billy came in on Monday, there was nothing left but a skeleton wrapped in a busted skin, with a few oozing guts. The air around the rat was kind of brown and the scale still said 7262.5 grams

(At this point I had redrawn the rat to match the description. This was also the point when I elicited from my students just what was happening and why the scale still read the same.)

Billy just didn’t get it. He couldn’t understand why the scale stayed the same when the rat was reduced to almost nothing. His teacher had explained that the rat’s mass had been converted to gasses which were trapped in the bell jar. Since the gasses could not escape, the scale had no reason to change.

Billy didn’t believe it. It had to be a trick. While his teacher was across the room, helping one of his fellow students, Billy slipped up to the teacher’s desk, took hold of the bell jar, tipped it back . . .

There was a pop and a hiss as the bell jar came unstuck. The scale dropped to 6571.3 grams. The students in the room screamed, leaped up holding their noses and yelling at Billy, and ran for the back of the room . . .

You get the point. They got the point. And we had a lot of fun besides.

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308. All I Really Need to Know

dscn4338All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from my Dogs

Please don’t throw rocks at me, but that kind of prissy, perfect, and pretentious tag line activates my gag reflex. Let me suggest a different, more realistic take on life.

Everything I need to know, I learned in the dairy barn.

I’m not talking about a modern milk factory, but a real, old fashioned 1950s kind of dairy. To find one today, you’d have to go to a third world country.

You’ve all seen milk and yoghurt ads showing perfectly clean, starkly black and white Holsteins standing knee deep in green, green grass. Erase that picture from your mind. It never happened.

Holstein calves come out of the womb clean, but from three days after birth they will never be black and white again. They are brown to the knees from the dust and dirt – and other things – that boil up when they walk. Their tails become a black club of matted cockle burs – and that other thing.

The grass in the ads looks so perfect because no creature is allowed to graze there before the ad is shot. Turn a herd of cattle out and in four days it will be matted, scarred, pockmarked with hoofprints, and covered with steaming piles of the fertilizer which completes the circle of life.

No complaints, you understand. A herd of cattle on a green meadow is beautiful, but the grass will be eaten down, and the ground itself will look like a billion angry golfers have been making divots. It will be nothing like pristine.

It all comes down, finally, to this. Cows produce three things. One is a clear, yellow, somewhat odorous liquid, which they produce in copious volumes. One is a brown to green semi-solid, and they produce mountains of this. One is the thick, white liquid that feeds the nation.

You can’t get the one you want, until you figure out how to handle the other two.

Just like life.

249. The Presidency That Wasn’t

Greetings, my fellow Americans. This is the first time in my life that America has gone to the polls with so little to hope for and so much to fear.

On February 29 of this year I wrote a silly story about a child born on Leap Day. I repeated it, in longer form, on July 6. As the Presidential campaign degenerated, the story haunted me with a view of a lighter and better version of things. I had written the end of the story first; now I felt impelled to go back and fill in the beginning and the middle over a number of posts spaced out through the summer and autumn. If you want to see them, check out the tag cloud for Leap.

Today is the big day, the day of Leap’s fate and unwanted triumph. I can’t leave him hanging. I have to tell the ending again, somewhat abbreviated, this time. I owe him that much, after all I’ve put him through in his alternate America.

********

In 1952 a boy was born on Leap Day. His Dad was named Alan Hed, and he wanted to give his son the same name, but his wife had a quirky sense of humor. She named him Leap Alan Hed, and all his childhood acquaintances called him Leap A. Hed.

The teasing drove him to a foolish act. Leap began to count his age by Leap-day-birthdays. When he was sixteen, he started putting his age down as four. He spent a lot of time talking to the principal about that, until the school finally got tired of the whole business.

The draft board wasn’t amused when he turned eighteen and still claimed to be four, but when the 1969 draft lottery gave him draft number 285, they stopped worrying.

Leap never married (he claimed he was too young) and the IRS was indulgent. They figured he would regret his claims when he wasn’t eligible for Social Security until he was 260 years old.

Leap eventually put that nonsense behind him, but not soon enough. Billy Joe Barker, a newspaper columnist, heard about him and touted him as a write-in candidate for President in 2016. It started as a joke, but it caught fire. If you’ve read any recent posts, you know the details.

