Category Archives: Mental Floss

Hot Sporting Air

Olympics Ennui & Hoosier Basketball Magazine

Two for the price of one today. Read on, babies.

Fool’s Gold

I just don’t get the Olympics®. Never have.

In fact, the only Olympics that ever meant anything to me was the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City. That was when USA runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black-gloved fists in the Black Power salute on the medal stand. Naturally, Carlos and Smith were drummed out of the Olympic village and were stripped of their medals. Politics is verboten during the Olympic games.

Smith/Carlos 1968

Mexico City, 1968

So, that’s why Olympics history is rife with images of athletes and statesmen cozying up to reprobates like Adolph Hitler. Why, golly gee, we’re only here to see who can run fastest and jump highest. We don’t want rock anybody’s boat by mentioning sensitive topics like that little bit of genocide you’re planning, don’t you know?

Anyway, back a few years ago when my beloved old hometown Chicago was lobbying for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, I had my fingers crossed that it would lose. And it did. And I was pleased.

Yeah, yeah, some jobs can be created by an Olympics nod, mainly temporary construction gigs. But overall, any place that hosts the quadrennial hullabaloo takes a huge financial beating. Plus, there’s all the pain of setting up the obligatory police state that must protect one and all from the potential of another Munich ’72.

Not only that, I can’t see the competitive purpose of the games. By and large, all the sports have their own yearly world championship competitions, meaning there’s a whole bushel-full of Olympics every single goddamn year, without the expense and the police state.

One more thing: The Olympics features a lot of sports that are beautiful and artistic and supremely challenging but, man, they’re not really competitions. Here are some sports that have no goals, no points, no objective measurements or criteria by which the participants can know that they have either won or lost:

  • Figure skating
  • Equestrian dressage
  • Gymnastics/artistic
  • Gymnastics/rhythmic
  • Trampoline

See, if the athletes are not required to cross a finish line or put a ball into a net, they are judged by a bunch of huffy, blow-hard-y, all-too-easily swayed and/or corrupted arbiters. These sports are glorious in their pageantry and execution but, honestly, they’re not real competitions. In fact, some sports like figure skating have rules that disallow extreme or overly showy performances. It’s as if basketball had a rule that said if a player takes a shot from too far away from the basket, it won’t count. Weird, no?

Anyway, I got a kick out of reading a little snippet in the Winter 2013 hard copy issue of Mental Floss. It tells of the time Denver, Colorado was selected to host the Winter Olympics. What’s that? You’ve never heard of the Denver Winter Olympics? You memory is not failing you.

Denver was anointed by the International Olympic Committee in 1970. These days, when a city wins an Olympic Games, its populace and leaders indulge themsleves in a wild orgy of self-congratulations. Hell, I figure quite a few little Rio de Janierans were conceived the night that the Brazil city was chosen to host the 2016 Games.

Not so in Denver when it was announced in 1970. Denverites were told by the IOC that they, as well as the rest of Colorado’s pop. would have to foot the bill for the Games. Economists had alreay begun warning that an investment in an Olympic Games likely wouldn’t pay off in the long run no matter where the event would be held. Still, Denver officials put a $5 million bond issue to pay for preliminary costs of the Games on the 1972 ballot. The bond issue lost, according to MF, “in a landslide.”

Mental Floss goes on to say (correctly, I might add), “At least Denver won the gold for fiscal responsibility. The city pawned that hardware and astutely reinvested in infrastructure.”

Chicago dodged a bullet. Neither Sochi nor Rio, apparently, have.

Old School

Speaking of hard copy issues of magazines (I did mention it — honest — a few paragraphs up).

Indiana is, of course, the world’s capital of basketball (although I’ve never been able to figure out quite why) and people still burst into the Book Corner looking for Hoosier Basketball magazine.

