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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Two examples of perverted logic (NOT COUNTING POLITICS) both proving It really is "Nuts Out There."

Good example No. 1 (in the comics):

You read the comics in your local newspaper? (If you ask, "What's a newspaper," you are under 30... not that there is anything wrong with that.) Well, you should.

The comics are a wonderful parody of life, lest you take life too seriously. We saw ourselves in almost every Seinfeld T.V. episode which ran for an astounding nine years. ("What's T.V. and who is Seinfeld? C'mon, play along with me just for this blog post.)

Jeremy and his best friend Hector
Zits is a comic strip by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. It's main character, Jeremy, age 16, sees life as a high school sophomore who pretty much knows all that is important to him. So he asks:

"Dad, can I have twenty bucks?"

"No, but if you wash my car I'll pay you twenty."

"Okay, but the last time I washed your car it cost you fifty dollars to have the scratches buffed out."

"Good point. Here's twenty bucks to leave it alone."

"Make it thirty and I won't vacuum it, too."

Best example No. 2 (in real life):

Billie Sol Estes was a close friend of President Lyndon Johnson, our 36th president. Estes was a colorful character alleged to be involved in several crimes of fraud and deception. He did serve prison time more than once.

In 1962, information came to light that Estes had paid off four Agriculture officials for grain storage contracts in silos he did not have. He was noted (at least by comedians of the day) to probably have said (paraphrasing) "If you are going to pay a farmer not to grow corn, then you should pay me for the silos not to store it in."

And if that doesn't make some perverted sense, then I'd eat my hat... if I had one.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

What goes through your mind in the 6.5 seconds while falling 500 feet to your death?

Actually, more... much more than you would think.

Backstory: A recent fictional article (Without Inspection by Edwidge Danticat) in The New Yorker began: " It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five hundred feet. During that time, an image of his son, Paris, flashed before his eyes."

Six full pages later, Arnold hit the pavement and died. That's about one page of his life per second... a lot to think about.

While the article is a good fictional read, the six written pages of Arnold's thoughts aren't at all unrealistic according to the research done on that time between awareness of impending death and the live mind. It takes a lot more time to read his thoughts than for Arnold to think them. And in this scenario, it is a really clever way to tell a compelling story.

Actually, if you are (or are not) a fan of television's The Big Bang Theory, the opening is a grand example of how to think back on 14 million years in 23 seconds, but then, that's technology for you. What your mind can do is even more mind-boggling.

This 'more-common-than-you-would-think' happening is scientifically studied as a Near Death Experience: "A personal experience associated with death or impending death." Neuroscience research says "... a NDE is a subjective phenomenon resulting from a disturbed bodily multiscensory integration that occurs during life-threatening events." 

In other words,  your brain says "Oh my God, what is happening to me?" and kicks into a state of hyperactivity and awareness allowing all sorts of things to happen in your mind. It is often referred to as "your life passing before your eyes' before you die... or fearing you are going to die, It is a state of hyper-awareness.

"What Are You Afraid of?" a column in The Atlantic magazine asks: "One reason we struggle with fear is that we're simultaneously too primitive and too evolved for our own good... Our brains are ruthlessly efficient. Signals speed to the threat-sensing amygdala ( two parts of the brain involved in experiencing emotions) within 74 milliseconds of the slightest hint of danger. This speed has, over eons, helped save us from extinction. But it's also led to plenty of false alarms."  Maybe better safe than sorry, huh brain?

One man writes of his NDE which kicked in as his vehicle skidded on 'black ice' when, in mere seconds, he takes stock of all that is happening as he slides helplessly out of control on a crowded expressway. He reviews all of his options and projects who he might hit and where he might wind up, at the same time, turning to check on his young daughter riding behind him who, to his horror, has unfastened her infant seat belt reaching for some skittles, and moves to try to protect her while he fears they may slide into a guardrail--all in an instant. Post crash, they luckily avoided any collision and missing the guardrail, smashed into the hillside. Reflecting back, he is aware that he saw everything as if in slow motion, including his daughter's six skittles and that he can remember their individual colors and positions on the seat.

So if you forgot to take those scrapbook pictures to look back on, don't worry about it. Odds are, you'll have another great chance, but look fast, you only have a few seconds. What makes me think I am expert enough to write about this? Well, just last week, I saw Einstein's brain... really, so there! (A slice of it is actually on permanent display at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.)

Actually, comedian Emo Phillips has it right: "I used to think that the brain is the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this."


Thursday, May 24, 2018

FACT: Life is sexually transmitted

So admit it, love makes the world go round.

For as long as there has been life on earth, we have been trying to quantify love. It's an emotion we have all experienced times in our lives... and lucky ones seem to have it constantly on their shoulders. One would think that with such a familiar concept, researchers would agree on what constitutes love and how to measure it. That has not been the case... at least, not until now.

With a little research (Google), a few older recollections, scientific advances of quantum knowledge and wonderful personal experiences, I think I've got it! Just take a look at the song lyrics written way back in 1932, just as America was emerging from the disasterous Great Depression. Songwriter Irving Berlin (who also wrote White Christmas, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Easter Parade, God Bless America, There's No Business Like Show Business and other older classics) realized the only thing most of the country had left to give was love... and this song caught the spirit of that emotion.


How can I tell you what is in my heart?
How can I measure each and every part?
How can I tell you how much I love you?
How can I measure just how much I do?

