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Monday, August 22, 2016

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!: Signs of the Apocalypse, Part 3

No, it's NOT all about Marcia (top left),  It's about Jan (middle left), who spoke those catchphrase words in the frustration that only a middle sister could understand.

Note: Signs of the Apocalypse are those seemingly unworldly happenings that run dramatically counter to the real world normal. Could these events be foretelling that the end is near? Nah! Things ARE getting crazier and that's the new normal.

But this time, the last laugh is Jan's (Eve Plumb in real life). It was 1969 and Eve was one year into her most noted role as Jan on The Brady Bunch which lasted on TV until 1974... and then in syndication perhaps forever.

So 11-year-old Eve bought her first house, a little 850 square-footer with a wrap-around deck, for $55,300. She just sold that house for a mere $3.9 million. Not bad appreciation for a starter home. Near that time, I bought my first house, 900-square feet, for $14,900. Then made a killing when I sold it three years later for $16,100. I was rich!

Her secret: Location, location, location. Her house was on the ocean in Malibu Beach. I guess the ocean wasn't there in 1969 which is why she bought it cheap(er). Mine was in Peoria, Illinois which is nowhere near the ocean... or anything else.

The Hermes Bolide 45 Shark

Want a new travel bag? This little bugger caught my eye. Saw it in Vanity Fair magazine... a must have. It's the Hermes Bolide 45 Shark " for a weekend get away or an extended sojourn" It's only $12,800, not counting tax, postage and handling and looks to be well worth it. I think the folks at Motel 6 will be green with envy when I check in with this beauty.

Medical bills got you up against the wall? I remember in the publishing biz (my life's work), every year, employee medical costs would increase by double digits, year after year. This was a number of years back and I'd always wonder why medical stuff just kept getting more and more expensive.

My nifty back belt
So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when I had back surgery earlier in the year and I (and my insurance company) had to buy and use this back support for about a month. This is the one my surgeon said was the best and he wanted me to have it. So I did. Later, when the charge came through, I was a teensy bit taken aback. Would you guess it cost $1,550? Amazon had one from the same company that looked vaguely familiar. It went for $250, on Amazon Prime no less, but I'm sure it couldn't possibly match my Cadillac version.

Then there are the medications that suddenly increase in price overnight when the rights to manufacture are sold to another pharmaceutical company. A few of the notable:  

  • Cycloserine for tuberculosis, from $500 to $10,800 for 30 pills.
  • Ofirmed, an injectable painkiller, from $410 to$1,019.52 for 24 vials.
  • Vimovo for symptoms of arthritis, from $160 to $1,678.52 for 60 tablets.
  • Edecrin, a duretic, from $470 to $4,600 per vial.
  • Benznidizole, treats Chagas disease, a $60,000 per treatment increase.
  • EpiPen, for kids with life-threatening allergies, a 400% increase since acquisition.
  • But the ignominius topper is Daraprim. The day after purchase by Turing Pharmaceuticals, CEO Martin Shkreli bumped the price of this 62-year-old drug from $18.50 to $750. and bragged about it in the press. The medication is a critical treatment for a parasitic infection that could be fatal to those with compromised immune systems due to conditions like AIDS/HIV and cancer.

These increases are called "I gotcha now pricing," befitting the twisted 'golden rule' of capitalism gone mad: "Those who have the gold, rule."

Is it any wonder medical costs continue to amaze?

BTW, Don't you love the new medication names? The good ones have at least one or two Z's and an X or two and a Q without a U. And that supper time is the best TV time to promote laxatives with live action graphics showing the bowel in action. YUMMY! Makes you want to wear  "I (heart) my Laxative." on a T-shirt.

What Harry Potter looks like dead

Then there's Daniel Radcliffe's soaring acting career after Harry Potter, landing the role of a dead person in Swiss Army Man. really. It's the best dead role since Weekend With Bernie. Danial is dead from the first scene to the last and in it, he farts amazing, miraculous farts, and saves a life! Yep, that's true too in the movie.

Next thing you know, Missouri will pass a law that allows people to carry concealed guns without a permit. See? The apocalypse. (Late news flash... the Gov did not sign the bill into law. We are saved!)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Laugh and the world laughs with you... continued

Remember this Gary Larson cartoon?

His The Far Side syndicated cartoons made us laugh every day with creative humor. His last 'strip' was published on New Year's Day, 1995 though books of his compiled cartoons and newer works continue to sell and fill our shelves. A favorite that made the NYTimes bestseller list: There's a Hair in my Dirt: A Worm's Story.

I always thought he was at his best when he used animals as his subjects. One favorite depicts a family of spiders driving in a car with a "Have a Nice Day" bumper sticker featuring a 'smiley face' with eight eyes.

While visiting my sis in San Francisco a number of years ago, we were driving past the California Academy of Sciences when we saw a current exhibit sign announcing Gary Larson's work. We immediately did a 180 and spent the most enjoyable next hours laughing, tittering, snickering, nodding and smiling. What was amazing, as we and others in the exhibit silently read the 450 captions mounted 16 to a panel, were the shared similar outbursts from all corners of the exhibit room.

