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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pie in my eye

And so it begins... the greatest pie fight in history.

Sure, Soupy Sales, history's greatest "pie-ologist," took 20,000 pies in his face, but not all at one time. (If you don't know Soupy, do yourself a favor and click the link. you won't be sorry, I promise.) But it is Laurel and Hardy who hosted the greatest pie fight in recorded history.

"It's been a holy grail of comedy," film historian Leonard Maltin said of the lost second reel of Laurel and Hardy's 'The Battle of the Century'... "and that's not overstating the case."

Here's the set-up as reported in the New York Times: "In 1927,  Hal Roach Studios paired comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy... who would become the most beloved comic duo in cinema history. Among their  first films that year was a parody of a recent boxing match in which Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey after a referee's controversial long count.

The gag writers came up with a story line that called for Laurel to lose a "long count" fight after which his manager, Hardy, would try to collect on an insurance policy by having laurel slip on a banana peel. One writer halfheartedly suggested the inclusion of a pie fight, eliciting groans.

But Laurel saw possibility: "Let's give them so many pies that there will never be room for any more pie pictures in the whole history of the movies. (And there weren't.)

So Hardy drops a banana peel intended for Laurel in front of Ye Olde Pie Shoppe. A pie deliveryman slips on the peel and reciprocates with a pie to Hardy's face. Hardy throws a pie in return, only to connect with a young woman's derriere. She turns, receives another in the face, takes her time wiping the goo from her eyes, and stomps over to escalate matters.

Soon pies are hitting everyone; a man in a top hat; a patient in a dentist's chair; a sewer worker peering from a manhole; a lunch-counter patron; a man preening after his shave and haircut; a woman tending flowers. At one point, Laurels is inside the pie deliveryman's truck filling orders for cream-coated people seeking sweet revenge.

"The greatest comic film ever made--because it brought the pie-throwing to apotheosis," the novelist Henry Miller once wrote. "There was nothing but pie-throwing in it, nothing but pies, thousands of and thousands of pies and everybody throwing them right and left."

OK, so maybe you had to be there.

But when the missing film turned up recently and was shown at a film conference, the audience gasped with surprise and delight as they watched the legendary event begin with a simple cream pie in the kisser of Oliver Hardy. Over the next 20 minutes, more than 3,000 pies were thrown, each one triggering the next in a one shot sequence that involved hundreds of extras.

The first pie thrown dates to 1913 in silent film and it was a sure laugh staple all the way up to 1965 in "The Great Race" starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

In the days of silent movies, punch lines were visual and it wasn't the pie in the face that made the laugh but the set-up and flow by those early movie pioneers. Many of the gags became more sophisticated (as only a pie in the face can be sophisticated) in the early talkies but The first talkie, The Jazz Singer  in 1927, signaled the beginning of the end of a pie in the face, thousands of years before Disney, Pixar and others took movie making to space and beyond.

Earlier this year I posted Moviola a short fictional story I wrote about old time film making. I liked the story and if you are a curious, click the link.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pluto is the top dog... again!

In 1930, right after its discovery, an 11-year-old British girl told her grandfather that the name Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld, would fit the newly found planet because it stayed hidden for so long and could disappear at will. Lowell Observatory thought that would work just fine... and so did Walt Disney.

After the revelation and subsequent demotion of this curiously interesting body in the far reaches of our solar system, Pluto barks back. Scientists have already realized "that the Pluto system IS something wonderful."

It has taken New Horizons, our recent probe, 9 1/2 years at 30,000 miles per hour to cover the 3 billion miles between us. It takes 9 hours for the data our probe sends back to reach earth.

Pluto is just 2/3rds the size of our moon but in its 7,700 mile close-up 150-mile camera sweep, we saw a mountain range 11,000 feet high and "tens of miles wide." All this time we thought it was just an icy rock that would chill a giant glass of ice tea. We now know it is a highly featured and 4.5 billion years old, because we made a quick count of the candles on its birthday cake.

It has a moon, Charon, half its size which features cliffs and a deep trough three to six miles deep causing the Grand Canyon to say "Whoa!"

Getting there cost $720 million--which is $307 million LESS than the $1.027 billion cost of the new Minnesota Vikings NFL football stadium--and it has already returned information adding to knowledge of our solar system that scientist say is invaluable to understanding more about our universe.

The United States has now filmed all the planets and many moons, rings, comets and asteroids revealing amazing detail and information. When the Wright brothers first flew in 1903, who could have imagined these almost unbelievable feats. Have a look at 50 incredible photos of these solar objects.

Arf Arf! Nice job Pluto. As for the probe New Horizons, it is already millions of miles beyond on its way to space immortality.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"If I were a rich man... " (sung to the tune of "If I were a rich man... ")

I'm not one to brag (much) but I am lots richer than Alice Mhandara and she has 96 trillion dollars!

The difference is, Alice has $96 trillion Zimbabwe dollars... not quite enough for a bus ride home in Harare, its capital city, and I have 40 US cents which is worth more than a Zimbabwe 100-trillion dollar bill, perhaps with a picture of Scrooge McDuck on it. 

Inflation sucks. 

Eclipse 550
With all my riches in Zimbabwe-speak, I could buy my own private jet or two or three, if they were priced in those dollars. The cheapest is the Eclipse 550 at just $2.9 million. (It  doesn't have automatic roll-down windows or door locks and you have to reach outside and manually adjust the back-up mirrors.)

