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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Here's to the BBC...

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) has a new star for its CBeebies network which features programming for six-year-old and younger children. Her name is Cerrie Burnell. She "is warm and natural and we think that, in time, all moms and dads and children will love her as much as we do," the network says.

Burnell's 'flaw,' according to a narrow-minded few, is that she was born with one hand. Her other arm ends just below the elbow.

I guess it should come as no surprise that there have been complaints from parents over her disability. Some say it could cause their child nightmares. Others don't know what to tell their children. One father lamented that it forced him to have a conversation with his child about disabilities. (Isn't it about time, dad? Some questions in everyday life need answers for children to learn.)

The network says they have received 25 'official' complaints and that criticism is the big talk among newspapers, columnists and bloggers like me. Perhaps it is good that a 'non-issue' like this emerges every once in a while so we can express our values. It's always sad though, to see the negative expressions of things that shouldn't be negative. What are those people teaching their children by their 'outrage?'

And doesn't it seem all too much that the minority on many issues always seems to dominate the news and shape direction too often for the majority?

Good for the BBC for its placement and support of Burnell.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Once upon a time, many years ago...

... a very stupid man tried to trim his hedge with his power lawn mower. Well, guess what? He slipped and the mower cut his leg off, or arm, or something (no, not that)... I forget. So he did the American thing. He sued. And to add insult to injury for us consumers and taxpayers, he won big, big bucks. This was, say some observers, the start of the "It can't be my fault" personal injury claim gold-rush.

A little later, a woman picked up a cup of hot coffee at her local McDonald's drive-thru window. She held the cup between her legs, so it wouldn't spill. Yeah... that always works. Serious burns resulted. So she did the American thing. She sued... and of course, won big, big bucks.

A drunken man stumbled his way onto the path of a Manhattan subway train. Whoops! Luckily, his stupid stupor only cost him a leg. So he did the American thing. He sued... and was rewarded with $2.3 million.

Another New Yorker had to close his private business office while he kept an important doctor's appointment. The doctor kept him waiting for hours. So he did the American thing and sued. His mistake was that he only sought the $120 he calculated in lost business because the doctor had kept him waiting. The doctor, a true American in the lawsuit spirit, counter-sued. Now he did it right. He demanded $3 million.

A few posts below this one, I noted an ex judge who sued his dry cleaner for $54 million because the cleaner lost his pants.

I wrote a monthly magazine column for many years in which I featured many 'stupid and dumb-sounding lawsuits' on a regular basis. The reason: there were so many... and readers loved them. Listen. I fancy myself as a 'stupid and dumb-sounding lawsuits' expert. (Don't give me the, "Oh, there may be some validity in some of these dumb-sounding lawsuits... I know that. But not most. You know that.)

My conclusion... and yours too, if you think about it, is that all these suits DO help people get rich. Those people are called lawyers. Meanwhile, as we see diving boards, roller skating rinks and other such things disappear, all the rest of us pay for increased product costs to cover manufacturers added risk and a myriad of really dumb warning labels that pander to the ridiculously stupid and well represented minority. It's called CYA in legal-speak. (Caution! Contents may be hot.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Brother can you spare a dollar?

Panhandling is one rough gig... but that's their point of view and I can see that. For me, it is a sometimes guilty feeling for not giving, sometimes stupid feeling for giving. What is my handout used for?

Drugs and alcohol is guess one. Food and money to live on is guess two. One reporter in Seattle came up with a number of non-definitive answers. Many beggars do the drug/alcohol thing for sure... but according to one, that is a very small percentage... most buy food and some even help other homeless people. Hope so.

Some of the "homeless" are not. Some of the "jobless" don't want one. Some of the "helpless" aren't. Many have mental problems. Most cities want them off their streets... or at least, controlled by whichever means work. Most agencies designed to help those in need advocate not giving money to panhandlers on the street. A few argue that you should.

I did find a recent blog post by author Gay Talese observing that almost all panhandlers need a little help with their signs. "Homeless. Please help" sometimes just doesn't get it done. So he tried to help them rewrite their plea. His offering: "Please support Pres. Obama's Stimulus Plan, and begin right here. Thanks." Much better, I believe.