Our group of strangers were a truly happy bunch as we nodded and smiled to each other, sometimes sharing a favorite with a pointed finger or nod.  I don't recall a word being spoken but everyone left with a far richer disposition than when we walked in the door.

Without being specific about how humor makes our world a better place, we all have personal evidence that it definitely does.

Take a few minutes now to make your world richer today by enjoying a cartoon slide show of The New Yorker magazine's "reader's favorites," shared graciously by the magazine's cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff. My favorite is the one with the praying mantises.

FYI: The New Yorker publishes weekly and features more really good cartoons in every issue from the best cartoonists... more fun than you can find anywhere else... and it is also rich with topical editorial content. That in itself is worth a look.

Funny is, and I quote:

Always remember, you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Margaret Mead

We are all here on earth to help others; what the others are here for I don't know. W.H. Auden

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. Mark Twain

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. Isaac Asimov

Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schitzophrenic and so am I. Oscar Levant

I never said most of the things I said. Yogi Berra

Go to heaven for the climate, go to hell for the company. Mark Twain

A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. Steve Martin

And the piece de resistance quotes by Jack Handey (a real person):
  • To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.
  • Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.
  • I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Be All You Can Be


A little background: The respected London Review of Books introduced a 'Personals' category to its classified pages in 1998.

Known to all literati, the well-respected magazine opened its doors to some of the most witty, fun-to-read personal ads from brainy readers, each, in all seriousness (more or less), trying to outdo the other. 

Originally designed to match intelligent people based on their literary interest, readers immediately ganged up on the personals section for their own purposes. "They were instantly very, very silly," said its originator.

This is the fictional back story of one of those ads, as I imagined. The ad is as it appeared below, names and addresses made up, of course:


“Female, 54. Own all limbs. Seeks man with low priorities. Contact Box 347, this magazine.”

When you are brand new in town and lonely at night, you get desperate.

“Dear Box 347: Where I came from, limbs were optional. Only priority was to wake up the next morning. I am a used-to-be cowboy, also 54, have three of my four limbs but am passionate for someone who can scratch my elbow. I like that about you. Have you a name? I’m box 1438. I want to know more.”

“Dear Lefty: Easy pardner. Let’s go slow-mail to start. I’m intrigued… and a very good scratcher. You can call me Chase, as in ‘the fun of the...’ I’m blond at the moment but can be any color that suits you, tall-ish for a girl and 32-28-34, though not necessarily in that order. Your turn. More please. Chase”

“Oh Chase: Be still my heart. I truly think we may be on to something. I am also on the tall side, lightly graying but full hair, and trim as a ship under full sail. I wear glasses now and size 12 cowboy boots—no innuendo intended. How am I doing so far? Lefty.”

“None taken, Lefty. You are doing fine. I’m a schoolteacher, 6th and 7th grades. I’m molding tomorrow but anxious about today. And you?

“Me too. I’m a cowpoke, ma’am, Was masquerading as a corrections officer one state to the left, as of six days ago, but couldn’t hack the humanity. One-armed cowboys aren’t in great demand these days. My tomorrow is probably a lot less promising than yours. Can we meet?”

“So soon? I thought foreplay lasted longer cowboy.”

“When you are chasin’ a wild mustang, Chase, it lasts as short as it takes. You’re the only thing keeping me here at the moment, and you know cowboys… always looking for the next arroyo.”

“Will 5pm Wednesday at Starbuck fit?”

“Like a rodeo glove. How will I know you?”

“Trust me, you will. And you?”

“Ditto. Can’t wait.”

4:45 p.m: Wednesday, Starbucks: A busy time. Drive-thru filled, line five deep at the counter. Only two open tables, one with a good view. Plunking his cowboy hat on one empty chair, Lefty folds his 6’3 body into the other. With piercing blue eyes centering a weather-chiseled, sun baked face, he watches everyone in the door like a cowpoke checking his herd.

5:15 pm: Cold coffee smells like day-old campfire poison. Late out of the gate means she is a playful tease… I hope. OK, you got me Chase. I’m ready as a bull rider at 3-2-1-let ‘er rip.

5:25 pm: OK Chase… git along little doggie.

5:45 pm: Please, Chase.

6:12 pm: She ain’t comin’. She ain’t comin’. I woulda liked to try. I really… Damn!

6:20 pm: I’m outa here… for good. Hit the road, Jack, one more time.

6:23 p.m Wednesday, same Starbucks: With tears streaming down her cheeks, she watches him walk out of her life. Slowly and with great effort, the gaunt, tall-ish lady holding her two-hour-cold tea, rises from a corner table. She knew in her heart she couldn’t. The imagined, caring romance had gone far beyond her reach, much too soon to be fully savored. The rejection sure to come would be one more blow to an already overwhelmed psyche.

Frightened and feeling even more alone, she adjusts her pink ball cap on the brunette wig that covers her bare head and brushes through the bustling coffee crowd of friends and lovers, all too involved to notice.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A reprise from 2011: "Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!"

 "Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!"
... A direct quote from Mrs Noah as she watched the animals, two-by-two, board the ark...  NOT!

