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Thursday, April 17, 2014

A pretty good story I wrote.

A Cross to Bear

“Hey buddy! Watch it with the sign.”
Bill shook his head in disbelief as he walked to his mid-Manhattan office. Should be a law about that. These guys just clutter up the sidewalk. Nutsos! All of ‘em.
            The guy with the sign paid no attention to Bill. He saw hundreds of people like him every day. Sure, the sign could have been smaller but when your message is big, you gotta have a big sign.
John saw his only mission in life as spreading God’s word and making sure everyone was ready when they met their maker… not that everyone paid any attention to him… or that anyone did. This is what God wanted from him… told him personally… and true to God’s Word, John was ‘on the job’ every day. He was a ‘regular,’ one of those street people that become vaguely familiar to the multitude that travel the same path most days.
You couldn’t say John’s clothes were rags, but then you wouldn’t say they weren’t. Looked like they were from Goodwill’s SALE rack… many years ago. It was his falling-apart sandals missing a strap, the untended beard that met his dirty hair half-way and the glassy-eyed look that said, ‘I do this for a living.’  Oh... and the sign, of course. But it was his rather distinctive ‘air’ that first warned the blind beggar down the block that John was on the job.
Some days, John carried an old wooden cross. Thing towered about two-feet above his head and weighed almost half as much as John himself. Those were the days he wore his dirty gray robe with the rope belt. Quite effective. Those were the days that Bill and everyone else gave John wide berth.
“Saw that crazy ‘jesus guy’ again,” Bill told his wife that evening. “He was carrying the big cross today. He smells like he doesn’t know the meaning of the word soap. Wonder what his story is.”
Two days later, Bill saw him again, just as ‘the jesus guy’ fell while crossing the street.
“Hey! You ok?”
As he put his arm under the self appointed ‘savior of the world’ to help him up, Bill shook his head. He couldn’t believe he instinctively ran to the guy’s aid. And if that wasn’t enough, he had to stop traffic to pick up the huge cross before it caused an accident.
“Thank you, my brother. Thank you. God sent you to me today and I am grateful.”
“Now wait a minute, old man…”
“Name is John.”
“Hate to tell you this, John, but you couldn’t be more wrong. There is no God. He only exists in your mind…. like Santa Claus.”
“How can you say that, man? God is the sun. The moon. The air. God is life in all its forms.” John, arms waving and sputtering as he talked, was just getting warmed up. As the crowd gathered, John knew this was the day… and the reason he was put on earth.
“Tell me, man,” he said so all could hear. Poking a finger into Bill’s chest for emphasis, he asked  “Tell me who made you? Tell me which came first, the chicken or the egg? And where did either one of them come from?”
Bill couldn’t believe it. This bum had come alive. He was no wino with a hand out but a man on a mission with eyes ablaze. Bill took two steps backward for every one of John’s giant strides into his chest.
“How can you defend Santa Claus for your kids’ faith and joy and not give God the same courtesy? How can you smile at Christmas and get angry when I talk about God?”
John, sputtering on, was red in the face with fervor.  “What are you afraid of, man? Listen to your heart as your children listened to you. Is there a Santa Claus? Damn right! Not believe in God? Damned wrong. Don’t tell yourself nothin’ you don’t, deep down, believe just because you are afraid.”
  Bill blinked and stared into John’s eyes. They weren’t crazy. They were begging for understanding…asking… pleading to be heard.
“Come on, man. I can see you get it. Admit it to yourself. Go with it. Take His hand and…and…and…”
John closed his eyes, staggered two steps backward and slumped to the ground. His work was done. The gathered audience seemed quietly stunned, unsure of what to do next.
A siren’s shrill note jarred the crowd. “BREAK IT UP! Nothing to see here,” blared the voice from the bullhorn of the officer in a black and white. And like that, the crowd backed away, watching as Bill knelt to John.
“He’s gone, officer. I can’t believe it. He’s gone.”
Bill didn’t sleep that night. He and his wife must have talked for hours before she fell asleep on the couch. Near morning, Bill stumbled into the shower, determined to see that John was taken care of…vowing to make sure he had a decent Christian burial.
“I saw that man a thousand times as a nut case…a homeless crazy,” he muttered to his wife, shaking his head as he headed out the front door.  “Then, in just five minutes, I knew a man that I should have known from the very beginning. I …. I… ,”  his voice trailed off.
“What is it Bill?” his wife hollered at his silence as she ran to the door.
Bill was staring back toward the house in disbelief.
“How…? Why…? I don’t understand.”

Leaning there was a wooden cross…bigger, by far, than John’s.

Blessed Easter all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Easter in Seattle... and a story

Wouldn't you know, the Easter Bunny lives in Seattle. And why not? It is one of my favorite cities for lots of reasons. I especially enjoy all the public art. It is everywhere in large and small ways. In Seattle, if you incorporation art into your building, you can get a 10 percent discount on your county taxes. That's putting your money where your heART is. (I know, very clever.)

Easter, like Christmas, is one of those secular holidays that gets big retail play. Christmas is the number one retail selling event of the year for merchants with Easter and Passover adding nicely.

But, as great as the Easter Bunny is and as awesomely promising Santa and his reindeer and elves are, there is a deeper religious meaning for many that transcends the $ signs. So, on Good Friday, I've got a story for you that fits the other part of Easter just fine.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Want to make a fast $28 mil?

In 2004, a very pious lady sold this piece of toast on eBay for $28 million. (Yes, really.) And get this: It wasn't just out of the toaster toast, it was ten years cold! So what's the catch?

Now I like toast just as much as the next person, but even if my toast had a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary burned into its surface like this miracle slice (didn't see it, heathen?), I can't imagine it would be worth those dollars to me. And I am one who has experienced breakfast at the Waldorf where a fresh piece of toast cost ten bucks (with orange juice, it comes to $19.95, not counting tip), so I should know toast.

How do we know this is THE Virgin Mary? Well, when the original owner was about to take a bite out of her sandwich, she notice "the Lady" staring back at her and hollered for her husband to "COME QUICK!" "I scared me at first," she said. Then, shortly thereafter, she won $70,000 at a nearby casino.

potato chip Jesus
If that is not proof enough, after ten years, "it doesn't fall apart or crumble or anything." Nor has it become moldy! And the best proof of all--someone paid $28 million for it. So there.