And while the people of Zimbabwe have a hard time coming up with the fare for a local bus ride, last year 16,784 pets flew with their owners on Netjets (like Hertz for the rich). Kind of an ironic comparison, yes?

Because I have been busy these past few weeks and haven't had time to blog, I'll throw in a few bonus extras to make you think I really know stuff:

Marajo Island on patrol
In Marajo Island (about the size of Switzerland) at the mouth of the Amazon River, adroit swimming buffaloes, imported from afar to help settle the remote island, have grown so numerous (450,000!) that the police use them to patrol the streets and create a softer image than police cars on patrol.

Born lucky? There is a well-known architect that was born on 5/5/55 on Fifth Avenue at 5:56 am. Aw, that's just like almost having the winning lottery ticket but you just missed by one. I'll give you a better lucky number example. My nephew was born on 7/7/77 at 77 o'clock in the morning. (OK, I just made the time up.) He is Swedish and his name is S(e)ven, S(e)venson. (That too but when you're on a roll, you just keep going.)

How would you like to die? The New York Times weekly research quizzed its readers and not surprisingly, 44% wish to die in their sleep while 29% more add peacefully in my own bet with loved ones. A heart attack, stroke or aneurysm say 15% and dying happily handles all but the 3% who don't know or don't want to die. Good luck there. When comedian Bob Hope was asked at age 98 where he wanted to be buried, he said, "I don't know... just surprise me."

Last but perhaps most telling, in her new book, The Selfie Vote by Kristen Soltis Anderson, she observes that "While the Democrats run ads in online video games, the GOP continues to buy 30-second spots during Jeopardy!"

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The day after in Charleston

Emmanuel AME

I was here and it was sadder than you could imagine.

As we drove by the church last week--by accident actually--we saw the media frenzy. It was just the morning after and they flooded the street along with their satellite equipped trucks reaching to the sky. In that block, we saw four separate interviews being conducted and several more talking heads reporting to their viewers.

This was just before the street was closed and the flowers and tributes began to accumulate. The enormity of the sadness was settling in and the disbelief that someone could do such a thing prevailed. But the sadness...

Our group, HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response, was in town for its annual meeting. There were about 50 members and 30 HOPE working dogs present. HOPE has 300+/- dog/handler teams and team leaders nationwide, all donating their effort and dollars to help make a difference.

We do this stuff... bring comfort and solace to those in great need. We are not first responders but come in later when appropriate--maybe memorial tributes, candle light marches across bridges, at gatherings after the tragedy, when classes convene after a shooting. We have been at the Osa mudslides, DC Navy Yard for weeks after the shootings there--at the request of the Navy, hurricane Katrina and more, the Houston floods and tornado relief missions, the forest fires in the West--time and again, annually at TAPS--Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors of the military fallen... you get the
idea. Our group was founded out of 9/11.

On Monday evening, we deployed six HOPE dog/handler teams at the request of the FBI to be with the people on the memorial candlelight walk across the bridge. We were there Tuesday and Wednesday working with the Mental Health agency to be available. There may be more as recovery is ongoing.

The media has praised the people of Charleston for the overwhelming response to try to make something positive come from this tragedy with the hope of starting a meaningful dialog on race in America. We have come a long way but are still far from the finish line.

Comedian Chris Rock used to tell a joke about racial hardship. "Do you know how hard it is to be black in America?" he would ask his audience. "I'll tell you how hard. There's not a single white person in the audience who would trade places with me. And I'm rich!"

The alleged shooter, just 21 and filled with hate, killed nine of our best, kindest, hard working and noblest people... and as a sardonic reward, we get him as the only one left. It's not right. It's not fair.

 John Stewart said it most poignantly here. It's just a few minutes... and it's worth it to get a rich perspective.

Now there is a broad movement by politicians and major retailers to take the Confederate flag down from public adoration and relegate it to museum status where it has a place. Will it happen? We'll see. 

*One recent study estimates the United States has a gun ownership of 89 guns per 100 people--but only one third of households own them all. So we're number 1... big time.

We also lead in shooting tragedies like Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, the Amish school shootings, Columbine, Virginia Tech (Google 'school shootings' and you will be taken aback)... the list goes on. And we have a huge lead in people killed by guns, both in numbers and by a percentage of population.

We're either good at the wrong things or not trying hard enough at the right ones.

Like it or not, we have a gun culture, but wouldn't you think we could manage it better? After Sandy Hook, when many pushed for background checks on all who want to buy guns, and the elimination of large capacity magazines to use in firearms that can fire a lot in a brief period of time, we got instead a push for open carry and looser restrictions. I am still amazed at the photo that ran nationwide showing several people shopping at Target with loaded rifles strapped to their backs, just because they can.

The NRA is a VERY STRONG organization that lobbies effectively and makes or breaks politicians by promoting or withholding endorsements. If two of three households are not gun owners, how come the smaller percentage controls the game? Do you hear us Congress? Congress? CONGRESS?

Any positive action we take will not be solely definitive... but it will be a start.

I do know one thing to be true... none of this will change any closed mind.

*Figures shown are estimates based on credible studies. These statistics reflect order of magnitude, plus or minus.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Solved: This guy's problem

If you think it's not easy being green, try it with no head.

