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Saturday, April 15, 2017

If all the world had a laugh track, nothing would be funnier than elevator music... Aunt Minnie's funeral... the Cubs losing... slipping on a banana peel (wait, that's already funny)...

Nothing makes me feel more duped than to listen to the laugh track behind the Big Bang Theory or even I Love Lucy and think laughing was my idea.

On the other hand, if the whole world had a laugh track, Donald Trump would have us laying in the aisles. (I know, not funny but I... ha ha ha... just can't... ha ha ha... help myself.)

So after all these years of bitter--but hilariously funny--resentment over this fake, not even realistic laughter that starts at the same moment and stops as if someone put a giant hand over the audience's collective mouth, sometimes at the right spot, most often trying to make something unfunny, funny, I sought to understand more.

Well, I did. Here's the skinny:

Charles "Charlie" Douglass, a sound engineer with CBS Radio after World War II, is the man who invented the laugh track. So who can get too mad about a guy who helped develop shipboard radar systems for the Navy, no doubt saving many lives.

Before television--in 1948 there were only 100,000 televisions in the United States--audiences often experienced comedy listening to the radio or watching live performances as part of a studio audience. Live audiences didn't always laugh in the right places or at the correct moment. So when the show was broadcast, crowd reactions often went amiss or just weren't that funny. It was a problem for the producers and listeners/watchers alike.

Want to see what I mean? Watch just a few minutes of this Big Bang Theory episode filmed on a sound stage with no audience and see what you think. The laugh track or sound augmentation has been stripped away. Not much fun, right?

If a joke did not get the desired chuckle, Douglass added appropriate laughter. If a live audience laughed too long, he gradually muted the laughter. This was known in the industry as "sweetening" to get a "just right" response.

Comedian Milton Berle
Comedian Milton Berle, listening to a post-production editing session, felt a joke he told fall flat. After Douglas inserted a laugh, Berle said, "See? I told you it was funny."
Soon, Douglass was simulating the audience response for Bewitched, The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch and more. While this augmentation was controversial at the onset, it soon became standard practice. His "laff box" was kept secret at first. It actually was a box, about 2 feet tall and operated like an organ. The device was padlocked so his technique could not be known. Few in the industry ever witnessed Douglass at work. The 'laff box" actually turned up in a 2010 episode of Antiques Roadshow to be valued at $10,000.

Today, it is a digital device about the size of a laptop with a great many more laughs and other human sounds. The technique has evolved... though sometimes, not for the better because no matter how much laughter, some things are still turkeys.

But I am now a believer of the need--though not every imposed laugh track fits my taste or worse, works to milk a lame situation--laughter is worth it. It still bothers me to be instructed when to laugh. But then again, laughter is always worth it.  

Wonder where the quote "Laugh and the world laughs with you... " comes from? Read on and be in awe.

It was poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, born in 1850, who knew, even that far back, what is really important in life. Her poem "Solitude"  resonates through time and seems to have special relevance today. Here's her first few lines for you sluggards who will read no further, but do yourself a favor and read the whole poem below and take it to heart. It's worth it.


Related Poem Content Details

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Are you smarter than you think or dumber than others around you? HINT: The answer is yes.

I used to write a popular magazine column about nothing. It was just my musings of life and items that caught the general interests of my readers. One of it's best features was a section I called "Dumb Crooks." That section drew the most mail from all over the world. Seems people just love to hear and share true stories that are funny and hard to believe.

There was a story about a man who, without a mask or any disguise, robbed two banks. When quickly apprehended, he was incredulous as to how the police recognized him. He was under the belief that if he rubbed his face with lemon juice, it would make him invisible to surveillance cameras. It didn't.

Dumb crooks most often don't know they are dumb. But then, many times, neither do some of us. That condition--being not as smart as we think we are--is known scientifically as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

As Wikipedia simplifies it, "The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher that it
really is... Research also indicated high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others."

