Monday, December 28, 2009

100 Years Ago - 1909

The year of 2009 is coming to a close. Instead of doing a recap of the events of the past year, the following is a recap of the events of 1909 -- 100 years ago.

Jan 1 – Barry Goldwater, Republican Senator and presidential candidate, was born in Phoenix, Arizona. “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.”

Jan 3 -- Victor Borge, musician and humorist, was born in Copenhagen. “There is more logic in humor than in anything else -- because humor is truth.”

Jan 22 -- An earthquake in Morocco killed 100 people.

Feb 1 -- The USA ended direct control over Cuba, evacuating U.S. troops after installing Jose Miguel Gomez as president.

Feb 9 -- The first U.S. legislation prohibiting narcotics was passed, targeting opium.

Feb 12 -- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in New York City by 60 people.

Feb 16 -- The first subway car with side doors was introduced in New York City.

Feb 17 -- A U.S. government commission reported that the tobacco industry was controlled by 6 men, who held a combined 86 companies.

Feb 17 -- Apache Chief Geronimo died in captivity of pneumonia at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”

Feb 27 -- President Theodore Roosevelt established a bird sanctuary 28 miles off the coast of San Francisco.

Mar 1 -- David Niven, actor, was born in Scotland. “I try to write, but it’s not easy. Acting is what’s easy.”

Mar 4 -- President William Howard Taft was inaugurated as the 27th President of the USA

Mar 23 -- British explorer Shackleford found the magnetic South Pole.

Mar 26 -- Russia invaded Persia to support Muhammad Ali as the Shah to replace the constitutional government.

Apr 6 -- Explorer Robert E. Peary and five others became the first men to reach the North Pole.

Apr 18 -- Joan of Arc was declared a saint.

Apr 27 -- The Sultan of Turkey was overthrown.

May 1 -- Walter Reed Hospital opened as an 80-bed Army medical center in Washington DC.

May 30 -- Benny Goodman, a clarinet player know as the King of Swing, was born in Chicago, Illinois. “Whatever you do, don’t stop -- just keep on going.”

Jun 1 -- President Taft sent a telegraph signal from Washington DC to Seattle opening the Seattle World’s Fair, and another signal to New York City to commence the New York to Seattle Automobile Race.

Jun 10 -- The first SOS signal ever transmitted in an emergency was sent from the Cunard Liner SS Slavonia off the Azores Islands.

Jun 14 -- Burl Ives, actor and folk singer, was born in Hunt, Illinois. “I went to my room and packed a change of clothes, got my banjo, and started walking down the road. Soon I found myself on the open highway headed east.” Ives had walked out of an English classroom in his junior year at Eastern Illinois State College, slamming the door behind him, and hit the road. He spent several decades as a wandering minstrel, working odd jobs, being jailed for vagrancy, and eventually falling into a radio show, later into TV and movies. I had met him and chatted with him many times in the early 1980s at a marina in Oxnard, California, where we each had our boats moored near one another. I owned a 42-foot yacht (double-masted ketch) at the time and he had a much larger, old-time schooner. He was a very warm, friendly person.

Jun 20 -- Errol Flynn, actor, was born in Hobart, Tasmania. “I like my whiskey old and my women young.”

Jun 23 -- A Model T Ford crossed the finish line in the New York City to Seattle Automobile Race. It took 22 days and 55 minutes and won $2,000 first prize. It was later disqualified for switching engines along the way. I have a nephew who can make that run today between sunrise and sunset, plus a few speeding tickets.

Jun 26 -- Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager, was born in the Netherlands. He was never a colonel. “Don’t try to explain it -- just sell it.”

Jul 27 -- Orville Wright tested the first U.S. Army airplane, with a passenger, over Fort Myer, Virginia. They were airborne for 1 hour, 12 minutes and 40 seconds.

Aug 2 -- The first U.S. Lincoln pennies were minted. They were 95 percent copper. They are still being minted today, at a cost of 1.7 cents each.