Actually, Dorothy (Judy Garland) said it in The Wizard of Oz when all she had to contend with was a tornado, the Wizard, the wicked witch of the West, a bunch of Munchkins and her friends, a cowardly lion, a scarecrow without a brain and a tin man without a heart. Sounds like my old bowling team.

Anyhow, the subject today is animals...  human and the other kind. And if you want to see how it all began, (evolutionists, you can skip this part) take a look at Robert Crumb's illustrated Book of Genesis. It is truly cool.

Crumb, known for his comic book style and some rather "unusual" drawings and underground comic characterizations, stuck right to the book (that is, The Bible) for this one. Actually, his depiction is from the King James Bible and a 2004 translation called The Five Books of Moses... so Catholics, sit this one out unless you go immediately to confession. As an added bonus, you will finally get to see what God, Adam and Eve and that damn snake look like.

Other big news on the animal front... as told by Associated Press writer Jennifer Quinn who reported it so 'Milnesque:'

When we left them, Christopher Robin was going away, and Things were going to be Different. 

Now, more that eight decades later, a rumor is sweeping the Hundred Acre Wood. According to Owl, who heard it from Rabbit, who heard it from Piglet, the adventures are about to resume. It falls to the bear to pass on the news to Eeyore.

"It's Christopher Robin," said Winnie-the-Pooh. "He's coming back. "

And so it is... after 84 years, the first authorized sequel to A.A. Milne's classic tales, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, is now on sale. Just that thought brings back rich memories of those bed time stories read when my kids were as young as theirs are now.

Alan Alexander Milne, 1882-1956,  was an English novelist and playwright who gained legendary status as the author of the Winnie-the-Poo series of children's tales and poems. As beloved as his characters in the series were to the children, the stories weren't written for his son... or children at all.  They were intended, he said, for the child within us, as simple lessons of life.

And, looking as some of Pooh's quotes, what lessons they are:

When late morning rolls around and you're feeling a bit out of sorts, don't worry; you're probably just a little eleven o'clockish.

When looking at your two paws, as soon as you have decided which of them is the right one, then you can be sure the other one is the left.

To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.

Those who are clever, who have a Brain, never understand anything.

Owl hasn't exactly got Brain, but he Knows Things.

If you want to make a song more hummy, add a few tiddely poms.

The more it snows (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
On snowing. And nobody knows (Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom),
Are growing.

Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.

Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness; however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo.

If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?

I used to believe in forever
But forever's too good to be true.

I've missed you, Pooh Bear... in more ways than you know.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Life has its ups and downs but architecture is forever

You could live here... but if the cost doesn't kill you, the commute might.

Yeah, it could be a touch pricey at $100 mil (plus annual upkeep charges of $150-200,000 per year) but you have to admit, not having to mow the lawn could be worth it. The commute however, is another story.

Mumbai Tower
For people living near the top in tall places--the 80th floor of 111W 57th, overlooking Central Park in NYC or the world's tallest residential structure, the Mumbai World One Tower--your annual elevator rides alone could total 400-plus miles... and not an inch of it is exercise.

You're talking about the equivalent of one full work week of elevator rides, not counting that bratty kid downstairs who runs in and presses all the buttons before you can stop him. And if you have varicose veins, bad feet and/or claustrophobia, you learn money can't buy you everything.

Despite the thought that living high is the exclusive option of the very rich and bold, especially because your building looks like a thin stick high in the air, subject to wind, violent storms and clouds, it is the elevator itself that imposes strict limitations on viability.

111 W 57th St. NYC
Most of today's elevators are limited by how much cable is needed to raise and lower the elevator car and how much will fit at the top by its weight and the space required. If you think 100 floors of fishing line takes a lot of space, imagine if it is thick cable strong enough to support an elevator-full, plus an occasional grand piano and more. Even super piano movers Laurel and Hardy couldn't hack that.

Tall buildings hold their own fascination. Tallest today is the beautiful Burj Kahlifa in Dubai rising about half-mile into the clouds. But that will soon be eclipsed two or three times in the next five years. A building today, because of innovations in elevators and a better understanding of the laws of nature, could be a mile high. How would you like to live on floor 357? What a ride that would be.

Elevators, the biggest drawback to date, will soon be able to travel up, down and sideways at rapid speed, with multiple cars in the same channel, as maglev technology comes into play. These cars will speed along on rails using counter-affecting magnets that allows them to travel on a thin cushion of air... no more cables and lots more control!

Architects have also come to understand that putting counter-weights at the top of such buildings reduces sway and a feeling of "seasickness" and unease... but maybe not for me. Fortunately, being 'much less than rich' has its benefits. Counter weights can be anywhere from 300 to 800 tons apiece. That's the equivalent of 100 African elephants or 20 tractor-trailers or 20 humpback whales or 6 Boeing 787's. How's that for wow factor?

So you like high? How's this for someone who builds those tall things. (Photo from NYTimes weekly magazine.) 