How much do I love you?
I'll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

How many times a day do I think of you?
How many roses are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel
To be where you are?
How far is the journey
From here to a star?

And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?

That sentiment has been played forward by Billie Holliday, Etta James, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland, Lianah, Diana Krall and many others. It has molded into a jazz standard and made more than a few people cry. So how do we measure something so seemingly intangible? We don't... but we're humans so we still try to quantify.

  • So, how deep is the ocean? (Almost seven miles deep in the Pacific's Marian Trench near Guam.)
  • How high is the sky? (Latest guess, 156 billion light years across... with a scientific belief that there is more... much more.) 
  • How far is the journey from here to a star? (Closest star is our sun, a mere 140 million miles more or less, but we're talking love here... so let's hit it out of the solar system and travel to Proxima Centauri,  4.22 light years from Earth--or about 26 trillion miles.)
  • And if I ever lost you, how much would I cry? (A Pacific Ocean-full... or about 1/3 of all the water on the planet. Better hydrate.)
So that's love. See how simple it is to express the most profound feeling we humans know? What it means is that emotion knows no bounds. But in every lifetime, it seems to rise and fall like the stock market... which is good, right? For how would we appreciate the highs if we didn't have something less to compare them with?

That's today's lesson. Don't try to make sense of it. Just do it because, as another song says, love makes the world go round. And we sure could use more of that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Things that amaze me most... Part IV

OK, I'm cheating. It's been too long since I put out a new post but I thought you deserved better. So here's a favorite of mine from 2010... still true, still vital to a better life. Enjoy this now, I have a doozie coming up in the next few days.

From November, 2010
As I told you before, there are a number of things/events/emotions that absolutely blow-my-mind because they are so introspectively amazing and give me a deeper sense of awe. So I made a list of the things that amaze me most... some big, some small, some acts, some things... but all, in my mind, amazing.  So far:

Part III: THE YOUNG: Babies, toddlers and teens

Part IV:  LAUGHTER: A peek into the soul

I'm a sucker for this one. It's not only laughter, which offers a peek into an individual's soul.... it's the power of a smile, the lighter heart, the joy of living. The world is a serious place... no one gets out alive. But to live on a globe half-empty makes time spent a tough slog when compared to the joy to be had on a globe half-full. Laughter is just one very public indication of a person trying to keep in balance with life's ups and downs.

Ever walk down the street with a smile and nod to the strangers walking toward you? Most smile back... not counting the few who think you are an idiot. However, this is absolutely guaranteed to give at least one person--you--a lighter step. And you can be sure it affects a few more than that.

For something to be funny, it only has to amuse one person... you. Anything after that is a bonus. Example: Comedian Emo Phillips said, "I used to think that the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body. But then I realized, Well... look what's telling me that!" See how happy that made me?

Do you know a person can actually die of a broken heart? (Check out the Mayo Clinic's take on broken-heart syndrome.) There is unhappiness in life and we have to deal with it best we can. Then, there are other times... lots more of them... that better defines us.

A lighter heart is a free, not-toxic, over-the-counter drug that is good for almost anything that may ail you. The welcome side-effect is that it is infectious.

Robin Williams tells this story: Bono was performing a benefit in Scotland before a crowded house. He started slowly clapping his hands and told his audience, "Every time I clap my hands, an elephant dies in Africa!" A man in the back row stood up and hollered, "THEN FOR GOD'S SAKE MAN, STOP CLAPPING YOUR HANDS!"  See?

A sense of humor represents more 'life in balance' than almost anything else because it comes from the reflection of the world as seen through your eyes. Carry a grudge... seek revenge... harbor hate... see seven shades of gray... fail to appreciate life's delights? Then my friend, I'm sad for you because you only have one crack at it.

Live life to your principles... WITH GUSTO!  What that does for the soul... that is something that amazes me most.  

Elsie had it right: (with thanks to Fred Ebb and John Kander who created the song and Lisa Minelli who made it come alive in Cabaret.)

What good is  sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Put down the kniting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band.
Come blow a horn,
Start celebrating;
Right this way,
Your table's waiting.

No use permitting
Some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!

I used to have a girlfriend
Known as Elsie,
With whom I shared
Four sorid rooms in Chelsea.
She wasn't what you'd call
A blushing flower...
As a matter of fact
She rented by the hour.

The day she died the neighbors
Came to snicker:
Well that's what comes
From too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out
Like a Queen,
She was the happiest corpse
I'd ever seen.

I think of Elsie to this very day,
I remember how she'd turn to me and say:
What good is sitting alone
In your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

As for me,
I made my mind up back in  Chelsea,
When I go, I'm going like Elsie.

Start by admitting,
From cradle to tomb
Isn't that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum,
And I love a Cabaret.

Friday, April 27, 2018

It's a matter of life or death

Tikker Watch

Better said, it's a matter of life AND death.

This is the Tikker, a watch that tells you when you are going to die... maybe. And while I am not a fan, some are.

The theory is that knowing your approximation of death (it's based on averages, not counting accidents, illness or even your natural death), you will be more inclined to live a richer life making the best of your time remaining... or for some, a life of fear and trepidation, not unlike someone on death row, I suppose.

"Oh, we have to reschedule dinner with the Wilsons on Friday dear, I'm scheduled to die on Tuesday."