But that's not today's story. Today's story is about how things like this happen...the psychological phenomenon of seeing something significant in ambiguous stimuli. That is called pareidolia say those who study such things. (Yeah, somebody's got to study everything.)

Another interesting study might be on what causes a person to pay $28 million for a ten-year-old piece of toast.

A pizza for Christ's sake
But about the "seeing things" phenomena, scientifically conducted tests (with results written about in the Journal of Cognition and other like magazines without cartoons) seem to indicate there may be an awareness of perceptually ambiguous stimuli enhanced by the presence of moral content.

Over a series of tests too dull to describe, moral content seemed to enhance recognition of anything at a greater perception than non-moral content. That phenomenon is called the "moral pop-out effect." It is described in a general sense like grocery shopping when you are hungry versus when you are not hungry. When you are hungry, the sight and aura of food calls your name. When you are full, forget it Charlie.
Cheeto Jesus (really?)

Interestingly, test subjects recalled more of stories with morally acceptable content than those without. An example used was a fabricated newspaper clipping of a perpetrator of a vicious crime who was still on the loose. That version scored considerably less in remembered detail than the exact same fake story where the perpetrator was apprehended.

There is much more, of course, but being a non-scientist, if you get the gist, that's good enough for me.

Cubs win! Cubs win!
Oh my gosh, I just saw the Cubs winning the World Series in my breakfast pancake! Quick eBay bidder, give me $28 million. Ok, $2.8 billion. Alright, $28. Sure, but only because I like you, 28 cents. And yes, it comes with maple syrup.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Crash Blossoms

If you like words, and who doesn't... I personally use them all the time, then you'll enjoy crash blossoms. This is a relatively new term for something we used to call 'double take' headlines. You know... like "Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim" or "Red Tape Holds up New Bridge."

Crash Blossoms (which got its name from the headline: "Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms") was the first topic covered by new columnist Ben Zimmer as he took over the On Language column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The column had been authored for 30 years by Pulitzer prize winner William Safire, who ran out of words recently (i.e... he died).

As a journalist at heart, I have long loved these misunderstood headlines typically found atop newspaper stories. Such headlines were usually written by a news desk editor on deadline, working feverishly to make his story title fit a specific column width and space available. And, every so often, they were purposely crafted as an 'inside joke' to amuse his colleagues at the news desk. Late night editors sometimes got a little 'punchy' in the heyday of newspapers.

Some favorites are classic:

"MacArthur Flies Back to Front"
"Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans"
"Doctor Testifies in Horse Suit"
"Vineland Couple to Take On Missionary Position"
"Judge to Rule On Nude Beach"
"Blind Woman Forced to Clean Up by Police After Her Guide Dog
  Accepts Settlement"
"Stiff Prices at Auction of Erotic Art"
"Gator Attacks Puzzle Expert"
"British Left Waffles on Falklands"
"Missouri Gas Chamber is Unsafe"
"Dentist Receives Plaque"
"Giant Waves Down Queen Mary's Funnel"
"Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over"
"Women's Movement Called More Broad-Based"
"Flaming Toilet Seat Causes Evacuation at High School"
"Urologist Censored by His Peers"
"4-H Girls Win Prizes for Fat Calves"
"Blind Bishop Appointed to See"
"Tuna Biting Off Washington Coast"

Well, you get the idea. These darned things are infectious though... like eating potato chips, it's hard to stop. OK, just one more... "Judge Blocks Discharge of Gay Seaman"  OK, one more... but this is absolutely the last one: "Two-Headed Baby Recalls Similar Birth in 1970"

The End.

"Blind Woman Gets Kidney from Dad She Hasn't Seen in Years"  Whoops! Couldn't help it.
"Deaf Mute Gets New Hearing"  Sorry

                                                                       (so it's a reprint from April, 2010... boo hoo)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What are the odds...

King Kong fills out perfect 'March Madness' bracket--wins $1 Billion
The odds of winning Warren Buffett's $1 Billion for a perfect NCAA March Madness bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion-plus.

Here's a simple way to visualize how much that is: List every possibility on its own sheet of paper. That many pages would weigh more than 500 million times the weight of the Empire State Building. So King Kong did have an unfair advantage!

My suggestion for the serious fans, win the lottery 3 or 4 times to get the feel of it... then click here for more confidence. (I promise, it's worth it!)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I need 7 1/2 minutes of your time...

I really need 7 1/2 minutes. I'm not trying to sell anything or asking for money... but when it comes to being a hero or playing it forward or trust or love, this will be impactful and touching. It's a short Singapore produced film called Gift . It will touch your heart.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

$9 billion in cash... and other stuff.

Grocery chain Safeway was just purchased for $9 billion in cash by a capital investment firm. I heard the big cheese of supermarket buyers just opened his wallet and peeled off nine one-billion dollar bills. Safeway knew they were legit because the bills all had a hologram of Donald Trump imbedded in the paper.

I'm kind of nostalgic about all of this... I was fired from my first job at a Safeway store. Most people won't make change for a billion... not without a purchase they say... so last time I needed to break a one-billion dollar bill, I just bought a sausage biscuit at McDonald's and got change... $200 in paper and the rest in quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies.

New York City is beside itself in anticipation over the thought that musician James Murphy is going to make its extensive subway system a work of symphonic art.  He plans to revamp the underground sound of the MTA by changing the cacophony produced by the subway turnstiles and oncoming train alerts. "They make this unpleasant beep and are all slightly out of tune from one another," he says.

"I became kind of obsessed with this idea that instead of just unpleasant, with almost no change at all, it could be beautiful."

The idea came to him after he was blown-away by the Tokyo underground system's friendly voices and "incredibly gentle beeps." Then, in the Barcelona airport, the four-note sequence before an announcement reminded him of the opening notes of the group Chicago's song "Color My World."

So, after he has re-tuned the beeps and sounds, if allowed, all 468 stations on the 323-mile long MTA will play one hauntingly charming and catchy tune, "It's a Small World After All." A rider would never have to lament missing even one note. (The song is a joke, but the rest is true.)

With one sport season over-
lapping another, overlapping another, overlapping another, there is always a Most Valuable Person award every month or so. Here's my choice for the MVP at an upcoming St. Patrick's Day parade in every hometown.