Tall and ultra-tall buildings are majestic and awesome but good architecture at any level is like a symphony. All one has to do to enjoy is visit Columbus, Indiana. This city of 45,000 just south of Indianapolis has many attributes but perhaps the greatest is that it is the home of the Cummins Engine Company. Its Chairman of many years ago, the late J. Irwin Miller, launched a charitable foundation that helped subsidize a large number of building projects in the city... churches, homes, office buildings, parks and the like, by-up-and coming engineers and architects. Columbus is visited annually by architectural students and tourists for its wealth of beautiful structures throughout. It is designated a National Historic Landmark by The National Park Service and is well worth the trip.

Every great architect is--necessarily--a poet. He (she) must be 
a great interpreter of his time, his day, his age.
Frank Lloyd Wright

We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.
Winston Churchill

The mother of art is architecture. Without an architecture 
of our own we have no soul of our own civilization. 
Frank Lloyd Wright

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wanna hear a good story? Listen...

Paul had lost his precious heirloom pocket watch... the family treasure his father gave him; the one his dad got from his father; the one that would go to his son someday... now lost.

Paul had been working all day in the barn, sweaty and tired when he reached in his pocket in hopes suppertime was near.

BUT IT WAS GONE! He quickly searched all his other pockets. His watch was gone, lost somewhere in the barn, sometime during the day.

The whole family was called to the search. They scrambled, they raised dust, they searched and shouted back and forth.  "Where do you THINK you may have lost it?" they asked.

"If you THINK I know that, wouldn't you THINK I would be looking there?" he hollered back in sarcastic desperation.

Anxious panic was the order of the search as everything that wasn't attached was moved, turned over or rolled away in hopes the watch was waiting there. Pitchforks cautiously turned over every shock of hay. Animals were moved here, then there, to great discord. Hens' nests were examined but only turned up eggs.

After what seemed like hours, mom called a stop. "Let's quit for the day. It's past suppertime and we are all dirty, tired, frustrated and hungry. We'll look again tomorrow."

At the table, Paul moaned, "It's gone. I know it is."

"Now Paul, it's somewhere. We'll find it," mom promised in a hopeful tone. "Where is Mary?"

The screen door banged shut and Paul turned to admonish his 5-year-old daughter.

"Mary, how many times have I told you not to slam... " But Paul stopped short.

With a big smile on her face, Mary was dangling the precious watch on its chain.

Everyone rose and cheered. "But where," Paul asked, "and how did you find it?"

"After everyone left," Mary explained, "the dust settled and the animals quieted, I sat on that hay bale in the center of the barn and listened real hard. Then I heard a tiny tick-tocking near the chicken feed. You know that space beside the post...  the one that drops into that split in the floor? That's where it was hiding."

Mary listened, because she could. She just listened.

Don't you sometimes wonder what we might learn if we just listened more instead of thinking about what we are going to say when it is our turn to talk? We might actually remember the name of the person we were just introduced to.

In today's world, everyone talks all the time. Social media demands it and we all have something vitally important to say it seems.  We are bombarded by commercials telling us things we choose to tune out. Ordinary conversations carry on with one response overlapping the other. Politicians incite us with no chance to respond other than "Well that's for sure," or "Gimmie a break!" Forced listening creates a habit of accepting coercion without thought.

Where is the intelligence in all of that? Well programed robots are ruling the world... and we are becoming them.

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. 
Most people never listen. 
Ernest Hemingway

One advantage in talking to yourself is that you know
 at least somebody's listening.
Franklin P. Jones

One of the most sincere forms of respect is 
actually listening to what another has to say.
Bryant H. McGill

Listening is a positive act: you have to put yourself out to do it.
David Hockney

Congress is so strange. A man gets up to speak and says nothing, 
nobody listens then everybody disagrees. 
Will Rogers

A good listener is a good talker with a sore throat. 
Katherine Whitehorn 

Make sure you have finished speaking
 before your audience has finished listening. 
Dorothy Sarnoff

History repeats itself because no one listened the first time. 

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, 
does it make a noise?
Nothing happens if we don't listen

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It takes two to tango, but how many to repopulate the earth?

If... just supposing... if two astronauts-- a handsome, virile male and attractive, fertile female-- were returning to Earth from a six-year mission to Mars, discover that while gone, the whole population of Earth has been decimated by a super-bug and they were the last of their species. Could they, upon return to Earth with all its resources intact but no other living humans, repopulate our planet?

Oh, before we go further, understand this is not (yet) a true story. The super-bug is no longer a factor as it died with the last of us. So... could they?

Believe it or not, while most of us seem to be thinking about The Kardashians, Donald Trump and The Bachelor, this is an oft-discussed topic... at least in the pseudo-scientific and sci-fi worlds.

Most practical thinkers of that crowd have a ready "NO WAY!" answer... but a few deeper thinkers theorize there is a way... not likely, but theoretically possible. Wanna read more? These are a variety of answers for that question on the website Quora, something for every possibility. It's a long read--with pictures--and interesting, if you care.

Meanwhile, here's what I had to say about that, old age, Adam and Eve and how they did it in The Bible version:

Methuselah holds the record at 969, according to The Bible. It issaid thathe didin't look a day over 900. He actually lived from Adam to Noah. But the first people had to live longer or where would we be? With more than 7 billion people on Earth now, we gotta die sooner... or else.

