Author Archives: Belton McMurrey

About Belton McMurrey

ANTH 333

Finland/Lapland Dogsled Setup, Maintenance, Operation

The following outlines the steps to setting up and arranging a traditional Lappish (northern Finnish) dogsled team, along with operating the various functions of the sled itself.


The process is one I learned from my guide during a weeklong excursion into the northern Finnish wilderness and subsequently practiced myself on a daily basis.


In the morning, after feeding the sled dogs, who are altogether kept along a chain line (attached by their collars), each member of the five-dog team is harnessed one-by-one onto the sled. Their harnesses are first slipped over their heads, with their collars then buckled to a line attached to the sled. Their front paws/legs must then be guided through two front straps. At this point, the dog can be considered securely attached.


A particular layout and order of the dogs is required for a one-man sled with about 50-100 lbs of cargo to be properly driven:


Two dogs are placed at the front of the line, one in the middle, and two in the back (closest to the sled). The dogs at the front are known as the lead dogs, typically reserved for those that are younger and less experienced, while the dogs at the back are known as the wheel dogs, the strongest and most capable of the pack. The dog in the middle, known as the center, is the dominant member of all five, meant to lead the wheel dogs on and keep the lead dogs in check should they misbehave.


The lead and wheel dogs are also buckled to each other, along with being attached to the sled line, as to keep their strides in sync and prevent any wandering from any direction that is not forwards.


If the sled is larger in size, or there is a greater amount of cargo (and thus more weight), more dogs will be needed. To do this, a set of three dogs (a single and a pair of leads) are attached to the front of the already present five, totaling eight. A greater number is typically unnecessary.


It should be noted that having a greater number of dogs on a smaller sled will not make it go any faster, as the dogs are all attached and therefore can only run at the same speed as an individual is capable. What it does serve to do is disperse the weight of the sled even more, and thus allow the dogs to travel for longer distances and amounts of time without becoming exhausted.


What is interesting to note is that the dogs, having been raised by Finnish trainers, respond only to commands in Finnish, unable to understand any other languages such as English. This is particularly important when driving the sled. As there are no steering-related controls, any shifts in direction must be verbally commanded to the dogs in Finnish, being either vasen (left) or oikea (right). However, steering is not often necessary as the dogs usually follow paths that are already made, leaving the commands to be reserved for turns and switches onto new paths. Should the dogs travel the wrong way, the driver must hop off the sled and manually guide the dogs back in the proper direction.


Getting off the sled arises the matter of braking, which is performed using the feet. A flat metal mandible bar is stepped on, the bottom of the bar containing two outward-sticking pieces of rebar that dig into the snow below, slowing or, if pressed completely down, halting the dogs.


Longer periods of braking require a large metal hook tied to the sled and hung off the side when not in use. To use this hook, one must have already braked the dogs to a halt with the manual step, then throwing the hook into a solid patch of snow/ice and lodging it firmly into the ground. This way, when the dogs attempt to move forward, the hook anchors them in place and prevents them from moving. Additional security can be managed by using another length of rope to tie the sled to a nearby tree.


Once back on the sled, (and if necessary, having removed the anchor hook from the ground) the driver lifts their foot from the brake and shouts at the dogs mennä (go) or juosta (run) in order to prompt their team to resume running.


I Love Food quip

The following is a brief quip taken from a cousin preceding a group excursion to lunch in rural Tennessee.


On deciding where to go, the driver of the car asked what kind of food everyone wanted. To which my cousin replied:


“I love food. I eat it every day.”


*Some quiet laughter from a few people*


“Sometimes more than once.”


*loud laughter ensues from the entire group*


This joke signifies the familiarity with the ‘Rule of Threes’ in comedy, being that joke structure is often comprised of three stages. Different than a simple punchline joke, where a concluding line of humor is preceded by seemingly non-humorous buildup, this tiered structure makes use of increasingly funny quips that build off of each other to make a whole. While the third tier is similar to a punchline, the buildup consists entirely of humor, rather than a lack of it.


To only do two would be too little an effort (as reflected by the lack of laughs at first), and presumably, four would be an unnecessary excess. Similar to that of Goldilocks, the rule of threes naturally feels ‘just right.’