Aug 19 -- The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened with a 2.5 mile track. The first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race would be held two years later.

Aug 24 -- Workers started pouring concrete for the Panama Canal.

Sep 10 -- Adolph Hitler painted a series of views of Austria.

Sep 19 -- The Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Detroit Tigers, 4 games to 3, to win the World Series. It would be the last World Series appearance of Ty Cobb.

Oct 2 -- Orville Wright set a new airplane altitude record at 1,600 feet -- breaking the old record of 508 feet.

Oct 13 -- U.S. Federal taxes were imposed on corporate income.

Nov 8 -- Katherine Hepburn, actress, was born in Hartford, Connecticut. “I never lose sight of the fact that just being is fun.”

Nov 11 -- Construction began on the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Nov 18 -- The USA invaded Nicaragua and overthrew President Zelaya.

Nov 23 -- The Wright Brothers formed a million-dollar corporation to manufacture commercial airlines.

Dec 1 -- The first Israeli kibbutz (a collective farm settlement) was formed in Palestine.

Dec 2 -- J.P. Morgan acquired Equitable Life Company to become the largest known concentration of bank power to date.

Dec 9 -- Douglas Fairbanks Jr., actor, was born in New York City. “Every week we had a different story and a different setting.”

Dec 10 -- Sioux Indian Chief Red Cloud died on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “We do not want riches -- we want peace and love.”

Dec 26 -- Frederic Remington, American Western painter and sculptor, died due to complications in an emergency appendectomy in Ridgefield, Connecticut. “I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to vanish forever.”

Dec 28 -- Russian Socialists of the Zionist movement set up an armed camp in Palestine to protect their new farms and villages from attack by Arab marauders.

Perfection is a rare flash of bliss on the Planet of Wounded Souls. Flowers bloom, birds sing and water flows downhill. Unfortunately, humanity is swarming with fear, greed and lust for power, transforming an orb of wondrous possibilities into chaos and conflict.

Life goes on.

Quote for the Day -- “No tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.” William Howard Taft

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where water flows downhill. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Lao Tzu Proverb: "The career of a sage is of two kinds -- He is either honored by all in the world, like a flower waving its head, or else he disappears into the silent forest.”

Around 500 BC, Socrates developed a political and ethical philosophy in Greece, Pythagoras founded a mathematical, astronomical and philosophy society in Greece, Buddha expounded about Dharma and Nirvana in India, and Lao Tzu wrote the TAO TE CHING in China. It was an epoch of great intellectual and mystical evolution.

Lao Tzu Proverb: “The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.”

According to legend, Lao Tzu was born into a noble family in Hunan Province. He was in his thirteenth, and final, incarnation. He worked as a curator in the Imperial Library of the Zhou Dynasty where he met a young man named Confucius who had been browsing the library scrolls. For months, Lao Tzu and Confucius had lengthy discussions; Confucius believed in ritual and propriety whereas Lao Tzu considered them to be hollow practices.

Lao Tzu Proverb: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Later, Lao Tzu set out on a journey of silence into the wilderness. When he arrived at the Han Gu Pass, a gatekeeper persuaded him to write down some of his wisdom. Lao Tzu immediately wrote all 81 chapters of the TAO TE CHING, the most influential book of Chinese philosophical thought, providing the basis for Taoism.

Lao Tzu Proverb: "If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."

At the time, Chinese society was under a feudal system where the vast majority of the population was controlled by wealthy landowners and the government was becoming increasingly centralized and bureaucratic.

Confucius went on to become a famous social philosopher. He was a major proponent and architect of the strong centralized government, and recommended a social hierarchy in which everyone knew their place. He believed in the virtues of social discipline, obedience and duty, and thus wanted to reform society accordingly.

Whereas Confucianism wanted to conquer and exploit nature, the Taoists preferred to be at one with nature. Therefore, the Taoists rejected an imposed authority and believed everyone could live in a natural state of harmony. They wanted to contemplate and understand the flow of existence rather than attempt to harness it.