The pattern of over-estimating (or underestimating) competence was seen in diverse skills such as reading comprehension, practicing medicine, strategic game playing and driving. In comprehensive tests with undergraduate students in psychology courses at Cornell University, Dunning and Kruger examined student self-assessment of logical reasoning skills, grammatical skills, and humor. After being shown their test scores, the students were asked to estimate their own rank in class. Most noted was that students who were about to get Ds and Fs thought they had turned in B or better work.

"Across four studies," the authors found that "participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performances and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd."

Also learned: students of high ability tended to underestimate their relative competence. Participants who found tasks to be easy, erroneously presumed that the tasks also must be easy for others thus assuming others were as competent, if not more competent, than themselves.

The conclusion: The smartest don't give themselves higher marks. The less learned don't know that they are and make statements they regard as just as profound. Belief of the listeners is whatever it is by who is listening.

Best news though,  a follow-up study suggests that grossly incompetent students improved their ability to estimate their rank after minimal tutoring in the skills they had previously lacked, regardless of the improvement gained in skills.

See, education is always good.

Isn't it sad that in the United States, we chose to prioritize more dollars to punish and incarcerate criminals, build walls and prioritize the wants of our congressmen who spend to get reelected than to educate youth at every level under all circumstances for the enrichment of our future.

NOTE: There are other writings such as THE STORY OF  STUPIDITY: A History of Western  Idiocy from the Days of Greece to the Moment You Saw this Book, by James F. Welles, Ph.D. that are interesting and/or fun to read as we learn why we are often so gullible, but that's today when all of us seem to be living in a stupider world and believing in most things we see in social media and hear elsewhere.

 Special Bonus section:
Dumb Crooks from my past

     In Chicago, a man brandished a gun as he held up a store. As he pulled the magazine out of his gun to show the store manager it was loaded, the gun discharged, shooting the crook’s finger completely off. The gunman regaining his composure, fled with a television set and five bucks
      Police used the finger to get a print that helped find and convict the robber.

     Of all the great dumb crook stories, the strangest is of Yugoslavian Siamese twins Ennio and Mario Borovac. The 35-year-old brothers were joined at the stomach and chest and shared vital organs. Unfortunately, they also shared breathing space, and Mario had bad breath.
     Ennio tried and tried to tell Mario to do something about his breath, but Mario simply wouldn’t brush his teeth! Mario finally got tired of the lectures and slapped Ennio in the face. Ennio plotted his revenge. He got a gun and shot his brother. Twenty minutes later, Ennio bled to death.
     The police belatedly charged Ennio with first-degree murder–although shooting his brother was technically a suicide.

     In a bumbling rampage that covered three square miles of southwest Houston, Texas, and lasted only an hour, a crook later nicknamed “Lucky,” robbed a McDonald’s, ran to a nearby auto parts store and took a hostage, shot at a police officer, released the hostage and grabbed a second hostage with a car, forced the him to drive to a condominium complex, kicked open a door, got into a gunfight with one resident, tried to steal another car but couldn’t get past the complex’s electronic security gate, ran to a nearby Dairy Queen, tried to commandeer a meat truck, was beaten and disarmed by the truck driver, escaped by running into a residential area and began jumping fences, landed in one backyard where he was attacked by a terrier, jumped another fence and landed in a yard where he was attacked by a pair of German shepherds, managed to get away from the German shepherds but was taken into custody by police and charged with six felonies.
     Still think you’re having a bad day?

     One dumb crook is the good driver who was leading police on a high-speed chase through suburbia. Skillfully, the police stayed on his tail despite the crook’s twists and turns and daring evasive action.
     How were police able to stay with him? Good driving? Luck? Maybe a combination of both— and the fact that the escapee, like every good driver, properly used his turning signals for each and every 100-mph turn.

     An East Coast burglar loves shiny shoes. Sometimes he polishes his shoes two or three times a day. He was convicted after evidence showed he paused during a burglary long enough to shine his shoes, leaving his can of shoe polish and a personalized rag behind.
When asked by his public defender, “You almost have a fetish about your shoes don’t you?” the man answered, “Yes, I do.”
    If the shoe fits…

     A prisoner spent two days “highlighting” his body (private parts and all) with yellow marker pens in an attempt to convince his warden that he had a severe case of jaundice. He wanted a transfer to a hospital where he could escape more easily.
     He almost got away with it until one night a guard caught him coloring his face.