Do you keep bumping into doors and other obstacles, have trouble finding your nose, don't know where to put your ear rings, food just falls on the floor when you try to eat?  Then maybe you have no head.

Just read a NYTimes book review of The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz that was described this way:
"When a pediatric surgeon... returns from a medical conference in Paris, she discovers her husband has died suddenly of an embolism... and makes a horrifying discovery... "

She learns his head has been removed from his body--because of his secret prior written request--and kept cryogenically viable awaiting the future when it can be joined to a new body and live forever.

Well, if the genre is science fiction, them perhaps it should be reclassified. Very recent medical happenings point to the first head to body (or body to head really because that's the brains of the outfit) transplant is targeted for December, 2017. Really. 

I've dealt with this problem in this blog before , scooping major news media I might add, and while it sounds like some cult happening, it is serious-- though I never treat much with such seriousness here.

Just thought you might find interesting what the man who is first-in-line for head transplant surgery has to say about it. (And no, it's not Ted Williams.) Truth is, he can hardly wait. As for the body part of the transplant, I'm guessing some body will be in for a big surprise.

Both the Wall Street Journal (Surgery's Far Frontier: Head Transplants)and New York Times (Could Anyone Really Transplant a Head?) have featured this surgical concept recently (are they reading my blog?) to its predictable conclusion... with a big "who knows?"

The general consensus... it is technically possible but no one knows yet how it will turn out. Frankenstein's monster did have his problems, you may recall. The surgeon who plans to perform this first proceedure on a human is Dr. Sergio Canavero. He has had some success in his trials. He has gotten a monkey's head to live briefly on a new body. And he has had success with mice, his primary test species. Great. Just what we need... mice zombies.

What we don't know is... everything. If the brain is left-handed and the body is right, will they fight or be ambidextrous? Will the foot do what the brain tells it to do or go off in some willy-nilly way? Would a male head ever be affixed to a female body? And what about the ethics of it all?

I do remember the first heart transplant in 1953 by Dr. Christian Barnard in South Africa. Man lived almost 24 hours... but he led the way to a procedure that is now not unique. The guy who volunteered for the first head transplant acknowledges he may die (like yeah)... but would be pleased if it proved a stepping stone to future success.

I hate to brag but I've done this head-to-body thing privately, more times than I can recall. Am I a man of medicine? No, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night... and my grand daughter is very happy about the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Selfie Knows All

Have a look at 858 of tomorrow's leaders. There are more than 40,000 high schools in the United States that graduated students this year. This is a Texas school shown in the selfie taken by its Valedictorian.

There... on the left, about 5th row from the back, that's the 48th President of the United States. She's sitting next to the guy with a beard. And on the right, 8th row, is the one who changes the world with an invention that assures even the poorest countries, potable water. Then there's the one who will help colonize Mars.

There are those who break new grounds in ways never before imagined... and those who will enjoy happy, productive lives. High school graduates are a fairly healthy cross-section of us... and across the country, the abundance of hope rides high.

All are given life advice on how to do it right. The best seems to be simple and pure. Here are a few favorites:
  • "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go." - Dr. Seuss
  • "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” - JK Rowling
  • "Now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art." - Neil Gaiman
  • "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." - Eleanor Roosevelt
  • "If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito." -Bette Reese
  • "Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there. " -Will Rogers
And you in the lower half of the graduating class... you may have the greatest dream of all:

 "To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you too may one day be president of the United States." - George W. Bush

But most important, you matter:

"If you think that no one knows you are alive, try missing a couple of payments." Earl Wilson

You count big-time, graduates. It's your turn.  Please take care of us... and your children too.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Man murdered in 1958 died last year. True story... and others like it.


One cold, wet New York morning some 56 years ago, a Midtown Manhattan porter on his way to work felt a stabbing blow to his back. As he hurried away from his attacker, the wound began to throb and blood spread through the slit in his coat.

He made his way to a hospital for treatment but never filed a police report and his stabbing became part of the lore of the Italian immigrant and his family.

Antonnio Ciccarello died last fall. The medical examiner found evidence that his passing at 97 was subsequently caused by that long ago stabbing. Ruled as homicide, the city's oldest ever lingering death triggered a murder investigation which subsequently proved unresolvable.

If this was a Western movie, he would have been shot and stumbled...  twice around the world before he dropped.

Note: This scenario isn't altogether unheard of. If a medical examiner determines the cause of death can be linked to an attack, the age of the victim or time lapsed is not a factor.  Last year's death of James Brady who took a stray bullet in head during the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 was, in fact, a homicide.

Speaking of the dead, some have no earthly place to be. About 4,000 unknown and unclaimed corpses turn up in the United States every year? About half of those are murder victims. In medical examiners' evidence rooms, some forty thousand unaccounted for remains--murdered, suicides, accident victims--wait for a final material disposition.

"Unidentified corpses," says Deborah Halber, "are like obtuse, financially strapped house guests: they turn up uninvited, take up space reserved for more obliging visitors, require care and attention, and then, when you are ready for them to move on, they don't have anywhere to go."

These are the subjects of her new book The Skeleton Crew :How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases. Many of us, inspired by television's CSI, NCI, Bones and the like, want to be like Sherlock Holmes, solving cases others can't, with wit, guile... and the internet. "What say, Holmes, shall we give it a go?"