Donald Trump denounced him. Nothing new there. Donald denounces everybody.

********

Unfortunately, some jokes get out of hand.

When the polls opened, well over a hundred million people wrote in Leap Alan Hed, each thinking he was the only person in America who would do so. It brought a landslide in both the popular vote and the electoral college.

Weren’t the voters surprised? And wasn’t Leap terrified? He headed for Canada – he had camped near the border the night before just in case – and sought asylum. The Canadians didn’t want any part of the controversy. They wouldn’t let him in.

Leap thought about moving to another country, but there wasn’t anywhere else he wanted to live. And there probably wasn’t any country that would take him. Except Russia, and he was no Snowden. Or Manafort.

He decided to just disappear, and he did. I don’t know where he went; he didn’t tell me. Geraldo claimed to know, but that turned out to be a bluff. Somebody said that he crossed the Canadian border and was heading north, following a compass, but everybody knows you can’t walk to the North Pole now that the ice caps have melted. Probably looking for a Fortress of Solitude, and you can’t blame him.

All those people who voted for Leap are now wringing their hands and wondering what is going to happen next. They never thought he would win. They never thought he would run to Canada like a modern day Draft Dodger. Which, essentially, is what he is — drafted to be President, and scared out of his wits.

Hillary has been very quiet about it all. She hopes to win in the House if they can find Leap, and get him to resign. But it’s problematical. Only fourteen Democrats and eleven Republicans were elected to the new Congress. Aside from a few Libs and Greenies, the rest are all newly elected Independents, sent by a disgusted America.

Bernie is smiling.

Donald claims he will still win, and when he does, he plans to invade Canada.

Hillary is biding her time.

********

Okay, folks, it’s been a long time since February, and Leap’s story is now over. But wouldn’t the wait for tonight’s election results be less dreary if you had written him in?

248. The Last Leap

For the rest of Leap Alan Hed’s story, check out the tag cloud for Leap.

It was late. The sun had already set and with its passing, the chill of a November evening had set in hard. Leap Alan Hed – calling himself Joe and hoping that none of his homeless companions around the fire would recognize him – pulled his coat closer around his shoulders and stretched his hands out to the fire.

It was a vain hope. The press had hounded him out of his home in Dannebrog, and hounded him half way across America and back again. His picture had been spread across the country in countless newspapers and television broadcasts.

One of his companions said, “Joe,” and his tone said that he knew the real name behind the nom de flight, “tomorrow is the big day. What do you think will happen?”

Leap said, “I don’t know. They won’t vote for me. They aren’t that stupid, no matter how frustrated they have become. They will vote for Hillary and God knows what that will mean. Or maybe even He doesn’t know. Or they will vote for Donald, and everybody knows what that will mean.

“In a few days, or maybe a few weeks, I’ll be able to surface again and get back something like a life of my own. I just hope there’s a country for me to go back to.”

His companion shrugged, and said, “I don’t have a life to go back to. I haven’t had anything like a life in years. I can’t vote for you, or anybody else. You have to have an address to register to vote and I haven’t had an address in years. But I would vote for you.”

“Why, for God’s sake? Why?”

“Because you aren’t him and you aren’t her, and anybody else is better. Somebody has to do the job. At least you don’t want it, and that means something.”

“If nominated, I won’t run. If elected, I won’t serve.”

“I don’t think so. I think you would come out of hiding and do your duty.”

Leap shook his head, and just said, “No.”

“Its going to be Donald or Hillary or you,” the other said.

Leap sighed. He said, “No good can come of this.”

***************

GOOD LUCK, AMERICA.

236. American Voices

If you are just discovering Leap Alan Hed, his story is getting rather long. Try the tag cloud under Leap.

Leap Alan Hed was going to Tulsa, to have it out with Billy Joe Barker. It had been eight weeks since he left his home in Dannebrog, running from the media circus that Barker had set in motion by calling on Americans to write in Leap’s name for President. Barker had started it all; Leap figured Barker owed it to him to at least try to stop it.

It was hard for Leap to travel. He could go by bus, slumped down, face covered by the brim of his hat, and take his chances on being recognized. That was how he got to Hays, Kansas. There he picked up a ride with a friend of a friend from Dannebrog who took him as far as northern Oklahoma. He found himself stranded in Ochelata on a Sunday morning.