Bob Hope
Comedian Bob Hope had the best line on what happens after you-know-what. As he aged, he was asked where he would like to be buried. He replied, "I don't know. Surprise me." He lived to 100 and then I guess they had a surprise party. Maybe if he had a death watch, he would have been more ready.

Here's a better question: If you had a pretty good idea of your actual time frame--terminal illness, execution date, while drowning when your life supposedly flashes before you--would you do anything different?

Well, sure, if given that hypothetical question. I'd learn to swim, quit that hated job, not stuck my head through that hole in the fence, retire earlier, move to Toledo, etc. But that would probably be the wrong answer in many cases, because each action has a reaction and then you have a new set of "..what-ifs."

None-the-less, it's an interesting enough mind game to play. So here's my take"

Shirley MacLaine
Life is a one-time shot (not counting Shirley MacLaine who claimed many past lives, including, as one story says, a love affair with the prime minister of Sweden many years ago in which she felt as if she had known him before. Then it came to her. They last had sex 1,200 years earlier when he had been Charlemagne the Great, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and she had been a Moorish peasant girl with a knack for curing impotence in men.

And, also a number of others remembering in a hypnotic trance, of reincarnation in which vivid past life memories are revealed. But that's not most of us--or any of us--for sure.

My take is, no matter how great that watch, no one knows if he/she will get hit by a car, shot by an intruder or have a safe fall on them. Going back to square one then, be the best person you can be in every moment of life's blessings you have... for tomorrow, you may be dead, even if the watch says you have 25 more years.

I wonder then, could get your money back?

And truly, is there a better incentive to live each day as if it might be your last? One never knows how important that might be "on the other side." (ed. note: Most of us do have a belief--Christian, Jewish  or otherwise--of an other side, but is there anything to lose by being richly human in a Golden Rule way, just in case? It's win-win)

It's never too late to be better, kinder, more understanding and empathetic because there is always someone who may vitally need a smile or more. If we think death is ominous, just think how hard life can be. Hope, in its broadest interpretation, is its own richness. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Secrets on how to fill out that perfect March Madness bracket... but tell no one or every everybody will be doing it.

It takes superior intelli- gence and acumen to fill out that perfect March Madness bracket... but pay attention and I'll show you how some find success.

Every year, my children, grandchildren and pets have a family competition to see who can come closest to perfection and win the coveted
Super Dog Jinx
"Bragging Rights" trophy. Through almost half of the competition, the score stood, Jinx, 1st place, Young Grandson, 2nd, etc. The point is, only the super intelligent and acumen-strong will lead the way.

Oh, they also both picked #16 seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBA) to trounce tourney #1 seed Virginia by 20 points, as did two others in this family competition filled with basketball brilliance.

So how did the picks by these superior basketball brains fair
Youngest Grandchild
against the world? Well, my son is in a work bracket with 74 adult basketball nuts and Jinx would have been second, Young Grandson third on that list. Take that Charles Barkley.

So what are the odds of a perfect bracket? The NCAA has them at 9.2 quintillion (18 digits) to 1. A half-court basket at half-time is a 50-1 shot, bowling a perfect game, 11,500-1. Scoring a golfing albatross (3-under par on a hole), 1,000,000-1. Becoming President of the United States, 10,000,000-1. (Oh great. Of 10 million chances, look who won. Shows you luck is often fickle.)

Now check this March Madness bracket conundrum for a King Kong surprise and a few more tips from the top.

My pick for next year's champion: Bradley University, home of Gene 'Squeaky' Melchiorre (of the 1950 NIT and NCAA championships. CCNY won both in NYC with the strong help of biased officiating--no New York team looses in the Garden--and a point-shaving scandal that cost Squeaky, the #1 NBA draft choice, a basketball career), Chet Walker and Hersey Hawkins. (See my blog post on Squeaky, my all-time favorite)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Did Forrest Gump really invent the Smiley Face?

My dad told this joke:

Guy sees a sign on the dry cleaner's window: "What do you think, pants pressed FREE" So the guy goes into the cleaners, takes off his pants in a small changing room and hands them to the cleaner to be pressed.

Minutes later, the cleaner returns his freshly pressed pants and says, "That will be $5." 

"Are you kidding me?" the man asks, "The sign says "What do you think, pants pressed FREE"

Hands on hips, the cleaner indignantly says,"You didn't see question mark? 'What do you think, pants pressed FREE?' Don't be silly."

So what do you think, Forrest Gump actually invented the Smiley Face?

ForrestGump is fictional, silly.

Actually, Harvey Ball did in 1963. The State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Massachusetts asked him to design something to boost the moral of its employees. He was paid $45 and neither he or the company trademarked it. Finally, in 1999, Ball did apply for a trademark and created the World Smile Corporation to license it. All proceeds of the licensing have been used to improve the lives of children.

Ball was never sorry he made only $45 because, his son said, "he was not a money driven guy. He used to say 'Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time.'"

Ball died at 79 in 2001 but the philosophy behind the wished well-being has been credited as representing a shift of focus among some psychologists from mental illness to mental health, from depression and anxiety to subjective well-being, says Smithsonian Magazine.

So what do you say, Have A Nice Day... and pass it on!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

TODAY'S RIDDLE: What is black and white and red all over?


Answer: A newspaper!