From this human point-of-view, it doesn't take much to be most valuable to someone. Go for it!

Speaking of that and intending to end on an inspiring note or two, I saw something that made me sad a few days ago. I was waiting in line at a very fancy restaurant (McDonald's again) and noticed the young family in front of me... dad was ordering breakfast for his wife, four-year-old daughter (I'd guess) and infant in a car-seat. Order was placed on the counter as he reached into his pocket to pay... but (and I didn't put this together til after), he was short of cash. He told the order-taker that he had to go to the car for more money and directed his family to follow him. Then, as I stepped to the front of the line, I saw the cash register flash "Sale cancelled." I raced to the door just in time to see their car pulling away and felt really bad that, had I been more aware, I could have "played it forward."

I'm really sorry I blew this chance but there will be others... for me and for you. Play it forward doesn't have to be big to be impactful for someone who needs a little boost... and to that voice in your head that says "That's what it's all about."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What did the toilet paper say to the toothbrush?

The toothbrush has been around since... ? (Hint: six years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue.)

And the toothbrush has felt sorry for itself all these years because, as our bathrooms have changed from outhouses to high tech wonders, it is still brusha, brusha, brusha, two or three times a day, pretty much the same old way... with auto vibration thrown in just to appease it.


Well, thanks to technology, it won't have to. There's now an App for that.

"The World's First Available Interactive Electric Toothbrush" now links to your smartphone, thanks to Proctor & Gamble. It not only brushes your teeth but gives mouth-care tips and news headlines. Russia has invaded Ukraine... you missed a spot... another winter storm is on the way... up and down stupid... and now a word from our sponsors... 

Oh sure, it does other things too, like record your brushing history and timing each brush... you know, the important stuff. As one industry observer noted, "It's like having a microwave you put in your mouth." (Yeah, he really said that.) Does this mean that if the coffee you are drinking is too cold, you set the toothbrush at 30 seconds, press "start" and hold tight to the sink. On the other hand, we could see some world records in gargling.

A competing manufacturer is betting on "sensors and analytics to improve your brushing with algorithms designed by five (yes 5) mathematicians to identify which quadrant of the mouth a user is brushing. We want to use data to reinvent the way people brush their teeth."

How have we lived so long without this?

Now move over, bidet... my guess is that lowly toilet paper will be augmented by the next App we see. We already have the cutest darn toilet paper ads on TV offering "a good wipe." You know the brand, the kind that all the bears in the woods use. Says some future industry mogul: "It's almost like having a Roto-Rooter in your back pocket." All of which begs the question: How many mathematicians will it take to improve "the wipe?"

*Art by my new friend, cartoonist and editor, Tim Peckham

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sunny, windy and hot

Credit NASA/SDO with thanks
As winter wanes...  a good forecast is worth its weight in gold. Don't forget to use your sun tan lotion.

Sadly, this wasn't the forecast for our area... or our planet. A few days ago, NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory noted an enormous burst of plasma--a solar flare. These things happen, you know.

As big goes, this bigger-than-most eruptions from the sun's surface was estimated as a million-plus miles... accompanied by a 4.5 million miles-per-hour wind so hold on to your hats.

Want to be impressed? Take a look at this.

You might suspect I'm a little over-the-top when it comes to the enormity of space and its every facet. A few night ago, I watched the International Space Station cross my section of sky. The ISS has now logged over 1.5 billion miles since 2000 when it was launched, and has been visited by more that 200 astronauts. The space station, including its large solar arrays, spans the area of a U.S. football field, including the end zones, and weighs a little shy of 100,000 pounds. The complex now has more livable room than a conventional six-bedroom house and has two bathrooms, a gymnasium and a 360-degree bay window.

It is only 220 miles from earth traveling at 17,000 miles-per-hour--peanuts by space standards--but it sure is awesome. Want to see it? This website will tell you where and when to look.

Oh, by the way, if anyone should ask, those who know say there are at least 8.8 billion planets that are similar in size and temperature to earth... and lots, lots, lots more that aren't.

I love this stuff!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Clyde, my dad. He died at age 47 in 1965.
My dad told me a story once: A guy is walking down the street and he sees a sign in the window of a tailor shop:


So the guy looks at his wrinkled pants and thinks, "Wow, what a great deal." He goes in and tells the tailor,  "I want my pants pressed."

After he removes them in the dressing room, the tailor takes, presses and returns the pants just like new. "That will be $3," he says.

"WHAT!" the man responds. "Your sign in the window says press pants free."

"You didn't see the question mark?" the tailor asked. "The sign says, WHAT DO YOU THINK,  PANTS PRESSED FREE?"

If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't true. Or, if it is true, it won't be for long because this is today and everyone knows we have shown a tendency to ruin a good thing if we keep trying.

So, is that cynical enough for you?

Then what do you believe: Shipped for free. Guaranteed to last. Our products are guaranteed to
give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at anytime if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L.Bean that is not completely satisfactory.

Now THAT'S a guarantee you can count on from a company that has been succeeding in business for more than 100 years! Orvis, Patigonia and Marmot are holding on to similar policies despite customer abuse.

We often work really hard to ruin a good thing... and sadly, it doesn't take many to ruin it for all. A number of such gracious policies have been altered as not sustainable because they are regularly taken advantage of by a crass "I'm more special than you are," minority.

REI, which once had the endearing nickname, 'Return Everything Inc.' has had to change its open return policy because of such abuse. Many hundreds of returned items are stacked in storage bins or hanging on racks and many more are lining shelf after shelf, all with tags that detail customer complaints.

"Doesn't fit well," is the story of women's clogs, so worn that the original design has faded.
"Not sexy enough," says another long ago, well-worn purchase tag. REI's 'No questions asked' return policy even honored a current value return of a snow suit  bought in 1970 to climb Mt. Rainier.

One man returned a 2004 backpack that had seen extensive use because it "was getting old and dirty, and I didn't like it anymore." REI sent him a brand new one plus $17 in cash as the difference in price the man originally paid. Then, the man returned that one for a newer model. REI has received 'knock-off' products, items bought at garage sales or taken from garbage dumps and returned for refunds. Some have bragged in on-line message boards of using REI  return dollars like an ATM for rent and college tuition.

