Saturday, October 27, 2007


To nobody's surprise Halloween is now steeped in the muck and mire of witches, ghosts and evil goblins far from the reality of the origins of the Celtic festival of Samhain to Old Hallow’s Eve or even the modern Mexican Day of The Dead (El Dia de los Muertos).

I just saw a story on NBC where one American homeowner has amassed an army of ghoulish creatures that include animated skeletons - some of whom puke green slime - all encamped in front of his house which is fully covered with Halloween ornamentation. He conservatively estimated that his investment was easily in the six figures. Yikes! All this punctuates that Halloween is mostly a commercial event second only to Christmas in dollars spent for decorations.

For most Americans the Halloween season sparks a renewed interest in all things macabre and finds such classic horror movie hits as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and more modern offerings like Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, The Omen, Poltergeist, Friday the 13th, Freddy vs. Jason, Carrie, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, and a multitude of other horror flicks seasonally replayed with the intent to induce cardiac arrest or at the least a good strong A fib or PVC.

But, is that what Halloween is all about? Absolutely Not. Once again, we don’t have it right. Like all other major holidays Halloween is the modern product of the Christian Church (blame the Catholics) and marketers who have seemingly built our national persona on the back of this holiday and other legends and lore in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Ca-Ching!

The reality is that the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sow-Wayne) was not a ghoulish god of the dead, rather a celebration of the end of summer – a joyous harvest festival – that marked the end of the old year and start of a new one. With the premeditated help of the brand-spanking-new Christian church and conservative Christians, then and now, Samhain has been perverted for most into a “fearsome night, a dreaded night, a night in which great bonfires were lit to Samana the Lord of Death.“ Aside from the fact that no such god existed and that most of our “modern” ghouls and goblins and all “wicked spirits” have evolved from this well-planned rewriting of history, it appears that the modern conception of Halloween has become de rigueur, manna to modern commercial marketing pros – pass the corn candy, please.

The Church, intent on eliminating any trace of old Druidic customs and anything Pagan, embraced Samhain. But they turned it one-hundred and eighty degrees off center and introduced the then foreign concept of the devil – that they would be protected from him by embracing Christianity? They forever robbed their mostly uncooperative parishioners of their innocence and set the stage for the modern church celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls’ Day. These celebrations were eventually merged in many cultures because of their close proximity and Halloween became a festival of Christian dead.

With the Christian concept of The Devil and the “Jesus-is-Savior" assurances that Wicca worships the devil (though they don’t even recognize any such entity) and the contemporary recognition by many conservative Christians who would have you believe that Harry Potter, the Teletubbies and PBS’s Barney the Dragon are all personifications of the devil, the absolute reality of evil spirits and you have the recipe for our modern American Halloween tradition. Aside from cute little youngsters in Bunny and Captain Jack Sparrow costumes trick or treating with their parents, there seems little redeeming grace in this festival.

On an upwardly positive note the Mexican Day of the Dead which saw its origins over 4000 years ago when the ancient Olmecs and later Aztecs remembered and annually revered their dead is worthy of our note. The Catholic Church came along and like the above chronology, tried to pervert that celebration. It would appear that the church was far less successful with our Mesoamerican Brothers and Sisters for the Day of the Dead remains a healthy, respectful celebration that memorializes and welcomes the souls of the dead back to an earthly plane where for a brief time they can once again enjoy the pleasures of the living. The Day of the Dead which lasts up to three weeks is not a scary time, rather a Family-centered celebration that replaces the sorrow of death with a vibrant festival of life.

Those with ulterior agendas proclaim that the food offered by Mexican families to their dead during this celebration is an attempt to placate or bribe them when in fact; they are literally feeding their loved ones while they are back among us. The living offer bread, sugar (sugar skull, anyone?) and even booze for the adults. They bring toys for the children and decorate their graves with orange marigolds in order to attract their departed loved ones. This is certainly an appropriate festival that celebrates Family and puts death in its proper perspective.

Another group of folks who have this day in perspective includes the recruiting Employees of a well known Texas company (where I recently did some recruiting) who used the holiday to positively enhance their Employee morale and team building efforts. A pumpkin decorating contest and other games with prizes, gifts, kudos by management and an impressive lunch catered by the Employees and company well-served their organization. Well done!

