A Rule to Live By

Eliot in life jacket

Cathy and I just returned from a short camping trip on which we inadvertently discovered a new rule to live by. It could be that my judgment is a bit clouded at the moment, as my emotions are still running high from the ordeal, but right now I would say that this rule trumps all others, regardless of context:

NEVER BRING A TWO-YEAR-OLD CAMPING.

Every checklist in the world needs to be rewritten with this rule in mind. If you’re going on a trip, first make sure that it won’t involve camping with a toddler. If you’re planning a wedding, proceed only if you’re certain there won’t be any camping with two-year-olds. If you’re a heart surgeon, then before you crack open another patient’s chest, you really need to double-check — just to be safe — that you won’t end up getting roped into a camping trip with a toddler as a result of the operation you’re about to perform.

I’ll leave the details of the debacle to the reader’s imagination and focus on some positives here: (1) In the end, we did still decide to keep the two-year-old in question. (2) The child, who shall remain anonymous, seemed to have enough of a blast at certain moments on the trip that the hellish periods may indeed have been worth enduring. For him, at least. (3) We got to see a beautiful starry sky from the dark woods of Goose Island State Park.

A Nice Texas Road Trip

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Just before the end of my summer vacation, Cathy and I managed to squeeze in one last road trip. It was only two days long, but even in that short time we found some gems that are worth sharing. They are:

  • Longhorn Cavern State Park
  • Inks Lake State Park
  • The Lakeside Lodge at Lake Buchanan
  • Colorado Bend State Park

Longhorn Cavern State Park has some nice views of the hill country and a few buildings of historical interest; but the main attraction there is, of course, the cave. There are three things about it that make it interesting.

First, it was formed by flowing water rather than acidic solution. As a result, it has broad passages with smooth walls and ceilings. Some of the chambers are quite large, and one of them is sometimes used as a venue for underground concerts and weddings! During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers made gunpowder in it, and during Prohibition, somebody turned it into a restaurant (that served alcohol).

Second, the cave is home to about 30 to 40 Eastern Pipistrelle bats, which are interesting because (1) they are really tiny and cute, and (2) they are solitary. Whereas most species of bats huddle densely together on cave ceilings, each of these little guys prefers to have one chamber to itself.

The third interesting thing about the cave is a chamber that they call the Hall of Gems. Its walls are covered with beautiful crystals, many of which are about the size of your fist (some as big as your head). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any good pictures.

From Longhorn Cavern, we drove to Inks Lake State Park. The lake is quite small, but the scenery is nice, and you can rent kayaks and canoes. There are well-maintained campgrounds as well, which we intend to return and use in the near future.

That night, we stayed at the Lakeside Lodge. The building itself is somewhat old, and it is not a luxurious resort; but the view of the lake is quite nice (especially at night, with the Milky Way overhead), and the hosts, John and Virginia, are great people. We enjoyed hearing their stories, eating a huge, home-cooked breakfast, and playing with their collies, which are all rescue dogs.

The next morning, we drove to Colorado Bend State Park (note: in Texas, not Colorado). One of the main attractions there is a 60-foot waterfall (Gorman Falls), but because of the recent drought, it was all dried up. It would have been a bit hot for the lengthy trek to the waterfall anyway, so we took the Spicewood Springs hiking trail instead, which has a beautiful, emerald-green swimming hole.

You could see straight to the bottom of the hole. About twelve feet deep (maybe more), it was teeming with fish, some almost a foot long, with dark orange and blue coloration. As we swam, they played around our feet! The photo at the top of this post is us at the swimming hole; unfortunately, it doesn’t do the water justice. (It really was clear!)

There’s more to explore in the area, so we’ll be back for sure!

Our Most Costly War Is One We Won’t Even Acknowledge

Image-1I ran across the above graphic on Twitter, and I thought its point was quite powerful. It’s based on a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof that was written after the slaying of two journalists in Virginia back in 2015 and was verified on Politifact.

What it says to me is that without knowing it, we’ve been engaged in a very real war right here on American soil — a more costly one than any of the others we’ve ever fought. We freak out over terrorism — which is indeed a real and frightening threat — but perhaps we ought to be devoting more resources to combating routine gun violence (which is a bigger problem precisely because it has become “routine”).

The question, of course, is what to do about it. Some simple regulations might help. Kristof writes:

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

And then there are people who assert that we’d be safer if more people carried guns (an idea that conjures an image of the Wild West in my mind). To them, I want to ask: If that were true, then shouldn’t it be the case that in places where more people carry concealed handguns, the percentage of self-defense shootings ought to be higher than in other places? And shouldn’t it be possible to show that the percentage of overall shootings that are justified acts of self-defense increases when conceal-carry laws are enacted and more people begin to carry guns? For that matter, shouldn’t we hear about self-defense shootings much more often than we do?

Maybe the logic behind the above questions is flawed. But even if that’s the case, I’m sure they could be modified into a logically valid form. And it should be easy to do some research and find the answers. With a little research, it really is possible to figure out once and for all what kinds of action need to be taken in order to reduce gun violence. Right?

Oh, yeah. Congress has banned research on gun violence. And it’s the NRA that lobbied for the ban. Which is funny, because the NRA states with great confidence that more guns are better, and more guns make us safer. But there’s something funny going on here, because if that were true, the research would bear it out.

What is the NRA afraid of? They should be encouraging such investigations if they are so confident that guns make America a better place. Until they do so, they might as well just admit what they clearly know to be true: Common sense gun regulations and/or fewer guns would result in less gun violence, making America much safer.

In the meantime, we’re losing a war.

Please go here and sign the petition to end the ban on gun violence research.