Patagonia recently received a backpack and shirt that was shredded after the wearer was stabbed while on vacation in Egypt. Another got a new backpack when rescue workers had to cut his old one off while saving his life in a rock climbing accident.

"The culture has changed over the years and now people will take advantage of any opportunity they can," say one loyal REI customer.

Recently even Disney theme parks have been forced to make important policy changes. No longer will families with disabled children be afforded line-cutting privileges because so many healthy families game the system. They say some of its members are ill or disabled so they don't have to wait in line. And some wealthy parents have even gone to hiring disabled 'tour guides' to be first. A number without special needs are renting unnecessary wheel chairs. "The honor system, evidently, is obsolete," one observed.

"And what of those children who really do need their wheelchairs of leg braces?" asks a Wall Street Journal article. "Those are the children whose fragile medical conditions make a day at a Disney park a rare and wonderful, but tenuous and wearying, occasion. Their parents can say to them, truthfully: The reason the rules have changed is that some other mothers and fathers told their children to pretend their lives are as hard as yours."

There should be a name for those who feel strongly that THEY are the only important ones. These are the 'gamers' of life, those who are so special that others can even pick up their garbage thrown on the highways of life. I disgustingly call them Litterers of Life.

Monday, February 17, 2014

(Part II) Brazil: Multi cultural, multi colorful Brazil... PLUS: Something valuable FREE!

Race, color and culture mark South America's largest, and only Portuguese speaking country as remarkable. Brazil is the 5th largest and 5th most populist country in the world. But even more interesting is its ethnic mix-- White at 48%, Pardo (multiracial) at 43%, Black, Asian and Amerindian--and here, it gets interesting.

--> My anthropologist son-in-law Michael Baran, spent the better part of two years in Brazil examining how race is perceived. Both he and his wife/my daughter Jill are anthropologists--so ask about the Galapagos fishermen and she's got that covered... giving us a grand reason for two most fascinating travel itineraries. 

“Lots of social scientists like to compare race in Brazil to the United States. They think that unlike the United States, in Brazil, ethnic definitions are referred to in hundreds of racial categories that are really based on looks," says Baran. "And they can be based on things like different shades of brown... or creative things like 'coffee with milk.' Some say that the soccer great, Pele, even has a racial term named just for him. Other anthropologists, however, say that’s just Brazilians being creative. While there is certainly racial discrimination, race in Brazil is ethnically and colorfully acknowledged... and complicated.”

And to drive that point home and show how people really see themselves, Baran has created two very popular interactive apps for iPhone and iPad. One is increasingly seen on corporate websites by companies large and small to emphasize the business world's commitment to racial diversity. It is called (Don't) Guess My Race . Read the reviews below then you can try it yourself by clicking the website. You'll see why it is deemed so vital to our understanding. 

There is also a young person's race awareness game, Who Am I? available free. Here is Baran's

How good are these apps and why should you/your  kids have this experience? Read the reviews, try the game and decide for yourself:

"After years trying to get Americans to wrestle with a subject that makes most of us cringe, Baran hit on a strategy trusted by parents everywhere to get kids to eat vegetables and brush their teeth: He turned race into a game…By combining gaming, art, the subjects’ own poignant words and bite-size nuggets of anthropological insight into how race developed – or rather, how we developed it — Baran is turning a conversation stopper into a conversation starter.” The Boston Globe

"I had my doubts about this. More than doubts. Who’d believe that “there’s an app for that” could be anything more than a joke in the context of talking to kids about race? When we put the iPhone down, I expected a shrug from my kid-the kind of reaction I get when I tell him something he already knows or wants to pretend he does or just isn’t really interested in. Instead, I got “I loved that!” The look on his face, the tone of his voice-he reacted as though I’d opened up something that explained the mysteries of the world, and maybe I did.”  Slate

"I was surprised by how delighted my children were with the apps, and with the freedom to ask questions that they conferred. We’ve had plenty of direct conversations since, and unfortunately, current events constantly provide us with the opportunity to have more.” New York Times

Yes, Brazil is most colorful and should produce a quite a feast for the eyes of the rest of the world as Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2014 World Cup AND the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What's in a name? If you are from Brazil, lots! (Part I)

Names can be quite quirky. Where you come from is big.

Take 12-year-old soccer prodigy
Petroswickonicovic Wandeckerkof da Silva Santos, for example. His friends simply (simply?) know him as Petroswickonicovic. But, if he continues to excel in his sport, his fans may know him differently in future years... like Edson Arante do Nascimento... Pele to the world.

What's in a name then? Ask that question in Brazil and stand back.

As the New York Times recently noted, there is Mike Tyson Schwarzenegger Pradella Errolflynn Paixao Charlingtonglaevionbeecheknavare dos Anjos Mendonca, a Brazilian plumber who, thankfully, goes by Chacha (pronounced Sha-sha in Portuguese)  and Wonarlievyston Garlan Marlion Branddon Buno Paullynelly Mell Oliveira Pereira too. (If you spot any missppeellingz, please let me know.)

Brazil is a most colorful country and the names of many "reflect centuries of immigration, conquest and slavery... to produce a fusion of identities," says the NYTimes." In a country with an array of musical traditions, from the melodious bossa nova to sertanejo country music, naming experts also mention the symphonious way some unusual names resonate when they are coined by expecting parents. Brazil... ranks among nations where naming has evolved into something resembling a competitive sport."

"Never think he or she was making a joke about his or her name," advises Mexican novelist Juan Pablo Villalobos. "No matter what name they told you, it's the actual name.

A Sao Paulo TV station recently found a family with seven children: Elvis, Elvisnei, Elvismara, Elvislei, Elvicentina, Elvisfaine and Elvislene. And if you are All Shook Up after hearing those names, That's All Right," said dad in this made-up quote "Don't Be Cruel because these kids are Always on My Mind."

Having had the best excuse in the world to visit and travel in Brazil a handful of years back--our kids lived there and their first child/our grandchild Rio (talk about a coincidence) was conceived there--the country remains alive in my mind for so many reasons.

Race, color and culture mark South America's largest, and only Portuguese speaking country as remarkable. This should produce a quite a feast for the eyes of the rest of the world as Rio de Janeiro hosts the 2014 World Cup AND the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Part II, Brazil: Multi cultural, multi colorful Brazil. See it here, Friday in my next post. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How many is 6 million?

