Flunking the God Quiz

The news that the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a survey and found that Americans are woefully uninformed about religion is not really news. Not to me, anyway. Whenever I want to find out what Americans know about anything, I conduct my survey of one, quizzing the only American who can’t ignore or refuse my demand for answers – Me.

And when I ask myself what I know, I never fail to be amazed at how clueless American are.

I took a short version of the survey and had just one wrong answer, but that was after I had read 2 full articles about the results that recounted in breathless detail the remarkably wrong choices other people had made. Yes, most of the questions are multiple choice.

But the survey is flawed anyway.

In the first place, it is only a survey of people who –

Will answer the phone even though caller ID says “Pew Forum
Will agree to participate in a survey
When told, “it’s about religion,” will stay on the line.

This is a very small and distinguished group of Americans.

Plus, the questions are clearly lacking the one thing Americans need to enjoy a good survey – joke answers that can be chosen to distract from the disturbing truth that I don’t know the right answer.

Here are a few from the survey that I’ve taken the liberty to improve.

Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the Exodus from Egypt?
Charlton Heston

Which of the following is NOT one of the Ten Commandments?
Do not commit adultery
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Do not steal
Keep the Sabbath holy
Thou Shalt Not Ask Trick Questions.

When does the Jewish Sabbath begin?
Exactly seven days after the last one.

Is Ramadan…?
The Hindu festival of lights
A Jewish day of atonement
The Islamic holy month
A Rama Lama Ding Dong.

Which of the following best describes the Catholic teaching about the bread and wine used for Communion?
The bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
The bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
It’s not the bread or wine, it’s the cheese that will really turn on you.

In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?

According to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, is a public school teacher permitted to lead a class in prayer, or not?
Yes, permitted
No, not permitted
Yes, but only if she has a megaphone so they can hear her in the back row of the auditorium.

And the one essay question was a stumper.
What was Mother Teresa’s religion?
All I know about Mother Teresa is that she did everything she could to help desperately poor people. A person like that probably doesn’t have a lot of time for religion.

Even the New York Times struggled with this one. In their first online report, they spelled Mother T.’s name wrong.

Every so often there is a new survey that reveals how surprisingly little we the people know about (fill in the topic). In case you didn’t glean it from everything I’ve said so far, my self-esteem is a little damaged by this latest one. What I really want is a survey that we can all succeed at, so I can start to feel better about ourself.

But what topic would allow us to hit one out of the park?
Snack Food?

How can we begin to feel smart again?

These Veggies Bite Back

It has been a while since we’ve heard from him, but yesterday’s discussion about vegetables led to this response from the produce manager at Genway, the supermarket for genetically engineered foods.


I’m delighted with the conversations I read on your blog! I find I am able to pick up wonderful ideas that turn into fantastic new developments in our food laboratory.

Just yesterday a person named Jacque called Kohlrabi a “crustaceous” vegetable. Then she back tracked and said she had mistakenly called the plant a lobster. But I don’t believe in “mistakes”! In my world, “mistakes” are scientific advances that happen while your back is turned and you’re thinking of something else. And believe me, I’m ALWAYS thinking of something else.

I got right to work trying to make Jacque’s dream come true! I already have a full library of GIANT aquatic arthropod DNA, so that wasn’t a problem, but finding kohlrabi was a bit tougher. I’m not a big fan of vegetables, which is odd for a supermarket produce manager, but if you spent all day around them you’d feel that way too, believe me.
Carrots are smug!

My research expedition to the Farmer’s Market was an eye opener. There are plenty of weird creations over there, almost as strange as the stuff in our store. Like eggplant! I believe eggplant is a spore from outer space, but that’s a different product and another story.

I located the kohlrabi and was immediately impressed with the vegetable’s wild attitude and tough outside cover, which does have a lobster-like stubbornness. I purchased a sample and brought it back to the lab. As night fell, everything was in readiness. Our projects draw a lot of electricity from the grid, so timing is crucial. Once North Dakota went to bed at 9pm, I was able to throw the switch and within minutes, Genway had a new product – Crayfish Kohlrabi!

It’s a vegetable with “SNAP”!

With Genway’s Crayfish Kohrabi, nobody can say vegetables are for wimps. They’re delicious when properly prepared, but be careful when you put your arm in the tank to take one out. These babies will fight back, and if they get a hold of you, they’ll hang on!

The story Jacque told about stealing some kohlrabi from the garden and running off into the cornfield to eat it raw with a little salt might also a good technique for dining on Genway’s Crayfish Kohlrabi … if you’re writing a scene from a horror movie!