Ok, ok. I know the riddle is totally wrong for three reasons:
  1. I cheated... the word red should have been spelled read, which would have given it away, but the riddle was meant to be spoken, not written.
  2. Today, newspapers aren't only black and white but filled with color. (The riddle goes way back to my second grade and I laughed that lunchtime I heard it 'till milk came out of my nose.) 
  3. What's a newspaper?
Today, newspapers are disappearing by the hundreds and newspaper circulation and readership is on a downhill slide that quickly becomes 'the new normal' on how we see and learn things.

Most millennials and later-born get their news on line or on television... the news-lite version that is more-to-the-minute but of less substance and range, unless you count the entertainment portion an news one has to know.  It is also less dependable as news because it is mixed with every opinion on everything from everyone on social media... most of which is believed without doubt if it fits your personal 'bent.'

Social media didn't invent 'fake news' but it did perfect its widespread dissemination.

This past week, a New York Times technology writer's story, "For Two Months, I Got My News From Print Papers. Here's What I Learned," painted a most interesting picture of what happens when newspapers fall out of our life-view.

No, this is not a call to go back to newspapers, though that would certainly improve news credibility. We have passed that point in our technology-enhanced existence. But yes, newspapers still play a vital role if only as bell-weathers of the news basics with the five 'Ws' and an 'H' (Who, What, Why When, Where and How) of substance.

With the proven realization that fake news spreads faster than real news--usually, it is more spectacular or surprisingly hard to believe, yet believed and spread by a 3 to 1 ratio on social media with a tap of the finger--all news becomes suspiciously less credible.

We create the world we live in and yet, we are the ones who don't take out the garbage that comes with it. As our president might tweet: "SAD!"

NEXT: How easily fake news is created. A primer you will recognize.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Life's funny that way...

Pay Attention. Your personal humor IQ test follows.

In his scholarly book (yes, scholarly, thus by definition, unfunny) Sex, Aggression and Humour: Responses to Unicycling, Sam Shuster tries to dissect what makes us laugh by age and gender. So take your average unicyclist and look at all the ways this is seen... with no mention of a pie in the face at any time. For example:

A father to son about 3 years old. "Look, he's only got one wheels... wonder what happened to the other wheel.
Inquisitive 5 to 12 year old: "Why do you use only one wheel?"
Aggressive boys: "You're gonna to fall off... you're gonna fall off."
Women: "Wonderful... I'm impressed."
 Men: "Lost your wheel?"
etc., etc.

Shuster did identify something... that defining humour (as he spells it) and what may make us laugh is a varied and complex thing.

Plato, Aristotle and Descartes also had very unfunny takes on it and Freud felt forbidden things are hilarious because humor is a pressure release for psychic energy.

But in the end, what is funny to one very likely is not funny to most... one size does not fit all.

Incongruity seems to be a more-common-to-all humor thing and incongruity itself adds another variable to the mix... unless it is followed on social media by lol, then it is funny... or we just didn't get it.


Read these short paragraphs from an actual newspaper contest where entrants, age 4 to 15,  were asked to imitate "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handey, a former Saturday Night Live writer of years back and tell me you didn't laugh or smile more than once.

I gaze at the brilliant full moon. The same one, I think to myself, at which Socrates, Aristotle and Plato gazed. Suddenly, I imagine they appear beside me. I tell Socrates about the national debate over one's right to die and wonder at the constancy of the human condition. I tell Plato that I live in the country that has come the closest to Utopia and I show him a copy of the Constitution. I tell Aristotle that we have found many more than the four  basic elements and I show him a periodic table. I get a box of kitchen matches and strike one. They gasp with wonder. We spend the rest of the night lighting farts. (Age 15)

Give me the strength to change the things I can, the grace to accept the things I cannot, and a great big bag of money. (Age 13)

I bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween. (Age 13)

For centuries, people thought the moon was made of green cheese. Then the astronauts found that the moon is really a big hard rock. That's what happens to cheese when you leave it out. (Age 6)

I once heard the voice of God. He said "Vroommm." Unless it was just a lawn mower. (Age l1)

If we could just get everyone to close their eyes and visualize world peace for an hour, imagine how serene and quiet it would be until the looting started. (Age 15)

It sure would be nice if we got a day off for the presidents' birthdays, like they do for the queen's. Of course, then we would have a lot of people voting for a candidate born on July 3rd or December 26th, just for the long weekends. (Age 8)

Answer key: If you laughed or smiled at some of these, you probably passed and are "life-ready." If you didn't, then be an actuary. (Oops, sorry all my actuary friends, I meant be an accountant.)

You know, I want these kids in my world because if you can't see humor, it's a tougher life for you and those you touch.

As the real Jack Haney explains, "Maybe to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself: 'Mankind.' Basically, it's made up of two separate words, mank and ind. What do these words mean? It's a mystery, and that's why so is mankind."

Monday, February 26, 2018

We're number 14! WE'RE NUMBER 14!, WE'RE NUMBER 14!!!!

I joyfully recall my daughter's cheer-leading camp comp- etition finale at the end of a hard week of cheer practice. The cheer leaders and their proud parents anxiously waited as the final results were about to be announced:

"In 14th place... THE DUNLAP HORNETS!"

Screams and cheers erupted as the Dunlap Hornets could hardly contain themselves. "We're number 14! WE'RE NUMBER 14!" ... and so it went as the number 13 squad and number 12 squad also erupted with wild cheers after their pronouncement... all down to (drum roll) the number 1 squad!