In this case, it twisted the subject matter of the core necessary activities for human survival: eating, and the standard of having three meals a day. By suggesting this daily necessity as a pleasurable matter of choice, the joker turned the most general of logic into a humorous

Mother’s Witty Toast

The following is a recollection of a slightly drunken toast given by a friend’s mother. I had seen a video clipping of his mother giving the toast on the social media application Snapchat, although I could not understand what was being said (although it was quite clear from the many empty glasses of wine beside her what libations had led into the toast itself).


When I next saw my friend, I asked him out of curiosity what the specifics of the toast were. He indicated that it is a witty one his mother frequently gives at particular family outings when all six of his siblings are present at the table.


This particular toast was aimed at the eldest brother, who had just welcomed a newborn son (his first child) with his wife.


My friend’s imparting of his mother’s toast went as follows:


Here’s to you, as good as you are. Here’s to me, as bad as I am. And as bad as I am, you’re as good as you are. And as good as you are, I’m as bad as I am.


A common trait seen in toasts is a subtle mixture of humor and seriousness. Being a proclamation of goodwill towards the subject (or subjects), the overall message usually bears a heartfelt sentimentality meant to outweigh any teasing or foolery that precedes it.


What is distinct of this toast, in particular, is a cheeky admission regarding each side’s tendency towards good and bad, with an exclusive insistence of ‘good’ on the side of the subject and an exclusive insistence of ‘bad’ on the side of the presenter.


Despite the presenter painting themselves as bad, the repetition that makes up the bulk of the toast indicates this in a manner more celebratory than derogatory and only made possible/acceptable by the good of the subject balancing out the bad of the other.


In this, both sides of good and bad are made necessary by their pairing together.


The particular details and background of the following prank were introduced to me by a fellow student majoring in computer science.


The prank in question takes place on internet video platforms, most commonly YouTube, where viewers are led to believe they are accessing entirely unrelated material and instead are met with the surprise appearance of the music video for Rick Astley’s 1987 song ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’ Having been performed so many times as to have earned its own name, the prank has come to be known as ‘rickrolling,’ a reference to Astley’s name.


Although I was previously familiar with the prank’s ubiquity, having been ‘rickrolled’ myself a number of times prior, its intentional nonsensicality was not apparent until being explained.


As a prank that exists in a simple digital form and relies entirely on taking advantage of the internet’s functions, ‘rickrolling’ is a definitive example of the relationship between perpetrator and victim when pranks are performed over the internet. In real life, there requires some kind of physical interaction to be pranked, but on the internet, there remains complete anonymity. The victim will likely never have any idea who ‘rickrolled’ them, and given the nonexistent physical consequences of the prank itself, will not have any incentive to find out themselves.


See More:

A transformative step for this prank occurred as that of a marketing tool in the leadup to the release of the second season of HBO’s television program Westworld. The creators of the show, known for its complicated narrative and plot twists, formally announced they would release a video revealing a comprehensive guide to every narrative step of the show in advance, effectively spoiling every surprise the season held before airing.


Because much of the show’s popularity derives from trying to guess and anticipate each of these twists, critics and viewers alike contentiously debated this unprecedented decision that would undermine the effectiveness of a highly anticipated release and seemed to reflect an unsettling ignorance (on the creator’s parts) of the show’s major appeal.


When the aforementioned spoiler guide was released onto the video platform YouTube, viewers were treated to the sight of the program’s lead actress singing a piano cover of Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up,’ a nod to the traditional practice of ‘rickrolling’ and a solid indication that the entire announcement was a prank itself.


It is worth noting that even this sly and cleverly-angled marketing strategy relied on an unexpected narrative twist (although created in real life, impressively), just as the show itself relies on such methods to keep viewers engaged.

Professor of Logic Joke

The following is a narrative joke told to me by a friend, informally called ‘The Professor of Logic.’ On asking me if I had heard it, which I hadn’t, he insisted on telling it.


He proceeded to tell it as such:


“This guy Chuck goes over to his neighbor, who’s just moved in. He tells him the usual,

“Hi, just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood, what’s your name?”