Whitney Jennings

Logansport High’s Whitney Jennings Is Featured On This Year’s Cover

It’s an annual that spotlights all the basketball players in the state and it’s the damnedest thing: Folks can get all the hoops info they want from the Internet now but thousands still want that fresh, thick slab of mag in their paws. Hell, some websites probably even have real time charts displaying the current heart rates and respirations of each of the top fifteen centers in the state. No matter; some guys still crave their Hoosier Basketball.

Funny: Guys still come into the store to pick up Playboy, Penthouse, and other agglomerations of Photoshopped female flesh even though the Internet has has more porn than Larry Flynt or Al Goldstein could ever imagine. Some guys, I guess, are old school.

And in the realm of basketball intelligence nobody is more old school than Garry Donna

Donna’s been publishing Hoosier Basketball for more than four decades. The Indianapolis resident travels the state in his car, dropping off cartons of the mag at gas stations, convenience stores, booksellers, groceries, gyms, and any other outlet that’ll carry his publication. He dropped off the 2013/14 edition at the Book Corner yesterday.


The 1986/87 Edition With Steve Alford On The Cover

“It’s been part of my life for 44 years,” he told me. “Basketball fans of all ages want it. I got a call last week from a guy in Hawaii who used to live in Indiana. He’s sending me $25 for postage because he wants it. I’ve always said, I’ll keep doing it as long as I’m healthy and the people still want it.”

Oh, they want it. People have been asking when HB would come in for a month now. I shrug and tell them, “I’ll know when I see it.” Donna’s usually late with the mag because he insists each and every edition carries the schedules of every single Indiana high school basketball team as well as detailed profiles of just about every Hoosier who has picked up a basketball in the last twelve months. Many of those skeds and profiles come in late. A lot of articles written up by his stable of freelancers miss their deadlines as well. No matter. Donna impatiently waits for every bit of dope to come in. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to boast that Hoosier Basketball is more comprehensive than any other pretender that has come out (and, mostly, failed) since 1969.

Donna’s basketball info operation includes three full-time paid employees as well as up to 40 freelancer writers. He also owns Kokomo Raceway as well as Applewood Raceway in Anderson; both are go-kart, putt-putt golf, and arcade complexes. Bloomingtonians might remember another such fun-plex operated by Donna on Pete Ellis Drive. The place closed down some five years ago.

This year’s edition runs a hefty 296 pages on ultra-thin newsprint with perfect, thick gloss card binding. It contains thousands of pix and thumbnails of cagers from high school to the pros. It is, let’s face it, hoops porn.

Oh, Donna’s old school.

“I was told about five years ago that the Internet would put me out of business,” he said, “but it hasn’t done that. You know the last time I looked on the Internet? Never. Not even once.”

Your Daily Hot Air

Why You, I Oughtta….

Do not ask me why this fascinates me, but it does. I learned last night that one Morton Horowitz, a gas station operator in Los Angeles in the 1940s, developed the idea of the self-service gas pump and had them installed at his 18 locations.

Not only that, Horowitz’ stations also featured pretty dames, often on roller skates — he called them “Change Girls,” whose duty was, natch, to bring customers their change.

Allan Grant Photo

[Allan Grant Photo]

So the fact that several entire generations have grown up not even knowing that at one time you drove into a gas station, ran over a bell tripper, and waited for a gas jockey to come out to fill your tank, check your oil and water, and even wash your windshield is attributable to some anonymous LA small businessman.

Only he wasn’t totally anonymous. He was, in fact, the son of one Samuel Horwitz*, born March 11, 1895, in Manhattan. Sam Horwitz became better known as Shemp Howard.

Yes, the Stooge. Weird, huh?

Shemp Howard

Happy Father’s Day, Shemp!

* The family name is cited as either Horowitz or Horwitz in different sources

[h/t to Mental Floss and the site’s Amazing Fact Generator, which got the dope from Find A Grave.]