Digging around cold cases can prove to be pretty macabre at times, Halber says. There was an infamous Kentucky crime known as "The Tent Girl Case" because her body was found stuffed inside a canvas tent bag. The man who finally identified her began searching internet forums on missing girls in that area. He noted a posting by a woman searching for her lost sister near the date the body was found. A subsequent DNA match from a sample the woman supplied proved that the tent girl was her missing sister. Good work Sherlock.

Among others resolved are  "The Lady in the Dunes" and "The Jane Doe in a Red T-Shirt." As for "The Head in the Bucket" case... that's another story in itself.

Searches run the gamut from the headless to the heartless so sleuths have a wide variety to pique their interest. And it is productive. Some 30,000 murder victims have been identified after police have run into a brick wall. Still, says Halber, 99.9 percent of the cases remain unresolved. There are enough left for everyone with a Dearstalker hat and smokeless pipe mentality.

As a side note, Halber learned from talking with many forensic experts and attending often grisly autopsies, a human skeleton will fit into a 200-square-inch box. Good to know if that answer ever turns up on Jeopardy.

So if you are an armchair detective or just interested in a well told story, here's a book for you.

A very kind and well-thought-of lady died recently and her obituary read most pleasantly of the good she did for herself and others in her lifetime. Her final wishes expressed there be no funeral, no memorial service and no visitation. She did not want flowers sent but expressed only two wishes she hoped would be honored:  that "you think about me once this week and do a good deed---actually Do it." And "those who don't go to church regularly, attend church once within a month of my passing."

Not a bad tribute in itself for a gentle lady who liked people and treasured her privacy.

Reader note: My last three posts touch on Elephant graveyards, longest lived people and death. So enought of that for now. TO LIFE... and beyond. (except for this last comic strip.)

*NON SEQUITUR ©2014 Wiley Ink, Inc..  Dist. By UNIVERSAL UCLICK.  Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why more people are dying to become the oldest living person on earth.

He might look like Anthony Hopkins
"So where do you see yourself in 100 years?" Methuselah was asked in a job interview, or so the story goes.

"Oh, same old, same old." 

 Methuselah holds the record at age 969, according to the Bible. It is said that he didn't look a day over 900. He actually lived from Adam to Noah. But first people had to live longer or where would we be? With more than 7 billion people on earth, we gotta die sooner... or else.

 At this moment Jeralean Tally, born in 1899, is the world's oldest at 116. There are only four living who were born in the 1800s. Ages of record proportions are verified by the Gerontology Research Group which tracks such things.

Longest lived since the mid 1950s when verifiable records were tracked is Jeanne Calment, a chain-smoking French woman who made it to 122 years, 164 days. Take that Surgeon General. She probably liked snails too.

The average tenure for that title has slipped...  from one year to just seven months. For Gertrude Weaver who died last April, her reign was just four days. Fame is fickle. On the brighter side, with every death of the world's oldest, we all move one slot closer to the brass ring. Before her death, Weaver did acknowledge that she had completed her bucket list.

Biggest benefit by being the oldest person: No peer pressure.

Science tells us that a baby born today could reasonably live to age 150 because of all we now know. Question is, would anyone want to do that... especially if she were a Cub fan? And I do say she because it is the women who have the longevity edge, theorized because they have two X chromosomes--the second being like a back-up--and men only have one chance at it.

All of this is speculative, of course, but things such as war and famine and lack of potable water have a way of changing expectations. The Syrian civil war has dropped that country's life expectations from 79.5 years to 55.7 years.

Maybe Benjamin Button had the right idea. He died at 0 in poo poo pants after being born a shriveled-up old man. "Hey Ben, you look younger every time I see you."

The very long lived are called antediluvians.

After Methuselah's 969 came Noah who made it to 950. Adam was 930 and Seth was 912. Eve was up there in the 900s, so it is said, but she gets extra credit because she had 56 children--33 sons and 23 daughters--all of them after her 100th birthday. Talk about late in life babies... or not.

Humankind however are pikers. The world's oldest tree has lived almost five times longer than Methuselah and is still racking them up. It grows 13,000 feet up on California's White Mountains. At 4,768 years it has more rings than Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liz Taylor combined. Then feel sorry for Mormon founder Joseph Smith who had to buy 28 of them.

Will Rogers had a good plan for longevity:  "We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress."

And it is Rita Rudner who gives a hint as to why women live longer: "My grandmother was a very tough woman. She buried three husbands and two of them were just napping."

But it is George Carlin that has the best attitude: "So far, this is the oldest I've ever been."

At my last physical, the doctor said I'd live to 75. When I told him I already had, he said "See, I told you so."

Good luck on your journey but remember, it's not how long but how well. Be nice!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Elephant graveyards and lots of other interesting, totally unrelated stuff.

Believe it or not, this magnificent Elephants' Graveyard is a sand sculpture by Paul Hoggart and his wife Remy. And I thought I was good with a small plastic bucket and shovel when I made a snow cone on the beach.

This was not the couple's first attempt as you can imagine. They have traveled the world impressively creating beauty on beaches and everywhere there is sand. You must see more here.

I stumbled across something remarkably similar just last week... an old TV graveyard. That's my beauty on its side next to that snazzy mahogany model anyone would die for. My set weighed about 150 lbs and was so unbalanced that it took two strong men (one me, of course) to get it out of its 'safe place of honor' and into a Jeep 'hearse' to its final resting place.

