Halloween Pumpkin Carvings 2009

October 31, 2009


This October I carved a total of 15 pumpkins; not included are images of the Phantom of the Opera, skull_close_upanother Feather variation, a Candlestick, a different Skull, a 1950s style Devil and a Werewolf. The white pumpkin feather and the skull are shown twice, each after a bit of putrefaction has set in.

The Labradors depicted here are our two dogs, Huxley (facing right) and Luna (facing left). Comic book aficianados may discern my attempts to render the subtle line work of Steve Ditko (Dr. Strange) and Jack Kirby (Big Barda) in pumpkin flesh.

Happy Halloween!

Click images for larger size.

Doggie Lover Doll, A Sex Toy for Dogs — Is this Necessary?

October 31, 2009

The answer to the question posed in the title is obviously (repeat after me) No, a sex toy is not necessary for your un-neutered male dog.*


As Thorstein Veblen explained almost a century ago everything above survival level is abundance. He coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to describe the resources we spend/waste on showing how far above survival level our income is. Merely owning and maintaining a dog, in the strictest sense, sends the message that you have enough resources that you can support a non-essential animal. Click image for larger size.

In 2007 Business Week reported that Americans spent $41 billion on pets and pet care. Clearly, with a market this large there will be excesses. In 2007 the object of some (deserved) media derision was the product Neuticles, artifical testicles implanted in male dogs after neutering ” to let people restore their pets to anatomical preciseness” according to inventor Gregg A. Miller.

Now from Miami, Florida and São Paulo, Brazil comes the DoggieLoverDoll. Here’s the essential pitch from PetSmiling company’s web site. Their product is

A female canine manufactured in soft rubber with a silicone vagina and an easy to clean reservoir. The product also comes with a tube of water-based intimate lubricant, to increase the useful life of the doll.

This doll comes in three sizes: small, medium and large, to satisfy all existing races. “I had the idea to make this doll when my Maltese started to grab everybody’s legs. I did some research and couldn’t find anything like it, anywhere in the world. I decided to make it!”, reveals Marco Giroto, owner of the PetSmiling company, responsible for this worldwide novelty.

When a dog tries to hump legs, stuffed animals and other objects, he cannot reach an ejaculation. With the DoggieLoverDoll he can. Human beings have their hands to masturbate themselves, now the domestic animals, which have practically no contact with females in heat, can alleviate themselves with a toy designed specifically for them. Dogs have a great sexual appetite and this novelty, surely will better their lives.

If anyone determines that this is a well-executed hoax I would greatly appreciate your letting us all in on the gag.

doggieloverdoll_3_viewsThe tiny footprint of the parent site is just one reason my Spidey-sense is whispering Fake! in my ear. There doesn’t seem to be any retailer I can find on the web offering it for sale. And you can’t purchase it from the PetSmiling web site; there’s no order form, just an email contact. Curiouser and curiouser. If anyone spots this item for sale anywhere, please post a comment with details (and links). Click image for larger size.


*And, if you are not a dog breeder and your dog is a companion, not a working dog, you should seriously consider spaying your female dog and neutering your male dog. There are numerous benefits and the biggest hurdle (usually) is over-coming the projected anxiety of male humans who own dogs.

Get over it.

Help reduce the dog population explosion we’ve had for the past century: too many good dogs chasing after too few good homes.

“Letters of Note” – A Great New Web Site

October 31, 2009

Letters of Note is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos. Scans/photos where possible. Fakes will be sneered at. Updated 2-3 times every weekday.

A friend told me about this site and I want to help spread the word. I was especially delighted to find this letter written by Albert Einstein in which he states,

“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

To give you a sense of the wide range of topics covered on this site, here’s a letter of complaint about an Elvis Presley concert in 1956 accusing him of “sexual self-gratification on stage” and a witty response from JFK concerning the price of his autograph.

Best and Worst Web Design Techniques from Web Design Ledger

October 31, 2009

Here are a couple of links to excellent surveys of web design trends from Web Design Ledger, those that are effective and those that are over-used and should be retired.

Jacqueline Thomas surveys the Most Used and Abused Web Design Trends of All Time. I certainly agree with her on scrolling marquee text, site visitor counters, auto play music (with no obvious option to turn it off), frames, splash pages in general (and those that make you choose a Flash or HTML based version of the site), Flash intros with no ‘skip it’ option and over-used stock photography.

I will admit that I still like aqua-interface elements and reflective objects on black backgrounds, but perhaps 17 years of working on Macs has prejudiced me for these two.

Mike Smith’s 20 Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Web Design should be required reading for anyone working in this field.  What I found especially telling is his advice on the role of the web designer in relation to their client’s instructions, “they may tell you that they want the big flashy logos, or the overdone textures/gradients, but it is the job of a well skilled web designer to steer their clients in the right direction.”