If you wrote one 4-letter word in type so small that it takes a good magnifying glass to read it... and you printed that word, again and again, in a book large enough to fill a coffee-table, with each word butted against the other, border to border, six-million times, the book would be 1,250 pages thick and almost illegible.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 1, 2014

If I had an extra $4 million, I know what I would do...

... I would buy a 30-second television ad spot during the upcoming Super Bowl XLVIII (which, for those not familiar with Latin or don't have enough fingers, is 3-1/2 baker's dozen plus II, give or take half a donut).

My commercial would feature a clever little video starring all my grandchildren--with the oldest, now 17 (I can't believe it) and a really good driver, at the wheel--in a dramatic car chase through the streets of San Francisco... you know, like flying over the steep hills and careening down the crookedest street in the world... stuff like that. (Been done before? Not like this, it hasn't.)

The video would feature every cute grandchild in the car, all dressed alike in a nice plaid or paisley with silly little hats--for drama and color harmony, of course--screaming, laughing, saying clever things and daring fate in a way that makes Indiana Jones look like a girl scout (not that there is anything wrong with that)... and cats, of course to capture those who hate kids but love cats... with fast, dramatic, heart-pounding music. (Note to parents and concerned citizens: These scenes all done by stunt doubles, of course. Do you realize how difficult it is to find a stunt double for a three-month-old?)

The car would finally race toward the outgoing ferry to Sausalito as it was pulling away, jumping the Bay and the widening gap between pier and deck, finally doing a screeching 180 halt on the deck (so the front of the car is facing the camera). Then, the cutest of the grandkids (you know who you are, right? The ones who have my nose.) would hop--or crawl--out of the car, look into the camera and say, for all 100 million billion riveted fans (those not going to the bathroom), "Read papa's blog, ... so it can go viral!"

Closing shot features the blog's web address as the music sweetens... image fades to black, then cuts to the announcer who says, "And now, on to the game."

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Money, Money, Money...

ABBA: Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny, Bjorg

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It's a rich man's world

 ABBA had a ton of hits from the mid '70s to the late '90s. Its songs are the heart of the popular musical, Mama Mia. But perhaps no ABBA song has more relevance than its 1976 recording of  Money, Money, Money.

Maybe you've seen this story: 85 of the world's richest billionaires are as wealthy as the poorest 3.5 billion people in the world!

Forbes Magazine tells us there are l,426 billionaires in the world today. So minus the 85 super wealthiest, there are 1,341 'poorer' billionaires (not counting Scrooge McDuck or Richie Rich) on the outside looking in. How's it feel, you guys, to be poorer?

Bill & Melinda Gates with Warren Buffett
Now before you get the wrong idea, I really like the rich... and so should you. Even if, in our lesser status we are envious, make fun of them or notice a few may be jerks and worse, a world without rich couldn't work. I think that's been tried. Most rich have earned their fortunes by creating opportunities and providing services for others... and many are dramatically benevolent.

Not only have Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett already committed more than half of their billions through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they have gotten 102 other 'very rich' to sign The Giving Pledge agreeing to do likewise. And they continually work to recruit others like themselves. Take a look... the Giving Pledge makes very interesting reading. 

Bill Gates once said he and his wife plan to leave their children a very small  (but still not bad) inheritance of their mega billions with the remainder to be used for continuing benevolence. These actions represent just some of the good that money can do.

And no, they and all their pals cannot solve all the world's unbalance. They have done, and will continue to do great things for humankind. Yet, there remain many, many below the poverty line that struggle mightily. These include the new poor--"not only  those laid-off blue collar workers but also downsized tech workers, managers, lawyers and other once-comfortable professionals," says The Atlantic. "Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money... (which) arises largely from inadequate wages." 

OK. I'll stop there because I'm trying to be apolitical.

It is ironic though, that professional athletes in many sports regularly sign million-dollar contracts and in most states, the highest paid state employee is a football or basketball coach, yet a teacher often cannot make a wage great enough to support a family. And no, it is not the athlete's or coach's fault to take what is there but our misguided judgement of value to benefit which has deep roots. Give the rich their due, but money cannot buy everything... and it certainly cannot buy poverty.

The fact is, the spread between rich and poor is widening and the middle class is 'middling' at best. The greatest benefit of a robust... or any economy goes to the wealthy. It's expensive to be poor because a far great percentage of all dollars goes to just trying to get by... and sometimes, even with help, that is not enough. Poverty is a hole without luxury, opportunity or an easy way out.

I hope and pray that those with the power to move mountains get on this case.  


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Two hip replacements later, with x-rays to prove it.

Tess, surgical scar and all
Every pet is special of course, but our golden Tess is 'specialer' to us.

She (and her sister, Abby) are HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response  dogs, two of 235 in the country who respond to tragedies and crises where there is need for comfort. Classified as a working dog, Tess was last at the D.C. Naval Yard after the shooting there that took 13 lives.

But what sets her further apart from many is that she has just completed her second total hip replacement due to significant hip dysplasia in both hips--it was bone against bone, our vet told us after the surgery. Sadly, this is a genetic trait in some golden retrievers. What this picture shows is the shaved area and surgical incision on her left hip, stitches still in place. These x-rays tell the story:

One hip done last spring
This shows Tess with her first hip replacement. You can compare the artificial hip with the non-treated hip. We were told the degree of her dysplasia was 9 on a 10-point scale.

Tess with both hips replaced

This x-ray was taken just after the second surgery and it shows both new hips.

The rather amazing thing about a hip replacement in a dog vs. one in a human is that  they both seem very similar in technique and apparatus to a non-medical eye. The x-rays look eerily similar but the human version costs lots more. Lesson: Get your next hip replacement at the vets.

Tess's procedures were both done by Veterinary Surgical Referral Practice in Cary, NC. Our Labrador retriever, Abby, has had surgeries there for torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) on both of her hind legs, something Labs seem prone to do.

Amid all the owner trauma, we could never have imagined how comfortable we were with VSRP. These veterinary pros specialize in neurosurgery soft tissue and orthopedic surgery for pets. They really care for their patients... and just as vital, the patients' owners too. We, with lots of experience, highly recommend VSRP.