 The guy’s like “Hi, I’m Jerry.”


Eventually they get to what they do. Chuck goes “I’m a plumber.”

The other guy says he’s a professor of logic at a university.


Chuck asks him,

“What do you teach?”

“I’m a professor of logic.”

“What do you mean by that?”


And the professor says,

“Let me give you an example. Do you have a doghouse?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Well, then I’d assume you have a dog.”



“Well, you know, when dogs have dog houses, and they live in them, that means you have a few kids, and it’s theirs and they take care of it.”

“I do have kids. Two of ‘em actually.”


“Alright, you got kids. That usually means you’re married. To a woman, in most cases.”

“Yeah, I’m married to a woman.

“Well, then you’re a heterosexual male.”

“I am, that’s right.”


“Now you see. Just by asking you if you have a doghouse, I was able to determine you’re a heterosexual male.”

Chuck just goes, “Wow! That’s unbelievable.” And he leaves, impressed.


The next day, our guy Chuck, the main one, not the professor, he’s hustling to get to the bus stop.

So, he gets there. Sees this guy next to him, he asks him if the bus has already come.


“No, it hasn’t.”

Chuck says oh, guess we’ll just have to wait a few minutes, then.

And, uh, the other guy lights up a cigarette and jokingly says “As soon as I light this cigarette, I bet the bus is gonna show up.”

Sure enough, he lights it, and the bus comes around the corner.


Chuck, amazed again, asks him if he’s a professor of logic. The guy with the cigarette doesn’t know what that means, he asks Chuck to explain.


Chuck doesn’t quite know how, and he says,

“Here, let me give you an example.”

“Sure, what”

“You have a doghouse?”


“Oh, you must be one of them gays!”


This joke is interesting in its mix of initially intriguing intelligence (regarding the professor of logic’s deductive reasoning) that is later subverted by the stupidity of a person who has completely misinterpreted the meaning of what he’s learned, made only clear with the last line. Given its relative lengthiness in needing to be told over the course of one or two full minutes, the building leading into the final punchline is provided a greater level of anticipation given the relative lack of humorous bits leading up to it. This serves to create a complex, but highly example of a classic punchline-based joke where the sum of the humor is comprised of an ending that only works as a result of the lines that come before it.

Finland Sauna Preparation

The steps listed outline the methods for preparing a traditional Finnish sauna, something I observed from a local guide and later performed myself multiple times during a 7-day excursion in the Lapland area of northern Finland during the winter months.


The excursion itself centered around driving teams of dogs from point to point over a 200+ km journey, with stopping points each night at small cabins. This being the wilderness, there is no running water or electricity.


At each cabin there would be a small adjoining building housing a sauna. In place of showering, the sauna is used to clean oneself before retiring to bed.


Preparing the sauna for use involves gathering small bits of wood, often required to be split from logs supplied from a woodshed and using them to fire up the sauna’s stove. The heat from the stove subsequently heats up coals that, when water is poured over them, feed steam into the sauna. Given that the coals take approximately 45 minutes to heat properly, water is then gathered from an adjacent source, typically a lake (Finland’s marshy, water-dotted landscape provides ideal terrain for this).


By winter, however, this water is frozen many inches thick and covered in feet of snow. Therefore, retrieving the necessary amounts of water takes considerable effort:


A sled bearing three large buckets (around 3ft tall) is brought to a large hole in the ice that is left covered when not in use, preserving the hole from freezing shut. A heavy wooden pick with a metallic end (overall resembling a spear) is used to clear whatever thin layer of ice is in the way. The three buckets are then filled bit by bit (using smaller buckets) until full. Two buckets are brought to the sauna, the other to the cabin to be used for drinking water.


In the sauna, the two buckets of freezing lake water are set aside as sources for the coals and for personal washing. A metal kettle sitting over the stove is then filled to be brought to a boil.


