As a brand-new report at the Amarillo newspaper in 1966, I was often sent by my city editor off in a company car to find and write about unusual people, things and events.
"Go to Spearman, and don't come back until you have three stories," was the kind of instructions I'd receive as he handed over the car keys.
Sometimes I couldn't find three stories in places like Spearman, so I'd look at my Texas map and try to figure someplace nearby that might be more productive.
I remember just such a day when I was somewhere northeast of Amarillo, and I spent the better part of an afternoon looking for a place with an intriguing-sounding name that was on the map but that appeared to be nowhere on the ground.
I finally gave up.
When I complained to my editor, he told me something I'd never known before -- that mapmakers often draw in fake places with fake names so they can see if someone has stolen their work.
And here I was thinking that mapmakers had to be among the most trust-worthy people on the planet.
Of course, over the years I have figured out that once upon a time maps were not very representative, and today they are better, much better.
I'm fascinated by maps, I guess, even ones with significant flaws.
And I guess I'm not alone. The New York Times Book Review section yesterday reported that there are three new books about maps being published this fall before Christmas.
I'm guessing that not a single one of them will tell me how to get to that mysterious missing town northeast of Amarillo.
Chinese government officials are becoming ever more visible, smiling, shaking hands, participating in all sorts of conferences, etc.
You'd almost think that something ... well ... fundamental has changed. After all: No more Mao-type uniforms with caps festooned with red stars. No more harsh rhetoric about the superiority of Communism. No more tanks in Tiananmen Square.
But, what you see is not aways what you get, as they say.
And one dead giveaway about what's going on behind the scenes can be found in the hands of babes. Literally.
The Economist reports in the Nov. 28th edition that sales of children's books are way, way up these days. Freedom of expression and thought not so much.
"Publishers have internally appointed censors whose job is to ensure that the Communist Party's line is not transgressed," The Economist writes.
I guess Dr. Seuss just wouldn't fit in.
There is so much violent content in our movies, on television, in books, magazines and newspapers, it's just pervasive, culturally normal in American life.
So, I guess I will seem like a nit-picking dolt to complain about today's addition to the cultural millieu -- "The Good Dinosaur" from Disney and Pixar.
I have only seen the trailers, so I'm just basing an opinion on those.
It just irritates me that there's another doggone movie out there that acts like it is an historical and scientific fact that dinosaurs and humans occupied space on the planet at the same time. They did not.
Cute children's books and other movies aside, it's irritating because this wrong-headed notion is once again reinforced in impressionable young minds.
And that matters because eventually they will grow up and what they think and believe will have consequences, and it's beyond possible that all these images of dinosaurs and people will be stuck there in their heads.
After all, look at what "Bambi" did for hunters.
I was surprised earlier this year at the kinds of fees the Austin public libraries wanted to start charging.
It seemed to me that the fees were arbitrary and probably would keep a lot of people away, not something you want to do if you want to keep a library open these days.
Now comes the Round Rock City Council eliminating fees for non-residents (residents have not paid fees in the past anyway).
Before last May's action, the library charged a card fee of $25 per year for individuals and $40 for families. That seems steep enough to me that I'd have to think about getting a card myself.
So, what's been the result?
The result has been pretty spectacular, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman. Since last year, the library has seen membership grow 34 percent to 99,000.
Not all of that growth is because the fees were dropped, but Michelle Cervantes, library director, says a lot of the growth is due to the change.
Of course, there are whiners -- people in Round Rock who feel like they're paying taxes for the library while the nonresidents aren't, and that's not fair. But, those nonresidents and a whole lot more are using their streets and sidewalks and are depending on law-enforcement to be available even if they don't pay taxes.
Why is "cool" still cool?
Frankly, I did not know that "cool" was still cool out there in the world beyond Wimberley. I figured I might actually be the only person extant still using that particular word to describe a person or a thing or a situation.
How cool to know that cool still is cool.
But, how come?
The New York Times op-ed section answers the question in Sunday's editions in an item by Jonah Berger of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Who knew that college professors were concerned about the longterm viabillity of a term like "cool?"
Turns out, they have been. And they have found that "cool" retains its resilience because of its reference to the senses. We people hang onto identifying terms or metaphors that appeal to our senses longer and more tenaciously than we do other terms not so related.
Maybe that explains, then, why stuff just isn't "groovy" anymore.
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