While I probably won’t be trick or treating this year I will be monitoring the front door though only after I have mixed up my favorite Dia de los Muertos beverage - a Margarita anjeo. Later, I intend to curl up in my favorite chair and read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and then Tam O’Shanter by Scottish Poet Laureate Robert Burns all the while eating some candy corn.

Thanks, Aye

Ned Buxton

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I was just over on the internet presence of The Weather Channel (TWC) and saw a great piece, Canary in the Coal Mine done by Tim Liotta, Managing Editor of TWC's Forecast Earth who was documenting the effects of the terrible drought they are experiencing over in Atlanta and many other parts of the southeast. The article was well done and should be a wake up call for all those who have heretofore taken our natural resources for granted.

As a former resident of Georgia and one who has frequently paddled The Hooch and played in the formerly plenteous waters of Lakes Sidney Lanier and Allatoona, I commiserate with my many Friends and Family yet in Georgia. Allatoona is near bone-dry and Lake Lanier is nearing a historic low with some predicting that with a dry winter the old bed of the Chattahoochee River may even be revealed. Aesthetics aside, there is real concern over the even near-term prospects of the sufficiency of their drinking water supply (90 days?) with all outdoor watering, lengthy showers, etc all banned. We might want to check to see what effect this may have on Atlanta population surges nine months hence – share a shower with a Friend!

This already critical situation is being further exacerbated with the mandated U. S. Army Corps of Engingineer releases of the dwindling, remaining water of Lake Lanier in order to maintain populations of endangered freshwater Florida mussell and fish populations. Environment and politics aside, the current mandates obviously favor our bivalve Friends much to the chagrin of Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and most of the residents of Georgia.

That said, one wonders if this isn't a Darwinian exercise as the ever increasing population of the Atlanta metropolitan area (1970's 1,763,626 to the present 5,314,283+ folks) hasn't been matched with an equally responsible effort to increase water resources. The expansion of water treatment facilities is inadequate as the primary source for those waters remain the Chattahoochee River/Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona. Bottom line: Atlanta has outgrown it's water supply.

Despite that dose of reality I thought to offer some comfort to those in the Southeast by admitting that I am here in North Texas and yes, we went through the same thing for a little over two years prior to the spring of 2007. All local lakes (artificial contrivances of the State of Texas) were close to bone dry and water rationing was real and set to go to yet another level. Entrepreneurial sorts were buying up water rights in Oklahoma and in East Texas anticipating a cash bonanza as the drought worsened.

Then, as Mother Nature would have it, all hell broke loose with major rains and flooding along with those predictable Texas tornadoes and severe thunderstorms that punctuate the excesses that seem to characterize the great Republic of Texas. Nearby Lake Lavon that was over 30 feet down is now near normal pool as are most of the other lakes in North Texas.

Accept the assurances of a still Southeastern US wannabe; the drought will break and North Georgia will once again return to the comfortable and substantial environment it once was. I hope that relief will be without the attendant severe storms and flooding that plagued Texas. Please pay attention to our ever growing urban populations and our seemingly ever decreasing natural resources and remember this lesson.

I think most of us here in Texas have a far greater appreciation for those resources we once took for granted. That failing, a visit and fine by the “Water Police” from Dallas and many of the surrounding municipalities will put the issue in proper perspective. Fines for illegal water use in Fulton and Douglas County, Georgia are now going as high as $1,000.00. That’s enough to make one join the Friends of the Earth! Anyone for Fish and Mussells Normandie?


Ned Buxton

Saturday, October 13, 2007


A good Friend recently sent me an ever-evolving e-mail called “Idiot Sightings” that features examples of the ever downward spiraling idiotic things that people say and do – everyday.

They recently included a technician who insisted that a customer purchase a greater powered motor for his garage door opener - ¼ vs. ½ horsepower – four is greater than two?, the Dallas County deputy who plugged her power strip back on itself and was absolutely confounded when her computer wouldn’t start and the dimwit who wrote his state DOT admonishing them to relocate a deer crossing sign as too many deer were being killed there. There’s lots more and while I eagerly anticipate learning about my fellow human beings’(?) foibles I realized the other day that I have another avenue to experience these same deficiencies.