     A man who robbed a liquor store with a shotgun told the clerk to give him the bottle of scotch he saw on the back counter. The clerk refused because he didn’t believe the crook was 21. The robber quickly whipped out his driver’s license to prove the fact. The clerk, satisfied, put the scotch in a bag, and the robber left happy–until the police showed up at the address listed on the driver’s license and arrested him.

     A Filipino man must have learned his crime skills by watching Wyle E. Coyote. On a flight to Manila, he donned a ski mask and swimming goggles, then pulled a gun and a hand grenade announcing he was hijacking the plane. When the pilot convinced him that the plane was low on fuel, the hijacker decided to simply rob the passengers. With $15,000 in loot, he ordered the pilot to lower the plane to 6,500 feet. He strapped on a homemade parachute and told the attendant to open the door. The hijacker had trouble getting through the door with his parachute on, so the attendant helped by pushing him out. Before leaping, he had pulled the grenade’s pin and mistakenly tossed it back into the plane. Clutching the live grenade to his chest, he blissfully sailed back to earth. Well, almost back, that is.

*Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

THE 'GOD" MOLECULE: Heaven can wait. I'm going to live forever and ever.

As the story goes, a bottomless cup of coffee and Olive Garden's endless breadsticks got together to gloat about their immortality.

So now that coffee and breadsticks have it made, what about us? Well, the good news is that science and Silicon Valley with its billions and billions of dollars are working toward one of the grandest human feats of all time--immortality. For Real!

Progress so far: mice and certain worms in the lab can be treated to double their life spans and more with a breakthrough discovery of how the 'God molecule' found in mice and humans, can be used to bypass the typical aging process. Happy 200th birthday Mickey and Minnie! Sorry worm, you just got eaten by a bird.

But, you say, mice are not humans. Ah yes, I knew there was a catch.

This is true stuff however, taken seriously by many intelligent, moneyed people used to doing incredible things. The April 3, 2017 The New Yorker carries the story, SILLICON VALLEY'S QUEST TO LIVE FOREVER: Can billions' of dollars worth of high-tech research succeed in making death optional? And during a six-hour drive home from a visit with my daughter and family, I also listened to an NPR program discussing the broader issue. It was surreal and mind-blowing!

This whole thing got its jump-start because of NASA's search for a work-around so that future astronauts on a many-month journey to Mars may avoid the deadly potential of cancer-causing radiation en-route.

the article tells of a recent meeting of scientists and rich people that are into this, at T.V. producer Norman Lear's house. Immortality was the agenda. Actress Goldie Hawn kicked it off when she asked Liz Blackburn, a Nobel Prize winner for her work in genetics, this question: "I've been told about a molecule ... that helps the health of a cell.... Some in Hollywood call it 'the God molecule.' " 

A doctor who runs a health care hedge fund and is a big financial contributor to the immortality cause offered  "... the idea that aging is plastic, that it's encoded. If something is encoded, you can crack the code. If you can crack the code, you can hack the code!"

The founder of  a biotech firm which intends to grow new organs from people's DNA said "Clearly it is possible, through technology, to make death optional."

One attendee has already commissioned a backup version of his wife... a 'mindclone' robot named Bina48, so that should her enhanced aged body fail, her brain could be uploaded to 'the cloud' then downloaded to her avatar. (I already see an age old problem: Help! I've forgotten the password!)

Also noted is that by 2020, for the first time, there will be more people on Earth over the age of sixty-five than under the age of Five. But the unresolved question posed going forward: Is it "Death is optional" or "Death will just have to wait?"

So here's the take-away: If immortality or an elongated life is doable--and these very rich and able people believe it is--Silicon Valley culture and lots and lots of money will make it happen. We once thought TV's1970's Six Million Dollar Man--augmented with a body-full of robotic parts to keep him ageless and strong--to be sci-fi. Then we are actually far, far beyond that premise as something maybe possible.