Lao Tzu Proverb: "Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."

Thus, there was a basic philosophical/political struggle. The Confucians wanted a structured social hierarchy and the Taoists wanted anarchy (the absence of a hierarchy whereby every person is of equal social status).

Lao Tzu Proverb: “Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.”

Some 2,500 years later, the same philosophical/political struggle continues. Influential men, in the realm of the power centers of the dollar, the sword and the soul, continue to seek control of earthly possessions through authoritarian means. Governments become tools of greed and evolve into unrestrained, suffocating organisms.

Lao Tzu Proverb: "The more laws and order are made prominent, the more thieves there will be."

The primary principle of Taoism is that the world should be ruled by letting things take their course rather than by interfering. Unfortunately, one person's ideal existence is another person's opportunity to take over.

In 1949, the Communists, officially atheistic, gained control of China and initiated a one-party government. Religion was outlawed. Taoist monks were sent to labor camps and Taoist infrastructure was destroyed. A hierarchical social structure prevailed and obedience was required. The Confucians were in control once again.

In 1982, some religious tolerance was restored, allowing the existence of five religions, including Taoism.

Little has changed in 2,500 years. Many human beings are still insecure, self-serving, intolerant and greedy. Rather than experiencing contentment in their surroundings, they are continually embarked on a treadmill of mindless growth and materialism, with no end in sight.

Lao Tzu Proverb: "Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

The struggle for freedom never ends. Too many people want everyone to adhere to their personal code of morality or means of support, and use government as an instrument to coerce others to conform to their ideals.

This has never been more true than at any time within our lifetimes. Confucianism has reemerged in the Obama administration whereby the objective is an ever-expanding massive central government controlling every aspect of the lives of its subjects from cradle to grave. Plus, there is the added danger of external forces behind closed doors manipulating global events to form a one-world government in an attempt to enslave the entire planet.

Lao Tzu Proverb: “Man’s enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself.”

Freedom is never free. If you just stand by and go with the flow, sooner or later the flow is going to include a whole bunch of self-righteous fanatics who will stomp all over you and utilize you to benefit themselves.

Lao Tzu Proverb: “At the center of your being, you have the answer.”

Without freedom, we're merely pawns in someone else's game.

Live free or die.

Lao Tzu Proverb: "If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve."

Quote for the Day -- "He who knows enough is enough will always have enough." Lao Tzu

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and has disappeared in the silent forest. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best Places to Die in the USA

Every living thing in this dimension suffers from extinction. Death is a part of life. It’s merely a matter of when and how. A coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave die but once.

All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Life is a three-act play -- birth, death and everything else in between. When the final curtain drops on the players, the audience applauds and life goes on.

Forbes Magazine, ever eager to promote optimal decision-making, has recently ranked the best places to die. The results are based on the following five categories with the weighted percentage of importance in parenthesis.

A) (44 percent) Health Care Quality – How well patients were treated for a variety of diseases based on the latest available data originally published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

B) (22 percent) Cancer Deaths in Hospitals, Nursing Homes, or at Home – Researchers at Brown University tracked where cancer patients were likely to die (home being the preferred choice).

C) (22 percent) Percent of Medicare Patients using Hospice in the Last Year of life – Data from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health based on the percentage of Medicare patients cared for at home in the last year of life.

D) (8 percent) Legal Protection – Based on an American Bar Association report on law and aging which rates each state in terms of quality and comprehensiveness of law for the elderly.

E) (4 percent) Estate Taxes – Computed, by state, for an estate worth $10 million legated by the widow or widower to their direct heirs, based on each individual state's estate and gift tax code.

For those concerned about such matters, perhaps you should switch to a decaf. The top places to die are:

1) Utah
2) Oregon
3) Delaware
4) Colorado
5) Hawaii
6) New Hampshire
7) Iowa
8) North Dakota
9) Vermont
10) Montana

Apparently, Utah is the best place to die. I've been to Utah and would wholeheartedly agree. If I’m not mistaken, Utah is a Ute Indian word meaning land of salt and boredom.