Everyone was so happy.

Well, get ready America! It should come as no surprise how excited we all were when the United States won the prize as... (drum roll) THE NUMBER 14th HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!

Oh sure, Norway was the happiest country but the word is out... they cheat. Denmark (with Hans Christian Anderson making everyone smile), Iceland (how cold is that?), Switzerland (one word: the Alps), Netherlands (who could be happy in wooden shoes?), Canada (Canada?), New Zealand (Kiwis make them happy), Australia (with the cutest koala bears in the world), Sweden (yah, Sveden), Israel (where it's cool to be kosher), Costa Rica (si si, senor), Austria (the proud home of Amadeus Mozart and who doesn't love Sound of Music), the United States of America (we're number 14! YESSS!) and Ireland (they must have seen a snake).

So how is it that the richest country in the world that boasts more guns per capita (87 per 100 people), the brightest pencil in the box president, a congress that speaks its mind, not yours, the widest gap between the richest one-percent and all the rest of us, trickle down economy that wants those rich to get richer because it's good for us, the poor who benefit the most from trickle down (those lucky-stiffs), the NRA, the Koch brothers and Russia that help us decide what we think, the most school shootings in all the world, the home of the AR-15, semi-almost background checks to own a gun, young people who can buy a gun but can't drive a car without a license and the greatest difference between red and blue, can't be happier?

Beats me.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Both are unbelievable but one is true, one is false. Any guesses?

We were thrilled when Henry bicycled across the moon with ET in his bike basket.

 We were also thrilled (sort of) when the red Tesla streaked past the earth on it's way past Mars.

OK, everyone knows ET will never reach home in the basket of Henry's bicycle. But could a red Tesla ever speed past Mars, with David Bowie's Space Oddity blasting on its audio device, and drive forever into space? Most incredibly amazing, it could. That IS an actual photo you're looking at.

Is there anyone today more interesting and inventive that Elon Musk? Truly this South African born
Elon Musk
Canadian American billionaire at age 48 has done more than even the best fiction writer could imagine... but it's true. He founded Xcom which became Infinity which bought PayPal which was bought by ebay. He founded the automotive company that developed the Tesla automobile and founded SpaceX which developed the most powerful rocket booster that put his red Tesla with a manikin driver behind the wheel into space forever. Even more astounding, two of the three rocket boosters on the most powerful rocket actually returned to base, landing as if reverse of the take-off. Take that NASA.

So his failure is that the space-bound Tesla that was supposed to land on Mars but missed, is destined to drive forever, at 25,000 miles per hour, into outer space for infinity. It joins with NASA's two Voyager missions to infinity. Imagine the incredible gas/electric mileage per gallon and what would happen if it was ever pulled over for speeding by an alien patrol officer with radar. "Sorry officer, I was running late for Mars so I stepped on it and didn't realize how fast I was going."

Consider that perhaps, eons from now, a distant civilization will encounter both Voyager spacecrafts with their golden records of us saying 'Hello" in 140 different languages and also the Tesla playing David Bowie's Space Oddity and wondering who in the hell those people are/were.

Well, that's space for you.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Yes, it is proven, you absolutely CAN BUY HAPPINESS... and here's how.

You can, you really can buy happi-

There are no tricks or gimmicks. It can cost nothing or almost nothing--that's up to you. And best yet, it has a positive spin that goes beyond just you.

Behavioral scientists have discovered though, that money isn't the currency... dollars may lead to a lessening of sadness, but happiness is not materially for sale.

There is a history of lottery winners showing, for many, a loss of friends, social placement, extravagance and ruin that a sudden infusion of millions of dollars can cause, because winning the lottery is everything material. (I'd still like to take my chances though, but the catch--you have to buy a ticket.)  

The quality of close relationships with family and friends, the blessing of health and satisfying work or hobbies are the big deals for happiness and they come with no tariff. It is the small, day-to-day stuff that can benefit a disposition on the spot, no matter where you are on your 'happiness scale.' It's like a no-cal piece of chocolate or slice of pie alamode if that's your thing. THAT happiness, you can buy... if you know how.

Michael Norton, a professor of  Business Administration at Harvard Business School, has found a real-life way to buy happiness with positive results. Here he is on TEDTalks . If you have 10 minutes, It is worth your time.

For you busy folks, here's what he showed:

Doing studies in a number of venues, from Vancouver to third world Africa, and in different ways, he basically asked random people how happy they were at that moment, expressed in a number from 1 to 10. Many said  6, 7 or 8. Then he gave each participant an envelope containing anywhere from $5 to $50. Each envelope asked the recipient to use the money that day. Some were told the money was theirs to keep, no strings attached. Some were told they must use the money benevolently on someone else, and some were given a choice to keep the money or give it away.

Of those who kept the money, they typically just put in in their pocket or purse, bought a Starbucks coffee or just used it as part their cash. Those who were told to give it away gave it to street entertainers, someone they saw seemingly needy or benevolently in any other way.

The almost universal worldwide results (only The Congo was different), showed those who kept the money for themselves still rated themselves at the same happiness number. Those who were benevolent almost universally rated themselves one number greater on their happiness scale.