After Methuselah's 969 came Noah who made it to 950 and Seth was 912. Eve was up there in the 900's so it is said, but she gets extra credit because she had 56 children--33 sons and 23 daughters--all of them after her 100th birthday. Talk about late in life babies...

There's lots more of this interesting stuff including today's battle for the oldest on earth. Read the whole thing here

And remember... it you happen to find yourself as one of the last two, you've got a real job ahead of you.

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

"Oh, same old, same old."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

More signs of the Apocalypse... ?

Tires! Do Not Shoot.


It is against F.B.I. policy to shoot a tire (or automobile) trying to stop anyone attempting to escape.

That said, it is perfectly legal to shoot the escapee if it might protect the public from being recklessly driven into.

In Maryland a few years back, this happened. In a recent review of the incident by the Bureau, the agents were jdeemed ustified in firing six bullets into a suspected drug dealer trying to evade capture, killing him. But they were NOT justified in putting two bullets into the car's tires.

Recap: Killing suspect, justified.  Shooting tire, not justified. Tires win!

Gorilla' My Dreams

When a 3-year-old boy fell into Cincinnati Zoo's gorilla enclosure, authorities had to shoot the magnificent 400-pound animal that grabbed the child. It was the only way to safely rescue the boy said all authorities who know, study and work with gorillas. The sad incident brought a firestorm of comment from everyone with an emotional but unknowledged opinion on how it should have been done to avoid killing the endangered beast.

But not everyone agreed the safety of the child was top priority. One person texted "NO. Attempt a tranquilizer. If it doesn't work (and the child is killed), it's a sad tragedy. Let the animal live."

So to re-recap the first two items: It's Gorillas and Tires 2, Humans 0

The Real Estate Market sucks for the rich!

The owner of a 13,000-square-foot home listed recently for $450 million has joined 27 other unsold properties listing for $100 million or more. So disturbingly, there's a glut in the 9-figure category home buyer's market. Knowing how difficult it is for some of us to find a buyer for homes in the $100 thousand -plus range, it sure makes one feel sad for those who can't unload their $100 million-plus bungalows.

The good news for average us is... it's a buyers' market!

Relaxation Hoodie!

Relaxation Hoodie
While we all can't afford a home in the $100 million-plus range, certainly we do have something in common with those who can. We all need to relax. So when this neat little relaxation hoodie hit the market, I thought everyone of us can afford this. It's only $330.

"What makes it so appealing," says the manufacturer, "is that it's not just your standard heaven-sent sweat shirt with a zipper; it's a hoodie designed to calm you down like a wearable tent. Named after Baker Miller pink--the classic, if somewhat debatable, psychological theory that painting prisons pink can calm down inmates--the hoodie zips all the way over your face to filter everything you see the tranquil color. Meanwhile, you stick your arms into two specially configured pockets that rest directly over the diaphragm, so you're naturally in tune with taking deeper, lower breaths."

And yes, it is a real product that you can buy today.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus says in Vanity Fair, "Putting on a pink straitjacket and zipping your entire head into a polypropylene bag has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety? I'm claustrophobic, so when I tried this--while driving--it was ineffective."

But of course, that's her... and she's not like us. We are connoisseurs.

Golf's Wonders!

Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer who ever pitched and putted, went 3 for 3 balls in the water on a short par 3 over a lake in an exhibition, then said to an anticipating crowd, "All right, that's good for me." OK, so maybe he had a bad back... but 104 yards with a pitching wedge, really! When we're used to seeing miracles from this man, it's a sign.

Even more amazing, Ernie Els, the former World No. 1 golfer, 6-putted from 2 feet for a 9 on the first hole at this year's Masters--the highest score ever in the 80-year-old tournament on that par 4 hole. Still, at 5-over after the first hole, he completed the next 35 holes at just 3-over par, still, sadly, missing the cut. 

Jefferson's Hair!

A lock--14 strands--of Thomas Jefferson's hair sold at an auction in Texas for $6,875 nearly 190 years after the former president died. I recently had to pay to have my hair cut, then swept and thrown away. Go figure.

It was Jefferson who wrote, "We hold these truths to be self evident: All men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

As the principal author of our Declaration of Independence and our third President, maybe his hair is worth something special... he was.

And maybe, if we pay more attention to those words 1.1 million have died for in our wars, we just might gain back some of what we seem to have lost over time.

The Chicago Cubs!

World Series winner, 1908
Last World Series winner, 1908--108 years ago. Last appearance in a World Series, 1945. It's time! The Cubbies now have the best record in baseball and are 7 games ahead of their closest competitor. Magic number is 94 for God's sake! And they are favored in Las Vegas.

Sigh... it's a long season and Cub fans (me) have been here before... but hey, once more before the apocalypse... please.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my...

Click here for a delightful 34 seconds
Have I got a blog post for you today! Not only lions and tigers but elephants and giraffes and monkeys and wildebeests and zebras and ostriches, oh my.

It all started when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus rightfully decided to retire their elephants for good. Elephants in the circus had served, to the delight of big-top patrons everywhere, for more than 100 years. We all said goodbye to Mable, April, Asia, Luna and Tonka on Sunday, May 1st. They we welcomed with a full banquet at Ringling's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida where they will live.