Because these VegAnimals are genetically engineered, we don’t have a clear idea of the full range of their enhanced capabilities. In the secluded area between the rows of corn, their animated pincers might find the energy and the inspiration to make a tossed salad out of you! So be sure to take a buddy! And pictures! I can’t wait to find out what this new product can do!

Giant Crayfish Kohlrabi – new from Genway, the supermarket for genetically engineered foods!

Are you an adventurous eater?

Bubby Carrots

Just as I was finishing up a nice, nutritious article about how we Americans do not listen when we are told to eat our vegetables, a note arrived from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden.

Hi Mr. C.,

You know I wouldn’t be writing unless I need help finishing some homework. But here’s the good news – it isn’t due today! I was supposed to hand it in last Friday but I was out sick. Usually you have to turn in your sick day assignments first thing on the next day you’re at school, but this is for health class and the teacher, Ms. Scrubmaven, made a big deal last week about how bacteria can live on paper money for weeks! Since I did my work ON paper, I told her I made the difficult choice to burn it last Saturday morning, and I would take an F if she had to give me one, but I was at peace with my decision because it probably protected her and the class from getting whatever miserable disease I had. And no, it wasn’t Friday-itis! She was so grateful, she gave me a week to re-write it.

So anyway, the paper is supposed to be about new ideas to convince us teenagers to eat more fruits and especially more vegetables. Everybody’s all worked up about getting us to eat healthy stuff all the time. These papers are going to be bound into a book and sent to the White House, so there’s no getting out of it. I think Ms. Scrubmaven has a fantasy where Michele Obama comes to Wendell Wilkie High School and helps us plant a victory garden.

Some high schools are getting vegetable vending machines and their halls are full of reporters and local TV news crews doing stories about it. And of course all the publicity hogs are crowding around so they can get on TV for buying a bag of carrots. It’s good for sales on the first day, I guess.

And then there’s a TV campaign on which the adults think is just dopey enough to convince us that tiny carrots are as good as Doritos. Ha. Nice try. They must think we’re easy to fool.

Anyway, I’m supposed to write about some old fashioned ways parents used to get their kids to eat vegetables, and whether or not any of those ideas would work today. I know you and your people are pretty ancient, and maybe you can remember what your parents did to convince you that you should eat good food instead of the junk you really wanted.

If not, you could always make stuff up. Ms. Scrubmaven isn’t going to check up on it, especially if the stories are good enough to get Executive Attention, if you know what I mean.


I told Bubby I don’t remember being forced to eat vegetables or even encouraged to do so, but I do recall that when mashed potatoes were served they were always dotted with green beans. My mom called it “Grasshoppers Caught in an Avalanche”.

How were you encouraged to eat vegetables? Did it work?

Don’t Look Down

Even on the worst days of my broadcasting career I sat in an ergonomic chair in a climate controlled, soundproof room, pushing buttons and playing records. This cushy deal gave me a skewed notion of what it means to work hard, and no concept at all of what it is to take real risks.

For me, “Hazardous Working Conditions” meant we were out of free coffee.

Occasionally I would lean back in the chair while listening to a record and would picture the path the music took – flowing out of the CD player through the mixing board, surging out of the building to the base of the transmitting tower, racing 1,500 feet to the top, and squirting out an invisible fountain of music, spraying the unsuspecting city with the sound of bagpipes playing the Theme From The Magnificent 7.

“What does it look like from up there,” I wondered. And “who goes up there to change the light bulb?”

These guys do.

If you can’t watch for technical reasons or won’t watch for due to height sensitivity or just plain wanting to keep your sanity, I’ll tell you it’s a stomach-churner. Nothing bad happens but the tower does get narrower and the ladder smaller and smaller as they near the top. Imagine standing on a dinner plate 1,700 feet above ground and you’ve got the basic idea.

Uncomfortable with heights? You’re not alone.

Last year a Bengal tiger at a zoo in England made the news for his reluctance to climb off a 15 foot high platform. Hunger and a tasty pig’s head left at ground level eventually convinced him to come down after two days of pacing and worrying.

This year they say Tanvir the Tiger is able to go up and down the tower without a problem, pig’s head or no.

Ever conquer a phobia?

High Water Mark

Enjoy the end of September, Babooners.

Northern Minnesota will see the peak of fall color over the next few days. The DNR has a nifty website that can keep you up to date on the progress of autumnal glory.

Southern Minnesota will spend the weekend bailing out from last Thursday’s record setting rain. If I had a radio station to play with, I would offer at least two high water songs to inspire the bucket brigade. Were there an officially sanctioned flood music genre, these would be its classics.

Randy Newman playing Louisiana 1927 in Germany.