Don't tell it but the replacement cost less, was bigger and better and weighed just 15 pounds.

Talking about change in time and technology (which I am), I recently read that 1); an unmanned commercial space craft 2); delivered 40,000 lbs of supplies to the 3); International Space Station. Upon its arrival, 4); a robotic arm operated by 5); an Italian 6); female 7); astronaut secured it and unloaded, among other vital items, 8); an espresso machine for a great shot of coffee.

Now you don't have to go back too far (like when television was just black and white and fuzzy ) before any of these things were only imagined in Popular Mechanics. The only difference is that everything evolves faster now and old time imagination is way, way out of date.

For Example: Technology now exists, say the Chinese, for a submarine to travel 6,100 miles underwater--from Shanghai to San Francisco--in an hour-and-40-minutes. The Russians have already developed a torpedo that traveled faster than 230 mph.

This is all because of a technology that creates a frictionless air 'bubble' around a vessel that allows it to 'fly' underwater, facilitating incredible speeds. Thinking outside the box that assumes engine thrust, this concept uses a special liquid that would be ejected from the nose of the vessel that would 'lubricate' it and reduce water friction to less than that of a plane flying through the air.

Impossible? Don't bet against it... or anything else that sounds too incredible. Be mindful, we are now accepting applications for those wishing to be on the first spaceship to habitate Mars. (The catch: it's a one-way trip. The brighter side: You won't have to change flights in Atlanta.)

Solar Impulse 2
A little slower than that: Two Swiss pioneers have a plane that can fly around the world totally on solar power. The single seat Solar Impulse 2 has 17,248 ultra efficient solar cells that transfer solar energy to four electrical motors that power the plane's four props. The cells also recharge four lithium polymer batteries to power the plane at night.

The Solar Impulse 2 is about the size of a mini van but has a wingspan similar to that of a Boeing 747. Its optimal flight speed is about 43 mph and can can fly as high as 37,000 feet.

All this and the Facebook too.  Despite all of our triumphs and ever evolving ways to help and harm humankind, recent studies have shown the internet may not make you smarter, but it will make you think you are. Tweet that!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

From Then to Now: A journey by a story teller who held the nation in his hands.


(A true story)

On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a what was initially thought to be a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures from outer space, terrifying war machines and thick clouds of poison gas moving toward New York City. As the invading force approached Manhatten, some listeners sat transfixed while others panicked and ran to alert neighbors or to call the police. Some even fled their homes flooding the roadways with cars and accidents.

All of this was reported by wire services and appeared in newspapers from coast to coast. There was only one hiccup. It was actually a radio program.

The next day, the Boston Globe's banner headline read: "Radio Play Terrifies Nation."

Orson Welles broadcasting
Yep, the play was a fake newscast... a tale spun by 24-year-old Orson Welles who, later in his remarkable career, was seen by many to be the greatest movie director of all time.

At this moment though, radio was the medium that made the most noise and Welles' Mercury Theater was one of its premier programs. There were no televisions or cell phones. Social media was limited to eavesdropping on the neighbors' party-line telephone conversations.

It was estimated that the radio drama was believed by more than a million people who didn't hear the disclaimer at the beginning of the program

Word spread from person to person and there was some sense of panic... but the reports that made the news turned out to be broad exaggerations with little basis in fact. Yet, the medium proved the message valid to many and Welles showed how to use its power. This, of course, was before Brian Williams was born.

Welles proved he knew how to move and motivate a listener. He showed it again with one of the top rated movies of all time, Citizen Kane.  And 30 years after his death, his unfinished last movie, The Other Side of the Wind will finally be produced for release this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Rotten Tomatoes' list of the 250 greatest movies of all time, has Welles' Citizen Kane and his The Third Man as nos. 2 and 3, just behind The Wizard of Oz. If his new movie, 77 years after the radio broadcast, achieves as much, Welles would be the first to show such transcending breadth. 

An early radio
Today, from Star Wars to Avatar and beyond, special effects and new technology innovations have evolved and given us a pseudeo-sophistication. For those who have only seen a radio of that day in museums, radio was special in a way that anyone who hasn't had that original experience could never know. We have literally evolved our way past that emotion.

 Broadcast Hysteria by Brad Schwartz tells the story of Welles' radio play and "the art of fake news." But it's his conclusion that tells why early radio was the perfect medium for drama. Like a movie, it had all the scripting, actors, sounds and elements but the staging, costumes and visualizations powerfully play out in the mind.

Television, Schwartz says, demands visual depiction but radio captured its audience in a different way. "It's not so much that picturing the Martians in one's head makes them easier to believe, it is that people see the Martians they are ready to see."
Earlier radio broadcast
Radio was the true 'theater of the mind' and it was powerful.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Snow White wouldn't say who was her favorite... but who couldn't like Happy?


Who couldn't like Happy? Why can't we be more like him?

(Pay attention because in every Disney movie there is a lesson to be learned.)

Actually, happiness comes from the outside in. We are happy because we win the lottery or our team does well or our children get good grades or someone smiles at us or it is a nice day or we are loved. Happiness is a triggered emotion.

So why aren't we more happy more often?

Sadly, we live in a world where 24-hour news is the norm and happiness is not news. Bad weather, war, discord, murder, mayhem, car crashes, fire, politics,  Sofia Vergara's eggs and everything else that boosts TV and social network ratings... now that's news... and it is ever-present.