The sauna itself is constructed almost entirely from wood, with the floorboards evenly spaced out as to allow water to seep through and be funneled outside. Two tiers of wooden benches line one side. Considering that hot air rises, choosing the higher or lower bench is a matter of heat preference. Water is then poured onto the now-hot coals using a wooden ladle. The more water is poured, the more steam is produced. And therefore, the room becomes hotter, prompting greater amounts of sweat from the body. How much water is poured is another matter of preference.


Finnish custom involves entering the sauna nude, often times with a beer. Sharing the space with others, men or women, is not considered a taboo, and conversation between occupants is a typical tool to pass the time more easily. However, communal occupancy is not entirely expected, as one may request individual privacy in the sauna to no insult.


When one is finished, often known once the body is completely covered in sweat (a process that generally takes 30 minutes), one then stands over the drainage floorboards and douses themselves with a mixture of the adjacent freezing lake water and boiling kettle water. Once the sweat is completely washed away, it is time to dry off, re-dress and return to the cabin. However, it is also another alternative Finnish custom to either jump in the lake (if safe and if there is a place to enter) or roll around in the snow, as opposed to dousing oneself with water.


Although the prevalence of the sauna is a mainstay of outsider’s perceptions of Finnish culture, understanding it as a substitute for showers/running water in wilderness areas illustrates a purpose originally rooted in practical function, not mere leisure (as the sauna’s centrality to luxurious spas in the Western hemisphere might initially lead one to believe). However, with the custom of drinking a beer or holding conversations while steaming, one could argue that the Finns have allowed a distinct concession of leisure to their system of bathing.

SAE Fraternity Memorial Celebration

At the University of the South (informally known as Sewanee) in rural Tennessee, I witnessed and participated in a large informal celebration held in memory of my late brother, with the university his alma mater. The celebration was preceded by a more formal memorial charity golf tournament held earlier in the day. The party detailed below followed not long after at the university’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE for short, also my late brother’s fraternity). The fraternity also arranged the golf tournament itself and arranged for a recreational social gathering to follow. The entirety of my late brother’s former fraternity members (known as a pledge class) were present, along with former classmates.


Earlier in the evening, a small concert led by popular local musicians was held on the porch, along with barbequed food consisting of brisket, sausage, and potato salad (among others).


Following the departure of the band and caterers, the approach of the crowd in the building shifted as higher levels of activity (and intoxication) became acceptable now that the night had progressed, and daylight had passed completely into night.


A crowd of around 50 to 75 remaining partygoers congregated completely into a large corner room of the building, an area adjacent to the kitchen where food is typically served for similar events. For such functions, there is a large rectangular table centered in the room bearing the yellow and purple colors of the house along with their coat of arms and titular house letters.


With large speakers taking the place of the band and copious amounts of beer taking place of the caterers, the entire crowd then gathered around the center table to the tune of a pre-arranged musical playlist of Harry’s favorite songs, occasionally breaking up any potential melancholy brought about by the playlist with popular dancing songs in order to keep energy levels consistent.


In tandem with the music starting, people in pairs or trios came to take turns dancing on the tabletop for a few minutes at a time, usually remaining for the duration of two to three songs before excusing themselves from the center of attention and being helped down, to be quickly followed by another pair or trio hopping up.


The entire party lasted until the hours between 12am and 1am, when large activities are legally required to shut down. Given that the gathering in the table-centered area began around 9:30 to 10:00 pm, this particular activity therefore extended for roughly 2 to 2.5 hours in total.


Although this congregation of friends and family came about in remembrance of tragic circumstances (ie someone’s untimely death), the resulting proximity of so many at once where they may have otherwise not been brought together in such a way prompts not only a celebration of the life of he who passed, but also a celebration of the many lives that have continued on.


Such a situation goes to show how happiness in large groups is capable of wholly overwhelming any notions of sadness, and that such celebrations in the wake of tragedies can be considered appropriate when such an effect is properly achieved and initially intended.

Calera Pens Severed Testicles Prank

Tres, a cowboy that has worked on my family’s ancestral ranch for nearly twenty years, illustrated a commonly-occurring prank that occurs during the process of castrating and ear-tagging young cattle (calves) during the summer months.


To provide locational context:

The calera pens, where the prank is most likely to take place, is an octagonal dirt arena where calves are let in three to five at a time from an adjacent pen holding around 100 calves in total.


