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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Story of a Circus Dog and His Famous Owner

Warren Braren

Last post (scroll down one), I told you about my friend, Warren Braren. He was the whistle blower who brought down the tobacco industry in the 1960s, forcing its advertising off the broadcast media and into a new reality of the scourges of smoking. While there can be no telling, he may well have helped save a large number of lives by his actions. If you haven't already done so, read his New York Times obituary, Warren Braren, 82, Dies; Urged Ban on Tobacco Broadcast Ads . It, in itself, is a history of the taming of the beast.

Warren was many things and had many great stories about them all. He had circus family relatives close to his heart and he has tales to match. You may recognize his uncle, Lou Jacobs, the famous Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus clown from his U.S. postage stamp and his dog Knucklehead.

First, about the clown because who doesn't love a clown... ok, not you Kelly: According to John Goodall on Buckles Blog, a site for the discussion of circus history, Jacobs was amazing. "He zipped around the hippodrome on water skis; zoomed past amazed spectators in a motorized bathtub; chased down a cigar-smoking clown "baby" who was attempting to make a getaway in a souped-up baby-buggy. In 1948 after years of work, Lou Jacobs had perfected his most famous prop, a 2-by-3 foot, working minicar. He contorted his 6-foot-1-inch body to fit inside the tiny car
"Lou opened the act by entering the center ring in his loud honking car. The car would start to sputter and backfire as he pulled up to a 'gas station.'
His emergence from the car -- beginning with the appearance of an oversized clown shoe jutting into the air -- never failed to bring gasps of delight. Once he was out, Another clown insisted that the car was not parked close enough to the pump. Lou whacked him over the head with a mallet and a balloon welt rose on his head. The car would sputter and backfire as Lou tried to move it closer. He then removed the radiator cap, a snake lunged out and a geyser of water followed. Lou sat on the geyser only to have water squirting from the top of his head. When he stopped the flow with his hand, the water squirted out of his mouth. Finally, the car was pushed closer to the pump. The other clown climbed inside the pump and Lou threw in a bomb. The explosion sent up a dummy dressed like that clown and it floated down under a parachute. Lou closed the act by making a speedy exit in the midget car in an attempt to evade the pursuing clown cop. Needless to say, Lou was always a big top hit."

That's Knucklehead on the right

Now about his famous dog:
Jacobs's trademarks included a tiny hat perched precariously upon his pointy head, and his feisty Chihuahua, Knucklehead, which Mr. Jacobs trained, always, to steal the show.
And, shades of Bugs Bunny, the canine played the role of a rascally rabbit, complete with bunny ears, eluding Big Game Hunter Lou Jacobs -- only to play dead when finally shot at. After Lou moaned with remorse, Knucklehead would sit back up, the pair happily reunited. Jacobs and Knucklehead remained partners for 14 years.

This is Warren's story story about Knucklehead:

"When the circus was in Madison Square Garden, I went to visit my uncle before the show. He asked me if I would please take Knucklehead to the vet who he had called earlier. Knucklehead was 14 and seemed very ill. Lou told me that because there were two shows that day, he couldn't take his beloved dog himself. 

So I did. And while being examined, the dog collapsed and died, right on the vet's table. I just didn't know how I could relay that sad news.

I got back just at intermission and seeing me, my uncle rushed for the news.

"Knucklehead died while the doctor was examining him," I told him.

"He broke down and sobbed uncontrollably at his dressing table. Tears streaked his make-up.

"Then, the curtain to his cubicle parted and the ringmaster said, 'Five minutes Lou.'

"My uncle got control of himself, fixed his make-up and was ready for the second half of the performance. I watched from the back and he brought down the house as usual, as if being funny was his life. And it was.

"When the show concluded, he came back to his cubicle where I was waiting and began to sob again as I recounted the sad story in detail. 

Several hours later, in front of another full house, Lou made them all laugh, again and again.

As they say in the circus, the show must go on. And amidst the laughter, he funniest man in the house was also the saddest.

This is possibly the last I will write about my friend Warren... but just one more for the memory:

Another time Warren was asked to take charge of a young, full grown lion who was raised from a cub by the lion tamer. The lion was too young to go on the first swing as the circus hit the road. 