Graphic designers working in all fields — print, web, film, packaging, advertising, etc. — deal with this issue constantly. When your client has a leak and hires a plumber, he (generally) doesn’t offer advice or tell him how to do his job. But clients with no skills, background or training in art or design regularly interfere with the design experts they hire.


Because every corporate cubicle monkey who can dress themselves without assistance believes they have an indefinable quality they call ‘taste.’ This qualifies them, in their view, to order designers to craft pages that simply don’t work visually and fail to communicate clearly.

“Don’t cut the copy, just reduce the font size.”

“Can you make everything bigger?”

“Just copy what they did on this web site.”

“Use a lot of red. I like red.”

After the project’s completion when they find their goals are not met, it’s simple to blame the designer and forget that they over-ruled the sensible objections raised by their graphics department.

Graphic design is not like fine art which, as Andy Warhol correctly defined is “whatever you can get away with.” There are well understood principles of design, just like there are rules in architecture. That’s because a building or a home, just like a web site or a full page ad, has to function, not merely look pretty (or ugly). You break these rules at the risk of losing your intended audience.

Preacher Kimberly Daniels on Halloween: “Most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.”

October 30, 2009

Kimberly Daniels is an author, a preacher and motivational speaker and the founder of Kimberly Daniels Ministries International. She is a self-described “recognized prophetic voice.” (Ms. Daniels, could you send me the address of the licensing body for prophetic voices? Thanks).

Ms. Daniels is on the cutting edge of contemporary theology: she offers a cell phone ministry. Now that I can buy into — my cell phone is certainly haunted by demons. They’re constantly leaving me Satanic text messages about mortgage rates, teeth whiteners and hot Russian & Korean women who want to meet me.

Normally, I would ignore the writings of the deeply religious since, in my world view, the deeply religious are deeply deluded. I agree with Richard Dawkins, “The Bible is nothing but a record of the hang ups and neurosis of some Bronze Age desert tribe.”

But Ms. Daniels has written a column, “The Danger of Halloween” that is so over the top, it is unintentionally hilarious. It’s also a tidy catalog of mis-statements, logical fallacies, revisionist history and bizarre theology. It would take too much space to point out all her errors in fact and logic, but I can’t resist responding to just a few.

Who benefits from all the festivities and merriment on Halloween? According to Ms. Daniels, “The answer to that question is very easy—Lucifer!”  (I think some of her column may have been ghost written by Dana Carvey).

The high point (for me) is her contention that Halloween candy has been “dedicated and prayed over by witches.” I immediately fired off an email to Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestlé S.A. in Switzerland to alert him to this menace plaguing his work force. I’ll report back as soon as I get his reply.

During this period demons are assigned against those who participate in the rituals and festivities. These demons are automatically drawn to the fetishes that open doors for them to come into the lives of human beings. For example, most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches.

I do not buy candy during the Halloween season. Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.

I find it odd that the demons she fears, so clever and cunning in all other regards, are too dumb to tell the difference between innocent and witch-blessed candy. They sound like slacker demons to me, and not the cream of Satan’s crop.

Ms. Daniels has all sorts of problems not only with Halloween but with Fall & Harvest festivals in general, (below). She also states that the colors orange, brown and dark red are “dedicated to darkness and. . .an accursed season.” Gather those Crayolas whilst ye can, sinner. But cast out the burnt sienna, cast it out!

Gathering around bonfires is a common practice in pagan worship. As I remember, the bonfires that I attended during homecoming week when I was in high school were always in the fall. I am amazed at how we ignorantly participate in pagan, occult rituals.

Of course, the real problem with Halloween are “the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes.”  According to Ms. Daniels, these include

  • Sex with demons
  • Orgies between animals and humans
  • Animal and human sacrifices
  • Sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood
  • Rape and molestation of adults, children and babies
  • Revel nights
  • Conjuring of demons and casting of spells
  • Release of “time-released” curses against the innocent and the ignorant

Time-released curses? “In the quiet words of the Virgin Mary. . . come again?” *

During Halloween, time-released curses are always loosed. A time-released curse is a period that has been set aside to release demonic activity and to ensnare souls in great measure.

It was news to me that curses can now be “time-released” just like all the tiny little pellets in Contac cold medicine. (Ms. Daniels, can you refer me to the specific Biblical references to “time-released curses?” Thanks, again).

If Ms. Daniels has any credible knowledge of the rape and murder of “adults, children and babies” I hope she’ll link us to to the police report she immediately filed upon learning it.