By now Leap was hungry for normalcy, and on Sunday morning, that meant church. He couldn’t go in, of course. If you are from the city, or the north, you may not know this, but when you go into a small town southern church as a visitor, everyone in the congregation will come up and shake your hand, ask you your name, welcome you to their fellowship, and half of them will invite you for Sunday dinner. Leap would have loved that, but since his face had been in every newspaper in America . . .

The Ochelata Baptist Church was a long, low green roofed building, built around a courtyard. There was a park on the east, so that was the direction Leap used for his approach. He walked in, as bold as if he belonged there, across the park to the blind back of the sanctuary where he settled down hidden by a few trash cans and sat for two hours listening to the service taking place on the other side of the wall. From time to time, his eyes were awash with the moisture of homesickness.

He slept the day out in a wooded ravine, and walked southward on Highway 75 during the night. Morning found him somewhere, but he didn’t know where, hungry, cold, and discouraged. He was in front of a convenience store, on the outskirts of a small town, so he pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt and went in. He kept his eyes floorward as he picked out a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee, and didn’t look up at the checkout where the surveillance cameras are clustered. Outside again, he found a bench at the edge of the light.

He was on his second donut when a pickup rolled to a stop. A man of fifty got out and exchanged a few parting words with his driver before she u-turned and disappeared. Everything about their casual friendliness said man and wife. He was carrying a brown paper bag that said “lunch”. He crossed to Leap’s bench and sat down.

He glanced at Leap, looked away, then his head snapped back again. He studied Leap for about five seconds, then turned his head back toward the road and didn’t look again.

Discovered! This man knew exactly who Leap was, but he made no acknowledgment. With eyes averted, the man talked as casually as if he didn’t know Leap’s identity. Leap had seen that reaction several times in the farm country and small towns where he had been wandering these last weeks. People in rural America have a respect for privacy and a willingness to mind their own business which he found admirable

Leap’s benchmate said was waiting for a bus that would take him west to Sperry where he had a job as a school custodian. And, yes, there was another bus that went south to Tulsa. After twenty years as a skilled lathe operator in a small factory, the man had lost his job after 2008. He had been out of work, except for odd jobs, for seven years, and now he was pushing a broom at age fifty, and glad to get the work.

He had gone from Democrat, to Republican, then further with the rise of the Tea Party. He had no faith in government, no faith in politicians, but he still had faith in free enterprise. Where he had worked all his life, the owner had been just down the hall, working all day behind a second hand desk in a room with plywood walls. They had gone to the same church, and every decision the owner had made had included concern for his employees.

The factory made small parts, that went onto larger parts, that then went onto automobiles. In 2008, the system collapsed and the factory folded. Leap’s temporary friend blamed free trade and Hillary and Obama. He did not blame large corporations and their CEOs. His vision of free enterprise was a hard working owner in a dusty plywood room, with forty hard working employees out on the floor making things. Multi-national corporations were outside his experience and outside his imagination.

The bus rolled up with whoosh of air brakes. As the man got up, he added, shaking his head, “Donald Trump says he’s going to fix all that.”

“Do you believe him?”

“No, not really.”

“Are you going to vote for him?”

“I might. Probably not, though. It’s hard to vote for a man that full of hate.”

After a pause, he added, “I might just throw my vote away on this guy called Leap. That way I won’t be responsible for what happens later.”

225. Somewhere in America

Leap Alan Hed has been around all summer. If you want to look up the rest of his story, go to the tag cloud and hit Leap.

From Leap Alan Hed, somewhere in America, to a favorite cousin,
(I can’t tell you exactly where he is. Someone might find this.)

Dear Anne,

I’m still on the run from the news media and from those who would write me in as President.  I’ve been on the road now for about six weeks. I’ve lost weight and grown a beard, but anyone who looks closely could still recognize me, so I stay hidden most of the time. That was almost a blessing at first. The high Rockies were beautiful when I could stay there. It has been getting colder every day for a while now, and I have had to come down, so I am once again hiding too close to people.

I thought the desert would be open and empty enough for me to go unnoticed, but it isn’t. I stumbled onto a deserted shack and made myself comfortable last night. Then I had midnight visitors. Five Mexicans: two young men, one young woman, a child, and an old man. They must have been a family. You could tell they were just over the border and on their way north looking for work.