"He's as domesticated as a lion can be," he was told. "You'll enjoy his company." And Warren, always up for something fun and different, did. He often took the young lion with him in the front seat of his car as he was running errands. And many in the Sarasota area took notice. When Warren went in for a doctor's appointment, he mentioned it.

Unbelieving, the doctor decided to call his bluff. "If you really have a lion, bring him in." 

Not long after, when the doctor opened an examining room door, there was Warren and the lion sitting on the table waiting for a treat.

The surprised doctor said there would be no charge for this visit as his delighted staff looked on.

Good Bye Warren and thanks. You were a rich part of my life. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I interrupt this blog to salute an American hero...

... An American hero and proudly, I say, my friend and former business partner. I'm guessing you don't know Warren Braren but he has positively affected your life... and millions of others too. Please read my testimony below, after his obituary.

His impact was significant enough to earn a prestigious multi-column obit in the New York Times with a picture THIS BIG. This is real American history with our friend Warren as Paul Revere. Read it carefully to appreciate how difficult what we take for granted was then and how far-ranging Braren's efforts were, from taming the cigarette industry to how toys are marketed on television today. It took bravery and perseverance but that's just the kind of person he was. Here, in large part, is that New York Times obituary:

Warren Braren at a hearing on cigarette ads in 1969. Credit Associated Press
Warren Braren... "is a reformed smoker who helped trigger a congressional ban on tobacco advertising on television and radio in 1970 by blowing the whistle on broadcasters’ lax self-regulation, died on Thursday at his home in New Milford, Conn. He was 82.

Richard Kluger, whose book “Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris” won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997, said in an email that Mr. Braren “was among a number of unheralded figures who stood up to the tobacco industry at the time it was perhaps the wealthiest and certainly the deadliest practitioner of unregulated American capitalism."

Mr. Braren had managed the New York office of the National Association of Broadcasters’ Advertising Code Authority and been recently fired from the job when he accused the group’s president, Vincent T. Wasilewski, of lying to a House committee about the association’s attempts to regulate cigarette advertising.
Mr. Wasilewski had told the committee that an association watchdog group was closely monitoring cigarette commercials to make sure they complied with the industry’s self-imposed restrictions on pandering to young people. Mr. Braren, testifying later before the same committee, gave a different account.

“In the most candid terms, Congress and the public have been misled as to the real nature of the broadcast self-regulatory program on cigarette commercials,” Mr. Braren said.

He continued: “They have been told that an active and effective self-regulation program exists. In reality it is virtually nonexistent,” adding that it had not been functioning for more than a year, when “broadcast self-regulation became synonymous with trade association lobbying.”

“While efforts were made at one time by the Code Authority to play a significant role in dealing with the content of cigarette advertising,” Mr. Braren said, “these efforts have failed.”

His testimony touched off months of jockeying by tobacco industry lobbyists, whose executives proposed various compromises before finally yielding to a total ban, seeing it as inevitable....
After he left the Code Authority, he continued his criticism of the broadcasters (“Truth to them is a business truth — one of economics,” he said) as executive director of the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting, an independent watchdog group.

He later became executive director of Consumers Union, where he urged that commercials on children’s TV shows that condition them “to buy irrationally and impulsively” be banned. He was also marketing director for Times Mirror magazines and an independent media consultant.
[I was his partner in this phase of our careers.]

While working for the Code Authority, Mr. Braren said, he had been frustrated trying to enforce the broadcasters’ advertising code and was finally driven to blow the whistle by Mr. Wasilewski’s public testimony. The House committee agreed to reopen its hearings to accommodate him. He also made available a confidential analysis by the authority’s staff of all 372 radio and TV advertisements for cigarettes being broadcast in 1966.

“For the first time broadcasting is confronted with the dilemma of accepting advertising for a product which, through normal and obviously popular use, is potentially if not necessarily capable of inflicting irreparable harm upon the user’s health,” Mr. Braren wrote in the analysis.