According to Mormon folklore, Utah is the land nobody wanted. But the Mormons yearned for a place where they could practice their religion without interference from the outside world, so they settled in the barren desert and set up shop. They frown on alcohol and gambling, but tend to have lots of kids -- not much else to do.

A few days ago, I wrote a piece about the best places to live in the USA. Based on longevity, Utah was third, behind Hawaii and Minnesota, as the number one state in which to live.

In Utah, you will live longer than almost anywhere else in the country and it’s the number one place to die (based on the above criteria). If you are a Latter-day Saint, you will fit right in. If you are any other form of Saint, you should probably practice your sainthood elsewhere.

The following states are at the bottom of the list. If you live in one of these states, you might consider moving to Salt Lake City and joining the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

45) Texas
46) New Jersey
47) Mississippi
48) Louisiana
49) Ohio
50) Illinois

Birth is a blessed gift, death is inevitable and everything else in between is up to us. You can either live life to the fullest or screw it all up. In the end, all that truly matters is the impact, or lack thereof, you left on the world.

But don't worry too much about the end of existence in this dimension. It's just another phase we go through on the eternal sojourn of the soul into the infinite.

And eternity is a very long time, especially toward the end.

Quote for the Day -- “There are worse things than death -- like spending an afternoon with an insurance salesman.” Woody Allen

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and the ghost of John the Revelator. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Best Places to Live in the USA

The search for the ideal place to live has been a big part of my life. I prefer a tranquil rural area with a hilly terrain, affordable housing, moderate weather and earthy women.

I've lived in scores of places in 11 states now and have yet to find heaven on earth, but I keep getting closer. Apparently, perfection is a state of mind rather than a spot on a map.

Obviously, everyone has their own reason for choosing where to live, such as economic opportunities, cost of living, political environment, quality of education, social atmosphere, recreational activities, climate, etc.

One consideration for finding the ideal place to nest might be projected life expectancy of various locations. Dr. Christopher Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study of life spans across the USA.

The longest human life spans by state are:
Hawaii – 80.0
Minnesota – 78.8
Connecticut -- 78.7
Utah – 78.7
Massachusetts – 78.4
Iowa -- 78.3
New Hampshire -- 78.3
North Dakota -- 78.3
Rhode Island – 78.3

The shortest life spans by state are:
Georgia – 75.3
Arkansas -- 75.2
Kentucky -- 75.2
Oklahoma – 75.2
Tennessee -- 75.1
West Virginia – 75.1
Alabama – 74.4
Louisiana – 74.2
Mississippi – 73.6

For some reason, southerners don't last as long as the rest of the country. That's probably because they're too busy having a good time, eating too much deep-fried possum and breathing in too many NASCAR fumes.

Hawaii may be a good place to live a long life but it's also highly vulnerable to natural disasters. A university study, recently published by Live Science, listed the largest 50 American cities from the safest to the most vulnerable to natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, flooding, etc.).

The 10 safest cities are:
1) Mesa, Ariz.
2) Milwaukee, Wis.
3) Cleveland, Ohio
4) El Paso, Tex.
5) Phoenix, Ariz.
6) Tucson, Ariz.
7) Colorado Springs, Colo.
8) Detroit, Mich.
9) Fresno, Calif.
10) Minneapolis, Minn.

The 10 most dangerous American cities when it comes to natural disasters are:
41) Tulsa, Okla.
42) Long Beach, Calif.
43) Houston, Tex.
44) Los Angeles, Calif.
45) San Jose, Calif.
46) Honolulu, Hawaii
47) San Francisco, Calif.
48) Oakland, Calif.
49) New Orleans, La.
50) Miami, Fla.

The most dangerous places are near the ocean. The West Coast is along the Pacific Ring of Fire where there's a lot of volcanic and seismic activity, and the East Coast has an active annual hurricane season.

I lived in Miami (1964-65) during Hurricane Cleo (devastating property damage) and in Los Angeles (1975-86) through many earthquakes (mostly minor), not to mention brush fires, mudslides and occasional riots.