That however does beg the questions: did Maude, of the movie Harold and Maude, waste a perfectly good body when she died herself in at a mere 80 and has Shirley MacLaine already been there
Shirley MacLaine
and back a handful of times?

But hey, if money and brains can get there, who are we to argue... except of course, the morality and spirituality of the whole thing. If you finally die at the age of 245, is there a heaven for avatars?

Godspeed... or not?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

These are the richest people in the world... and below them are the poorest:

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the two richest people in the world, according to Forbes Magazine. Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are the third and fifth richest. Adding Larry Ellison, David Koch, Charles Koch and Larry Ellison gives America eight the top ten fabulously wealthy at just a few bucks short of half-trillion dollars.

These are the poorest people in the world. Two-thirds of the world's poorest people live in just five countries, according to a new World Bank study--India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is somewhat understandable that India and China, the two largest countries in the world with 2.5 billion people, would have a large number of poor. The U.S. is third largest with a mere 340 million.
The top one percent of the rich have more wealth than all the rest of us in the world. (If any of you mega-billionaires and millionaires are reading this, excuse me, I didn't mean you.)

In The United States, even though we have eight of the top ten richest.. a great number of us below that incredibly rich level are well off by any standard, a greater number pretty OK, some sort of OK and about 14.5 percent of us have to exist below the poverty level--not OK at all.  

Those 45 million in poverty are living, breathing and surviving, trying to do better like the rest of us but with unique problems and no means to address them. These are the disadvantaged where the stairs to an upper level don't come down far enough for them to climb.

Awww! Poor me.
I was poor once... not dirt poor or desperately poor as many are... just regular poor. And that was in a most different time under most different circumstances.

My family didn't have much, but my sister and I didn't know what we might have been missing. We had food and lived in a small, variable rent house owned by my grandparents. Rent was $20/month when we had it, $0 to minus $20 (they paid us) when the situation required. Living close to grandma and grandpa was like having a fairy godmother and godfather. We lived  in a lower class part of town at a time before two-stall garages, second cars, electronics beyond a light switch, television, lawn tractors, outdoor grills, kitchen gadgets, snow blowers, etc. so we had less to covet.  Internet, cordless phones, video games... what were those?

Simple is not possible today. The pressure is on to live to survive if you are poor. The chasm between high income and little income continues to grow wider as cost-of-living rises without earnings to match for the poor. And to answer at least one critic, many of those in poverty do have cell phones because today, that functions as a lifeline that circumstances demand. That does not equate to being able to afford basic health insurance or take even one step closer without two backward. It's not "Either this or that." It's "How can I and my family survive at this level."

The poor are most often minorities, the disadvantaged and the discriminated against. They are often broken families with mothers and/or fathers working multiple low paying jobs. The are mostly non-college educated and sometimes, lacking a high school diploma. They live in the worse part of town in the worse conditions and often can't help themselves because the steps to a higher level don't start that low.

They live more often in the high crime areas, often circumstantially of their plight. But here's where those lowest share something with those highest. Some-- a minority thank goodness--game the system at both status extremes. One end is more desperate and violent than the other. If there is one thing money does buy, it is a life cushion.

If being powerful can corrupt, then being powerless is it's match.

If you have read Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, seen the movie or know the story, you know of Jean Valjead, the French peasant who stole a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child and paid dearly for his act of survival without empathy. It's not easy being poor.

It's as if we believe some of us are more important than others and taking care of Number One doesn't go any further than ourselves and those like us. That's not a world we can live in. As those below us  grow proportionally less well off, (the richest gained 14 percent in wealth last year) the gap between haves and have-nots becomes almost unbridgeable.

We are governed by the rich, the almost rich and the average rich. Does trickle down mean it is their responsibility to get richer... not that there is anything wrong with that. But can those with great power see beyond partisan politics and winning to realize their responsibility runs far deeper than that?
For those who view a future for our children... and our nation, if it's not win-win, then it's lose-lose by default.

There are actually two golden rules commonly acknowledged:
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • He who has the gold, rules.

Which is it to be for us?