Johnny Cash doing Five Feet High and Rising in Los Angeles in 1959.

Two famous songs about real floods sung by their authors. Our recent deluge probably isn’t extensive enough to add a tune to the flood song cascade, unless someone comes up with an irresistible, watery rhyme for “Owatonna“.

Have you ever had to do battle with floodwaters?

Full Body Scam

The introduction of a full body scanner at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has drawn interest from travelers concerned about check-in delays and privacy advocates worried about a new level of unwelcome scrutiny, but to dealmaker and idea man Spin Williams, it’s a great opportunity.

Americans love attention!

I know a lot of them say they don’t, but really – they do! Once you understand that simple fact, everything else becomes clear. I’ve heard people worry that an unseen screener will laugh at their odd bulges, but I believe my fellow citizens hate being ignored even more than they resent being mocked, and basically most people are OK with a full body scan at the airport. And who among us is physically perfect, anyway? The chances are good that no matter how bad you think you look, the next person to step into the box probably looks worse.

And besides, the images I’ve seen make everyone look like the Silver Surfer, who was one of my favorite comic book heroes!

But if you happen to be one of the rare attention-haters out there, safeguards are in place. The software automatically blurs your face so the screener can’t pick you out of the line and laugh at you directly. AND, the machine erases your full body image completely just as soon as you are cleared as a security risk. That’s where I think a great opportunity is being literally thrown away!

Here’s my BIG idea to make it all work out fine.
Sell the images to their owners as a keepsake.

Why not? Look at Facebook – people there are letting it all hang out every day. And wouldn’t you like to own a full set of naked portraits of yourself with your arms over your head? Standardize the angle and the distances from camera to subject in every booth, and you could use multiple images taken at different airports to track changes in your shape and weight – a federally subsidized fitness program that would inspire millions to skip that candy bar until after they pass through the screening.

And with a little digital manipulation, you could easily insert your TSA full body scan into a greeting of some sort. How about Christmas cards!
Here’s a mock-up!

After all, there is nothing we find more interesting than ourselves, and this is a photo taken during a memorable experience that can be discussed for years if it is properly packaged and celebrated. So TSA, take a hint from Disney World. Sell people their full body scans at the airport!

From the Meeting That Never Ends,
Spin Williams

I wrote back to Spin to suggest that he needs to proofread his mock-up greeting card. But he might be on to something here. I have several arms-over-head, open-mouthed screaming-in-fear amusement park photographs that I paid way too much for, but they do a good job of capturing a moment in time.

At the end of the ride, do you buy the photo?


Just in time for your unique Halloween costume planning needs, two brand new dinosaurs have been introduced, and though they’ve been dead for millions of years, they’re just right for our times. Want to dress as one? Get a hat and pile it high with as many spiky protrusions as you can find and you’ll be close enough.

Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops are baroque boneheads with plenty of skull bling.
Each ancient cranium is full of enough distracting and extraneous ornamentation to qualify as a vocal solo on Glee! The purpose of all the skeletal action – to attract potential mates. It seems that some amorous dinos found their thrills in bony frills above the neck and shoulders.

Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops come from the same family of beasts that gave us our beloved Triceratops, a kid-favorite fossil “brand” that just merged with the relatively unknown but equally hornful Torosaurus.

credit: Ron Blakey, NAU Geology

But here’s the part that surprised me – they lived during the late Cretaceous period, an age when the western part of North America was separated from the east by a body of water named the Western Interior Seaway, or the Niobraran Sea, though of course no creature alive at the time called it that. I believe they dubbed it “GHRRRRROOOOOGHGGGGGGGG”.

What we think of as the Rocky Mountains today was a separate continent, which had no name at the time but is now called “Laramidia”. If climate change continues to melt the polar ice and sea levels rise high enough, our descendants could become the new Laramidians. No doubt they would need a fancy sounding anthem for this intensely vertical, suddenly prairie-less land.

Laramidia hail to thee!
Hail to thy great mountains high.
Hail to thy uplifted hills.
Hail to thy thin-layered sky.

From thy summits to the sea,
From thy peaks straight down to foam,
Thou art vertical indeed.
Laramidia, my home.

Thou has not a grain of wheat
Nor a field that’s ripe with corn.
Nothing flat, as you can see.
Only dinosaurs, with horns.

Laramidia, be strong.
Laramidia, be tall.
If thou walks abroad at night,
Laramidia, don’t fall.

Thou art nought but up and down.
Thy terrain do we extol.
When we tumble we make straight
Unto the waves. That’s how we roll.

Do you know the words to any national anthems other than the good ol’ USA’s?