Also able to retire--at last--were 33 lions rescued from Colombia and Peru circuses that were airlifted to their new South Africa home. Bred in captivity, many of the lions were mistreated and mutilated by breaking their teeth and removing their claws. Because they cannot hunt, their Eden will be the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary where they will have large African expanses to enjoy at long last.

And as if to prove our love of these creatures is no fluke, The movie remake of Jungle Book is one of this year's biggest hits. We are true believers. We LOVE pets, to the tune of 150 million dogs and cats--about one for every two of us. And about 80 % of us refer to ourselves and mom and dad when talking to them. Only parrots answer back and they think it is ridiculous... but what do parrots know?

Nothing of our love of these animals, however, was a greater thrill than being able to travel to Africa and experience them in their own environment. Going to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia three times only makes you want for more.

Another 'average' elephant encounter

Yes, we saw elephants almost everywhere and so close that it was sometimes frightening. At one point, our open vehicle was stuck in a rut and before help arrived, a pack of 20 or more elephants surrounded us while walking by, wondering what to make of the whole thing. I was less than 10 feet from a big bull at eye level... and as he flapped his ears while staring at me, I was as dead-still and non-staring as I could be.

Then there were lions, perhaps the most majestic of all. With our guide and in open vehicles, you can get so very close to animals who would attack if you were outside the vehicle. The animals though accept the vehicle as just part of the territory and pay little attention.

And yes, it can get a little scary. We sat for 30 minutes once as we watched two close lions in their mating ritual.  The male walked casually withing a few feet of our vehicle at one point... and you know that in a second, a lion could have you for a snack if desired. The guides who do not carry guns--are natives that have been thoroughly trained for the job, and they do know their stuff. They have to.

Like ostriches? I do. There were plenty of them.


And Cheetahs! We saw this mother teaching her two youngsters how to stalk and how to hunt. They were eyeing a zebra when they were spooked and ran before the attack.

And monkeys, lots of monkeys. No, we didn't doctor this photo. That's what he looked like.

Zebras too... the prey. We saw one with a bloodied shank. Obviously, our guide told us, he escaped last night... and tonight he will be taken.
We wondered why the animal was not killed to avoid that terrifying fate. The guide said they do nothing to alter the nature of the battle for survival.

Wildebeest are also a delicacy for the predators.

 And the African sunsets... they were always magnificent!

Yep, we took all the pictures... and there's more, of course, which I will share later. Hopefully, this will do for now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What happens when you have a party and no one comes?

No one lives here

Ask China.

China has more than 600 'ghost cities' like this one. And more are under construction.

It's all part of China's Urbanization Movement which requires local communities to build or loose tax dollars. End purpose is to have a place for the enormous numbers of people living outside population centers to become citified. And amazingly, by comparing numbers, that would be enough space for every American family--all 350 million of us.

Now as you might guess, it is not a simple as all that, but China doesn't seem overly concerned.

Or here
 Fact: China does have 1.3 billion people and uses lots and lots of     cement. Another new (and unneeded, say many) cement plant producing 7,200 tons of the stuff a day has just opened in YuQuan, Yes, this is part of the plan... to construct 10 new massive population centers for the future.

Now about the cement: Since 2012, China cement production has grown 3000%. That is more cement than the United States has
Or here
produced since 1900.

In 2014 China produced enough cement to make 330 billion cubic feet of concrete. That's enough to cover the entire island of Manhattan in 520 feet of concrete... about half-way up the Empire State Building.

Or here
FYI: Concrete (like sidewalks and drive ways) is made by mixing cement, water and sand or gravel. I always get cement and concrete mixed up.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Gullah and Mitchelville

Uncle Remus

Uncle Remus is the singer and "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" is the song that won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song.

If you remember the Disney movie, Song of the South, which featured Uncle Remus and that song, then you are old. If you don't, there is a reason why and I'll tell you about that... and Gullah and Mitchelville.

Uncle Remus is the fictional, kindly old former slave who serves as story teller of African-American folk tales compiled and adapted by Joel Chandler Harris. He wrote seven Uncle Remus books, his first in 1881. The story setting is shortly after the Civil War when slavery had just been abolished.

Song of the South was Disney's first movie that mixed animation with real actors. The tales Uncle Remus relates, with the help of Disney animation, are familiar.

But the reason many have never seen the movie is that it has never been re-released for today's audiences. The stories were presented in a manner that was consistent with segregation of the day, but as America began waking to this prejudice in the mid-20th century, the dialect, the Uncle Remus persona and other stereotypes evident in the movie were demeaning and patronizing to African-Americans.

Jackie Robinson didn't break the color barrier in major league baseball until 1947 and there were still, across much of the old south and sometimes elsewhere, "white" and "colored" bathrooms and drinking fountains, segregated schools, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels. buses and other things. The stories' context is set on a former slave-owning plantation and plays out in the prejudicial world of "then" at a time when radical change was in the offing.