We now have 24/7 politics and nothing has divided us more. With our next general election more than a-year-and-a-half away, we already have seven announced-for-president candidates actively campaigning with more to come... and the closer we get to an actual election day, the more the campaigns will tell us why the other person is bad. We elect not on merit for one but out of disgust or political affiliation for the other. And when our candidates get elected their biggest focus is to seek re-election... as soon as possible. 

And we are nasty. We don't just disagree anymore, we get angry. We rant. We rave. We hate. We have lost any sense of win-win.

Just where would Snow White be today if her seven dwarfs acted like we do?

Pop Quiz: You know Happy. Bet you can't name the other six.

Well, Doc is obviously Snow White's senior adviser... the grizzled old sage that carries the lantern of truth.

Grumpy is the eternal pessimist who has been around the block and sees where danger lies. It lies everywhere when you have an Evil Queen who can turn herself into any number of bad characters. No doubt about that.

Sleepy is the group's adviser of boredom... like the canary in a coal mine. If Snow White sees Sleepy alert, something is dangerously wrong.

Bashful is Snow's comfort level gauge. If Bashful is uncomfortable, everyone should be uncomfortable for some good reason. Bashful and Sleepy work in the same office.

Sneezy isn't allergic to pollen but his nose is at once alert if there is a bad apple in the bunch.

Dopey is the comic relief that every group needs. To laugh is to live more fully.

Happy is the external trigger to Snow White's joy of belonging.  He is her chief of lightheartedness.

Hi ho, hi ho, are we missing the lesson to know? There is danger in the world (a.k.a. the Evil Queen/old hag). But there is good to be had if we know how to focus our thoughts and balance our stance, count our blessings, whistle while we work and sing a happy song. Every bumper sticker in the seven dwarfs forest reads SNOW KNOWS.

I want one of those bumper stickers.

Disclaimer: If my analogy of Snow White to the United States is taken as an endorsement for a woman President, you are right. We SHOULD also have women presidents because they are fully half of our resource. But if you think I am referring to our next President, then change the name of the analogy to Snow Jenner and I think that will satisfy every interest.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The art of the short story: A warning to long talkers and writers everywhere.

 For Sale, baby shoes, never worn.

If done well, it may only take six words to write a poignant story. This one is credited to Ernest Hemingway.

As the story goes, Hemingway was lunching with fellow writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. His pals doubted that was possible. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around, then collected all the money.

Now all the world is not lived in a day, so short could mean lots and long could be few but the point is, get to the point before you lose the opportunity. Enough is just what it takes.

Mark Twain was known for his wit, among other things and he could put together a few pretty good sentences now and again. All of his quotes are fun to read and some of his quotes about writing offer a key to his success.
  • A successful book is not made of what's in it but what's left out of it.
  • One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.
  • The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell together, as quickly as possible.
    Old lady screaming.
  • Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.
  • I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
  • It takes a heap of sense to write good nonsense
  • The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.
  • Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.
  • My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.
  • I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
  • Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  
He said one thing that so resonated in his time that it was repeated as often as it had relevance...
which is why it is still repeated today.

Larry Smith founded Smith Magazine in 2006. He started The Six Word Memoir project   in November 2006 in partnership with Twitter. It was a simple online challenge asking: “Can you tell your life story in six words?” It really caught on. Now more then 1 million Six-Word Memoirs have been shared across Smith Magazine sites and picked up by media around the world. It has proven to be an impressive teaching concept in schools and a team-building technique in the corporate world in getting to the core of conceptual thought.

Tweets and six-word submissions to the many Smith contests and challenges show humor, love, happiness, food, America, etc. succinctly and impactfully in just six words proving how simple it is to convey a feeling, idea, concept, question, emotion... It's a discipline that rewards by just getting it out there.

"Love bites. But so do I.
"We met over silverware and dysfunction."
"Only wine can save me now."
"Dispensing wisdom I do not have."
"I can always make myself laugh."
"Unplug for 24 hours and recharge."
"I'd pick you over french fries."
"Saw my mom in my reflection."
"Parenthood is a form of insanity."
"Wrote 2167 words today. Deleted 2141."

Then I read this book: How To Write Short. It's funny and smart... with lots of reasons why and examples that made it worth its cost. First lesson in the book is a keeper.

 Consider these documents:
  • The Hipppocratic oath
  • The twenty-Third Psalm
  • The Lord's Prayer
  • Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
  • The Preamble to the Constitution
  • The Gettysburg Address
  • The last paragraph of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech
If you add up the words in these documents, the sum will be fewer than a thousand, 996 by my count.

Then you have the author's fun examples to illustrate what he is saying:

"Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect." Steven Wright
"God is love, but get it in writing." Gypsy Rose Lee
"Ran out of deodorant midway, so one arm is Shower Fresh, the other is Easter Lily. This has the makings of a wild day." @phillygirl
"Santa has elves. You have Target."
"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
"Where's the beef?"
"I like Ike."
"Just got a press kit in the mail from Gallo with a wine cork marked 'starter cork.' They obviously don't know me."
"Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly."
"If Jesus had been born just 40 years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses." Lenny Bruce
"The Hokey Pokey Clinic: A place to turn yourself around."
"I wish I were an Oscar Mayer weiner."
"If you live in New York, even if you are Catholic, you're Jewish."
"The baby just saw me naked. Now she knows where she got her thighs." @AuntMarvel
"Take my wife, please" Rodney Dangerfield
"Jesus wept."