My soulmates at Wonkette tell us that a couple of Republican Congressbeings’ sons have proven recently on social media that the asshole doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The spawn of House members Jeff Flake (Ari.) and Joe Heck (Nev.) have waxed poetic about homosexuals, dark-skinned folk, and Mexicans on the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

From Wonkette

Heck’s kid posits that god has a plan for population reduction that incorporates gays, because “[F]aggots can’t have babies.” He also feels that the New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is not as fast at getting rid of the ball as he is at “hop[ping] the border.” Oh, and that Barack Obama must be good at spear-chucking and rock-skipping because those are “the sports they do in his home country.”

Quite the little philosopher, eh?

The fruit of Flake’s loins firmly believes that the thief or thieves who stole his dirt bike (from a church parking lot, no less) are “faggots.” The kid also uses the terms “nigga” and “nigger” fairly regularly in his Facebook posts.


Flake & Heck

Flake’s boy, BTW, also is an aficionado of the online game, Fun Run, wherein his screen name is “NiggerKiller.”

Talk about fun!

Both Congressbeings have apologized for the sins of their progeny (oddly enough, they won’t apologize for their own legislative sins which are far more injurious than their kids’ sticks-and-stones misdeeds.) And both members of this holy land’s premier lawmaking bodies insist their sons are swell eggs who’ll grow up to be pillars of society.

To which I can only reply, Point of order, Mr. Chairman…!

I’m Bugged At My Ol’ Man

The Pencil Today:

HotAirLogoFinal Friday


“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” — Johannes Kepler



Happy birthday to good old Johnny Kepler, who would have been 441 years old today.

Befitting his Teutonic heritage, Kepler was the guy who essentially ordered the universe. It was his work in determining his eponymous laws of planetary motion that led to Isaac Newton’s great universal gravity breakthrough some 40 years after the German’s death.

Kepler's Laws/Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln Astronomy

Too bad a brainiac like K. couldn’t have been around in today’s world. I bet he’d have been happy to tweak his verbiage a tad, perhaps including a single intelligent woman in his short list of preferred critics.

Kepler penned his own epitaph, engraved in stone at his burial spot in a churchyard in Regensburg, Bavaria. Here it is:

“Mensus eram cœlos, nunc terrae metior umbras

Mens cœlestis erat, corporis umbra iacet.”

(“I measured the skies, now the shadows I measure

Skybound was the mind, earthbound the body rests.”)

[ED: h/t to Astrid Weltz Laimins of Tampa, Florida for the heads up.]


Sticking with science, Mental Floss offers us 5 pieces of evidence we — Homo Sapiens sapiens — are still evolving. Here they are:

  1. We Drink Milk
  2. We’re Losing Our Wisdom Teeth
  3. We’re Resisting Diseases
  4. Our Brains Are Shrinking
  5. We Have Blue Eyes

Homo Habilis

Auntie Amma

Click on the link for details.

Then ask yourself why we still have to argue this point in 21st Century America.


Only three days left in this  momentous year, 2012, and I’m proud to say I still haven’t seen the viral Gangnam Style vid.

Here’s another vid I haven’t seen: The Grumpy Cat (Tartar Sauce).

BTW: I still haven’t figured out that Ermahgerd chick. I ask you, who on this Earth ever talked like that?

Intentionally avoiding all these memes and rages is now an honor thing with me.


Have you seen this chart yet?


If this graphic is accurate, what happened between the Aurora bloodbath and the Sandy Hook killfest that made us start taking these things seriously?


The author of the bestselling “A Universe from Nothing: Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing,” Lawrence M. Krauss, penned a heartfelt think piece for the other day, in which he wonders why everybody and his brother is telling us we have to lean on god as we grieve for the Sandy Hook kids.

Obama at Newtown Memorial Service

The Prez Tells Us Our BFF, God, Will Get Us Through This

Krauss is a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University and a noted atheist. He’s one of the hottest popular science writers around these days.

“Why,” he writes, “must it be a natural expectation that any such national tragedy will be accompanied by prayers, including from the president, to at least one version of the very god, who apparently in his infinite wisdom, decided to call 20 children between the age of 6 and 7 home by having them slaughtered by a deranged gunman in a school…?”