It’s a popular FOX TV program called “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Hosted by ex IBMer and Redneck comic Jeff Foxworthy who seems to be perfect foil for the idiots they pick as contestants. This Southerner likes the seemingly appropriate lashings that Foxworthy dishes out to the mostly Yankee erudite wannabes that include many honor graduates who obviously don’t have a clue. At the other end of the spectrum, FOX did entertain one contestant, a standout Mensa member who walked away with $500,000.00. Again, he appears to be the exception.

This week a very attractive young lady didn’t make it past the second round when she misspelled vowel as “voul”. Her mood ring didn’t help her as she obviously has a major case of the dumbs. Another contestant earned high school honors, damned near aced his SATs and is a business major in his junior year at the University of Southern California where he is also president of his fraternity. Among other “obvious” answers he didn’t know that a ton was two thousand pounds or that Bavaria is in Germany. He had to cheat from the get-go to get the right answers and then jumped and pranced around when one after another of the fifth graders bailed him out of basic and incredibly mundane questions. He struggled with all the answers and the euphoric antics of he and his fraternity brothers when he cheated and peeked his way throughout the show casts a long shadow on the academics of the University of Southern California. In short it wasn’t entertaining any more - only embarrassing - though he walked away with $175,000.00 in prize money and the admission that he wasn’t smarter than a fifth grader!

I googled to a kid’s forum that featured comments on the show and the quality of their contestants. Most intelligently labeled the players on the show as “stupid” and the, “weirdest is when they order help on first grade questions.” to remarks that “these people are quite clearly idiots.”

There is no doubt that FOX producers interview and choose over-the-top eccentric folks, most of whom will not be able to perform well on the show and then after having failed in the game, don’t know the difference. It’s entrapment of the first order with the tragedy being that there appears to be an endless list of willing and qualified candidates out there.

I believe that it all points out to the very real overall failure and dumbing down of our educational system and the penchant of national TV in their reality craze to shamelessly exploit and open the sores of our compromised system for all the world to see. Maybe that’s a great service. Anybody listening?


Ned Buxton

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Some time ago I received an e-mail listing of thirty reasons why the sender was Proud to be Canadian (his title) with the request to, “please send it on.” The article was written in Arial Bold font, Bolded and at up to 36 points so it literally screamed at the reader.  It appeared to be created with an angst of pride and patriotic fervor though one that belied reality.  It was obviously intended as more of a United States Bash than a history lesson or even an attempt to up Canada. No doubt it could have been written anywhere in the world with the intent to get sideways with someone.

This missile was forwarded by a great Canadian Friend and later acknowledged with some amusement by other Canadian Amigos who suspected that I would take the bait and research each and every claim. I swallowed the bait – hook line and sinker.  Note that while putting together this post, I did not care who invented what nor where they came from.  My motivation?  I was initially embarrassed by the piece as I truly respect Canada and with invitation in hand even thought years ago about emigrating to the far North.

This writer’s manifesto was so far off base and my reaction so visceral that I know I can, again, be accused of tilting at windmills, I think that this yahoo needs to be held accountable for his inaccurate claims with my big fear that without protestation and clarification, history might concede his ridiculous assertions. My rehash/response is long only in that it relates to his specific assertions.  My apologies.

First, this thirty point manifesto failed to include points 16, 18 and 19 revealing the writer’s less than perfect math skills. We might surmise that somewhere along its journey someone may have deleted some of the more absurd and inflammatory assertions (they are legion). With that in mind let’s address some of his points which basically attribute certain products, inventions, etc. to the Canadians.  Mind you “Canadian” is someone born or naturalized in Canada and embracing a legal relationship with Canada involving allegiance on the part of an individual who has invented an item, in Canada.

1. Smarties: For the uninitiated Smarties are an extraordinary sugar-coated chocolate confectionery invented by Rowntree’s (now owned by Nestle’s) of York, England. The product is not distributed in the United States but is widely available in Canada, UK and other present/former Commonwealth countries and Europe. Their largest manufacturing facility is in Canada with about a third of that product now manufactured in Germany.  While they are to me the best candy in the world, they were regrettably not invented in the Far North and are hardly unique to Canada. Pants on Fire, give the English credit!

