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Monday, October 12, 2015

All there is. All there was. All there ever will be.

That could be biblical, but it's not.

SILENCE PLEASE! This photo is the pretend library of everything that was ever, is and will ever be in print. NO TALKING! If your eyes are good and you squint, you can see books lining shelf after shelf. It is far, far smaller than the space such a collection would fill. QUIET!

The number of volumes that would actually be, according to the math nerds, is 10 to the power of two million... far too many zeros to list on this page. The premise presumes that each of those "books" are 410 pages, 3200 characters per page. It would require more digital storage than could fit in the entire universe. And imagine, all this from an alphabet that has only 26 letters to work with.

I was taken by the story in Smithsonian magazine that proposed this premise, based on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges who, in 1939, wrote an essay, The Total Library. "Borges imagined a library," said the article, "that held not just every book ever written, but every book that could be written, every book-length combination of characters in every possible sequence. It would contain, along with an almost infinite quantity of gibberish all of civilizations' wisdom, true accounts of the past and future."

This, to my blogging delight, includes all the work of the 'Infinite Number of Monkeys' theory which in itself, is a delight to read.

Borges felt wisdom is useless if it is lost in a sea of nonsense.

Take for example all the political rhetoric churning on a 24/7 basis from one election campaign to the next. Ah, now I see what Borges

The downside: If The Library of Babel actually did exist, all the writers (and monkeys) in the world could take the rest of their lives off. It's already been, or will be written. Sorry New York Times, 'All the news that's fit to print' already has.

The upside: Think of the royalties.

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison 

Sorry Toni, too late.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

United Flight 93, Sept. 11, 2001

Remember where you were that day, 9/11, when you first heard?

This is United Airlines' tail number N591UA on the Newark runway heading to San Francisco that terrible day. This is the aircraft terrorists took down near Shanksville, PA. This plane was aimed at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. just 18 flight minutes away, where Congress was in full session. This is the plane that those on board saved the lives of many more at the cost of their own.

The intended target
Of the four aircraft Al Quada hijacked that day and the many heros that came forward, United 93 was the only plane where those heros were able to effect a change in the terrorist's plan. United 93 was 29 minutes late departing and the passengers on board learned what had already happened that morning. When their plane changed course, they knew they were part of that same plan.

There were 40 in all--33 passengers and 7 crew-- excluding the hijackers. For the last 25 minutes of their lives, all knew their probable fate. All died as the plane, inverted, slammed into the Pennsylvania hillside at 563 mph. The 45 degree angle of impact assured there would virtually be nothing left.

Visiting the just completed National Memorial's Visitors Center tells the sad tale more completely than is comfortable. It tells the individual story of each victim, who they were, how they lived and why they came to be on that flight. It shows where they sat and for some, how they responded. You can listen to some of those  phone calls those last minutes and voices captured in the cockpit. You will cry. It tells how they were able to do something that saved the Capitol and so many of those in it.
Unlike the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, there is more to tell of these 40 because they knew and had time to act. You hear recorded testimony of their planings in the face of an impossible situation. We can sense their emotions as the scenario is played out.

Small fragment of the plane
At the point of impact, there was virtually nothing left of anybody or anything. Diligent forensic work identified every victim by DNA testing. All remain interred at the site which has been over-planted with flowers and grasses natural to the area. It has been fenced as a grave-site open only to family and friends. All are individually immortalized as part of a Memorial Wall that guards the site itself.

Remarkably, one small fragment of a credit card was traced back to one of the hijackers and tied to a money trail leading to new information.

The displays there relived, in most interesting fashion, that whole, infamous day as it unfolded. Seeing it all 14 years later is profound. The story of United Flight 93 and its victims is as good as it can be told. The legacy of those that flight might have inspired others to fight back against terrorists.

This newest memorial, a National Park site, is most visit-worthy and a fitting tribute to those aboard who made an incredible critical difference.

BLOG INSIDER TIP: If you haven't clicked on the link highlighted in the 4th paragraph above, do it now for a nice new review of what you'll see there.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Where has all the humor gone?