The analysis found that “smoking is made to appear universally acceptable, attractive and desirable,” that “the adult world depicted in cigarette advertising very often is a world to which the adolescent aspires,” and that “the cowboy and the steelworker are symbols of a mature masculinity toward which he strives.”

The staff’s recommendations to rule out sports settings, hero images and even depictions of smoking in ads went nowhere, Mr. Braren said.

The broadcasters’ advertising code was originally adopted to fend off further federal regulation after a 1964 report by the surgeon general declared cigarette smoking a health hazard, barred advertising clearly appealing to buyers under 21 and said that ads “shall not represent that cigarette smoking is essential to social prominence, distinction, success or sexual attraction.”

Mr. Braren acknowledged that he had been fired shortly before he testified, prompting some defenders of the tobacco industry to dismiss him as a disgruntled former employee. In the House, the chief response to his testimony was a vote to raise the health warning on cigarettes from “hazardous” to “dangerous.”

The Senate was less forgiving of the industry. Broadcasters, who feared a total ban, suggested that cigarette advertising be phased out over several years. But a House-Senate conference committee, meeting in March 1970, agreed on a complete ban that would go into effect on Jan. 2, 1971, and Congress passed it — while prohibiting mandatory health warnings in nonbroadcast media.

In the end, tobacco executives, seeking to stave off stricter regulations, decided that ceasing broadcast commercials would do more harm to potential new competitors than to established brands and accepted the ban, stunning their critics. The industry shifted the focus of advertising to printed publications and popular sponsorships and promotions.

The congressional ban took effect at the end of the day on Jan. 1, 1971 — after the big college football bowl games, and a 90-second Marlboro commercial that concluded with four cowboys galloping into the sunset for the last time.

Now about the Warren I knew: What really made him a treasured friend is that he was sincere and persevering, a modest man, kind and incredibly interesting with strong family ties to the circus world and stories to match. And he had a wonderful spouse in Bodil, who survives him. She was his most charming, interesting, inventive wife with a dynamic career to match his. Between the two they had a household of warmth, the arts and good taste. The couple's pursuits broadly followed those interests. Their benevolence extended far. They shared wisdom and broad accomplishment. What a pleasure to know them both. What a loss to lose Warren. My sincere sympathy to Bodil.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I felt the earth move once!

Actually, I have had two very notable visits to The Willis Tower--formerly The Sears Tower--2nd tallest building in the western hemisphere. It rises 108 stories, 1,452-feet (1730 counting antennas) above Chicago's downtown. Its ultimate height was determined by what the FAA would allow so it would not affect planes landing at Ohare and Midway airports.

But first, as they say on television, some interesting background.

One World Trade Center--built in 2006 as a tribute to the two World Trade Center buildings--including antennas is 46 feet taller at 1776 to honor the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Completed more than 40 years ago, The Willis Tower is an ancient, not particularly beautiful building by comparison to today's giants. But it was for a number of years, the tallest building in the world. That was before technology and bragging rights made the race for the sky a worthy pursuit. Today it occupies last place in the tallest top 10 list.

Notably though, the race for the tallest is still to the future. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright who died in 1957 proposed to build a mile-high building rising 548 stories to house exclusive residences for more than 100,000 residents. He had the plans ready for presentation to Chicago movers and shakers but the practicality and the cost put the project on permanent hold just one year before he died. He did however show that a structure that high was possible.

Today the focus in New York where skyscrapers abound has turned to very tall and slender exclusive residence buildings using new technology with different types of unique problems to solve. More of that next post. Hint: If you are liking that thought of that killer view of Central Park but aren't yet in the multi-multi-million (or billion) dollar bracket, some nice little bungalow almost anywhere might be a better option. More about that tomorrow.

Now, about me... it's all about me:
View from the Willis Tower 103 floors above Chicago
Experience No. 1: The Willis Tower is actually built four feet shorter on one side and designed to sway as much as 6 feet in hefty winds. (It ain't called the Windy City for nothing.) I was on the 100th floor in the offices of a large attorney firm surrounded by at least a dozen 'dot every i, cross every t' legals as we were closing on the purchase of a group of magazines. (That was my business.)                                                                                                                                                       
The winds were howling. We could all feel the building sway as if we were in a boat on the sea. Six feet at 1/4th mile high made me appreciate how those ultra high divers must feel as they climb that skinny ladder to the top. It was no small thing to the senses to imagine us about to topple to our deaths. We were not much comforted to be told 'That's why we don't fill the coffee cups and water glasses too full (ha ha ha.)"

