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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"

Monday, April 4, 2016


"Listen... that bird seems to be calling my name," thought Caw.

It was almost as if a crow can know you personally... because it can. How smart are crows? Scary smart actually.

On one hand, crows can remember your face. They can mimic human voices. They are terrific problem solvers. They can conspire with one another. They have a memory and know how to use it. They use tools. They plan. They problem solve. They have adaptive behavior. They can like you or not. They bring gifts to those who treat them special.

On the other hand, they are raucous, bothersome, revenge-seeking trouble-makers. But mostly, that's because you don't get to know them or care to love them like this eight-year-old Seattle girl.

She has befriended a group of crows in her neighborhood by putting food out for them. When she was four, it was accidentally dropping a chicken nugget when getting out of the car or part of a sloppily eaten sandwich. The birds knew a good thing when they saw it and started 'hanging' with her primarily because she was sloppy.

Then it became purposeful, sharing a part of her school lunch as she walked to her bus. Soon it became more deliberate with feedings of peanuts, dog food or bits of bread every morning by the bird feeder as they watched from surrounding wires or trees. When finished, she called to them and they came.

She proved worthy of their attention. To show their appreciation, the crows started bringing gifts... trinkets, an earring, a smooth rock, a hinge--anything shiny and small enough for them to carry and some icky stuff too--a frog's leg or a dead bird, but it meant something nice.

This has been going on for four years and her gifts have multiplied. She has hundreds of small 'gifts' all saved and categorized. This is just a small sample of crow appreciation.

Once when mom was taking one of her many bird photos, she lost the lens cap to her camera. Next day, a bird flew it home, sitting the cap on a flat section of their feeder.

In captivity, crows have been known to get an out-of-reach treat deeper in a glass by laboriously bringing water to fill the glass and float the treat within reach. They can bend a small wire into a hook to bring a larger piece of bread home. In their real world they know how to time traffic so they can drop nuts in front of oncoming tires to crush the shell or place hard shells directly under the time of the cars stopped for the light. They have adapted to us better than we have adapted to them.

They can remember your face and your car. As you may suspect, this can work for you or against you. If you are perceived as a threat, watch out. Crows have been known to fly beside the windows of your car and recognize you as the driver or realize that it is someone else and fly off, for better or worse.

One bird expert, Kevin McGowan, talks about what he calls crow 'family values.' "when we hear them cawing—they’re communicating to each other—often helping save one another from danger, an owl for instance. And they’ve been observed feeding injured adult crows in their family. “They have great family values,” McGowan says. “They do neighborhood watch. They help each other out. They are everything almost that you would want from a moral animal as we see it. They really do pay attention to the threats that are occurring to other crows. They are very interested in working together to make the world a safer place for other crows. It’s kind of just the way they are.”

And yes, magpies Heckle and Jeckle of old cartoon fame are of the crow family.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Remember this movie?



Remember this movie?  Well, of course you won't if you are a millennial. But otherwise, you'll smile at the recall. War Games was a box office success and nominated for three Academy Awards in 1983. Today, it would almost be considered a spoof because technology has so outstripped its premise.

Imagine, a computer terminal that looks like this and a government security password to WOPR (War Operations Planned Response), the world's most sophisticated computer that is responsible for our nuclear arsenal, as simple as the name of the developer's daughter, Raven?

Anyhow, this is the movie's synopsis:

High school student David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) unwittingly hacks into a military supercomputer while searching for new video games. After starting a game of Global Thermonuclear War, Lightman leads the supercomputer to activate the nation's nuclear arsenal in response to his simulated threat as the Soviet Union. Once the clueless hacker comes to his senses, Lightman, with help from his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy), must find a way to alert the authorities to stop the onset of World War III.

Hey, it's a fun movie, even if outdated. Here's the trailer for you nostalgia buffs.

But War Games is a good jumping off spot to highlight how computers, robots and algorithms have taken so much humanism away from us, or as the headline of the The Perfect Bet book review says, "Humanity Hasn't Got a Chance." Artificial Intelligence is winning.

In his book, Adam Kucharski talks about how science and math are taking human skill and luck out of gambling... and so much more. If a computer can spot in milliseconds a large Wall Street trade in process and shave or add even one penny to the price making someone quite a bit richer, then what chance does a mere human have. This didn't just happen, As early as the late 1970s, an ancient computer even had the game of roulette figured out... and the incredible technological evolution just kept rolling along.

"Statisticians are getting good at predicting sports scores and intelligent algorithms can beat human poker players," the author says. The machines have even even learned when and how to bluff. "Even lottery games have been picked off by brute force attacks buying up large combinations of numbers. Checkers and chess have long ago fallen to computers."

And so has Jeopardy. Remember IBM's Watson? The computer certainly came up with all of the factual answers in thousandths of a second then reacted to the buzzer before any of the human contestants even processed the question, let alone hit their buzzers.

"Smart machines might eventually get too smart, creating a future where "humans are unable to participate in real time, and instead, an ultra-fast ecology of robots rise up to take control."

"The line between luck and skill--and between gambling and investing--is rarely as clear as we think," Kucharski adds. "Now that the bots are combining mathematics, physics and psychology, let the games begin. Or should I say--with perfect bets and winning strategies played by superfast computer--the games are over."