The Uncle Remus character though, is Gullah, those folks say. And the tales are proudly claimed  for their charm and history despite the juxtaposition of then and now. The Gullah folk of today are the descendants of enslaved Africans and some Portuguese who were thrown together by slave traders in the  Lowcountry coastal regions of the United States, from southeast North Carolina to northeast Florida. The created their own common language from English... a clipped, stylized version where verbs have only one tense and unneeded letters are simply dropped. A few of their cultural expressions sound like this: "Ebry shut eye ain't sleep" and "Dog got four foot, but can't walk but one road."   Any guesses of their meanings?

On Hilton Head island, the Gullah had the first American opportunity to form a town, Mitchelville (yes, it is spelled correctly) in 1862 and elect their own officials. It was named for Union general, Ormsby M. Mitchell who defeated a Confederate attempt to take the island. The Union army supplied material and built small (18x30 feet), framed houses for as many as 3,000 escaped and soon to be freed slaves. Mitchelville lasted until about 1870 when the call of jobs and life elsewhere made the community less relevant.  

B'rer Fox
Gullah tradition still embraces those tales, our 70-year-old Gullah tour guide, Melvin, told us. Melvin is a direct descendant of those former slaves and he recently took us on a two-hour show-and-tell extravaganza of Gullah history and culture on Hilton Head Island.

The tales, you ask. Ever hear of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear? Those are  three of Joel Chandler Harris's leading characters and their antics spin the tale. They entertain and educate, like Aesop's Fables, with a lesson or moral.

B'rer Rabbit
The stories are written in a dialect devised by Harris to represent deep south Gullah. And for the movie and books, it works. At the time of Harris' publications, his work was praised for its ability to capture plantation negro dialect.

It's amazing what you learn when you pay attention. Did you know that 170,000 African-Americans served in the Union Army and 20,000 in the Union Navy during the American Civil War?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Is it time yet?

Our sun will burn itself out in the next 5 billion years or so, say astronomers, and it will get very, very cold. That will mean Burlington Coat Factory will have the greatest going-out-of-business sale ever!

Of course, we humans may have exited the scene years earlier. There will be warnings signs of the apocalypse (like this one maybe) many believe. Oh, and the usual plagues, famine, earthquakes, lakes of fire, etc. But if human nature is to be believed, there are subtle signs we are loosing it, if you pay attention.

  • This Hermes Birkin handbag just sold for $298,000, and worth every penny, say those who know handbags. It is a fire-engine red crocodile bag with diamond hardware so what's not to love? A dirt-cheap Hermes Birkin goes for just $10,000 or so but really, doesn't your loved one deserve the best or are you a cheapskate?

So is this a sign we are going crazy or what?

  • The NBA will put ads on player jerseys next year so we can watch basketball and have a yen for antacid tablets almost at the same time.
  • A recent study showed a fall-off of belief in God but conversely, more of us now believe in an afterlife. So where will we go? As for me, I'll pick Cleveland. I've heard nice things about it. W.C. Fields picked anyplace else. The epitaph on his tombstone read, "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia."
  • Ethan  Couch, the then-16-year-old kid who killed four people while drinking and driving, was given only10 years probation in juvenile court, on four counts of intoxication manslaughter and for recklessly driving drunk. He was illegally driving on a restricted license and speeding, lost control, plowed into a group of people standing near a disabled SUV and struck the vehicle. Four people were killed in the collision; two passengers in Couch's truck suffered serious bodily injury and a total of nine people were injured.

The gist of the court case was that Couch was so rich and spoiled that he didn't know better. Then, when he skipped probation, fled to Mexico and had to be tracked down--at our expense, the judge slapped 180-days in jail on him for each of the four people he killed.

Some insist angrily, "That will show him!" However, I'm sure all those with less money and affluence... and kinder hearts, totally understand are hoping and praying that he learned his lesson.

But the scales of justice do tend to balance.
  • A Canadian was stopped at the border as he tried to smuggle 51 live turtles hidden in his trousers while crossing from the  U.S back into Canada. He was given five years in prison for his heinous crime. At his sentencing he thanked Federal agents for ending "the darkness of my greed and ignorance." (FYI: He had 41 turtles strapped to his legs and 10 hiding between his legs. I'd have loved to watch him walk.)
  • A giant galaxy orbiting our own just appeared out of nowhere. Surprised scientists say it is so large that it dwarfs our Milky Way galaxy. I guess we don't know everything, do we?
Giant Galaxy-not to scale

So when your spouse tells you she went shopping and saved $200, don't believe her for a second. But that global warming thing... believe.