Personally, I believe the whole thing was a bargaining ploy to get us to act irrationally just to get the heck out of there.

Experience No. 2: Perhaps the weirdest phenomena I have ever experienced is when I took my family to the Tower's 103rd floor SkyDeck on a later trip. The crowded elevator ride to the top and down is without an attendant. It took just over a minute in the large express elevator, gulping to clear our ears as we rose. Our progress was marked by a silhouette of the building on a monitor. Rising, the image filled, as if one was pouring milk into it, until we were at the top. Going down, the image emptied.

But a strange thing happened on our descent. All 40 of us in the giant cage watched progress of our trip to ground level. But about half way down, the image showed us stopping and then beginning to rise to the top again. Now we all knew that the elevator NEVER stopped or even slowed. It was a straight shot down. Yet, the image told our senses differently. When we finally stopped and the doors opened, we all felt sure we were at the top again... but we weren't. There was a big laugh and sigh of relief as we all realized we were unintentionally duped.

Proof again that mind over matter is a fact.

Tomorrow: The longest commutes by elevator.

    Thursday, August 13, 2015

    As the Dalai Lama said to the hot dog vender...

    Make me one, with every- thing.

    Zen jokes just don't have the great punch line, but hey, anything is better than meditation, right?

    Actually, wrong. The more I read, the more I believe that mindfulness--or by any name you put to it--is proving its value.
    If Apple and General Mills and Google and Nike and Proctor&Gamble and HBO and Aetna and Target and Deutsche Bank and Yahoo and even lawyers and the United States Marines, for God's sake, believe the simplicity of the exercise and the enormity of the benefit makes it a "no-brainer."

    Just the thought of something that goes back to Buddha with a mysterious 'aura' is, in itself, "off-putting" to many. Meditation, or mindfulness--a richer name because it describes the benefit--is not a religion or a cult or some weird Tibetan thing that steals your mind. In fact, it gives you more of what is good in you.

    I just read 10% Happier by New York Times Bestseller author, Dan Harris and I am so impressed. The book's subtitle better defines its benefit:  How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works -- A TRUE STORY

    It resonated because Harris, an ABC co-anchor of Nightline and the weekend editions of Good Morning America as well as numerous other assignments, tells the story of his journey... from need to discovery, disbelief, finding, experiencing and putting it all in his understandable path to a richer benefit in his life than he imagined possible. Harris as a good news person, had access to many of the people we only read about. He asks most of the questions we would want to ask. Then he recaps with thoughts, insights and frequently asked questions.

    "What I found blew my mind. Meditation, once part of the counterculture, had now fully entered the scientific mainstream. It had been subjected to thousands of studies, suggesting an almost laughably long list of health benefits, including salutary effects on the following:
    • major depression
    • drug addiction
    • binge eating
    • smoking cessation
    • stress among cancer patients
    • loneliness among senior itizens
    • ADHD
    • asthma
    • psoriasis
    • irritable bowel syndrome
    Studies also indicated that mediation reduced levels of stress hormones, boosted the immune system, made office workers more focused and improved test scores on the GRE. Apparently mindfulness did everything short of making you able to talk to animals and bend spoons with your mind.

    "In a nutshell," He says," mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now--anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever--without getting carried away by it." 

    Now here is the best part: It is easy to see for yourself with no hard wired process required. You can do it in your own home (and not tell anyone... just in case) or as part of a group. The cost, if any, is modest. You can 'put your toe in the water' and go from there if you choose.

    Best tip I can offer: Get this book for an understandable approach to the whole thing. It will answer most questions in an pleasant to read presentation. There are, of course, many other options in books, on line and in groups and classes.

    As for me, I'm sold. I just won't even try that cross-legged thing and that's just fine.

    As the Dalai Lama says, "IF YOU want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

    Tuesday, August 11, 2015

    How many bricks to a gallon?