Robin Williams... the best!

Where has all the humor gone? Are we so busy worrying that we don't have time to laugh anymore or even think funny thoughts?

Chuckles the Clown of the old Mary Tyler Moore was eulogized as Mary remembered by his favorite line: "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants." Funny or not? I dare you to decide here.

Biggest problem is, to think funny you can't be mad or angry all the time... like most of us seem to be.

The earth is warming, death and killings seem to call for more guns just in case we have to shoot or kill someone ourselves, the stock market controls too many lives, bad guys have all the power of today's killer technology and a mere handful can do more damage than the atomic bomb, omnipresent politics are more divisive than ever, wars never end, refugees flood the earth, the rich get richer, the poor struggle every day, the Congress we elected is one of our least trusted bodies with a primary goal to get reelected... and after all that, we die.

Is that all there is?

Where is the balance? Have we tuned out human nature? We the people... are human... and funny. Sometimes funny ha ha, some times funny stupid. Sometimes they laugh at us, sometimes we laugh at ourselves. I think we have become somberly focused on every negative aspect--real or imagined--that permeates our minds.

In my former life as a magazine publisher, I wrote a column called For Your Information that began in 1962 and continued monthly through 1996. It was a lighthearted attempt to lift spirits and laugh at ourselves. What could be richer than that. I had a section in every column called "Dumb Crooks" and later added "... and Stupid Sounding Lawsuits." It was the best read feature in the magazine and generated the greatest reader response. People love to laugh... they just sometimes forget.

Way before anyone else, I started a trend that resulted in books, stories and television specials of the stupid things we do. Today, Chuck Shepherd has picked up the theme in his News of the Weird that regularly appears in a delightful 24-page monthly newspaper, Funny Times. If you think you might actually enjoy funny news and cartoons (both political and human nature-filled), do yourself a favor and check it out.

Here are a few examples of how funny (and/or stupid and/or ironic or just plain ridiculous) we can be in real life:

  • A Nebraska man is in prison for shooting his girlfriend with a pistol. The 22 caliber bullet cut right through her tattoo that read, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun."
  • Car-jacking isn't as easy as it seems. When the thief ripped-off the ar of a handicapped driver, he didn't know how to use the hand controls. So he got out of the car and handed the wheel-chair bound victim the keys, then stripped off his ski mask and said, "Just kidding." 
  • A woman from Arkansas is suing her college for a classroom exercise of 'musical chairs' that went wrong. She claims in her suit that the game was played wrong because the instructor had asked her and two other students to play with only one chair. The resulting game scramble that ensued, she claimed, cost her two broken fingers and forced her into "years" of surgery and physical therapy. She asserted that "everyone knows Musical Chairs should be two chairs for three people." She asks for $75,000.
  • In Australia, a man about to board a 14 hour flight to Vienna was stopped by authorities who discovered he had 35 geckos under his clothes, all taped to his skin. Sounds like the kind of guy I get stuck next to on a plane.
  • A recent demonstration of 100 people outside Britain's Parliament to protest legislation to curb psychoactive drugs, passed out gas-filled balloons containing nitrous oxide--laughing gas. The demonstration turned funny as the group took hits from their balloons and "erupted in fits of laughter."
  • From the 'New Product' department: A Yom Kipur workaround for "fasting" coffee addicts: caffeine suppositories.
  • Extensive research by Animal Behaviour Science magazine cautions pet owners that they may be petting their cats all wrong! Felines seem to prefer face-caressing, especially between the eyes and ears, and are negatively aroused by tail-petting, especially at the base.
  • The Welsh language is such a severe mutation of the original English spoken in the Middle Ages that it is barely distinguishable from Klingon. In fact, the Welsh government, responding to queries about a possible UFO sighting near Cardiff airport, playfully issued its galaxy-friendly response in Klingon: "jang dvlDa je due luq." And if you wish to say "I cannot understand in Welsh," simply respond "nad oes modd i ddeall Cymraeg."
  • In Arkansas, a man representing himself on a disorderly conduct charge was found guilty. So he took down his pants and mooned the judge. Not one to take a joke, the judge added 5 months for each cheek.
So seriously, laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone, or worse yet, go to jail for 10 months. Sure cure for the frown, the always funny, never blue Funny Times web page

Try not to take yourself so seriously. There's always someone worse off than you. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Death is God's way of telling you to slow down...