PS: That said, thank goodness for the rich. The moneyed can and often do act incredibly benevolent. and by their actions, they do help us all. It's not the money we have... or don't have. It's how lives are lived and action taken that makes a nation.

If President Harry Truman , who started his political career as a haberdasher no less, became a symbol of responsibility and action, then, we can ask ourselves, just where does the buck stop?

Friday, March 17, 2017

I've been scared of gorillas for some time now.

Call it silly but    I am  gorilla-phobic.

Yeah, I know... a silly thing. Gorillas are kind and sweet and love their babies and live as families and can beat Godzilla and are highly misunderstood and their breath stinks and when they growl they rattle bones and they can crush you with one hand and tear you to pieces and ... wait! I am sweating profusely, sobbing emotionally and curling into a fetal position. I am scared of gorillas.

Shows you what bad King Kong and Mighty Joe Young movies can do to a young child's mind. (FYI: There have actually been 18 King Kong movies, counting animation, starting in 1933 to the current King Kong: Skull Island. For fun and comparison, here's that 1933 trailer with a caveat--you may have to watch a 15 second movie promo first) Oh, I'm not nuts about Godzilla either.

Phobias are funny. What terrifies one of us causes others to ask if we are joking. Scared of heights? Who is scared of heights? Snakes? Spiders? Flying? Germs? Birds? Water (unless your feet are set in cement by the mob)? Gorillas?

"Are you kidding me?" you brave ones might say. But an accepted theory says that if you can just face your fears--with help, steely nerve and guts or sometimes even by accident--you have a fighting chance to overcome them.

True story: Years ago, my company had an annual celebration of autumn for employees and their
Obviously fake gorilla
families... 3-legged races, balloon animals (but not gorlllas), snow cones, cotton candy, picnic food, goofy prizes for the kids, etc. It was always a welcomed success. But one year I thought it would be fun to rent an an animated mechanical gorilla holding a sign that said PICNIC, THIS WAY with an arrow pointing toward our picnic area. It was a good sight gag that everyone enjoyed.

After the picnic was over and everyone had gone home, I loaded the life-size faux gorilla in my station wagon and drove it to the office where it would be safe until its return the following Monday.

So I had this misguided brainstorm... what if I positioned the gorilla just inside the entry door so the first person arriving on Monday would see it as soon as he/she walked in. Great gag, right? I thought so at the time.

Immediately after putting the gorilla where it would most scare someone walking in, I proceeded to my car, parked just 50 feet from the office door. Then, remembering something that I left on my desk, I went back to get it.

Not 30-seconds after I placed the gorilla, I opened the door and REALLY, ALMOST SCARED MYSELF TO DEATH. I once reached to tighten a spark plug under the hood of a running car (not recommended) and it literally knocked me backward against the garage wall. Lucky that's all it did. Well, this gorilla thing was worse than that. Honest. Just think how much worse it could have been if I had left it plugged in looking even more menacing.

And yes, lest I be responsible for a heart attack, I moved the monster to my office area, laid it flat and covered it with a rug. I left a second time, still shaking. So now you know my gorilla story.

(An even better ending though, would have been if, on Monday, I noticed the gorilla was gone, the office torn apart,  slippery banana peels laying everywhere and I slipped and fell on my you-know-what just as a custard pie, thrown from the kitchen by a wooley beast hit me in the face. But that didn't happen, ruining what might have been a terrific movie sequence making the Three Stooges and Soupy Sales happy in their graves.)

I do, however, have a tip for you if  you are trying to stop being frightened by certain things. Here is a real How-to-guide for knocking those fears in the head (unless you have a hit-in-the-head-phobia).

Ed Note: Yeah, this is a lame post but when you haven't blogged for a few weeks, you just have to jump back into the pool to jump-start the process in your mind. (Did I say jump back in the pool? I'm really not scared of gorillas except for the one at the office but I do have a respectable fear of the water being an ashamed non--swimmer who has foolishly tried to water ski and have actually dived from a low board mysteriously failing to come up like they do on television. Not much grace in wildly flailing your arms to a cheering crowd. See, it didn't work for me either.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Who put the Borsch in Borsch Belt? (It's about comedy, really.)