4. Canadians Invented Baseball: Modern baseball is uniquely American in origin though its development appears to be a blend of many ancient games to include the English/Irish rounders and the more formal game of cricket. The Scots also had their version of a bat and ball game. As my anthropology DNA kicks in we need note that there is also evidence that the Romans played a similar game and in more recent history (the 14th century) the Russians had a bat and ball game they called Lapta.

There is no doubt that whoever invented the game probably borrowed from many different versions of previous "bat and ball" games and that appropriately reflects both the Canadian and American distinguished pool of émigrés from all over the world. Frank Ceresi in The Origins of Baseball (Baseball Almanac, 07-2004) stated, "In truth, the game evolved over many decades, if not centuries, and its roots are, in reality, a tangled web of bat and ball games brought to this country by immigrants." The earliest reference we found to “baseball” in North America is a 1791 bylaw in Pittsfield, MA which only four years after the US Constitution was ratified, "banned the playing of baseball within 80 yards of the town meeting house."

While there was some controversy about the inventor of modern baseball it certainly still appears to be an all-American show with Alexander Cartwright of Hoboken, New Jersey being so credited with its invention in 1845. The US Congress officially acknowledged Cartwright with the invention of baseball in 1953. The earlier claims by proponents of Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, NY have been discredited. Pants on Fire!

5. Lacrosse is Canadian: It is also American and while the Hurons were known to have been playing the game in the 1400’s there is evidence that there were other Native Peoples also playing the game. The Cherokee and Creek claim the game as ancient and played the game well before recorded history in the southeastern US. Unfortunately no European was there to document their activities before then.

Since there was no Canada or America then the whole issue may be moot though the French documented the sport. I do concede that Canadian dentist George Beers standardized the game though we need note that the first college to adopt the sport was New York University in 1877.  I prefer to give North American First Nations the credit!

6. Ice Hockey is Canadian: While the modern game of hockey was invented and evolved by the Canadians it certainly appears that the precursor of the modern game was brought to Canada by the Irish, Scots and English via the British military in the late 18th century. The Scottish field game of Shinty and the Irish Hurling uses similar sticks and a ball and was eventually taken to the ice by soldiers looking for recreation and competition. I have read a British military log that described the game in the mid 1700’s. Now having said all that, the MicMac First Nation played a similar game prior to the arrival of the Europeans. The game of Ice Hockey evolved and even to this day a recreational version of the game is still known as Shinny. The effect of this game on the development of Ice Hockey was a given considering the many Scottish settlers in Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada.

As ice hockey's popularity grew, many are now attempting to claim credit for the game's origins. In his book Halifax: Warden of the North, author Thomas H. Raddall comments, “In Canada, where shinny on ice had been reshaped by merging aspects of Mi'kmaq hockey with the 1813 Boys' Own Book Rules, a number of English and Canadian individuals conveniently announced themselves as the game's originators. Some went as far as to write and publish their own versions of the so-called "official rules" in order to aid in their questionable declarations.”

Thusly, the great myth evolved. Many folks I know give the MicMac the credit especially considering the existence of ancient MicMac vocabulary that included words for skating, passing and to come on the ice.  While Canada did not exist at that time, they surely invented the modern game. Let’s consider ice hockey as Canada’s gift to the world with a nod given to the MicMac.

7. Basketball is Canadian: While Dr. James Naismith is Canadian-born and the eldest son of Scottish immigrants, his childhood duck-on-a-rock game bore no resemblance to and was not the literal precursor of basketball. The game was invented in Springfield, MA while he was employed by the YMCA and looking for an indoor winter sport for his students. We are assured that Naismith who became a naturalized American citizen in 1925 would not have thought to make this distinction.

8. Apple Pie is Canadian:  As much as it pains this American of Scottish origins, apple pie was probably first conjured up by the English and the cooks of Richard II in the 14th century. The limited use of the then very expensive and rare sugar probably made this a somewhat tart offering.  Let’s chalk this one up to the English.