Donald would have crapped himself to be caught by a bunch of “rapists and murderers”, but, of course, they were just frightened people, looking for a little peace. And hungry. Both hungry in the long term sense that had sent them looking for work, and hungry right now. I don’t speak enough Spanish to matter, but sometimes smiles and gestures are enough. I shared my food with them. I cooked up all I had, but it wasn’t enough. Tomorrow I’ll have to take a chance and find a place to buy more.

They left this morning before the sun came up. They were very quiet as they went, but the child’s voice woke me. The old man was last to leave. He is probably my age but he looks a hundred years old. He saw that I was awake, so I said, “VIa con Dios,” and he made a little wave as he slipped out the door. I wish them well, but I fear for them. I fear that they will be caught, or die in the desert as so many do. And I fear for what will happen to them after November.

Damn these people who chose Hillary and Donald, and now they hound me to run as a joke President. I’ll bet they thought it was funny, when it all started. Well, very little of this seems funny to me now.

I’d better quit so I can mail this when I go looking to buy food. Anyway, if I get any angrier, I’ll set the paper on fire just touching it. Soon November will have come and gone, and I can come out of hiding, and see you and Ted again. Bake me an apple pie, say November 15th, and I’ll be there to eat it.

I wonder what will become of my new Mexican friends in November?

      Love,
      Leap

217. Interview, by G, part 2

There must be a thousand Democrats that would make a better president than Hillary, and a hundred thousand Republicans who would make a better president than Trump. That line is from yesterday’s post. Since this is part 2, you really should read part 1 before continuing.

G.: “If the choices are so unpalatable, would you choose one anyway?”

Leap: “Choice isn’t really the word. I would vote for Hillary if I could, but since I’m on the run from the media, there is no way I can get within miles of my polling place.”

G.: “You wouldn’t vote for a write-in, or a registered third party?”

Leap: “Third parties never win. Third party candidates don’t expect to win, they are just using the election to make a statement about their beliefs. If a third party candidate won, it would scare hell out of him. Just like me.”

G.: “So you don’t really like Hillary, you think third parties are throwing away your vote, and you don’t want the job. So why not Donald Trump?”

Leap: “The wall. A million reasons, but most of all, the wall.”

Leap continues: “Let me tell you a story. I worked as an engineer all my life. The company I worked for built farm equipment. Once, they sent me to California for a few years, to a plant near Salinas.

“There weren’t any undocumenteds in our facility, although more than half the staff were Mexican American. Several of them became my close friends, and they are the ones who opened my eyes to the facts.

“I spent a lot of time in the field, watching the equipment we built being used. Everywhere I went I saw swarms of migrant farm workers. Mexicans – that’s what everybody called them. Whether they were Mexican American, legal immigrants, or illegal immigrants didn’t matter. Mexicans. I saw how hard they worked and under what terrible conditions. I saw the shacks they lived in, and it didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem American.

“I asked my Mexican American friends back at the plant and they explained. Farm workers live in fear of immigration officers. Even the ones who are here legally know a whole community of those who aren’t, or at least are on the borderline of legality. Children who were born here, American citizens, live in fear that their parents will be deported.

“It makes them pliable. Deportation is a whip in the hands of their employers.

“A wall – what a joke. We have a wall. It doesn’t stop the hungry, because it isn’t supposed to stop the hungry. It exists to let workers through, and then remind them that if they step out of line, they will find themselves back on the other side.

“America couldn’t survive without a wall that lets through workers who will be silent and docile and work for slave wages under slave conditions.”

*****

Foolish Leap. He set up the interview to show how much he didn’t want to be a write-in candidate, the made the mistake of letting his passion show. He made the mistake of making sense, in a world that is hungry for sense, so of course he made his own life worse.

The interview galvanized the nation. Leap’s anti-candidacy went from being a curiosity to being a real alternative. New websites sprang up everywhere, along with tweets by the hundreds of thousand, and even a dozen fake Facebook accounts.

The biggest of them all was hashtag #Leapthewall. Commentators were forced to search for a new term to replace “went viral”. Viral didn’t do it justice.

And Leap went back on the run.