Another study, posted on the Internet at, listed the same largest 50 American cities, from best to worst, based on "essential quality-of-life and economic factors that affect your personal sustainability."

The top 10 cities are:
1) Portland, Ore.
2) San Francisco, Calif.
3) Seattle, Wash.
4) Chicago, Ill.
5) Oakland, Calif.
6) New York City, N.Y.
7) Boston, Mass.
8) Philadelphia, Penn.
9) Denver, Colo.
10) Minneapolis, Minn.

The 10 least favorable cities (pre-Katrina) are:
41) Arlington, Tex.
42) Nashville, Tenn.
43) Detroit, Mich.
44) Memphis, Tenn.
45) Indianapolis, Ind.
46) Fort Worth, Tex.
47) Mesa, Ariz.
48) Virginia Beach, Va.
49) Oklahoma City, Okla.
50) Columbus, Ohio.

Utilizing the above criteria, Minneapolis appears to be the best place to live. Minnesota is second in terms of life span, plus Minneapolis is in the top ten of the safest cities and in the top ten of the most sustainable cities.

I lived in the Minneapolis metropolitan area in 1956-64 and 1968-75. It's a great place, but very cold in the winter and the summers are infested with the Minnesota state bird, more commonly known as the mosquito.

These days, I’m in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas, where the terrain is hilly, housing is affordable, weather is fairly moderate and the women are definitely earthy. I’ll probably remain here for a long time.

The one place you don't want to live is anywhere near me, especially if you have noisy kids or wind chimes.

Quote for the Day -- “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where earthy women roam free. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Law of Life

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past are certain to prolong reaching the future.

I remember my fourth grade teacher giving us a glimpse of the future. We were told that things would be so modernized when we grew up that we would have much more free time on our hands than our parents.

My father, like almost everyone else in the 1950’s, was working 40 hours a week. My mother was being a 1950’s mother, staying at home to take care of the family. I was relieved to learn that I wouldn’t have to put in that many hours when I was my parent’s age.

But it never came true.

More than a half century later, Americans are still stuck in the rut of a 40-hour workweek. In fact, Americans now average more hours per week than they did fifty years ago and have less vacation time than any other industrial nation in the world. And in many cases, both parents are forced to work just to stay even.

The average American family pays more in taxes than food, clothing, shelter and transportation combined. Either we are incapable of being personally responsible for our own welfare or government has gotten vastly out of control.

Nearly 50 percent of our income goes to government. This includes federal & state income tax, social security tax, Medicare tax, real estate property tax, personal property tax, state & county & city sales tax, self-employment tax, gasoline tax, liquor tax, cigarette tax, federal excise tax, import tax, luxury tax, gift tax, inheritance tax, hotel tax, transportation tax, federal & state & county telephone tax, etc., etc.

We’re stuck at 40 hours per week of labor with nearly 20 of those hours going to government coffers.

This is insane.

Instead of finding a rational solution to this tedious work load, the federal government keeps churning away trying to find new ways to fit everyone into a 40-hour per week job to keep the giant economic engine going. They are stuck with a 1950s model of the way things ought to be, rather than figuring out ways to lesson the tax burden on the people and lower government spending.

The government assumes the solution to unemployment is to create more jobs into a full-time 40-hour week paradigm. Instead, it would make much more sense to be flexible with the 40-hour per week system. If the work week was shorter, more people would have jobs, creating the same amount of output.

For example, if you have 80 people working and 20 people on unemployment at a 40-hour week, you have an output of 3,200 man-hours of production. But if you reduced the work week to 32 hours, all 100 people would still create 3,200 man-hours of production per week. Flexibility of hours allows everyone to work and shortens the hours, without any loss of productivity.

An even more radical solution is a 3-day work week of 9-hour days. This would allow half of the work force to work 27 hours for 3 days and the other half to work 27 hours the next 3 days. This would increase overall output from a 40-hour week of productivity to a 54-hour per week productivity, whereby we would actually produce more while working less individual hours, plus there would be “jobs” for twice as many people as before.