At any given time, there tend to be around ten cowboys occupying the pens as to make quick work of the calves that are let in. Clearing out the total queue of calves takes a matter of what usually amounts to three hours.


Each round of calves that enters is quickly and methodically dispatched with a combination of lasso-ropes thrown around the calves’ hind legs (preventing them from running and compromising their balance) and a ‘mugger’ who turns the animal on its side and holds it in place. A third cowboy then approaches with a knife to sever the calves’ testicles (since breeding is designated for carefully-selected bulls, clipping young calves keeps both genetics and numbers in check). An ear clipper is then used punches a hole in the calves’ ear that will then be used for placing a plastic numeric identification tag on the calf in a permanent manner.


The prank in question involves the cowboy who has just performed the business of cutting off a cow’s testicles, which he now holds in his hands as two bloody balls of flesh.


With these in hand, the cowboy will put away his knife and nonchalantly walk up to an unsuspecting co-worker, placing the severed testicles either on their shoulder, in their front pocket, or, in particularly biting cases, down the back of their shirt.


The sight of a co-worker reeling in disgust or groaning as they flap the back of a rapidly-untucked shirt is can prompt immediate laughter from bystanders who may not have even seen the perpetrator’s approach, a clear illustration of its familiarity within the pens and a helpful outlet of humor and fun in a workplace that can very quickly become physically punishing and demanding in terms of both high heat indexes and the unpredictability of handling large, frightened animals.

Longest Joke in the World


Told over the entire span of a four-hour car ride, the so-called Longest Joke in the World was re to myself and two others by a friend as a means to pass the time.


On asking us if we would like to hear the joke, given the large expanse of time before us, we declined to listen. However, the friend insisted on the worthiness of its ending. Sold on the promise of a hard-earned ending, we agreed. And he told the story.


Because outlining the story line-by-line and beat-by-beat would understandably occupy too much space, I have compressed it into a greatly abridged format. It should be re-noted that the story was originally told over the course of four hours, with the friend continually reiterating the quality of its ending:


A man becomes lost in the desert after a compulsive, possibly suicide-oriented weekend vacation, spending days wandering the sand to no concluding avail and eventually running out of food and water.


After seven days, nearing death, the man stumbles upon a massive array of what appear to be solar panels, although ancient in appearance. Arranged in a circular pattern and spanning what must be miles, he makes his way to the center. There at the center sits a simple lever. Curled around the lever, a snake named Nate.


The snake speaks to the man, offering comfort. Billions of years old, the snake is the same age as the Earth, his sole duty since the planet’s beginning being the protection of the lever. To turn the lever would be to end the planet.


The snake, being an all-powerful entity, grants the man passage out of the desert. Before the man leaves, the snake asks that he come back and visit for the sake of providing company and conversation. After all, billions of years can become quite lonely.


The man returns home, and given a new passion for life, becomes very financially successful over the years. And each year, he does not fail to return and visit Nate the snake. The two become best friends over a matter of decades. Eventually, Nate explains that his time on Earth is coming to an end and introduces his young son, Daniel.


Since Nate will be gone soon and the man is the only connection to the outside world, Nate asks the man to show Daniel the wonders of the planet before he is required to be confined around the lever for potentially billions of years.


The man obliges and takes Daniel on a journey around the world (made possible by his financial success) that lasts a number of years. Soon, the man grows to see Daniel as comparable to a son of his own. When the time comes to return to the desert, the man gets a car and drives the two back to the array and Nate (as opposed to flying a plane, helicopter, etc.) in order to extend just as much time as they can until it’s time to leave each other to their respective lives.


On arriving to the array, the car stops at the top of a large hill. Down at the bottom sits Nate, waiting for them. The man and Daniel lament the end of their time together, proceeding down the hill in the car. Suddenly, the brakes give out and the car, going through the sand, is unable to be steered.


Having gained full speed, the car heads straight for Nate and the lever. The man and Daniel are horrified but cannot change the course of the car to miss either one. The man is now faced with the unavoidable outcome of hitting either his best friend or a lever that destroy the world.