 I was always curious about Borsch soup since an oft-used crossword puzzle clue asks "Borscht soup ingredient" Disappointing answer: "Beets." None-the-less, the recipe for this classic is below for you afictionados. I am told it is as delicious as it looks... or not.

That soup, popular in several Middle Eastern cuisines, is the name origin of the Borsch Belt area in New York's Catskill Mountains, a popular Jewish resort destination in the 1920s through the 1960s because it was close to a large population area, had a great climate and was very welcoming.

Many of the Jewish comedians who performed at these resorts and those Jews and Gentiles who built

their routines around this style of humor that prevails today are so numerous and popular that it boggles the mind. Borscht Belt humor is stylized by self-deprecation, insults, complaints, marital bickering, hypochondria, wordplay and liberal use of Yiddish. So who are some of those comedians ?

Jerry Seinfeld for one. Billy Crystal (Princess Bride and lots, lots more), Jackie Mason, George Burns (If you live to be a hundred, you've got it made. Very few people die past that age. PS: he died at 100 none-the-less), Mel Brooks, Rodney Dangerfield ("I don't get no respect. I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War my great uncle fought for the west!" and "Once when I was lost I saw a policeman and asked him to help me find my parents. I said to him, "Do you think we'll ever find them?" He said, "I don't know kid. There are so many places they can hide.")

ala Mel Blanc
And there was Don Rickles, Woody Allen, Buddy Hackett, Carl Reiner, Sid Caeser, Lenny Bruce, Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird and Sylvester the cat, Wyle E.Coyote and the Road Runner, Woody Woodpecker and Tom and Jerry and so many other cartoon characters), Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Estelle Getty (Golden Girls), Lainie Kazan, Joey Bishop, Henny Youngman ("Take my wife...please."), Zero Mostel (Fiddler on the Roof), Phil Silvers, Jack Benny, Bea Arthur (another Golden Girl), Morey Amsterdam, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, Red Buttons, Phillis Diller (who I knew personally), George Gobel and Danny Kaye.

And also Howie Mandel (America's Got Talent), Most of the Marx Brothers ("Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." and "One 
morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."
), Carl Reiner, Soupy Sales (who actually took more than 20,000 pies in the face on his TV show), The Three Stooges (Yuck, yuck, yuck) and so many more that you may or may not be familiar with... some of the great story-tellers and one-liners like this:

*My wife was at the beauty shop for two hours. That was only for the estimate. She got a mudpack and looked great for two days. Then the mud fell off.

* The Doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn't pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six months.

* The Doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, "Mrs. Cohen, your check came back. " Mrs. Cohen answered, "So did my arthritis!"

* Doctor:"You'll live to be 60!" Patient:"I am 60!" Doctor: "See! What did I tell you?"

Woody Allen
*There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school.

*A man called his mother in Florida:"Mom, how are you?" " Not too good," said the mother. "I've been very weak." The son said, "Why are you so weak?" She said, "Because I haven't eaten in 38
days." The son said, "That's terrible. Why haven't you eaten in 38 days?" The mother answered,"Because I didn't want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call."

*A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the play. She asks,"What part is it?" The boy says, "I play the part of the Jewish husband.""The mother scowls and says, "Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part."

*Did you hear about the bum who walked up to a Jewish mother on the street and said, "Lady, I haven't eaten in three days." "Force yourself," she replied.

Three Stooges

Recipe for Borsch soup, as promised, here.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The incredible power of 1

IF THIS LOOKS LIKE TWO PLANETS WITH God's hand holding earth, you're wrong! The small object 'God's' hand is holding is a hummingbird egg. Beside it is a chicken egg (thinking sunny side up) and an ostrich egg.