Tess moving well with both artificial hips
Our biggie... we have pet insurance by Petplan . The people at Petplan were incredibly helpful from our first contact on the web. Not only were they easy to work with but personal, caring and empathetic  They made a significant difference. Again, from our experience, we highly recommend Petplan.

As an aside, we know how fortunate we are to not only have the great dogs we do but the means to afford the reasonable insurance premiums and the co-pay difference. We are grateful.

A word about prognoses... Tess's sister Abby, with ACL surgeries on both hind legs at VSRP-- the last about three years ago--runs 4-5 miles with me three times a week. Abby is a powerhouse. She loves to run and, if we are on a downhill and she spots a squirrel, I'd be in trouble if I didn't have my feet under me. She is so strong.

Rear view
Tess, on one artificial hip for the last months before this latest surgery, moves comfortably on her first hip replacement. She very obviously and painfully favored her unrepaired hip.

Biggest warning: The rehab is a real pill. Tess was on her new hips the morning after both surgeries. She comfortably walks on the new hip and thinks she is almost ready to go. However, the bone needs to graft around the implant and that takes 16 weeks, so she must be kept low key. She can't run, slip, jump or romp until she meets the specific rehab schedule set down by VSRP.  Fortunately, our dogs 'get with the program' and that helps a lot. It's a commitment... but satisfyingly worth the effort.

If you have ever have the need for any of these services or wonder if this is the thing to do, don't hesitate to help your animal if it is at all possible. Our dogs are both seven-years-old and they have a greater mission than just being our pets, as if that wasn't enough. They are also both members of Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program for hospital, hospice and other animal assisted therapy needs and have specialized training for their HOPE AACR mission. They have a significant impact on many more than us.

This was a great decision for us. If you have the means and need, go for it. And if you live close enough, there would be no better way to proceed than than to use VSRP and Petplan. Both are competent pros that have meant much to us.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Goofus and Gallant for rich kids

If grandma ever gave you a gift subscription to Highlights Magazine when you were a youngster in elementary school, you know Goofus and Gallant. This feature has been in Highlights since its inception in 1948 but it originated in 1936, created by Gary Cleveland Myers.

Goofus always did things poorly or sometimes rudely. Gallant always did things better, kinder. There was always a lesson for the young reader, with appropriate images, to do this, not that.

Goofus, with a bratty face, tells mom: "Here, sew this button on."
Gallant, with a smiley, sweet face, one arm on grandma's shoulder asks: "Will you please sew on this button."

Goofus, grabbing newspaper from mom says: "I want to read the funnies now."
Gallant, asking dad politely with a smile: "Are you finished with the funnies?"

So recently, the Wall Street Journal  put out its own version showing how rich parents should talk to their rich little inheritors... and I didn't make these up.

Picture shows rich father patting son on the head at the dinner table with a servant in the background holding a tray of food to be served.

Don't say: "Why are you asking about money? You don't have to worry about any of that."
Do say: We are lucky. My grandfather build a successful company and passed it down. Here's what that money can help us accomplish."

Picture shows rich mom talking to her young daughter in a limo en-route to airport.

Don't say: "The limo drive is so slow, I hope there will be time to hit the duty-free shop before first-class boarding starts."
Do say: "You can learn a lot by seeing the world. Would you like to help decide where to go for our annual vacation?"

Picture shows son asking rich dad--cocktail in hand while sitting in a comfy chair in his smoking jacket--for a few bucks to replace his broken lacrosse stick.

Don't say:  "Here's $3,000. Will that be enough?''
Do say: "Here's $300. That should be enough to replace your broken lacrosse stick and cover your snacks for the month."

Now don't get me wrong. I think these are fine lessons. But I still sense a touch of "lots richer than me" coming through.

Maybe we need alternate lessons for the middle class while there are still a few thousand or so of us still around.

Picture shows kid asking dad, in overalls working on the family car, for $20 to replace his punctured basketball:

Do say: "Sure son. Here's all my loose change. Ask your mom for some change from the jar in the kitchen cabinet and I'll see if I can find another few bucks next week."
Maybe say: "Here's a buck. Go buy a lottery ticket."
Possibly say: "The Harlem Globetrotters have a trick play using a deflated basketball and they are rich. See if you can learn from them."
Perhaps say: "You have a birthday coming up. We'll see."
Can't say: Here's a thou, get something good... and those fancy Michael Jordan shoes while you're at it."
Best say: "Here's $20. Go get 'em Tiger!"

So you see, most of these are very good suggestions. What's right for you just depends.

I really don't mean to make fun of the super rich... much. Those who are born with a silver spoon in their collective mouth (disgusting image!) do not have an easy life. Actually, I've worked all my life for people with money (both inherited and earned) and their lives are often not as 'rich' as mine. I'm really glad Bill Gates has all that money... and how he uses it. While he could leave his kids billions, he has vowed to give most of it away, leaving each heir only $10 million. And, no joking, I really think that is cool. Now there's a great kid lesson by example.

While money cannot buy happiness, it also cannot buy poverty. My dad, who died many years ago, told me, a person with $10 million isn't that much happier than one with $9 million." Of course, that was when a million dollars WAS a lot of money.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Summer of 1927

Charles Lindberg and his Spirit of St. Louis
The summer of 1927 in America is more interesting than you could ever imagine, for a lot of reasons. Author Bill Bryson's latest work, One Summer in America, is all over it, as usual. Bryson is a most interesting author, researcher and story-teller with a WIDE range... but more of him later.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly the Atlantic and take the prize so many aviators of the time died for. Known as Lucky Lindy, he was! He captured the nation and the world in ways unimaginable today except by the historically trite like Justin Beiber, the Kardashians, reality TV, yada yada. My, how the world has changed.

Lucky Lindy even had a hit song about him that swelled the pride of every American:

Lucky Lindy (Recorded by Vernon Dalhart ca. 1929-1930)  

From coast to coast, we all can boast and sing a toast to one
Who's made a name
By being game.  
He was born with wings as great as any bird that flies
A lucky star
Led him afar!

Lucky Lindy! Up in the sky
Fair or windy, he's flying high.
Peerless, fearless --- knows every cloud
The kind of a son makes a mother feel proud! 

Lucky Lindy!
Flies all alone In a little plane all his own,
Lucky Lindy shows them the way
And he's the hero of the day.