Your Dream Lives On

I’m proud to share “Your Dream Lives On,” a new song that I recently completed. You can watch the music video on YouTube (below) or buy the mp3 here.

If you like it, please support my creative endeavors by purchasing the mp3 (It’s only one dollar!):

olenrambow.bandcamp.com

If you want the sheet music, click here to download it.

And here are the lyrics:

She was just a little girl,
Dreamin’ bigger than she knew she should.
She’d seen how cold the world could be
And had in mind to change it if she could.

She said, “I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

Well, life made her a widow
With a baby boy to bring up on her own.
And she spent all of her energy
Providing for that boy till he left home.

And all too soon, the years had slipped away,
And she lay dying in her bed.
As the tears were streaming down her cheeks,
She looked me in the eye, and then she said:

“I searched so hard but never found
Those healing words. I never sang that song.
I never lit that fire, never led the march,
And now my dream is gone.”

And I told her, “Mama, your dream will never die.
I watched you live your life. You made me who I am.
I heard you sing your song and saw you lead the march.
You lit the fire inside of me, and so your dream lives on.”

“And now I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

Well, that was forty years ago,
And now it’s time for me to go as well.
As the tears come streaming down my cheeks,
I take my daughter’s hand, and then I say:

“I searched so hard but never found
Those healing words. I never sang that song.
I never lit that fire, never led the march,
And now the dream is gone.”

And she says, “Daddy, your dream will never die.
I watched you live your life. You made me who I am.
I heard you sing your song and saw you lead the march.
You lit the fire inside of me, and so your dream lives on.”

“And now, I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

“I’m gonna sing the song that will save the world.
I’m gonna speak the words that will heal our souls.
I’m gonna light the fire that will burn away the darkness.
I’m gonna lead the march that will make us whole.”

‘Cause she was just a little girl,
Dreaming bigger than she knew she should.

The Chronicles of El Guapo (Entry 8)

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Dearest Minions,

Once again, an almost inexcusable amount of time has lapsed since my last status report. I can only plead that life is busy when the universe revolves around you — and I know that you will understand.

The past few months have been eventful. Just two weeks ago, my most trusted minions abducted me and held me hostage at a fishing resort in Bemidji, Minnesota (of all places). I resisted fiercely, screaming at the top of my lungs throughout the multiple plane rides, but to no avail. The only rewards for my effort were glares from my fellow captives, those poor souls who were belted to the seats surrounding me on the flight.

In the course of the ordeal, my maternal minion caught a fish:

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My paternal minion stood on a rock:

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And I attempted to dig my way out of captivity using nothing but a few pots and a discarded ice tray:

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I was unable to escape on my own, but fortunately, my parental minions did at last come to their senses and take me back home, where I am once again deeply entangled in schemes of the utmost significance.

Time is short, and I must now set my pen down and return to my pressing duties. As always, I exhort you to remain steadfast in your devotion to the Cause.

In Virtue and Splendor,

El Guapo

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

A couple of years ago, my brother asked me to write down an advanced-looking mathematical expression that was equal to the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. I sent him the following:

Answer to Life the Universe and Everything

I’m posting it now because my brother recently informed me that someone successfully simplified the expression mathematically, showing that it does indeed reduce to the requisite numerical value. Many people were, of course, able to guess what number it was supposed to equal. But now someone has shown it mathematically.

Now I shall get to work on constructing a mathematical version of the question that the above expression answers…

 

I Know Why We Sleep

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image source: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/pr/2013/05/21/trivia-tuesday-sleeping-like-a-baby/

I’ve heard several scientists say that we still don’t really understand the purpose of sleep. In their TED talks, Russell Foster and Jeff Iliff propose some possible explanations. Foster’s ideas sound like mere common sense, while Iliff’s suggestion is more interesting: He claims that during sleep, waste products are purged from our brains. In other words, your brain poops while you’re sleeping.

That may be true. But I have my own theory. It’s kind of a joke, but deep down, I think there might be something to it. It’s something that any parent will recognize as an almost certain truth. And it’s simple: Sleep evolved so that little kids would periodically shut down, leaving parents free to do the things that they need to do in order to keep their family alive.

Consider what happens when you have a baby: You’ve got this tiny, helpless thing that screams incessantly, thereby attracting predators that Mommy and Daddy have to keep fending off. After a while, this thing starts crawling all over the place — into thorn bushes and ant hills, and over the edges of cliffs — so you have to spend all of your time running around protecting it from self-inflicted injuries. And on top of that, the thing keeps putting everything into its mouth. Constant vigilance is required to ensure that your baby doesn’t choke or poison itself.

Under these circumstances, a mother and father living on the high plains will never have time to do anything. They won’t be able to gather food, cook a meal, build a shelter, make clothing, start a fire, or even take a dump without their baby going off and getting itself killed. So all the people whose children don’t periodically shut down will be weeded out by natural selection. Of course, this must go back much earlier than humans. Our shrew-like ancestors also would have needed time to hunt, gather food, find shelter, and so on. And so they would have needed for their children to sleep, too.

If my theory is correct, one must ask why adults also need sleep. But it could simply be that an adult’s need for sleep is just a remnant of what was vital in childhood, or that sleeping as an adult provides other benefits, as described in the brain-poop theory. What’s telling is that kids need so much more sleep than adults, thereby giving their parents time to get shit done.

So, how’s that for a theory? I think there might be something to it. Maybe sleep is mostly about recharging, getting rid of waste, and conserving energy. But perhaps there was also some evolutionary pressure for children to sleep longer hours than their parents and to nap during the day, not for the sake of recharging or conserving energy, but for the sake of giving their parents time to do what was necessary to keep the child alive.