Moreover, Norton wondered what would happen if he gave dollars, under the same circumstances, to a basketball or dodge ball team (which he actually did) or an office sales staff or to some other like group. You really have to watch his talk for the full effect, but in virtually every case, the benevolent recipients' use of the gift (donuts for the office, new sweat bands for the team, for example) performed better... universally. The sales team sold more that its test counterpart that kept the cash, the benevolent teams dramatically improved their records, etc.

Personally, I once stood behind a young father ordering breakfast for his family at McDonald's. When he heard his order would cost $18.75, he told the cashier that he had left his wallet in the car and had to go get it. I watched him go outside to his wife and small children waiting for breakfast. He got into the car and had a moment's conversation with his wife. He  shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, then drove off. I realized he didn't have the cash. I was sadly so sorry I didn't recognize the need and pay for his food that my happiness scale dipped two numbers. Opportunity to buy happiness missed. I hurt for a while after that.

It is dramatic what spending money for someone's benefit or need can do for your personal happiness. And it really is that easy. It IS BETTER to give than receive and that happiness plays out in simple or complex ways to the recipients as well as the donors.

Try it yourself. Give someone you perceive may need a lift, a few bucks and watch what happens to the recipient... and see what it feels like to you. It's such a easy gesture to be--in ways big or small--benevolent.  And, as Norton's experiments showed, it doesn't take much to make a difference. It pays dividends in life. And really, don't we always need more things that make us feel good?

Is there a richer story to that point than O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi, a worthy read in any season?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

How many is 6 million?

In honor and remembrance on Holocaust Day, Saturday, January 27, 2018

If you wrote one 3-letter word in type so small that it takes a good magnifying glass to read it... and you printed that word, again and again, in a book large enough to fill a coffee-table, with each word butted against the other, border to border, six-million times, the book would be 1,250 pages thick and almost illegible.

That book is titled And Every Single One was Someone. Its only word is "Jew."

Each word represents one Jew killed during the Holocaust... one human being who breathed, worked, loved and lived. It's new, available at Amazon and elsewhere.

There is a much larger book at the Holocaust memorial and museum in Washington D.C. simply titled Book of Names. It is 6 1/2 feet tall, 46 feet in circumference. In it are the documented identities of 4.3 million of the those victims. 

      What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people 
     wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”
     ― John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 

In Peoria, Illinois, there is an outdoor Holocaust memorial of 18 Star of David shaped glass columns filled with 11-million buttons that represent six-million Jews and five-million  “enemies of the state” who were murdered--political and religious leaders, Roman gypsies, Serbians, Catholics, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trade unionists, alcoholics and the handicapped. Each targeted group wore a different colored triangle to identify their “enemy” status. The columns, filled with buttons from different parts of the world, are wrapped in yellow ribbon labeled "No Hate Zone."
     Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous 
     are… the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions. 
     ― Primo Levi
 I wrote this three years ago and it will always be relevant. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A QUIZ: Who has the best selling album in history and which Golden Record is a cinch to beat it by a million miles if only... ?

No, it's not him, though I can't imagine why not.

I can tell you though, the upstart that will ultimately out-distant eveything ever recorded and is filled with "Golden Oldies" and has a lock on a vast, untapped market that is guaranteed to 'rock your socks!'

Hint: It features Johnny B. Goode (as in Back to the Future), written and performed by Chuck Berry. And that is ironic, as it is in the future that this will/might break all records by a million miles, literally.

Got the answer? Here's the play list:

  • Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
  • Java, court gamelan, "Kinds of Flowers," recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
  • Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
  • Zaire, Pygmy girls' initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
  • Australia, Aborigine songs, "Morning Star" and "Devil Bird," recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
  • Mexico, "El Cascabel," performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
  • "Johnny B. Goode," written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
  • New Guinea, men's house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
  • Japan, shakuhachi, "Tsuru No Sugomori" ("Crane's Nest,") performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
  • Bach, "Gavotte en rondeaux" from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
  • Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
  • Georgian S.S.R., chorus, "Tchakrulo," collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
  • Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
  • "Melancholy Blues," performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
  • Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
  • Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
  • Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
  • Bulgaria, "Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin," sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
  • Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
  • Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, "The Fairie Round," performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
  • Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
  • Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
  • China, ch'in, "Flowing Streams," performed by Kuan P'ing-hu. 7:37
  • India, raga, "Jaat Kahan Ho," sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
  • "Dark Was the Night," written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
  • Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:31 
Got it yet? Of course, it is NASA's Golden Record... the two-disk album  aboard spacecrafts Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, rocketing as we talk (read) out of our solar system into unknown space to possibly reach another civilization in perhaps, several billion light years or so. And word of mouth in the record industry is that these people... er, aliens, are really hip and buy records like crazy. Besides, that is where Michael Jackson may now be living... I mean dead... er, living dead.

But wait! Buy this record and get free, greetings in every known language on earth (really). And That's not all! If you buy now, you also get 115 classic images that show how we live on this planet. Order in just two billion light years, and we'll also give you the all the sounds of earth... jackhammers, musical instruments, farts... no not farts, and more. If you are an alien and haven't yet invented a record player? We'll throw that in absolutely free!

And, folks on earth, you too can get in on this great deal. Those golden discs have been reproduced in human scale (CD-ROM) so you can buy your set (really) on Amazon (of course) and a number of other places. Also available in many public libraries (really again).

