(Before starting this week’s offering, a few random thoughts. This column is Volume 20, Number 52 for the year, which means, of course, that next week’s will be Volume 12, Number 1, which begins a brand new year. Where did this year go? It has been said that life is like a roll of toilet paper – the closer to the end, the faster it goes, and to me it winding out like a thrown streamer. As I have said in my unpublished writing (and to anyone who listen), I may have 30 seconds or 30 years left (as do all of us [with an appropriate modification of the numbers]) – we just don’t know. With the sheets spinning out, I am feeling a pressure to finish some of the writing I am doing because I want to (1) leave something behind and (2) make a positive difference in the world.

     All of that said, I have a lot going on in my head. What I pick to include here usually has a message even though it may be somewhat obscure (“Don’t be stupid or do stupid things!”). I call myself a Libertarian, but the one problem I have is people. It seems everyone wants freedom but not the responsibility that goes along with it. We had a saying in the late ‘60s that the authority of my fist stops at the tip of your nose. I am thinking the masses are asses, so while some would respect others, others would ruin it for the rest of us, which is why we have so many laws. If people just did the right thing (there are flexible parameters but parameters nonetheless), we wouldn’t need any rules or laws.

     Anne Frank wrote, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.” To be able to even say that in spite of everything that was going on, she was a far better person than I will ever be. I do believe many (most?) people are good at heart, but with the Internet, now that everyone has a voice and uses it, that goodness of heart gets lost. Because I happen to believe after much thought that (fill in name of candidate) is the best choice for President (often the best of the worst), others rabidly don’t, and instead of just accepting my choice, to them, that makes me a (fill in nasty name here). The name calling and lack of respect for opposing views gives me little hope for our future. As Charles Bukowski observed, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” I struggle with most issues while others see them in unthinking stark contrast of black and white!

     As an example, I am a supporter of the Second Amendment but I see no problem with some modifications of the status quo. To others, to suggest any changes no matter how small my thoughts are drowned out by shouts of “They’re coming to take our guns!” While guns are more efficient at causing damage, they are still just tools. I see people as the real problem! Road rage, fighting at the slightest of slights (real or imagined), anger issues, mental illness, and so on are the real problem. Too-easy access to guns for everyone puts the authority of their fist into the tip of my nose. As a former English teacher, I see the well-regulated militia part as a condition of gun ownership, but the US Supreme Court has interpreted otherwise. And so it goes.

     Anyhow, off the soapbox, and….

     Greetings, and thanks for joining me for another week. Starting us off are a few news stories you may have missed. First, take a bow! Lisa Bihon says her teenage daughter Jordyn has a passion for archery that goes back to early childhood. That passion was reflected in the picture her daughter picked for the “Ads for Grads” section of her Derry Area, Pa., High School yearbook: a shot by her sister that shows the senior’s face through the sight of her bow. But the school called to say the photo was “inappropriate” because it shows the student with a weapon — even though there’s no arrow in the picture, and archery is actually offered as a class at the high school. “That’s her sport,” Lisa says. She posted about the issue on Facebook and says the post has gotten attention in the archery community. The local superintendent said officials would “look at” the issue — including the decision four years ago to publish a picture of a student with a bow not pointed at the camera. [WTAE]

Next, Matthew Riggins had told his girlfriend that he and a pal were planning to burglarize some homes around Barefoot Bay in Brevard County, Florida, and was apparently on that mission last month when an alert resident called 911 and the men rapidly scattered. His accomplice was caught several days later, but Riggins himself did not survive the flight — having taken refuge in nearby woods and drowning trying to outswim an apparently hungry 11-foot alligator. [WFTV]

 Finally (and I thought my few were bad), doctors at a hospital in Dongyang, China, removed 420 kidney stones from a single patient (a “Mr. He”) (and if my former students read that, they’d be saying, “Heeey, 420, man!”) One of the surgeons told reporters that a soy-heavy diet of tofu was probably to blame. However, are you sitting down? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most stones removed from one kidney during surgery (in India in 2009 in a three-hour operation) is (this is not a misprint) 172,155. [Qianjiang Evening Post via BBC News]

So, creative (or do some people have too much time on their hands?) A viral photo shows a gingerbread house designed to resemble the Overlook Hotel from the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining. The photo posted to imgur and shared on reddit shows off the model, complete with individual rooms and the outdoor hedge maze, made entirely out of gingerbread, icing, fondant, candy and Rice Krispie Treats (link left for your viewing pleasure). In addition to faithfully constructing the setting of the thriller novel by Stephen King, the family also recreated famous scene’s from the film using gingerbread people. These include the twin girls in the haunted hallway as well as Jack Nicholson’s well-known “Here’s Johnny” scene as he bursts through the bathroom door. The model is approximately four feet long and every piece of the hotel is edible, including the wallpaper that lines the haunted hallway. [UPI]

An Indian bus company said a joyriding monkey got behind the wheel of a bus while the driver was napping and crashed it into two parked buses. The Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation said the bus driver was taking a nap while parked at a station in Bareilly about a half an hour before his scheduled departure when a monkey climbed into the bus and managed to start the engine. The driver woke up and moved to chase the monkey away, but it shifted the bus into second gear while fleeing out the window. “The driver managed to regain control of the bus but not before it hit two other parked buses,” SK Sharma, a regional manager for the bus company, told the Times of India. Sharma said the company has had monkey troubles in the past. “Monkeys have become a regular menace at bus stations and workshops, where they often fiddle with vehicles undergoing repair. They have also damaged CCTV cameras at stations. Three years back we had taken the help of municipal authorities to get rid of them but they have returned,” Sharma said. Sharma said the bus company is in talks with local officials about hiring trappers to relocate the monkeys.

 Finally, December 26th was an important day locally for us. The day after Christmas Walmart was busy filling its shelves with Valentine’s Day merchandise. A seamless transition from spend, spend, spend  on cards and gifts to spend, spend, spend on cards and gifts. ‘Merica! Happy Forth of July!