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Separated at Birth?

By Roy Rivenburg

Scientists have detected an alarming genetic similarity between Phil Spector...

and this kidnapped Bichon Frise canine:

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(Editor's Note: We interrupt this website to set the record straight about "linguist to the stars" Michel Thomas and his bogus World War II claims.)

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Spam for the Soul: Who would have dreamed that spam holds the keys to enlightenment? Like many ignorant humans, I used to consider junk e-mail a nuisance. But once I opened my mind as well as my inbox, I discovered an amazing truth: All I really need to know I learned from those weird proverbs and quotations in spam messages.

A few examples:

-- "Never play leapfrog with a unicorn."
-- "If thine enemy offends thee, give his child a drum."
-- "If you can't be happy where you are, it's a cinch you won't be happy where you ain't."
-- And the mystically enigmatic, "You've built a miniature city out of little plastic stirrers."

It's chicken soup for the Internet user's soul.

Although skeptics insist these axioms are a ploy to help junk e-mails sneak past spam filters, I believe spammers are digital prophets, guiding the faithful to cheap pharmaceuticals, incredibly low mortgage rates and smokin' hot housewives seeking companionship while their husbands are out of town...

To keep reading, send me a note at roy.rivenburg (at) latimes.com. The Los Angeles Times, in its infinite wisdom, has asked me not to post full copies of my articles on this site.

* * * * *

Predictions for 2005: Excerpts from the Jan. 6, 2005, Los Angeles Times:

JANUARY

• Martha Stewart is caught trying to tunnel her way out of prison. Officials say the escape plot would have succeeded if Stewart hadn't spent so much time decorating the tunnel with imported Italian tiles, woodland accent pillows and festive wall sconces made from shivs.

FEBRUARY

• During the Super Bowl halftime show, Paul McCartney sings "When I'm 64" (soon to be retitled "When I Was 64"). Everything proceeds smoothly until Justin Timberlake appears onstage and inadvertently causes a "wardrobe malfunction" that reveals the ex-Beatle is wearing Depends.

• Reconnaissance planes spot Osama bin Laden riding a white camel through southern Afghanistan. When ground forces move in, Bin Laden leads U.S. troops on a slow-speed camel chase before finally surrendering.

MARCH

• Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to fix the state's budget crisis by mailing a "Deficit Reduction Chain Letter" to 10 other states, asking each to send $500 million. The letter notes that bad luck has befallen states that broke past chains.

MAY

• Author Mitch Albom publishes "The Five People You Meet in Hades." The list: Albom, Albom, Albom, Albom and Albom.

JUNE

• L.A.'s King/Drew Medical Center comes under fire again. State investigators link the troubled facility to global warming, the War of 1812 and poor gas mileage in SUVs. Another report says the hospital was on the grassy knoll when President Kennedy was assassinated.

JULY

• The sixth "Harry Potter" book is released. Titled "Harry Potter and the Accelerated Aging Potion," it explains why the actors in future movie versions of the book will appear to be 30 years old.

AUGUST

• The WB television network finally hits No. 1 in the ratings, thanks to a reality-show adaptation of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" in which annoying celebrities are beaten and scourged. The first episodes are titled "The Passion of Paris Hilton" and "The Passion of Donald Trump's Hair."

SEPTEMBER

• In the biggest technological breakthrough of the century, Ronco introduces the Crawl Blocker, which erases all those news tickers that crawl across the bottom of the TV screen when you watch CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and other stations. Viewers who use the device are shocked to discover that Fox host Bill O'Reilly wears no pants.

• Shortly after scientists at Caltech invent the world's first time machine, Chrysler rolls out a sport-utility version that gets 14 years per gallon. Many buyers use the vehicle to live in other eras and commute to work in the present. Some live in the 1950s because housing is cheap and schools are safe. But during rush hour, it can take them years to reach today's world, especially if there's an accident in the space-time continuum. When a time-traveling big rig overturns in the year 1985, traffic is forced to detour through the Middle Ages.

NOVEMBER

• At his trial, Osama bin Laden pleads not guilty to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, insisting he was chipping golf balls outside his cave in Afghanistan at the time.

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A Moment of Silence for Vanishing Sounds: From the Dec. 19 Los Angeles Times:

Back in the prehistoric 1970s, one of life's little pleasures was the ability to slam down a telephone on annoying callers. Now, thanks to the rise of cordless phones, the best you can do is fiercely poke the off button — or, if money is no object, throw the receiver into a wall.

The slamming phone, like dozens of once-familiar sounds, is headed for extinction. As technology advances, more and more noises — the pop of flashbulbs, the gurgle of coffee percolators, the clatter of home-movie projectors — are fading into oblivion.

While audio junkies scramble to preserve samples for future generations, psychologists debate the consequences of this noise exodus. Some foresee a sonic revolution — one that could launch a surprising wave of silence and perhaps force Hollywood studios to rethink the way they tell stories.

*

Inside a bombproof vault a few blocks from the White House, Dan Sheehy is surrounded by audio ghosts: the clicketyclack of typewriters, the tumble of glass bottles inside a soda machine, a 1960s-era telephone ring.

Here, sonic blasts from the past are entombed in a hodgepodge of vinyl records, compact discs and reel-to-reel tapes. "We are a museum of sound," said Sheehy, whose job is to preserve America's acoustic heritage for an obscure branch of the Smithsonian Institution.

Sounds are like smells, he says. They can transport the listener to another time and place. The buzz of an airplane propeller sends Sheehy's mind back to hot afternoons in 1950s Bakersfield, playing in the yard while aircraft sputtered overhead. "The sound immediately triggers memories of time and temperature," he said.

A handful of obsolete noises are so ingrained in our consciousness that filmmakers and advertisers still use them to evoke audience reactions. In the 2002 movie "Undercover Brother," for instance, a phonograph needle scraping across a vinyl record signaled an abrupt halt to the action.

The emotional power of vintage sounds might explain the popularity of cellphone ring tones that mimic rotary telephone bells. "It's one of the biggest ring tones we sell," said Tom Valentino, president of Valentino Production Music, the nation's oldest sound-effects warehouse. In a similar vein, slot machines that pay out vouchers instead of cash often play a recording of cascading coins because research found customers missed the jackpot noise.

To keep reading, e-mail me at roy.rivenburg (at) latimes.com. I cannot post the full article here.

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Election Outrage: They melt in your mouth, not on the campaign trail. In a nationwide election to choose America's favorite product mascot, the M&M characters finished first with 22% of the vote, followed by the AFLAC duck (14%), Mr. Peanut (10%), the Pillsbury Doughboy (9%) and Tony the Tiger (6%).

The Governator: Relive California's wacky recall race with Recall Madness, the 2003 humor column we wrote for the Los Angeles Times. Below is our MasterCard ad spoof, which was written by Susanna Timmons and Roy Rivenburg:

Photo Illustration by Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times

Copyright (c) 2003 Los Angeles Times


What Would Jesus Drive?: Here's the column that got ripped off and circulated all over the Internet. From Sept. 6, 2000.

Medi-California Girls: The oldies get updated for aging baby-boomers. Click here.

A Politically Correct Oz: What would happen if the classic film were made today?

Off-Kilter Meets Cupid: Our Valentine's Day dating debacle. From the Los Angeles Times.


Copyright 2000-2008 by Roy Rivenburg

E-mail: Roy (at) offkilter.org