Sex with demons is one thing (we’ve all been there, right?) but, regardless of your religious beliefs, these are capital crimes she’s discussing. Even an atheist can object to wanton killing. If, in fact, there is any truth behind Ms. Daniels’ allegations. Have any arrests been made?

Ms. Daniels also claims that the mythical and literary figures that comprise the majority of Halloween costumes are real! “The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.”

It seems that Ms. Daniels is saying she personally knows howling blood addicts and parties that are even wilder than those that took place during the Stones 1972 tour of America, (if you can believe that). To paraphrase Bill Murray in Stripes, “Kimberly Daniels, you are a madman! I want to party with you, cowgirl.”

You are a madman! sound bite

I have two final thoughts about all this. Either Kimberly Daniels is a cynical huckster who wants to save your alleged soul and lighten your wallet like most religious professionals. . . or she sincerely believes this crap. I’d prefer the former, but I’m afraid the latter is more likely to be true. How sad.


* Snatch, 2000 written & directed by Guy Ritchie

Educated Beyond their Capacity for Analytic Thought – Sir Peter Medawar

October 27, 2009

Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.
— Sir Peter Medawar

Peter Medawar’s review of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin‘s The Phenomenon of Man is cited in Richard Dawkin’s latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution as one of the best negative book reviews of all time.

Sadly, the quote above is probably more true today than when originally written.

Medawar was a Nobel Prize winner in Medicine in 1960 for his work on tissue transplantation which helped make organ transplants possible. He also wrote extensively on science and philosophy. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and was part of the team that discovered the ‘Peking Man’ fossils. It has also been suggested (by Stephen Jay Gould) that de Chardin might have played a role in the Piltdown Man hoax.

In any event, de Chardin’s attempt to co-mingle his theological beliefs with his scientific knowledge in The Phenomenon of Man was originally disowned by the Church and criticized as bad science by evolutionary biologists.

What’s the Harm? A Skeptic Looks at “Spiritual Warrior” Deaths and the “Practical Mysticism” of James Arthur Ray

October 23, 2009

Three people paid almost $10,000 a piece for a New Age experience led by a self-proclaimed guru that killed them. 21 people in total were hospitalized. Source: The New York Times.

James_Arthur_RayThe spiritual leader of this credulous bunch, James Arthur Ray, (left) was promoted by Oprah Winfrey, Larry King Live and the Today Show. (How depressingly common that is for these charlatans). Click on image for larger size.

Mr. Ray is a self-described “personal success strategist” and “visionary.” He’s also a self-described “World Thought Leader” and “Behavioral Sciences Expert” who charges $25,000 to $50,000 for a single talk. He’s the author of Harmonic Wealth, a New York Times bestseller. He was also featured in the 2006 film, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, based on her best-selling book.

Ms. Byrne claims, via an alleged universal ‘Law of Attraction,’ that “your thoughts become things.” This is the very definition of magical thinking. Mr. Ray follows this line of pseudo-reasoning very closely in his own writings and teachings. For some debunking on The Secret follow these links:

LA Times
American Spectator
Village Voice
Second Sight

The Times‘s piece ends with these two damning paragraphs:

On a conference call Mr. Ray held last week for sweat lodge participants, Dr. [Beverly] Bunn [a 43 year old othrodontist from Texas] was shocked to hear one recount the comments of a self-described “channeler” who visited Angel Valley after the retreat. Claiming to have communicated with the dead, the channeler said they had left their bodies in the sweat lodge and chosen not to come back because “they were having so much fun.”

Dr. Bunn had a less charitable view: “They couldn’t re-enter their bodies because they were dead.”


Full Disclosure: I’ve been involved in organized skepticism since the early 1980s and was a co-founder of the New York Area Skeptics in 1985. I also designed their logo. An early diet of MAD magazine and Lenny Bruce informed my nascent skepticism. Humor, as I see it, is inherently skeptical and deflating of the pompous and the deluded. As H.L. Mencken famously said, “One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.”

The anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s, along with the national nightmare of the Nixon Presidency and the Watergate scandal, confirmed my belief that the claims of government (or any authority) must be scrutinized like those of the proverbial used car salesmen.

The Pentagon Papers revealed that those well up in the high chain of command knew that the Viet Nam War was un-winnable, yet they had no problem sending thousands of young men into that meat grinder while they dissembled in their public pronouncements.

As Rick Perlstein’s excellent book Nixonland details, keeping the war going was simply part of an election strategy for Richard Nixon in 1968. Remember his campaign promise of a “Secret Plan” to end the war? If 20,000 more young men had to die on his watch so he could achieve his goal of playing Grand Master of American foreign policy, that was the price someone else’s children had to pay.