Nobody, with the possible exception of Hugh Hefner, goes to their grave wishing they had spent more time working at their job. Recent surveys show that most Americans don’t really like their jobs. They’re working jobs they hate in order to buy things they don’t need, and half of what they earn is confiscated from them for various dubious government adventures that are overly costly and almost always include unintended adverse consequences.

A prime example of the wastefulness and sheer ignorance of consequences of the federal government was the recent Cash for Clunkers program, which they naturally claim was a smashing success.

A clunker that travels 12,000 miles a year at 15 mpg uses 800 gallons of gas a year. A vehicle that travels 12,000 miles a year at 25 mpg uses 480 gallons a year. Thus, the average Cash for Clunkers transaction will reduce US gasoline consumption by 320 gallons per year. They claim 700,000 vehicles were involved so that's 224 million gallons saved per year, which equals about 5 million barrels of oil. And 5 million barrels of oil at $70 per barrel costs about $350 million dollars. Therefore, the government used $3 billion of our tax dollars to save $350 million, which amounts to costing $8.57 for every dollar saved.

This is the same government that creates a penny at a cost of 1.7 cents per penny.

And everyone keeps grinding away, 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, pouring money down a rat hole, while their inefficient central government is having endless meetings trying to think of ways to create more 40-hour per week jobs.

If we reduce the workweek, more people will have jobs. Plus, everyone will have more free time, which in turn will create more job opportunities in various travel, recreational, vacation, entertainment, hobby, crafts, art, and environmental sectors.

Instead of trying to maintain a 1950s model of existence, we should endeavor to improve our quality of life. We need to work less and enjoy life more. As predicted, everything has been modernized. My fourth grade teacher would be amazed -- electronics, robotics, improved vehicles, computers, Internet, satellite communications, i-pods, e-mail, cell phones, laser technology, medical advances, etc.

A rigid 40-hour workweek contributes to the “unemployment” problem, not the lack of jobs. A shorter workweek is the solution, not creating more tasks for people to do. Flexibility and adaptability is the key, not trying to fit the modern world into the distant past.

The wasteful, ever-growing federal government intrusion in the economy is beyond the scope of their function and will only make matters worse. Their task is to ensure a level playing field, protect individual rights, maintain a common infrastructure and allow the freedom of the marketplace to flourish on its own. It is not within their purview to define or maintain or manipulate or manage the private jobs of private citizens.

An administration that attempts to solve the over-spending of the past by excessively over-spending even more in the present and the future is not to be trusted with the economy, or anything else.

Plunging the nation into unprecedented debt may be the governmental prescription for keeping its citizens enslaved into working full-time forever, but it’s not much fun for the slaves.

The USA is based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have a long history of sacrificing lives to maintain our individual freedom. Yet in 2009, we are being treated like cogs within a monolithic, socialistic central government machine.

Planet Earth is slowly becoming a prison planet. And if we stay the course, it will culminate in a monolithic, socialistic one-world government.

The struggle for freedom never ends.

Instead to rallying for more jobs, we should be rallying for less work and more freedom.

Quote for the Day -- “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Thomas Jefferson

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where modernization includes indoor plumbing. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Darwin Awards

In 1993, a student at Stanford University named Wendy Northcutt began collecting unusual stories about the foolish actions of her fellow human beings and sent them to her friends. Thus the annual Darwin Awards, given to individuals who "remove themselves from the gene pool in the most spectacular manner," came into being.

To be honored with the Darwin Award one must behave in an extraordinarily idiotic manner. Death is not required. The honoree must merely be removed from the gene pool (unable to procreate).

Past honorees include a man in North Carolina who jumped out of an airplane without a parachute to film skydivers, a man in Croatia who juggled live hand grenades and a person who used a cigarette lighter to examine a fuel tank to see if it contained any flammable vapors.