Friday, April 8, 2016



 Who doesn't like crossword puzzles?  (Ok, but maybe not you.) The big thing is that I do. So this is all about me.
Every blogger likes to think that his/her words are not only golden but fascinating and far-sighted. Surprisingly, sometimes they are. This is 'kind of' one of those.
Word Play is a short story I wrote about six-years ago. I liked it because it is poignant and it came together well. It has appeared in Every Day Fiction, a site that runs a new short story--less than 1,000 words--every day. To get to the real gist of this post, you have to read Word Play (below) or you'll miss the irony... but that's okay because it's a good story.
Seventeen across: ‘Wish it done.’ Four letters.
Twenty-three down: ‘Baa baa mama.’ Three letters.
Rob was always anxious for The Sunday Times because it was the best crossword of the week. It kept him hummingly busy most of the morning… and he usually finished it. This, however, was not one of those days.
“Damn! What is ‘Carpenter’s key?’ I should know that.
Good time to grab a coffee, he thought as he stretched like a hibernating grizzly just waking.
He smiled with smug confidence. This was war: his intelligence and worldly knowledge vs. the cunningly sly and diabolical Sunday crossword.
“Bring it on, baby. When I fill in that last square, I am king of the forty-two across: Celestial orb… World. Where is the Titanic when I need her?”
The self-appreciating silliness was interrupted by his cell’s “Macho Man” ring tone.
“Hi hon…
“Yeah, workin’ the puzzle…
“No. Haven’t cracked it yet, but I will.
“What?  You are done already? No way. Did you use the dictionary?
“OK. Sorry. I know better. Hey, don’t be mad now. I was just kidding.
“You’re not coming over? Why not? We always go for brunch on Sunday. Since when is a sale more important than me?  Honest, Steff… sometimes I feel you don’t love me as much as you love a good bargain.”
Feelings hurt, Rob sat brooding for a minute. And to add insult to injury, he had to admit, she did the puzzle and he was stuck. The Sunday crossword was their ritual weekly competition.
With new fervor, he picked up his paper and pen, determined he would ‘break through.’ But when he looked at his progress, he could only shake his head at the ink-smeared corrections.
Rob was one of those addicts who always did the puzzle with his silver Cross pen that Steff had given him two birthdays ago. It was simply inscribed, “23 down,” cryptically referring to their little secret that time in the elevator.
     He scratched his golden’s ears as she doggedly backed against his leg begging for more.
“Rob loves Steff, Tessie. Does Steff love Rob?
Tess looked back over her shoulder with soulful eyes as if to ask, you’re not done scratching yet, are you?
“I know you know Tess… you just won’t tell me.”
Sixty-four down: ‘Mother of Jesus.’ Oh, missed this one…a gimmie, he thought. Mary.
The crossword’s theme was ‘Happy Daze’ (spelled D-A-Z-E). He hadn’t figured that out yet but he knew the shaded squares were supposed to say something important when filled.  All he could think of was ‘The Fonz’ and it clouded his mind to the obvious.
“Hi honey,” she greeted, using her key to let herself in.
“Steff! I didn’t think you were coming today. What about the big sale? Aren’t you afraid you will miss a bargain?” he asked sarcastically.
“Don’t think it wasn’t a tough decision but I figured you might need my help with the puzzle.”
“That’s right. Rub it in. This is the first time you beat me in five weeks. Gloat, gloat, gloat.”
Steff smiled, filled her coffee cup, and kicked off her shoes as she curled into her favorite chair with the rest of the paper. Rob liked the look a lot and for a moment, thought “The hell with the crossword puzzle.”
Steff broke the mood. “Go ahead. Finish if you can. I’ll just read The Times…and if you still aren’t done, I’ll read tomorrow’s paper too when it comes.”
“Very funny.”
110 across: ‘Hood, affectionately.’ Three letters.
125 across: ‘Hospital infection.’ Five letters. “Hmm… “
“Wait. I may have it!
“Wish it done: Will, of course.
“Baa baa mama: Ewe.
“Mother of Jesus: Mary.”
“Hospital infection” Staph… Steff?”
Suddenly, he stopped, startled and somewhat shaken by his revelation. Calming himself, he grabbed his puzzle and tried to act casual as he walked toward Steff.
“I got it,” he beamed. “Solved the damn thing.”
“Yeah? So what is ‘Carpenter’s key,’ Mr. Smarts?
“That would be my brother, Chuck.”
“Oh? Why Chuck?”
“Because he would be my best man…
“And yes. Yes! YES! I will marry you,” he said as he tenderly lifted her from the chair and danced around the room, almost snapping her head back as they kissed again and again. “I feel like 9 across: One of the 7 dwarfs.
'You mean Dopey?"
"Uh, I was thinking of another one." 
After all the kissey-face smooching, hugging and crying had taken its course, Rob asked her how she ever pulled it off.
“I have a friend who knows the puzzle editor. He agreed it would be a wonderful trick…and make a great puzzle. Lots of human interest.”
“And I did make my sale,” she added as she pulled a little blue box from behind her back.
 “This is for you, my love.”
The tiny inscription inside the ring read, “Second best crossword puzzle solver.  First best fiancé.” 
"Bravo! Great story Jerry."
 Blush, blush. "Oh, thanks. And here's why I asked you to read it:
Visited my son a few days ago as he was finishing the daily crossword puzzle, Merger Bid, below. He told me it reminded him of my story (above). SPOILER ALERT: All the answers are correct.

See, I told you... fascinating and far sighted. But mine had a back story that could make a sentimental blogger sob... sniff, sniff.
So two men are doing a crossword puzzle.
The first man frowns and says, "The clue is Old MacDonald had one... four letters"
The second man thinks for a moment... " Farm! The answer is farm."
"How do you spell it?" the first guy asks.
"I'm not sure" says the friend. I think it's E I E I O"