A popular phrase of the time, expressed in buttons and posters, was “Question Authority.” That’s good advice in any age.

There’s a danger in taking skepticism too far and landing amongst the fringes of disbelief like those who question the Apollo moon landings or the 911-Truthers who want to re-write recent history to suit their own prejudices. Their world becomes one of circular logic where every contradiction, even lack of evidence is cited as “proof” of the vast conspiracy.


Given the above you can pretty well imagine my reaction to the Sweat Lodge deaths in Sedona, AZ of 3 participants at the $9,695 “Spiritual Warrior” seminar led by James Arthur Ray. A constant refrain that skeptics hear is that we are simply kill-joys. If people want to believe in ghosts, aliens, psychics and self-proclaimed New Age guru’s like Mr. Ray, where’s the harm? they say.

Here’s the harm.

Financial: James Ray International, made $9.4 million in 2008 from combined sales of seminars, videos and books. The “Vision Quest” that cost $10 grand had people spending 36 hours in the desert with out food or water. They were allowed sleeping bags and you could buy a Peruvian poncho from Mr. Ray for $250. In an economy wracked by recession, massive job loss and home foreclosures can anyone argue that this is money well spent? Mr. Ray, the self-described “personal success strategist” has certainly succeeded for one person: himself.

Psychological: Instead of skills to cope with reality, the participants are fed a thin gruel of trite aphorisms and dubious insights. One described a game where Mr. Ray wears white robes, pretends to be God, and orders some people to commit mock suicide. The so-called Laws of Attraction are simply a fancier way of saying “wishing makes it so.” That didn’t work when I was child and it still doesn’t work today.

Malcolm Gladwell makes the opposite argument in his best seller Outliers: The Story of Success. He posits that you have to practice something for 10,000 hours before you become proficient enough to be called a master. I had an art teacher use this same number 30 years ago. She told me I had 10,000 bad drawings in me. If I wanted to improve I had to get those 10,000 mediocre drawings out of the way, first.

Physical: After spending 36 hours in the desert without food or water, a buffet breakfast was served and 64 people were packed into a “Sweat Lodge” 24 feet wide and 4 1/2 tall for two hours. 21 people were taken to hospitals after this ‘re-birthing’ ceremony ended. Three people died. Ray states in his literature that this seminar is “meant to push people beyond their physical and emotional limits.”

Three people obviously went far beyond their physical limit and now all their Earthly concerns are gone.

Evidently, for all his New Age expertise, Mr. Ray knows very little about health, medicine or plain common sense. Ask your doctor if he thinks the above regimen is a great, risk-free idea for anyone not in peak physical condition.

In fact, one of the dead, 40 year old Liz Neuman of Minnesota, who died of multiple organ failure nine days after the sweat lodge experience, was described by family members as extremely athletic and in excellent health.

Some of Mr. Ray’s millions will undoubtedly go towards his defense in the wrongful death lawsuits that will certainly follow.

“Cow Cow Boogie” — Get along, get hip! little doggies

October 5, 2009

[Above] “Cow Cow Boogie” performed by Ella Mae Morse, with Freddie Slack and His Orchestra.

(Please note this song is deliciously politically incorrect about race and drug usage. It was written by and for adults. If you’re offended by that, just move along).

Say kids, if you liked this tune by Ella Mae Morse you’re sure to love her version of “40 Cups of Coffee” here and “Mr. Five by Five” here.

Out on the plains down near Santa Fe
I met a cowboy ridin’ the range one day
And as he jogged along I heard him singin’
A most peculiar cowboy song
It was a ditty, he learned in the city
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

Get along, get hip, little doggies
Get along, better be on your way
Get along, get hip, little doggies
And he trucked ’em on down that old fairway
Singin’ his cow cow boogie in the strangest way
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah


Singing his cowboy songs
He’s just too much
He’s got a knocked out Western accent — with a Harlem touch
He was raised on Loco Weed
He’s what you call a Swing half-breed
Singing his cow cow boogie in the strangest way
Comma ti yi yi yeah
Comma ti yippity yi yeah

[Below] Dorothy Dandridge (with Dudley Dickerson) perform “Cow Cow Boogie” in a 1942 ‘Soundie‘ — one of a series of three minute musical shorts produced between 1940-1946 starring Jazz, Swing, Big Band and Be-Bop legends. These included Fatpanorams Waller, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Stan Kenton, The Mills Brothers, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, and my special favorite singer, Anita O’Day.

Soundies were the original music video, they played on an ice box sized machine called a Panoram (left). Only the bigger clubs and bars had them. The Panoram was a coin-operated video juke box delivering film loops from a projector, shown via mirrors and rear projection on to an opaque glass screen.