The 1996 Darwin Award winner, Garry Hoy, 39, was a lawyer demonstrating the safety of the windows of the Dominion Bank Tower in Toronto. Explaining the window strength to visiting law students, he took a run at the window and crashed through a pane with his shoulder, landing in the courtyard 24 floors below.

A man named Phil in New Zealand was a Darwin Award finalist in 2003. He needed to make repairs under his car but when he jacked it up there wasn't enough room to work so he removed the car's battery and mounted the jack on top of it. The battery collapsed trapping Phil underneath, rendering him unable to breathe. As often happens with Darwin Awards, there was plenty of irony involved. Phil was the Accident Prevention Officer at a large factory. Several years earlier he had been working under a car when the jack collapsed, breaking his leg.

Another 2003 finalist was a man from Kansas whose car broke down on Interstate 35. He stepped away from the busy freeway to call for help on his cell phone. Unfortunately, he was now standing on railroad tracks. The railroad engineer later explained that the man was holding the cell phone to one ear and had his other hand cupping his other ear to block the noise of the oncoming train. The train was not damaged in the collision.

At approximately 3:00 a.m. one winter night/morning, David Hubal, 22, and some of his buddies hiked up a ski run called Stump Alley on Mammoth Mountain in northern California. On the way up the slope, they removed some foam pads from one of the lift towers. Using the pads to slide down the ski slope, Hubel crashed into one of the ski towers and died. Naturally and ironically, it was the very tower where the foam pads had been removed.

My favorite Darwin Award winners are (the late) John Pernicky and (the late) Sal Hawkins from the state of Washington. After consuming 18 beers, they decided to attend a Metallica concert. Since they had no tickets, they figured they could sneak into the show and backed their truck up to the nine-foot fence. Pernicky weighed 100 pounds more than Hawkins so he went first, failing to notice the 30-foot drop on the other side.

Pernicky heaved himself over the fence, crashed into a tree, breaking his arm, and was abruptly halted when his shorts became snagged by a large branch. Dangling from the tree with a broken arm, he spotted a clump of bushes below. Using his pocket knife, he cut away his shorts to free himself and promptly landed in the prickly holly bushes where he became thoroughly scratched by sharp leaves and impaled by holly branches. Plus his pocket knife had somehow penetrated three inches into his thigh.

Hawkins, seeing his buddy in distress, quickly tied a rope to the back of the pickup truck and tossed the line down to Pernicky. But in his drunken haste, Hawkins threw the truck into reverse, crashed through the fence and landed squarely on his buddy, putting him out of his misery. Hawkins was thrown 100 feet from the truck and died of massive internal injuries. When the police removed the truck from atop Pernicky, they discovered a half naked body with multiple contusions, a knife in his thigh and his shorts dangling from a tree branch 25 feet in the air.

When it comes to idiotic behavior, it only takes a couple of stooges and 18 beers to get the ball rolling.

The 2009 Darwin winner was an amateur rocket scientist in Arizona who attached a JATO unit (a solid rocket engine) to his 1967 Chevy Impala and went out into the desert on a long, straight stretch of road for a demonstration. The JATO reached its maximum thrust in 5 seconds, causing the Chevy to immediately attain a speed in excess of 350 miles per hour and continued at full throttle for another 20-25 seconds, reaching a speed of 420 mph. The car remained on the road for about 2.5 miles. The driver melted the brakes, blowing the tires, then went airborne for an additional 1.4 miles whereupon it smashed into the face of a cliff at a height of 125 feet. A fingernail and bone shards were removed from a chunk of debris believed to be the steering wheel.

Some Darwin winners expire in acts of stupidity, others go out in a blaze of glory.

I once owned a 1967 Chevy Camaro -- canary yellow with a black vinyl roof. I never got it up beyond 120 MPH though. But then again, my mama didn’t raise any rocket scientists.

Quote for the Day -- “A child of five would understand this -- send someone to fetch a child of five.” Groucho Marx

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where idiots roam free. His blogs appear on several websites, including