Last paraphrase mine: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the sentences I cannot change,
The courage to edit the words I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

TRUE STORY: I got a ticket once for speeding along at 1,300 mph!

The Concorde

Oh, it's true! The headline is supposed to suck you in, but it actually happened. I did go that fast and the $1200 ticket was for my airfare to fly in the Concorde from Paris to New York.

So here's an earthly comparison: In Finland recently, a man was caught going 64 in a 50 mph zone. His ticket cost $58,000. That's also a true story.

A speeding fine there is proportionate to your wealth, the theory being that if it hurts for the little guy, it should hurt proportionally for the wealthy. A few years earlier, a very rich Finn was speeding through Helsinki on a Harley. His world record fine: $103,600.

So the take is that if you are very poor, you could almost speed for free. Those poor... they get all the breaks.

But let's go back to the Concorde because it really is/was impressive. The ultra sleek supersonic jet airliner that first flew passengers in 1963 made its final landing after a sad disaster and plain old economics forced the issue.

The plane, built for British Airways and Air France was an amazing aircraft that could get you from Orly to JFK 90 minutes earlier that you left... sort of like a time machine.  My flight left Paris at noon and arrived in New York at 10:30 am same day. It was a short 3 1/2 hours in duration. Because of its premium cost for an all-first-class cabin and the lure of the exclusiveness of the day, this was a most popular transport for the 'beautiful people'... ergo, me.

Boeing's 2707
Oddly, at the time, Boeing was competing for bragging rights to be the first and best supersonic transport... and it should have won on merit alone.

The Boeing 2707 would hold more people--up to 300 vs. 99 for the Concorde--and was faster--2,000 mph (at mach 3) vs. a mere 1,300. It was designed to serve a larger, more lucrative market--from America to the Far East. The Concorde, built by an English/French consortium got there first. Boeing deemed it impractical to pursue it's sleek, moveable swept-wing concept that used fuel faster that a mobile home pulling a heavy car uphill. (Trust me... I know this.)

My Air France Concorde flight experience was a story in itself. This was my first trip to Europe. I was in Brussels on business the week before and having a day and a half left before my flight home, I took a trip to Paris. Oui, oui!

When I arrived however, my suitcase was caught in an impromptu baggage handlers' strike and all luggage was simply delivered at the curb and dropped without regard to where it came from or where it was to go. So, after spending a fruitless half-hour looking,  I gave some official-looking airline person my bag tag and said that if found, please route this bag home. I had no time to waste for my own short grand adventure.

I went back to Orly early Monday morning for my return to Brussels to catch my booked flight home. When I checked in, I saw my flight was cancelled because of ice and snow! So I, an American in Paris, was stuck, or as we say on the Continent, colle. But because I needed to get back for an important meeting (to justify my actions), desperate measures were called for.

Gosh, there was a noon flight that would allow me to do it... but it was the Concorde. And, miracle of miracles, there was just one seat left, probably next to some really exciting movie star, I was sure. So I grabbed it! (This was way before 9-11 when flying was more glamorous and restrictions were almost non existent-- but that's another great story.)

After a few hours wait in the very exclusive boarding area with plenty to see, do and eat, we boarded. My seatmate's movie star persona may well have been Lassie, but the thrill was still there for me. After we de-iced, we taxied for take-off and I could feel all the eyes in the terminal were on us... and I was so cool.

The lift-off was impressive as the Concorde has a drop-nose for this phase of the flight. Once at cruising altitude after an incredibly sharp, fast climb, passengers were told that we could watch the "Mach Meter" at the front of the cabin to monitor our subsonic speed until we reached the ocean. (No sonic booms over land.) Then the Captain announced "Ladies and Gentlemen, please be seated as we are about to accelerate to our cruising speed of mach 2.1 (about 13,000 mph). And accelerate we did, being pushed hard back in our seats with grins on our faces--except for my seatmate 'Lassie' who probably did this three times a week.

Do you know that at 58,000 feet, you can actually see the curvature of the earth from those tiny windows? As I relished my lobster and steak with the proper wine accompanying, I enjoyed the view inside and out. (The Concorde had a smallish all first-class cabin with 2x2 seating.) After dessert and coffee with an appertif, we were invited in small groups to visit the cockpit and visit with the Captain.

Then, as perfect trips often end, after arriving in JFK and walking through an almost empty baggage area with half-dozen luggage carousels idle, one was turning slowly and it carried only one bag--mine! I have no idea how or when it got there but I picked it up without breaking stride and caught my home-bound flight.


FYI: The Museum of Flight in Seattle (of course) is is a great experience for the airplane lover. It has one of the remaining Concorde aircraft an you can walk through it. It also has the SR-71 Blackbird and a walk-through replica of the International Space Station and so much more, most fully accessible. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Seattle vs China

There is nothing shabby about Seattle... at least, nothing much. Seattle is an amazing city for many reasons. (Spoiler alert: Some of what you read here I have said before... so you forget. The new stuff is really worth it.)

But Seattle has its hiccups. Have have a look at The Macefield House that sits surrounded on three sides by much larger commercial buildings.

Mrs. Macefield, in her 80's, refused to sell to developers, even for a million dollars. It was her home and she intended to keep it. So they build around her. She lived there as they built and lived there til she died at 86. She was a great neighbor with not much grass to mow.