9. Mr. Dress-up Kicks Mr. Rogers Butt: No doubt that American-born children’s entertainer Ernie Coombs as Mr. Dress-Up had a lasting impact on Canadian children for thirty years. He and the soft spoken Fred Rogers as the host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood complemented each other and none take precedence over the other.

Our less than scholarly author failed to note that the Mister Rogers Neighborhood show was developed by Fred Rogers in 1963 while working with the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Toronto. Yes, it’s Canadian!  Rogers bought the rights to the show in 1966 and moved it to WQED in Pittsburg and then ultimately on to PBS.  Did I say that Coombs was American born?

10. Tim Hortons Kicks Dunkin Donuts Butt: Tim Hortons is the largest purveyor of fast food (let alone doughnuts) in Canada. I like their stores and happy to see some springing up in the United States. Not surprising that Canadian hockey player Tim Horton founded the company then brought in Ron Joyce, a former Hamilton, Ontario police constable in as a co-owner.  No doubt that Joyce elicited the support of law enforcement across Canada. The recent resurgence of Dunkin Donuts to include Canada is noted though Hortons is also getting competition from Krispy Kreme and Starbuck’s. I like them all though drink Dunkin Donuts coffee every day.

11. War of 1812, “Started by America, Canadians pushed the Americans back...past their 'White House'. Then we burned it...and most of Washington”:  Here we go again.  You would think that we would stop fighting this war by the 21st century.  This may be a technicality but the Americans didn’t invade the Canadians, they invaded the British-held colonies of Upper and Lower Canada in order to remove a British strategic military advantage and, yes, they probably wanted some of that soil north of the border. The war was very unpopular in America with many American states initially refusing to send troops into the fray.

Our errant author states that the war of 1812 was started by the Americans though history documents that the British impressed/kidnapped thousands of US seamen into British service, restricted trade by third parties with America and supported/encouraged Indian revolts against American interests prompting the US to declare war.
British troops and Canadian Militia didn’t push Americans back anywhere as the various major conflicts were disjointed and based on strategic objectives. The Americans won many of the major engagements including most of the naval battles.
It surely does appear that the modern day belief by some Canadians that the “Canadians” won the War of 1812 discounts the greater participation by the mostly British regulars and their American Indian allies and is more based on the fact that the United States didn’t "grab" any “Canadian land”.

The alleged “Canadian” burning of Washington, DC would most likely be contested by General Robert Ross and his force of 2,500 British regulars who were assisted by some Canadian Militia. The British burned the White House, the Treasury Department, buildings that housed the Senate and House of Representatives, the Library of Congress and several other government buildings. They tore down the Washington DC newspaper, National Intelligencer which had been critical of British Admiral Cockburn. In fact, the British spared many buildings including the US Patent Office and all residences.

What the War of 1812 did accomplish was the formation of a Canadian identity though Canada didn’t officially exist until 1867 when the union (confederation) of three British North American colonies occurred.

While the ending of the war saw no boundary shifts, the Americans can probably lay claim to some degree of victory as the British stopped their impressment of American sailors, lifted their trade embargos and were never again any influence in the agitation of Native Peoples against Americans.  A real positive was that the Canadians can claim from that point a sense of national identity and pride.  Were it not for that war the US wouldn’t have the Star Spangled Banner and her, “land of the free and the home of the brave …” Yes, the song is American and the tune is English.  Can’t we all be Friends?

17. World’s Oldest Company: The author claims that the Hudson’s Bay Company is the world's oldest continuously operating family business. That just isn’t true. Up until 2006 the world's oldest continuously operating family business was the Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi, in operation by the founders' descendants since 578. Many, many other businesses are older than HBC and include Hoshi Ryokan Innkeeping of Komatsu, Japan which was founded in 718, Château de Goulaine Vineyard, in Goulaine, France was founded in 1000, Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli Bell Foundry of Agnone, Italy was founded in 1000 and Barone Ricasoli Wine & Olive Oil of Siena, Italy founded in 1141. I could fill this page and scores of others with the names of firms in continuous existence well before 1670. I think we have five Hudson’s Bay blankets and we love The Bay.

20. Canadians Don’t Marry Their Kin: I guess that our writer saw Deliverance too many times.  I know first cousins in Canada who are married. Their children are all apparently normal and they are absolutely delightful folks.