Just like a child, he simply smiled while we went wild with fear  
That Yankee lad!
The world went mad!  
Everywhere we prayed for him to safely cross the sea
And he arrived In gay Par-ee! 

But Lindy was far from the only story... only the first of that 1927 summer. Babe Ruth was pretty noteworthy that same year... as was Al Capone, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge and flag pole sitting. It was the advent of sensational journalism which filled our eye with colorful tales of murder, mayhem, scandals and con men that  caught America's eye the same way CNN, Entertainment Tonight, American Idol do today, but this was before TV...  when we first 'got the fever.'

Bryson writes: To a foreign visitor arriving in America for the first time in 1927, the most striking thing was how staggeringly well-off it was. Americans were the most comfortable people in the world.

American homes shone with sleek appliances and consumer durables--refrigerators, radios, telephones, electric fans, electric razors--that would not become standard in other countries for a generation or more. Of the nation's 26.8 million households, 11 million had a phonograph, 10 million had a car, 17.5 million had a telephone. Every year, America added more new phones that Britain possessed in total.

 Made in America? How about 42 percent of everything! Four times more cars than all the rest of the world. More gold reserves too. America only had 120 million people then, about a third of today's number, and most of those lived on farms or in small cities.

Travel? Railroads and airplanes, new as they were. We had one transcontinental highway and it was only half-paved from the Iowa to the Pacific. No TV of course, or air conditioning. Lots of homes had horses but didn't have toilets. A different time for sure.

But zeal? We had that. It was zeal and happenings and circumstance and curiosity that marked this remarkable summer. So did I like the book? Guess. It's filled with tales about all of the above.

Bill Bryson has always been a favorite of mine. He was born in Iowa with a lot of growing-up time in England where he now lives. He writes mostly non-fiction, most interestingly. His range is broad. He has a book about language called The Mother Tongue. Another about words called (you're not going to believe this) Words. I especially liked A Really Short History of Nearly Everything... and it is! Really. I found it most palatable as an audio book that I could listen to in drive-time snippets because there is so much to digest.

He is a good read... One Summer in America fits the bill just fine.

Monday, January 6, 2014

"You don't always get what you pay for."

When buying art, don't be fooled, like the West Virginia lady who paid $7 for a box of kitschy treasures at a flea market a few years back. She HAD to take the painting because it was in the box she wanted.

What attracted her to the simple little box was a very cute leather-crafted Paul Bunyan doll that she was sure she could resale at a profit and an adorable plastic cow that she liked for her kitchen. The silly little picture, about the size of a post card... well, she thought the frame might be worth something if she removed the engraved Renoir plate from the front of it.

It just so happened that the annual Starving Artists painting sale was going  on in my hometown that same weekend. It offered hand-painted 'steals' for as little as $9.95 with Van Goghs for only $49.95.

Sofa-size painting

AND, you can have this magnificent 'sofa-size' painting as your very own--with many more this size... and just as great to choose from--for only $69.95, none higher!

Now I ask you, who is the bigger fool? Why would you waste $7 on a painting no larger than a post card when you can cover your whole wall behind your couch with something this big, this awe-inspiring and this cheap?

Some people just don't know art.

Oh, the silly little Renoir it seems was painted by French Impressionist, Auguste Renoir about 1879. (So, "Ooh La La.") It is titled Paysage Bords de Seine, or Banks of the River Seine as I like to say in good old American. Those French have a different word for everything... and they go crazy over Jerry Lewis. Does that make me want that painting, even if it would bring around $100,000 when sold at auction? 

All said, how silly would that tiny little Renoir look on the red accent wall behind my massively
The Kiss
comfortable, overstuffed Scotch-plaid recliner couch? I'd probably have to buy a new frame... something much simpler, perhaps in black. No thank you! I'm a Starving Artist man where your money always buys a lot of square inches of canvas and it only takes a hundred bucks or so to do the whole darned house.

A nice "sofa-size" would also enhance my last steal... a really nice plaster of Rodin's The Kiss which set me back 25 smackeroos at a Starving Sculptor tent sale next to a BP Station last summer.

The pleasure I get from the "Oohs" and "Aahs" from all my art critic friends is my greatest reward. And besides, these artists will probably be next century's famous dead people... and they probably are really starving.

PS: The Renoir was possibly stolen from a museum in 1951 and not seen since. Courts will decide the true owner.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chickery chick, cha-la cha-la...

What is Chickery chick? It's music from the past... way past, like this 1945, Number 1 song on the Hit Parade by Sammy Kaye. While music before TV, the internet, rock and roll, Motown, grunge, new age, etc. was different (lots of novelty songs to 'catch your ear'), music then and music now has always had a magic quality.

Once there lived a chicken who would say "chick-chick"
"Chick-chick" all day
Soon that chick got sick and tired of just "chick-chick"
So one morning he started to say:

"Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a bananika
Bollika, wollika, can't you see
Chickery chick is me?"

Oh, there's more. If you don't know the words and the tune to Chickery chick, check it out here. It's cute.

So what's the magic quality? "Psychologists believe laws, stories and customs were presented as poems, chants and, eventually, as songs, in order for them to be memorized and recalled accurately. The idea was that the chant would help people to remember large sets of information across the ages. Music aids memorization by providing a rhythm, a rhyme and often, alliteration. All that structure is the key to unlocking information stored in the brain--with music acting as a cue." *

Many researchers think the brain function that responds to music evolved long before those related to language and that humans developed music and dance to aid in the retrieval of information.

Think it's an accident that most commercials include music? At today's Super Bowl prices --$4 million for a 30 second spot, if one was still available--advertisers will do everything they can to be remembered.

That's also why even patients with advanced Alzheimer's dementia have been know to sing along to a familiar song... or even play the piano or other instruments they once knew. (Visiting an Alzheimer wing a few years ago, I heard the most magnificent violin concerto coming from one of the rooms. Tracking the sound down, I was amazed that it was coming from the bow of a professional violinist who couldn't even remember his name or family.) Ever watch a concert and see everyone in the audience mouthing familiar songs as the artist sings or plays them? We're that good without giving it much thought. 

We just remember songs better than we remember grocery lists (Hmm. What rhymes with spaghetti?), where we put the keys or what my wife/husband said just two minutes ago.  Now if you try real hard, can you remember the Alphabet Song? Good! Lucky for us, the letters go in that order or we would really be mixed up.