This is the double-deck cantilever Richmond-San Rafael Bridge that crosses the San Francisco bay and San Pablo bay to majestic Marin County California from Tony Bennett's favorite city. It is 5.5 miles in length and 185 feet above the water at its tallest point. It was completed in 1957, 30 years after it was first proposed. And as all things in salt water environments that carry 24-hour-a day-heavy traffic, it needs considerable reworking to the tune of $70 million.
So if these two objects--the quarter-inch humming bird egg and this magnificent almost-wonder of the world bridge had a serious face-off, who would win?
Hint: do not bet against the egg. Especially an egg from the species, Anna's Hummingbird, protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which, to my knowledge has not yet been reversed by President Trump. The nest, about half the size of a fist, was discovered just a week before work on the bridge was to begin. Until the egg hatches, there will be no reworked bridge. 
(Actually, I'm for the hummingbird. As I would paraphrase my mom's recitation of Joyce Kilmer's Trees, "... bridge are made by fools like me but only God can make a hummingbird." Loses a little in translation but I still like it. Thanks mom.)
Ah, the incredible POWER OF ONE!
And what about David and Goliath? Now there's another story with a scenario you may not know. In his book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell gives his perception of that classic battle with a newer... and believable back story.
Goliath was a giant of his day... 6 feet 7 inches tall. He was a man of men... a force to be feared. No one dare challenge this killing machine. So when the Philistine warrior issued a not uncommon man-to-man challenge to the Israelites as a way settle their conflict, no Israelite would step forward. Goliath chided the opposition until David, the shepherd boy, asked to be the one, much to the doubt and dispair of the Israelites. The battle hinged on this unfair conflict... giant and hardened, fully armored warrior verses a simple, unarmored shepherd boy, winner take all.

David picked up five smooth stones and put them in his pocket. Goliath was fully armed and protected showing no apparent weakness. As the two approached one another, Goliath with his second leading the way and David, alone and bearing nothing but a sling and stones, the outcome seemed never in doubt.

Yet, Gladwell theorizes, a shepherd with a sling was most proficient in protecting his sheep against wolves and any other peril with a sling that could propel a rock with great accuracy at the speed of today's bullet. He practiced daily and used the sling to get his food and against those creatures who would harm his flock.

Goliath taunted David to come closer. David stood his ground. 
David was agile, Goliath slow moving and clumsy, ladened with heavy armor. This was not the way fights are fought in Goliath's world.
Gladwell perceives from the retelling of the story that Goliath was not a well man, most likely suffering from the effects of his enormous frame and lacking of medical help and eyeglasses not yet invented. His vision was failing and he needed his second to show him where David was approaching. 

When David held back, the giant called for him to come closer to better see and grab hold of the slight shepherd boy. Once in Goliath's grip, no mortal was a match.

But David kept his distance as he took one stone and placed it in his sling. He whirled the sling with rock around his head, it's speed increased dramatically until, at the exact right moment when David let loose of one end of the sling, propelling the rock to Goliath's only opening, his forehead.

The stone struck true and Goliath staggered and fell. Quickly, David reached Goliath's sword and beheaded the fallen giant. He then held the severed head up in victory, much to the disbelief of the Philistine army, which retreated in panic.

The underdog by biblical standards had vanquished Goliath. The power this of one changed history.

Interesting thing about The Power of 1... it can be blantantly obvious or so subtle that you might not even know when or how its effect is felt. It often manifests itself without knowledge or conscious effort... like being a good example, or smiling to a passer-by who needs a smile. It can be overwhelmingly incredible like grabbing hold of a stranger's elbow as he is about to step off the curb into an approaching car or slaying a giant, metaphoric or real. It makes a difference...often an amazing difference. 
Want more totally amazing real life examples:

Their names are Violet and Allen Large of Nova Scotia and you probably never heard of them... but that's the thing about the Power of 1... heroic actions are usually not notable for who, but what and how. Being a hero is often a selfless, quiet action that positively affects others. Though Violet is currently fighting cancer,  the Larges, who won $11 million in a lottery, donated the entire amount for various causes including their local fire department, hospitals and organizations that fight cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes. Said Allen, "The money that we won was nothing. We have each other." 

Hollywood has a neat way of showcasing the Power of 1. Movies (and television, books, etc.) can show the perspective of all the characters and showcase cause and effect actions. How about It's a Wonderful Life that was built around the greatness of George Bailey in the way he lived his life of personal character without ever realizing the positive effect he had on those he touched. (I love that movie.)