But a new technical break- 
through has given you a way to beat the odds, sort of. Holograms rock... and so do the dead.

Michael Jackson has made more money being dead than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes... unless you are Donald Trump. And that number will grow dramatically thanks to the sold-out dead concerts soon, several lawsuits notwithstanding.

Since Michael died on June 25, 2009, he has made more than $2 Billion... and those who know estimate that before he is extra-dead, he could top out at $60 Billion or more, including MICHAEL JACKSON LIVE DEAD in concert! Bill Gates eat your heart out.

Side Note: Oh, sorry Bill, you are THE great example-- still alive and you keep on giving back. According to Melinda Gates who manages the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $33.5 billion has already been spent  and has saved millions of lives. Even better, most of the remaining Gates' billions will be added at their deaths to save many millions more. Imagine leaving a charitable bequest that could top $100 billion. Thank you so much for all you do with your fortune.)

So how would you like to see Liberace in concert this next weekend? (Don't answer.) Well, you can, sort of. You could also see Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe and others who are just semi-dead... a mere technicality.

Dead celebrities have been revived in commercials for years, usually using archived footing. Fred Astaire danced with a Dirt Devil in 1997. Remember Michael Jackson at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards? (Truly amazing.) New technology now can bring them back even more unbelievably in three dimensions for new performances before live audiences.

One trick is fusing a computer-generated animation of the dead celebrity's head onto a body double. Are you listening Ted Williams? Those most usable deceased would be those who left lots of archived footage. Bing Crosby is the poster boy here... he pitched everything from Chesterfield cigarettes to Kraft cheese. Here's to your health, Bing. Oh, never mind.

There is even talk of a second life for Andy Warhol who died in 1987 and maybe even Lassie (though there were five Lassies... and all of them female impersonators and they all looked exactly alike.) The important thing though, is Timmy was rescued from the well.

Do I see Sara Palin and fam?. Not so fast, Sara,

One of the most impressive "live" performances can be seen at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Having been to 10 presidential libraries, this is a 'must see' for a lot of reasons. Just be wary, what you see may not be what you think you see.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Just back from a cruise...

RMS Titanic

 And no, this wasn't our ship... and Leonardo and Kate were not on board.

But, we did see the graves of 150 Titanic victims in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Seems that was the closest port to the disaster and those buried there were the initially unclaimed. Subsequently, most have been identified but mysteries remain.

The graves are laid out in the cemetery in the shape of a ship on its side and all markers bear the same date of death, April 15, 2012.

Director of the movie, James Cameron spend considerable time here trying to piece the unknown all together with the facts. You will see the grave marker of J(ack) Dawson, the character played by Leo but since he is a fictitious character in the movie, this person is not him, but that's where the name came from.

The markers showed infant graves and names and mysteries of others as the stories pieced together. It was a profound stop.

This called for another DVD showing of the movie with a little bit more knowledge and enthusiasm to work with.

Of rhe 2,224 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 died. Among them, some of the richest... John Jacob Astor, Henry Guggenheim, Macy's owner Isidor Straus and "Unsinkable Molly Brown" ... and some of the least rich including the three stowaways locked in the ship's brig.

MS Maasdam
Our cruise ship, the Holland-American liner Maasdam, considered 'small,' was almost as big as the Titanic and could hold about 1,700 passengers and crew in a pleasant way. We left from Boston to Bar Harbor, then Halifax, Charlottetown, Quebec City and Montreal with a few days at sea.

During the cruise, I tempted fate by reading Erik Larson's story of the sinking of the Lusitania, Dead Wake. I am pleased to report no submarines were sighted... but we did see a whale.

All in all, Nice trip.

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.