"The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space." Carl Sagan (also dead)

PS: The Beatles actually sold the most earth copies... but you just wait!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Believe it or not, every one of us needs a porpoise. (OK, I really mean Purpose, not Porpoise, but I couldn't find a good picture of a Purpose.)

Each of us needs a purpose in life. 

"So tell me something I don't know."

Okay, I will:

Research has proven that the nuanced will to live---something most of us take for granted, like breathing--is more vital to our health and well being than we have recognized. Better yet, it is within our power to control, with amazing, life-rewarding benefits.

The corollary to living is often listed as a cause of death for many older: Failure to thrive.

In a New York Times article, Finding Purpose for a Good Life, But Also a Healthy One, by Dhruv Khullar, says that diagnosis's bold preposition implies "humans, in their natural state, are meant to thrive."

Khullar cites the evidence that leads him to the conclusion: "Having a purpose isn't about finding the meaning of life, but but building meaning into your life."

"My patient, however," Khullar adds, "was not in his natural state. Cancer had claimed nearly every organ in his body. He'd lost a quarter of his body mass. I worried his ribs would crack under the weight of my stethoscope.

" 'You know,' he told me the evening I admitted him, 'A few years ago, I wouldn't have cared if I made it. Take me God, I would've said. What good am I doing here anyway? But now you have to save me. Sadie needs me.' "
Sadie is his cat

"He'd struggled with depression most of his life, he said. Strangely enough, it seemed to him, he was
most at peace while caring for his mother when she had Parkinson's, but she died years ago. Since then, he had felt aimless, without a sense of purpose, until Sadie wandered into his life."

Not surprisingly, sharing life and love with a pet is a common purpose with responsibilities in itself.

Studies have found that only one of four of us have a recognized sense of purpose that makes life more meaningful. About the rest, half of us see ourselves neutral or without purpose.

Research indicates that having a specific purpose, even if unrecognized as such, decreases one's risk of dementia and has a positive influence or controlling depression, neuroticism, socioeconomic status and chronic disease. Those with a greater sense of purpose were 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's or minor cognitive problems.

Moreover, Khullar continued, "of  6,000 studied individuals followed over 14 years, it was found that those with a greater purpose were 15 percent less likely to die than those in their group who were less driven... and that having a purpose was protective across the life span--for people in their 20s as well as those in their 70s."

One remarkable study compared the effect of group therapy for patients with metastatic cancer.

One "support focused" group met weekly and discussed things like "the need for support" 'coping with medical tests," and "communicating with providers."

Another "meaning-centered" group focused instead on spiritual and existential questions like, "meaning before and after cancer," "What made us who we are today," and "Things we have done and want to do in the future." This group of patients experienced fewer physical symptoms, had a higher quality of life, felt less hopeless--and were more likely to want to keep living.

In a study of teen age volunteers--those who chose to help elementary students with homework, cooking, sports or arts and crafts verses a group that was put on a wait list without such a project--those actively involved students had lower levels of inflammation, better cholesterol profiles, a lower body mass index and grew in empathy and altruism That group also showed the largest reductions in cardiovascular risk.

In every scientifically designed study, the benefits of a purpose-filled life resulted in higher self-esteem with more social connections, better mobility and stamina.

The author's final truth: "Finding purpose is rarely an epiphany, nor is it something you pick up at the mall or download from the app store. It can be a long, arduous process that requires introspection and conversation, then a commitment to act. And (my interjection) is worth gold.

Or, if this is all to complicated, check out Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.  That'll do it for you.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

This tickled the Dickins out of me... again!

The exceptional cast of A Christmas Carol

Imagine: it is the Ghost of Christmas Present as you watch 22 talented, energetic middle school youngsters (and all of the behind-the-scenes skill set for sure) bring Charles Dickins' Scrooge alive once more. This was in the Boston area but A Christmas Carol is repeated annually across the country and world time and again as we celebrate this holiday season.

As I sat in wonder enjoying the performance, I saw my grandchildren and others growing richer in their world as they "broke a leg" for seven performances over two weekends. For those fortunate enough to be part of a grand production, be it acting, part of a band or orchestra or any activity where working together is the only way to do it right, skills are polished and life lessons are learned.

This performance was funded privately by a youth theater project but it is the schools that often offer, if they can, more broad based opportunities like this. The tinge of sadness is that more don't have such opportunities as school and personal budgets constrict such broadening activities. With school budgets being pinched to a point of making educational opportunities a lower priority, we often can't even get the basics done right. 

And what is more important? These youngsters are our future and too many of them just miss out on important stuff and more.

It is criminal that most teachers cannot live on a teacher's salary, let alone a broad based scholastic program be implemented.

Enter Stage Left--The Ghost of Christmas Future: "You scare me most, oh Ghost. What can you show me?  What does the future hold? 

When you wake from your fitful dream, will the largest goose still hang in the butcher shop down the street? Will there be a boy, a wonderful boy, there to run and get it for the Cratchit family? Or was it not a dream after all?


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Nothing lasts forever, right? WRONG! I know two things that will be around til the end of time. They are both man-made... and they are not Buzz Lightyear!