21. This section claims that Canadians “invented ski-doos, jet-skis, velcro, zippers, insulin, penicillin, the telephone and short wave radios that save countless lives each year.” This section has many inaccuracies to include the following.
Penicillin: The inventor of Penicillin was Alexander Fleming from Ayrshire, Scotland while at St. Mary’s hospital in London.

Insulin: No doubt that Dr. Frederick Banting of the University of Toronto along with Charles Best, biochemist J. J. R. MacLeod and Dr. James Collip isolated insulin in 1921-22. However, Nicolae Paulescu of Romania developed and held a patent on an aqueous pancreatic extract eight months before the Canadians who even referenced Paulescu's discovery. Well done all, Aye.

The Telephone: The invention of the telephone remains a controversial issue though the invention of a version is now generally credited to Antonio Meucci in 1860. Others, to include a French telegraphist, English electrician, German scientist, Italian surveyor, American Engineer, Danish inventor and Alexander Graham Bell who lived near Brantford, Ontario following his emigration from Scotland.The first successful bi-directional transmission of clear speech was made by Bell in the United States. Bell permanently moved to the United States and became a US citizen though he always maintained a summer home in Nova Scotia.

The Zipper: The inventor of the zipper as we know it today was Gideon Sundback who is sometimes claimed as Canadian, as his Lightning Fastener Company, an early manufacturer of the zipper, was based in St. Catharines, Ontario. We need to note here that while Sundback frequently visited the St. Catharines factory as president of the company, he was never, in fact, either a permanent resident or a citizen of Canada. Sundback immigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1905 and lived in Meadville, PA.  The zipper was invented in the United States.

Velcro: The hook-loop fastener was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer in Switzerland. At one time he collaborated with a French company in France. No reference to Canada found.

The Ski-Do: The rear tracked snowmobile was invented by Ray H. Muscott of Waters, Michigan, USA on June 27, 1916 with U.S. Patent # 1,188,981. The differing snow conditions in Quebec motivated Joseph-Armand Bombardier of Valcourt, Quebec to invent a different caterpillar track system suitable for all kinds of snow conditions in 1928. Bombardier refined the design and with many other firms the modern snowmobile was born in the mid to late 1950’s.

The Jet Ski: was invented by Arizonian Clayton Jacobson II (sometimes spelled Jacobsen) to include both the sit-down and stand-up models. Canadian Company Bombardier approached Jacobsen and they manufactured the Ski-Do until 1971. Jacobsen also did business with Kawasaki and Yamaha with the lawsuits to prove it. With the success of the product Canadian Bombardier started to again manufacture the Jet Ski as the Sea-Do.
Short Wave Radio? Claims by this author get more and more dubious. I suspect that he may have forgotten about Marconi. Frankly, the invention of radio can be attributed to the work of many people to especially include Nikola Tesla the Serbian/Croatian/Austro-Hungarian/American inventor who is regarded by many as one of the most important inventors in history.

29. The Zamboni – A Canadian Invention: The Zamboni was created by Frank J. Zamboni who was born in Eureka, Utah in 1901. He grew up in Utah and Idaho and evolved into an entrepreneur and inventor. When Frank moved to Southern California he opened up an ice rink, Iceland, in Paramount, California and conceived the Zamboni to resurface his ice surface. The Zamboni factory is located nearby.

The Zamboni is a lot better than the two, fifty-five gallon drums with hot water bolted to two skids with towels to apply the new ice surface at Lenox School on our outdoor rink in 1959.

23. Superman-Created by a Canadian: Jerry Siegel (aka Joe Carter) of Cleveland, Ohio and Joe Shuster [born in Toronto and immigrated to the United States (naturalized citizen)] created Superman in 1938. Shuster moved to Cleveland when he was ten and helped created Superman as an American. We can certainly give Shuster credit for his birth place.

We humbly concede claims made for Coffee Crisps and only sometimes, better beer commercials.

So, that’s the last of it.  Really no big deal though we can thank all the inventors of the world – whatever their nationality - for their imagination, creativity and drive in making the World a better place to live.

Progress, eh?


Ned Buxton