    Illustration A

     In California, the drought is so bad that my favorite sister in San Rafael had to put another brick in her toilet.

    That makes five now. It just breaks her heart how the bricks scratch the porcelain bowl as they swirl counter clockwise into the sewer with each flush. And at today's price of bricks, going too often could break the bank, she tells me.

    Hey sis, I think you're putting them in the wrong place. See illustration A above.

    OK, serious now. With almost 3/4ths of the earth covered in water, how come some have too much and some too little?

    The Pacific Ocean from as seen from space
    One of the most amazing things I ever saw was this shot of the Pacific Ocean from space. WOW! With four more oceans left to fill the rest of the hemisphere we don't see, where will we find room for land?

    While the Earth's surface is 71% water... and more than two miles deep in the Pacific's Mariana Trench (which is 1,580 miles long and 43 miles across--take that, Grand Canyon) water is only .025% of the Earth's mass. If Earth was represented as a 12" diameter globe, the average depth of the oceans would be no more than the thickness of a piece of paper.

     So while the water on earth might seem an endless resource, there is far more earth... with a thirst that all the oceans haven't been able to resolve. Fact: There are 2.5 billion human beings of our 7 billion population-- more than one out of three of us-- who lack ready access of clean water to drink... and they just die--literally--trying to quench their thirst.

    Wanna see something that helps defines the conundrum? Actor Matt Damon and Gary White founded . Watch their 2:50 minute video. Then ask yourself: If more than 1 out of 3 of us are living day-to-day for their next drink, are we, as sated human beings, ok with that?

    And no, we cannot all move to Canada. It is important that we recognize we are the "haves" and that comes with responsibilities.

    "If we are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner."
    Marlon Brando

    Friday, July 31, 2015

    Mama Mia! That'sa spicy meat ball.

    Micelangelo's  David

    What do DaVinci and his Mona Lisa, Michelangelo and his magnificent sculpture David, Galilei and his startling astronomical findings, Marco Polo and his discovery of spaghetti and I, producer of this fine blog have in common? 

    No, not that.

    Our names all end in a vowel... which means (probably) we're ITALIAN. Mama Mia!

    So do all Italian names end in a vowel? No, just most.

    DaVinci's Mona Lisa
    For me, all of my grandparents were Italian immigrants that came here through Ellis Island in the early 1900s and made new lives for themselves. My parents were the first American born generation.

    I grew up next to my grandparents and enjoyed my cultural blessings--a little wine at the table, fabulous food, getting away with cussing in Italian but claiming to never understand what I was saying, great work ethic, overwhelming gusto for life and more--but never learned Italian because they forced their children to "speeka English."

    Marco Polo's spaghetti
    I really never wondered why most Italian names end in a vowel. I thought Italian was like 'pig Latin' where every word ended in "A." Imagine my surprise then when I read the credits of this fabulous video, "1,000 people playing the Foo Fighters in Unison."

    As I read through the 1200 or so names of players, singers, producers, camera people, gofers and the like at the end of this very professional video, I saw that all but a handful of them ended in a vowel. That's Italy for you.

    About that video, first, it is really impressive and fun to watch, even more-so if you like the music.

    An Italian, Fabio Zaffagnini (see, vowel at the end) is a huge Foo Fighters fan who had the crazy idea to get the group to perform in Romangna Italy. He called his project 'Rockin' 1000.'
    It took him a year to plan and gather 1000 musicians and singers together to play one of their songs, 'Learn to fly" simultaneously. And he did it masterfully! Musicians came at their own expense from all over the globe to be a part of this project. See for yourself.
    Did it work? Well, there are two Italy concerts on the schedule for Foo Fighters this November so it was twice as good as hoped. Ah, the power of music.
    Other famous vowel-ending Italians: Gina Lollobrigida, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mussolini (oh, scratch-a that-a one), Marconi,  Povorati... the list-a goes-a on-a and-a on-a. Also note many famous Italians are known by just one name. Many famous Italians are named Pope-a. 
    As Shakespeare said: What's in a name? That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. So now you know why so many Italian women are called Rosa. See how it works?

    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!