He wonders why TV news shows in times like these have to call out the clergy to tell us that “they have something special or caring to offer.”

Lawrence M. Krauss


Some talking-head clerics and politician-talk show hosts have even claimed that the agnostics and atheists among us lack the ability to fully grieve, sympathize, and even process these travesties. Krauss calls this kind of thinking “offensive” and “nonsense.”

I, natch, am with Krauss on this one. All these preachers, rabbis, and imams are telling us Sandy Hook was “god’s will” and then turning around and saying non-believers lack a moral foundation.

Are you kidding me? We’re not the one’s worshipping a god that decides to let massacres happen — you are!

GUN CRAZY, PART 1,624,583….

Gary, Indiana’s finest political writer, Monroe Anderson, has written an excruciatingly personal account of the dangers of the mentally ill toting guns around.


Monroe Anderson

Do yourself a favor and read it. If the piece doesn’t elevate your pulse and respirations, you’re probably dead already.

What he doesn’t say is that when it comes to guns in this holy land, we’re all pretty much mentally ill.

The Pencil Today:


“I had a romance novel inside me, but I paid three sailors to beat it out of me with steel pipes.” — Patton Oswalt


Today’s Bloomington-area events at the click of a button.


I thumbed through “Fifty Shades of Grey” the other day. You’ve heard of the book, no doubt.

Number one on the New York Times Best Seller list, viral marketing phenomenon, has sold more than 10M copies, gave birth to the newly-coined genre “mommy porn.”

Here’s the bad news: don’t get your panties in a bunch over it. The sex scenes are as tepid as anything in any cheap, bodice-ripping romance novel you can get in a grocery store.

Swear to god, the author, some previously anonymous keyboard banger named E.L. James, refers to men’s junk as their “manhood” and even once, when describing a scene wherein the heroine unzips a man’s fly, refers to what pops out as simply, “him.”

Oh, the sizzlingness of it all!

James, Author of Th… Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z…, Oh, Sorry

So, if “50…” isn’t good for the sex then it’s good for nothing. Save your dough.


Meg Whitman lost her bid to win the California governor’s race in 2010.

As you know, she was the big boss over at eBay at the time and now she runs Hewlett-Packard. She ran, as all business big shots do, as a candidate who knows how to run a corporation. California voters didn’t buy it; they elected retread Jerry Brown instead.

Whitman Knows Business

Whitman yesterday announced that H-P will commence the biggest lay-off in its long history. Some 27,000 poor saps are going to lose their jobs. Whitman told reporters that the lay-offs won’t be easy but “they’re absolutely critical for the long-term health of the company.”

Which puzzles me. Weren’t the 27,000 part of “the company”? Looks like their long-term health prospects are awfully dicey right about now.

A couple of guys named Hewlett and Packard, natch, started the biz in a garage back in 1939. The two were worth a tad more than $500 at the time.

Hewlett-Packard World Headquarters, 1939

By the turn of the century, H-P had become a multinational corporation, ranked in the top ten in the Fortune 500, and shelling out billions to take over competitors and vendors.

Hewlett and Packard ran the joint until they were doddering old men in the 80s and 90s. Since 2000, H-P has had a total of six CEOs.

You know, the type of folks we ought to be voting for because they know how to run corporations.

H-P hasn’t been doing well of late. Fewer people are buying its computers and those in the know say the outfit isn’t being run properly.

Naturally, the rank and file will suffer because those at the top have done a lousy job.

But, you know, we ought to vote for people because they’d run big companies.

See, when they get into office and times become tight, they know how just what to do. They can lay off a few million citizens.

Mitt Would Know Just What To Do


I pride myself on being a contrarian. If I could, I’d stop breathing because, you know, that’s what everybody else does.

Anyway, many of my fellow literates would sneer at me because I believe that Gertrude Stein was a fraud.

You know her: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Sheesh.