But fear not, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will never, never replace reasoning and the human brain... the human brain... the human brain... the human brain... the huma...


A rabbi, an Arab, a robot, and a Catholic priest walk into a bar. Only the robot exits.

A robot walks into a pharmacy. The pharmacist asks him if he’d like anything. The robot replies, “A soul.”

How do you stop a robot from destroying you and the rest of civilization? You don’t.

“Waiter! Waiter! What’s this robot doing in my soup?” “It looks like he’s performing human tasks twice as well, because he knows no fear or pain.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Laugh and the world laughs with you...

... or thinks you are some kind of a weirdo.

These gems are actual headlines from newspapers around the country and they were written in all seriousness... but they just came out wrong. (Then more about the weird headlines I used to write.

Headline gems:
  • Include your children when baking cookies
  • Something went wrong in jet crash, experts say
  • police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers
  • Drunks get nine months in violin case
  • Iraqi head seeks arms
  • Is there a ring of debris around Uranus? (personal favorite)
  • Would-be women priests appeal to pope
  • Panda mating fails; veterinarian takes over
  • Teacher strikes idle kids
  • Clinton wins budget; more lies ahead
  • Plane too close to ground, crash probe told
  • Miners refuse to work after death
  • Juvenile court to try shooting defendant
  • Stolen painting found by tree
  • Two sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout line
  • War dims hope for peace
  • If strike isn't settled quickly, it may last a while
  • Couple slain; police suspect homicide
  • Man struck by lightning faces battery charge
  • New study of obesity looks for large test group
  • Astronaut takes blame for gas in space
  • Kids make nutritious snacks
  • Local high school dropouts cut in half
  • Typhoon rips through cemetery; hundreds dead

Now comes the fun part... about me and my goofy "on purpose" headlines:

My dream job in high school was to write sports stories for the local newspaper. The miracle happened when a friend told me that the newspaper was looking for someone who could write to help the sports department on Friday and Saturday evenings. Seems that's when all the high school teams played and the sports desk didn't have near enough people to cover those events.

So I applied and GOT THE JOB.

It was absolutely above my fondest expectations. When most of the newspaper office staff and the big brass go home at night, a skeleton staff covers the sports news when it happens. And working for a pretty good size newspaper market (when there was such a thing as newspapers) meant those goofs they were funny and crazy) had the place almost all to themselves.

We had office chair races, lit hot foots (hot feet?) on unsuspecting fellow staffers and taunted the obituary editor--the only woman working the late shift who had to be there for those who died after hours--when she had to go to the bathroom. Seltzer bottles and practical jokes were always a moment's notice away. Trade secret: sports writers of that day were just big kids who never grew up.

We answered phones from readers who were looking for prep scores or had sports questions for the experts.

Anyone could be an expert. My first day on the job, I had to answer the multi-line black desk phone. As many lights were blinking, I had to ask a sports desk regular, "How do I answer this?"

He looked at me and said slowly and calmly, "Pick up the receiver, take a deep breath and say 'Hello.' "

I felt indoctrinated and soon began my own free expression advice. I learned that if you didn't know the right answer, neither did the caller, so you made something up. "Who holds the record for the fastest pitch?" (Actually, it was Bob Feller at 96 mph at that time.)

"Ah... that would be Snuffy Waldorf who threw a fastball 173 miles-an-hour in 1926."

"Gee, thanks" an inebriated voice on the other end of the line said. "I owe ya one."

I loved that part-time job-- held it for three years. It soon included covering  most of the high school sports, motorcycle races, the Harlem Globetrotter and whatever. I learned that as a reporter, I was also the 'de facto' official scorer, responsible for getting the line-ups and creating the box score for the game then writing the story that appeared in the next day's paper... with my by-line!

I soon learned there was more to do that just getting the player's last name. At my first game, I forgot to get any player's first name... so when I wrote the story hours later, I made all the first names up.

Yeah, I heard about it from my boss. He read me out and I thought I'd be fired. Then he said "Waldo Schmidt? That's a good one. Don't do this again, ok?"

We also wrote the headlines and those were always the most fun. "Beauty Queen Unveils Bust at Dedication Ceremony" If time permitted, we made writing headlines a group project to see who could come up with the goofiest headline. "Reagan To Have Tissue Removed From Nose" Yep, we did that. Clever headlines that might have a double meaning scored extra points for the creator. "Robber Holds Up Albert's Hosiery"

But you know, that use to happen sometimes by accident as reporters rushed to beat the newspaper deadline. "Man walks down the street and turns into a bar." Sadly though, those times have passed. Seems today's world is too serious to have fun for fun's sake. "Legislator Wants Tougher Death Penalty" See what I mean?

Now that you are warmed up, I'll try my favorite writer's joke on you:

A screenwriter comes home to his burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-singed wife is standing outside.  "My God. What happened, honey?" he asks.

"Oh Jerry, it was terrible," she weeps. "I was cooking. The phone rang. It was your agent.  Because I was on the phone, I didn't notice the stove was on fire. The house went up in a second. Everything is gone! I nearly didn't make it out of the house. Poor Fluffy is..."

"Wait. Wait!" the man says. "Back up a minute. My agent called?"

Laugh and the world laughs with you...