VFW Post 805 in O'Fallon, Illinois, sent a special appeal to Unreal a few days ago on behalf of Captain Stephen Eratell, the U.S. military chaplain in Mosul, a city of 1.7 million in northeast Iraq that is one of al-Qaeda's last strongholds. In Iraq, as in all Islamic countries, a mosque official called a muezzin summons the faithful to prayer five times a day. Writes Eratell: "I was thinking the other morning as I was walking to the gym and hearing that alien sound how nice it would be to hear church bells, and it got me thinking how nice it would be to have CHURCH BELLS on my chapel." (Never mind that Eratell's "chapel" is actually a garage used for storage as well as prayer.) Chip Shaffer, the troop support officer at Post 805, got on the case.
Unreal: Do church bells come with a complimentary bell ringer?
Chip Shaffer: I was wondering about that, too. What if the bell ringer is late? But it turns out most churches, except the very old ones, use electronic bell systems now. They're computer-controlled, with a speaker and amplifier. We're looking at a portable system with a laptop. All the wiring and the amplifier and speakers come with it. It's a 1,000-watt system.
How much do those babies go for?
This one is $4,000.
Wow. Do custom ringtones cost extra?
There are several chimes. The chaplain can pick which one he wants to use.
Is he going to set them to ring five times a day, too?
He has services at different times during the week. He'll probably ring them at noon every day, like churches here, and then on Sunday.
Do you think this will make al-Qaeda upset?
I hope they are.
What about Jewish soldiers? Don't they need a call to prayer, too? Will the chaplain ask for a shofar next?
The chaplain holds Jewish services also. He's multitalented. He does many things.
We'll say. Blowing that ram's horn ain't easy!
Make It Official
Democratic State Representative Curt Dougherty of Independence captured headlines last week when he introduced a bill that would make Budweiser the official beer of Missouri.
Says Dougherty: "We've got a state dinosaur, a state frog, a state reptile, a state flower, a state nut, but no one has given a thought to a company that's been in Missouri for many, many years and is bringing prosperity to our state and manufacturing a product in our state that many people enjoy."
Let it be known that Unreal supports Dougherty's efforts — though we'd add a provision that would satisfy outstate interests by declaring Busch Light the official beer of rural Missouri.
And while we're at it, we humbly suggest these long-overdue "official" measures:
• Designate Tums as the state's official antacid.
• Make Roundup Missouri's official herbicide.
• Make crystal meth the official drug of Missouri and officially designate the state "Meth Capital of the Nation."
• Adopt gonorrhea as the state's official venereal disease. Despite the fact that the city of St. Louis led the nation in diagnosed cases of this STD in 2007, this might prove an uphill battle given that chlamydia was even more prevalent. Therefore, Unreal is open to a compromise that would co-designate both diseases.
• Replace square dancing as the state's official dance with St. Louis rapper Huey's popular "Pop, Lock and Drop It."
In the beginning there were doggie sweaters and stoles. Then poochie purses and spas, root canals and life insurance. Lest our pups start thinking it's our world they're lucky to be living in, now there is doggie music, approved by dogs.
Unreal heard about these "Pet CDs" from Skip Haynes, a Los Angeles-based music producer who'd had enough with celebrities and set about creating animal music with partner Dana Walden. Their Laurel Canyon Animal Company just released its ninth album, Songs to Make Dogs Happy! And though it hasn't hit Billboard's charts yet, the record is definitely making history for using animal communicators and canine focus groups. Oh yes. And there's more....
Unreal: You must be the only person in the world producing music for animals, with psychics.
Skip Haynes: Yeah, probably. Nobody else would have thought of it — why!?
My question exactly.
Our first album was Ugly Dogs Need More Love, about our neighborhood dogs. We sold it at our local country store and it did well, so we did Catatonic, and that did well, too. Next we signed a parrot named Carla to our label. Her CD is finally going to be released next week. It's called I'm a Green Chicken. That's Carla's signature phrase.
Who'd listen to that?
It's a cool song. The parrot sings the chorus; we do the rest.
And then you decided to bring aboard a gorilla for what you call "interspecies musical communication"?
Yes. Her name is Koko, and she understands English perfectly and communicates with sign language. She's extremely famous. She took her own photo for the cover of National Geographic. She's very difficult to get to. She turned down Disney, Porsche, Apple — every major company in the world. We created music for Koko and she vetted the lyrics. She actually changed some of them.
And you weren't on drugs?
This is stuff you couldn't even think up on drugs! We knew that next we needed to find a Dr. Doolittle — an animal psychic. I saw Dr. Kim Ogden on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. I called her up and asked if she could act as a translator. So she put focus groups of dogs together. She'd play our music and say, "Here's what they liked," and so on. We found out dogs like happy, they don't like sad, and that they equate faster tempos with happy.
Last I knew dogs couldn't talk, let alone express their tastes in music.
Well, when I first started doing this, my opinion of animal psychics was Dionne Warwick/Psychic Friends Network.
And what kind of questions did Dr. Ogden "ask" her 250 canine participants?
She has three ways of communicating: One, through mental images — that's the main way animals communicate. The other one is emotionally: She can tell if they're scared or happy. Third is physically, so if an animal is ill, she'll feel a corresponding twitch or queasy stomach.
And this pays the rent?
We're just now getting into decent money — it's been almost nine years. I've gotten thousands of e-mails about the first CD. It just blew our minds. It calms dogs down. And now we use communicators all the time to really dial into the animals. Sometimes you don't want to hear what they have to say; that's the only thing I don't like about it. We were going to do something with rescued large cats, and when you start delving into those kind of animals, they don't have anything good to say about human beings. It's all about rage.
We're doing some stuff that's really out there — like, existential — now.
We're working with some communicators that work with plants, because we want to see if we can make music that'll communicate with plants in a certain way.