Stein was part of a famously terrifying lesbian couple, the other half of which was Alice B. Toklas, who was responsible for the pair’s only real contribution to world culture, her hash-laden brownies (the recipe for which she stole, BTW.)

The Happy Couple

Anyway, Mental Floss has a fabulous quiz that truly puts old Gert into perspective. MF collects 11 different quotations from either Stein’s “writings” or Jose Canseco’s Tweets.

Remember Jose Canseco? Lunkheaded major league baseball player who loaded up on steroids and went out with bimbos even more brainless than he was? Canseco was chasing down a fly ball in the outfield once, he missed it, the ball clunked off his head, and bounced into the stands for a home run. You know, that Jose Canseco.

The Mental Floss quiz challenges you to determine who’s responsible for each quotation. I took the quiz. I swear on a stack of Bibles I could not tell who said what. Try it yourself.

The Pencil Today:


“Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity — and I’m not sure about the former.” — Albert Einstein


Bloomington’s own Camilla Williams, international opera star and professor emeritus at IU, died Sunday. She was 92.


Williams was thought to be the first black woman to appear with a major US opera company, the New York City Opera in 1946. Her late husband, Charles Beavers, was an attorney for Malcolm X.


Philip Glass is 75 today. He is also still very, very cool.


Do yourself a favor and download the documentary, “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.” It is a gloriously beautiful and ugly examination of life on late 20th Century Earth. It has no narrator; no human’s voice is heard throughout. The only sound you’ll hear is Glass’s musical score.

Glass presaged trance music by decades. And the composer certainly influenced Brian Eno, whose ambient forms beginning in the mid-1970s helped save the world from the navel-gazing pap of the likes of Kansas and other uber-pretentious prog rockers.


Glass may well be the composer music students in the year 2512 revere as they do Bach or Wagner today.


Now that the great state o’Indiana is considering teaching the myth of Intelligent Design in our public schools, it’s worth keeping in mind that our fair fiftieth of this holy land once before attempted to throw a caveman’s club into the gears of intellectual progress.

Mental Floss points out that in the 1890s, an Indiana chucklehead by the name of Edward J. Goodwin fantasized that he’d discovered a method to “square the circle,” a long disproved mathematical exercise. Goodwin was convinced that by equating the circle with a square, one could easily find its area.

Part of Goodwin’s fever dream was to jigger with the value of pi, the constant that allows the sane among us to calculate a circle’s area. It was the equivalent of NASA navigators saying, “Aw, what the hell, let’s just call the distance to the moon 240,000 miles — what’s a couple thousand miles one way or another?”

Given that attitude, the mummified corpses of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might today be floating several billion miles outside our Solar System.

Just Point That Thing Toward The Moon, Boys

Goodwin — from the town of Solitude, appropriately enough — told the world in the 1890s that he’d found the secret to squaring the circle. In the grand tradition of many another snake oil salesman, Goodwin was more than willing to let mathematicians and educators use his secret formula — for a price.

But he had a soft spot for Indiana and offered to let Hoosier State schools teach his method for free as long as the state legislature would enact a statute declaring his crackpot idea the real thing.

And guess what — several Indiana House committees studied his equations, including his insistence that pi should be 3.2 (as opposed to the accurate constant 3.141592653589793….) The committees approved Goodwin’s methods and wrote up a bill declaring pi to be 3.2 and the circle, legally, squared.

And then the full House approved the bill unanimously! By the time the nation’s newspapers got hold of this news and began to bray with laughter at Indiana, the state Senate defeated the bill. Even that vote was iffy after a Senate committee passed it onto the floor.

Science and Indiana — I wonder if this is the first time the two words have ever appeared together in print.


Another chestnut from my college radio years, by Bram Tchiakovsky.

Pure power pop poetry:

Judy was an American girl/

She came in the morning/

With the US Mail.

Enjoy the soaring melody, goosebump harmony, and bell-ringing rhythm chord progressions.

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