The man turns to Daniel and says, “better Nate than lever.”

And hits Nate.


On the first experience of hearing this joke, one might initially assume that it falls under the category of ‘shaggy dog’ jokes, where a story/joke/etc. intentionally goes on indefinitely, with the humor being derived from an audience member eventually having to cut off the speaker in order to formally bring a halt to a performance that technically has no end.


The fact that this ‘Longest Joke in the World’ indeed has an end would seem to disqualify it from this category. While it is true that the story does go on for a greatly extended period of time, the emotionally engaging (ie non-joking) bulk of the story is meant to subtly disarm the listener from comedic anticipation, abruptly switching gears for a hilariously and frustratingly simple grammatical joke that comprises the ending. The effectiveness of the story as a whole would be greatly reduced if the hours of oral recitation did not precede it.


This being said, the length of performance can conceivably vary greatly to a couple of hours or even a mere 45 minutes. The time spent telling it relies on a number of factors, including how much time is presently available, the patience of the listeners, and the ability of the performer to recount the details in their entirety. However, an extended period of time spent telling the joke is the primary tool that contributes to its effectiveness.


See Also:

To read the original ‘complete’ version of this joke, go online in search of ‘The Longest Joke in the World’ via any search engine.


The link is included here:

Point Vicente Lighthouse ghost

The following story is one that was told to me by a classmate regarding a supposed haunted lighthouse in his hometown. As the subject explained, the lighthouse in question does not involve much of a personal experience, but that of his local community.

For the sake of convenience, I have included the subject identified as ‘A’, with his interviewer denoted as ‘Q.’

His explanation proceeded as follows:


A. We have this lighthouse, Point Vicente.

 Q. Is that PV?

 A. P.V., it’s short for Palos Verdes. Green Sticks.

 Q. What’s that?

 A. That’s my hometown.

 Q. No, the type of story.

 A. Oh, it’s a ghost story.


So yeah, we have this lighthouse, Point Vicente. It’s this big famous lighthouse.


The story goes that, um, there is a ghost lady who lives at the top because she’s the widow of some sailor who lived or- who sailed on the- I forget, there’s some boat…The Destroyer? That’s wrecked in one of our bays, I forget. Or one of our, I forget what it’s called. I think it’s the Destroyer, the SS Destroyer, but that sounds like a made-up boat name!


Anyways, so there’s this shipwreck, it’s like an army boat.


And the story goes that she is the wife of one of the sailors. And so every night she comes out and like, moans. And you can see her silhouette if you look at the top of the lighthouse. And I remember as a kid, if you go- if you’re like driving by, and you look up, it looks like there’s a person up there walking around. Every night. Even if it’s like 5 a.m. and you’re coming back from somebody’s house or something, there’s- it looks like a person. It’s bizarre.


Another version is that she was the wife of the Vanderlips, who were this rich family that lived in P.V.. And they’re the reason there’s peacocks in P.V., because they had a pet peacock and it escaped, anyways, that’s another story.

Anyways, Mrs. Vanderlip is also said to be the widow. But no one knows.



Q. Where did you hear it?

A. I think I heard about it at the Point Vicente Cultural Center, but I also read about it a bit online, because there’s this whole thing about like, ghosts in P.V. It’s a good read. Spooky.

Personally, I find it interesting that so many ghost stories are set at lighthouses or center around them. Such makes one consider what kind of specific aesthetic appeals (for lack of a better word) delineate the lighthouse that make it such a prominent candidate for spectral suppositions, stories, etc. than others. Their isolation and distinct architecture could be a candidate, along with their arguably spectral functionality in the popular image, being that of a lone shining beam cutting through the fog on lonely, misty coastlines.

As for the trope of the wife eternally waiting for her perished sailor husband to never return home, such also makes for an easy pairing that contributes to a particular image of ominous nature. One mention in particular of being able to see the ghost at any time of day prompts me to believe that the specter is, in fact, an optical illusion of some kind. However, debunking a mystery serves no purpose other than to ruin fun, and in the case of a hometown’s distinct cultural facet of having a community ghost story everyone is familiar with.