Memory is triggered by songs and similar structures like rhymes and associations we create. After reading The Memory Book by Harry Loraine and ex-basketball player Jerry Lucas many years ago, I tested the theory. On a family vacation when my oldest was just 10, I used techniques of association taught in the book to see if the kids could recall long lists of unrelated things. After a short, simple explanation and a single read-though to help them build an association to the word, all but the youngest could repeat lists as long as 20 items--forward, backward and from any point I challenged them to start. And they could retain that memory and other lists as I tested them during our vacation, or as long as it was important to them. It amazed us all.

Sadly, it takes mental discipline to condition yourself to think this way until it becomes second nature--like doesn't every good habit? And it wasn't important enough for us to do, so we just struggle our best to retain our sieve-like memories. Now what was the name of that guy you were just introduced to one minute ago?

But for fun, unless you were born after these songs were sung, can you remember some of the lyrics to The Witch Doctor song? (... and he said, Ting, tang, walla-walla-bing-bang.... ) or that hauntingly beautiful It's a small, small world?

So there you have it. Now, with practice, your conversations at home and work will all sound like The sound of music, Oklahoma and The king and I  or a Dr. Seuss book so we will never forget where we put those glasses or keys again.

Memory is a funny thing... so much is in our head but getting it out... now that's another matter. Oh geeze... I forgot my pants again.

*Dr. Henry L. Roediger III, professor of psychology at the Memory Lab at Washington University in St. Louis.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year... BUT WAIT A MINUTE!

Yogi Berra said many funny things and most conveyed common sense logic, Yogi style. My favorite:  "It ain't over 'til it's over."

While this is the perfect time for new resolutions and a clean slate, let's recognize that the new year is just a fresh start that will be largely forgotten when Dec. 31st rolls around 12 months from now. What really carries meaning in life is not how we start but how we end, do-overs and all.

Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin said something very poignant in his end-of-year piece:

Soccer surely has the best ending, because the end isn't really the end at all, thanks to the stoppage time added on after 90 minutes of regulation. And who wouldn't want that at the end of life, a fourth official at your bedside, holding an electronic signboard with a lit 7, indicating seven years tacked-on to compensate for all the time wasting you did in the previous 90?

It is perhaps for the better that most of us don't receive a two-minute warning, don't really see the end coming, even though we know it's looming, a gateway to the great unknown. So we just let it arrive, both expected and yet catching us unaware, like the end of another column, at the end of another magazine, at the end of another year, beyond which lies a mystery.

I really like that.

So, let's celebrate the heck out of life... our blessing. Let's toast the future and do more this new year that is memorable... like a resolution kept, a kindness shown, a friend made, laughter shared, a burden lightened. The past is done. We've already lived that and we have those memories. But it is the future... the coming year after year where we will spend all the rest of our time. It is waiting to be lived. Let's do it better than ever! We deserve no less.

So in celebration of the past that is already fixed in our history, we sing Auld Lang Syne* written in 1788 by Scottish Poet Robert Burns:

Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind
Should all acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne

And surely you will buy your cup
And surely I'll buy mine
And we'll take a cup o'kindness yet
For auld lang syne

We too have run around the slopes
And picked the daisies fine
We've londoned many weary foot
Since auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne

We too have paddled in the stream
From morning sun to night
But the seas between us broad have roared
From auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup o'kindness yet
For auld langs syne

*auld lang syne loosely translated means 'for the sake of old times.'

May you all enjoy a blessed New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

First, out with the old:

Christmas Twister stars
Worse Christmas movie EVER: Christmas Twister, the story of a rogue tornado in the Ft. Worth area... a (believe it or not) category 6 with sustained winds above 240 mph. Yes, it's a bad one and only one government meteorologist, his assistant and a naive female intern know that conditions are perfect for the most devastating storm EVER!

Trouble is, his wife (who he loves dearly but they are having problems) works at the local TV station with a very vain weatherman who says that twister info is hogwash since it doesn't show on his outdated weather screen. Even the meteorologist's wife doesn't believe him since he tried the same thing in Chicago and was wrong... and disgraced!

So as these smaller tornadoes keep cropping up out of a clear blue sky, surprising everyone, nobody pays much attention. There are no police or ambulance sirens, not much of anything except cars blown over, trees snapped, homes ripped to shreds, people thrown about... but all OK, thank God!

Hero's daughter skips school and goes to the mall. Kid brother covers for her. Guess where the killer twister will hit?

Rush to the climax, TV weatherman decides to cover this silly little storm and as he is on-camera making fun to his viewers, in the background, the most powerful twister EVER heads right toward him. The camera man, spotting it, tries to run but, alas, a railroad car carried airborne by the twister cuts them both down. I hope that TV weatherman has learned his lesson.

The mall, and its 15 or so people (producer probably couldn't afford many extras), screaming and running around waving their hands in the air, rush, single file, into a mall shelter, led by the meteorologist's brave school-skipping daughter. What acting!

In the end, the meteorologist is a hero, school skipping girl is a hero as she pulls a trapped victim--just in time-- from underneath a sign held up by a fraying rope that is breaking, one strand at a time. Phew! Meteorologist's young son is a hero as he helps someone out of the mall,  announcer wife is a hero as she saves another life, meteorologist himself is a double hero for calming a screaming, panic-stricken young woman... and the mall is a total wreck... sort of. Well, merchandise IS scattered on the floor inside, but otherwise, no broken glass or major damage... just stuff all over the mall floor. A category 6 can't harm a mall at Christmas time. It would be unethical.

There is one EMT in the film... he appears three or four times in different scenes and different uniforms, bandaging and saving lives. What a guy.

Finally, all the mall shoppers, dazed and walking funny, emerge into the sunlight, single file, spaced about 6 feet apart. Three or four actually slump on the curb and against the building. All clothes are torn and everyone has smudges on their faces and cuts and broken arms and stuff.

The reason it is called Christmas Twister is because we see some Christmas lawn ornaments in two of the scenes. Warning: Watch out for Easter Twister, Fourth of July Twister, Arbor Day Twister, etc.

The Academy Awards people are fickle... often passing over an obvious contender, so don't be surprised. But my recommendation: See it! It's the funniest movie not starring Will Ferrel now playing. Download it at Tango if you dare!