And here's where Seattle does it better than China... because they let her do it. When China built the Three Gorges Dam--the world's largest hydroelectric power plant--across the 3,915 mile long Yangtze, it raised thousands of miles of river by more than 30 feet displacing 1.3 million people. The project was so large that some scientists feared the displacement of so much water might cause a redistribution of weight that could alter the earth's rotation on its axis and spin us off to eternity... like Buzz Lightyear. Didn't happen though--phew!

China has many of its own 'Macefield houses' which it calls 'nailhouses.' Unlike the Macefield house, when dollar offers were rejected, China tore them down. And there were many.

So "Take that China!" Even with 1.3 billion people, you're no Seattle. Eat your heart out.

Seattle is America's most educated city--more than half of its 675,000 residents hold a college degree. It boasts the highest per capita ballet attendance too. Its Columbia City zip code is the most diverse in the nation boasting 59 different spoke languages.

This reputedly gray, rainy city sells more sunglasses per capita than any other major U.S. city. It also has the largest percentage of library card holders in the nation (80%) and residents spend double the national average on books every year.

Seattle recycles EVERYTHING from lawn debris to food leftovers. There are regular garbage and recycle pick-ups and if you are not in recycling compliance (they spot check), you are warned twice... then fined! No plastic bags in stores either.

It has a well run, heavily used public transportation system with environmentally pure buses that run on schedule. Commuters can check live on-time performance of their bus on line. And all buses have well-used bike racks--Seattle has more people who commute to work on bicycles than any other U.S. city. And it also has an impressive 24-hour ferry system--the largest in the U.S and its #1 tourist attraction.

Seattle has neighborhoods... really neat neighborhoods, many of which are eclectic in the mix of houses, ages and styles. And trees of all kinds. It has the largest houseboat population east of the Orient.

Everything is green and abundant lush landscaping crowds the sidewalks in some areas. Seattle has a wonderful year-round climate for trees, shrubs, plants, grass, etc. Average December/January  temperature is 47/38. July/August averages 76/57. Believe it or not, Chicago, Dallas and Miami get more rain per year than Seattle. Much of the precipitation in Seattle is mist. I was standing outside talking to someone and without realizing it, the ground beneath me was dry but everything else was damp. It could rain all day in Seattle and measure only .10 of an inch while Miami could get a 7 inch dousing in an hour. Go figure.

Seattle has the Pike Place Market, Space Needle, a new waterfront 175 ft high Ferris wheel, an abundance of museums and other great tourist stuff. On a clear day you can see Mt. Rainier, the Cascade and the Olympic mountain ranges and always beautiful water. Seattle residents seem to have a certain elan you don't see elsewhere. Would Bill Gates live there if it wasn't great?

But as I've said before... the best reason Seattle is best is because my daughter lives there.

PS: The house, which some have said was the model for the wonderful movie UP, will not has as rich an ending. Heirs have decided that without Mrs. Macefield, the house will go... and be replaced with a much less imagined four-story grey building without a history of anything.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ballet is for sissies. Oh yeah?

The truth? YOU WANT THE TRUTH? You couldn't handle the truth! If you are into ballet, you couldn't survive unless you were tough as nails and twice as determined.

That's Misty Copeland. author, entertainer, and American ballet dancer for American Ballet Theatre, one of the three leading classical ballet companies in the United States. She is also a wit with an engaging personality as she demonstrated on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, the best and wittiest radio hour on NPR every Saturday and repeated on Sunday. 

In 2007, Copeland became only the third African-American soloist in the first two decades of the American Ballet Theatre and at 32 now, she is one of the best in the world.

I believe the ballet is a beautiful art form and while I am reluctant to see another Swan Lake I marvel
Jennifer Beals
at the grace and skill of the dancers. Not to brag, I have seen Black Swan, Billy Elliot, Flashdance and, though contemporary more than ballet, The Alvin Ailey Dancers. Oh, and I am happily a Facebook friend of Amber Skye Forbes.

I have even met Flashdance's Jennifer Beals just to show how strongly I am in the art. She was giddiously triumphant just after that Flashdance role and had a few young friends with her in a New York restaurant. As she walked buy, I congratulated her performance and she laughed and said "Oh, I'm not her," which caused her friends to giggle as she probably whispered "What a treat," which sounded in the din, strangely like "What a creep."

The New York City Ballet which has now performed "The Nutcracker 2,342 times offered these statistics on what it takes to be a dancer:
  • 460 over-the-counter pain pills consumed by the company in a week
  • 334 Band-Aids used by the company per week
  • 35 seconds for 16 dancers to change from leotards into dresses during Ratmansky's Namouna, a Grand Divertissement
  • 5,805 Altoids consumed backstage during a year-long season
  • 50 lbs of fake snow dropped during a performance of The Nutcracker
  • 40 hours of corps member dance time per week
  • 7 feet 7 inches: the length of Maria Kowroski's arabesque from fingertip to toe
  • 4 ft average height of a male dancer's jete leap
  • 18 minutes 35 seconds of the bows and curtain calls for principal dancer Wendy Whelan's farewell performance last year
  • 2 days: the average lifespan of a pointe shoe
  • 8,500 pointe shoes used in a season

So don't ever say ballet is for sissies unless you first walk a mile in her shoes.