An organ donor highlighted in the news recently, saved a dozen strangers... and the film clip showed the donor's wife listening with awe and wonder to her deceased husband's heart beating in another's chest. Very powerful. (You an organ donor? You should be.)

  The Power of 1 in hearts and minds often enriches both giver and receiver... but the giver always seems to benefits most.

Most of us will soon celebrate the upcoming Easter season because of one man born about 2000 years ago. Need a better example of the Power of 1?

May this year strengthen your resolve to unleash your Power of 1 for a richer you.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Five senses does not a nickel make. If you haven't got a sense of humor, nothing tastes, smells, sounds, feels or looks as good... and neither do you.

Most of us are blessed with the ability to see, smell, hear, taste and touch. That's good but definitely not enough. If you are born without a sense of humor, you are handicapped. Really handicapped. It's a tough world out there and to go it without a smile waiting to escape, you are one doomed Scrooge.

We've all known people who have little time or desire to laugh, tell a joke, enjoy a good 'slip on the banana peel' or ever be light-hearted. It's a tough world for a somber person. Have you seen the video Barack Obama just put on line? It's here... and it is absolutely non political, I promise. He makes fun of no one but himself and worth every second, even if you voted for Trump... or especially if you voted for Trump.

Person A
Person B

A test to see if you have a sense of humor is easy. Tell me which is more likely to have a sense of humor, Person A or Person B?

If you chose Person B, you lose on a technicality. That is Shakespeare's fictional character, Falstaff, painted by Eduard Von Grutzner. Person A is Bob Hope on a bad day.

So, where has all the humor gone? When we lost Robin Williams, we lost perhaps the richest example of what a sense of humor can do for all who have a chance to observe and laugh. His death had me searching for the funny side of life... the place where Williams most liked to live. If you click on the link, it will take you to my 2015 post of what funny can look like. Here's a tease:

Robin Williams tells this story: Bono was performing a benefit in Scotland before a crowded house. He started slowly clapping his hands and told his audience, "Every time I clap my hands, an elephant dies in Africa!" A man in the back row stood up and hollered, "THEN FOR GOD'S SAKE MAN, STOP CLAPPING YOUR HANDS!"

In my publishing life, I worked with many very rich and focused people. (Note: I was not one of them.) Some were a pleasure to be with, some though were real pains in the collective ass. Those were the most obvious humorless examples as a group that I can think of. They were the ones who took making more money so seriously that they forgot (or never learned) how to do anything else, let alone find time to laugh. Being humorless though, is far from exclusive to the wealthy, though they are the ones who can try to buy happiness. (Secret tip: it doesn't work.)

A sense of humor is not manifested in a joke. It is a way of looking at the world with a richer eye for human nature's joys and foibles. Sadly though, some just don't seem to have time.

Flashback: Obama to his audience at a press corp roast, "My mother was born in Kansas, my father was born in Kenya, and I was born, of course, in Hawaii," he said — with a wink.

Live life to your principles... WITH GUSTO!  What that does for the soul... that is something that amazes me most.  

Elsie had it right: (with thanks to Fred Ebb and John Kander who created the song and Lisa Minelli who made it come alive in Cabaret.)

What good is  sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band.
Come blow a horn,
Start celebrating;
Right this way,
Your table's waiting.

No use permitting
Some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!

I used to have a girlfriend
Known as Elsie,
With whom I shared
Four sorid rooms in Chelsea.
She wasn't what you'd call
A blushing flower...
As a matter of fact
She rented by the hour.

The day she died the neighbors
Came to snicker:
Well that's what comes
From too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out
Like a Queen,
She was the happiest corpse
I'd ever seen.

I think of Elsie to this very day,
I remember how she'd turn to me and say:
What good is sitting alone
In your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

As for me,
I made my mind up back in  Chelsea,
When I go, I'm going like Elsie.

Start by admitting,
From cradle to tomb
Isn't that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum,
And I love a Cabaret.
: - )