Buzz Lghtyear

Those two things are spacecraft--Voyager I and Voyager II--launched in 1977 and 1979 respectively. Voyager I, traveling at 31,000 miles-per-hour, is now about 18 billion miles from earth (Voyager II is a mere 2 billion miles behind) and flying out of our solar system past the sun and into deep space for at least 13,500 more light years. (A light year is 31,516,000 seconds x 180.000 miles per second... forever... or until the end of time--as Buzz Lightyear would say, "To Infinity and Beyond."

Yeah, yeah, you've heard the story... but have you really?

Here's a clip from television's 60 Minutes that will blow your mind, if you have a desire to be mind-blown! It's about 13 minutes long and you will have to watch two 30-second commercials but it is worth it.

To accomplish this 'eternal mission' in 1977, we used a primitive  'state-of-the-art' computer system that took up almost all of the large room it was housed in. Your smartphone is 10,000 times more powerful than that was. Then there were the human computers that put this thing all together. Here's my 2011 post with more information.

I have two more posts to follow on Voyager.
  • A review of the Golden Record: The Sounds of Earth aboard each Voyager for the aliens who discover our spacecraft--if ever. These records have been made 'earthling viewable' and have just gone on sale to the public. You will see how Carl Sagan tried to relate to unknown beings to tell them our story. (Hint: Chuck Berry performing Johnny B. Goode is there as are hundreds of other photos and data that may surprise you.
  • The backstory of Hidden Figures, the black women who were called 'computers' by their associates, because that's how it was done before today's computer age. One of them literally saved John Glenn's life by finding a calculation error in critical data.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

The value of a dollar just went up


Being the sharp trader I am, I think I have just wiped out the US debt and had $98 trillion left over for incidentals.

Yep, it's a $100 trillion bill, just like a regular dollar bill but bigger. And yeah, I had one even though I'm not even on the billionaire list. Don't tell anyone but I got this on the black market for my 2006 Honda CRV... think I found a real sucker... the car burns oil like crazy. 

So who's richer now Bill Gates... er, Jeff Bezos, the new world's richest man at $100 billion or Scrooge McDuck... not counting me, of course?

Thought I'd play a practical joke and bought a McDonald's senior coffee for 84 cents and paid with this $100 trillion dollar bill. Joke's on me, I guess. I got $99,999,999,999,999.16 in change... mostly ones and fives with a lot of nickles and dimes. 

In real life, a person could buy a lot with $100 trillion dollars. Just think Nutella, for example. I could eat it by the jar and it would last trillions of years. And feed the world's poor too with chump change.

Then I found out... the Zimbabwe, $100 trillion dollars is worth... ready for it?... 40 cents. In Zimbabwe, it takes over a jillion to fill a gas tank. Now THAT'S inflation for you. Sad thing. 

In the end, there is one truism... Money, Money, Money cannot buy happiness (but it does help ease the pain just a touch.)

Enjoy the links and if you see a $100 trillion bill laying on the street, don't bother.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Tribute to The Man in the Moon... really, there is one

No, I don't mean this guy, depicted in a 1902 French film, Le Voyage dans la Lune. (Those French, they have a different word for almost everything.) The movie was a furthering of Jules Verne's 1865 novel, From Earth to the Moon, but it wasn't til that glorious day in 1969 that Neil Armstrong actually set foot on our celestial shadow.

Eugene Shoemaker
It is this man, Eugene Shoemaker, the only man
that is actually buried on the moon. Didn't know that, did you?

Trivia question: How many humans have been to the moon? Answer: 24, with 12 of those actually setting foot on its surface... not counting Eugene Shoemaker.

Actually, a small number of us have been "buried" in space forever... or to be re-creamated if their tiny projectile reenters earth's atmosphere. There is a company, Celestis, which seeks 'remnant space' from anyone, including NASA one time, that puts payloads in space, contracting for any small unused ride-share area that might be available for a celestial memorial burial. Celestis's first memorial flight was  in April, 1997 from the Canary Islands on a rocket payload that also contained the ashes of Gene Roddenberry, the Star Trek TV producer and original Trekie and LSD guru Timothy Leary, plus 22 other nerds and normals.

So how did Eugene Shoemaker 'score?'  He and wife Carol with David Levy were the 1994 discoverers of the Shoemaker-Levy comet that fractured and crashed into Jupiter, a first such observable celestial collision. Shoemaker had a celebrated career helping to create the field of planetary science. When he died in a 1997 car crash, a close colleague petitioned to have the wanna-be-but-couldn't-make-the-cut Apollo astronaut memorialized in the grandest fashion. NASA, not in the space-burial business, liked the idea as a one-time shot and in January 1998 his remains were on its Lunar Prospector sent to crash into the lunar south pole ice cap. Thus, Shoemaker is the only man actually buried on the moon.

The 'urn' containing some of his ashes is a polycarbonate capsule wrapped in brass foil and laser etched with his name and dates over an image of the Hale-Bopp Comet and Arizona's Meteor Crater where he trained to be an Apollo astronaut. There was also this quote from Romeo and Juliet:

And when he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Rest in peace man in the moon.

Final note: To date, Celestis has flown 14 missions. Shoemaker's burial on a celestial body, says Charles Chafer, CEO and founder, "may be the first but it won't be the last. I think we are entering an age of abundance in terms of commercial access to space. The largest hindrance to space burial is finding a rocket to take even a small amount of remains out into space, but with the rise of independent programs such as Space X and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, the number of opportunities to fly those secondary payloads is increasing , meaning that more people will have the opportunity to be sent into the cosmos."