But how about "If you were me, what would you give." Or, "Pencils, $1, 6 for $5. Orders taken with payment." Or, "If I were you, I wouldn't give me $10. I'd go no more than $5, maximum." Or, "The end of the world is coming. Look good in front of God." Or, "All contributions tax deductable."

Some do it very well. One Seattle beggar boasted he makes $300/day tax free. Hmmm. I'm not doing anything Thursday. I wonder...

Not to make too much fun... most represent a social problem or they wouldn't be there. It does tug at our collective conscience because we are a caring people and many of these need that care in one way or another.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bad writing = Big bucks...

...unless you are a counterfeitter, who, because of a great buy on dollar-bill-type paper, makes ten dollar bills half an inch wider then tells people that your money goes farther because it takes fewer bills, laid end-to-end, hypothetically of course, to reach the moon thus saving the American people millions in paper costs alone; or maybe making fifteen dollar bills because it takes only two rather than three to make $30 to buy a $22 birthday gift (tax included) and receive two fours in change.

Yes, the winners of the 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are in... and my lead sentence was not among them.

The English department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest since 1982. The contest judges look for the worst possible opening sentence to a novel, as in, "It was a dark and stormy night..." The winner of this clever bad writing extravaganza wins $250. And come on now... who can't write bad?

The 2008 winner: "Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city, their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J." (Garrison Spik, Washington, D.C.)

Well, that was good but I enjoyed: "Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater--love touches you, and marks you forever." (Beth Fand Incollingo, NJ)

But my favorite: Vito watched as Robert squirmed in his life vest while the Great White brushed against his chum-soaked and shackled body, but it wasn't until the terrible fish circled back, finally ending Robert's evening, that Vito, with the vision of the legless torso undulating up and down in the Farallon current, had his epiphany and uncovered one of life's truly great myseries: when you shorten Robert, you really do get bob." (Paul Olson, CA)

Friday, February 13, 2009

How can you not like dumb crooks?

Guy in Indiana was not responding to his girlfriend when she asked him a question... so she dropped his bowling ball on his head... twice! Why twice? Well, duh... she had to pick up the spare.

A man with multiple arrests and convictions tried again to rob a bank. He pushed a note to the teller saying "This is an up." The teller said, "Huh?" But wait: Before the judge, he was asked to write, "This is a stick-up" 10 times so officials could compare the handwriting. He wrote, 10 times in a row, "This is an up."

A good citizen/motorist called 9-1-1 to report that the truck in front of him was swerving all over the road. When police arrived, they determined it wasn't the truck that was swerving, it was our good citizen/DUI driver.

And, in honor of Friday the 13th:

First Dumb Crook: The cops are coming. Let's jump out the window.
Second DC: But we're on the 13th floor.
First DC: This is no time to be superstitious.

Re: Airplane crashes and other tragedies

It is hard to imagine a more dramatic photo of the aftermath of last night's commuter plane crash in a Buffalo neighborhood that killed 50 people. It is so telling of that disaster.

Have you noticed how spectacular the horrible photos of burning houses, tornado-ravaged neighborhoods, forests ablaze, flood waters causing havoc, earthquakes, ravages of war, etc. are? It is hard to imagine the total devastation, often in milliseconds, of things we put so much of our lives into. It really never hits home though, until you see the pictures of the people.

The catastrophe is an event. We are in awe of the catastrophe. But until we are shown the people remaining, and their efforts to deal with unspeakable grief, that our emotions are fully in place. They are like us... except for... It is then when the real effect of the tragedy reaches our hearts.

Today's world seems to have more than its share of hard edges... or maybe it is the ever-broadening media that makes it seem that way. By nature, we still ache for the happy ending and cheer when a plane lands in the Hudson, heroes emerge and all survive. We hurt when circumstances/fate don't allow it.

Thanks God, for the good endings. Watch after those who haven't that pleasure.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's that smoking thing again...

A while back, a true believer decided to put her unofficial "Do not smoke... EVER... or else!" campaign to the test. When she saw a man smoking outside the foyer of her building, she gave him a shy smile and motioned him in. The man, somewhat flattered, entered with his lit cigarette. Our demure vigilante jumped to action.

"Cigarettes can damage your health," she screamed... "and here's how." She hit him on the head with a copper tea trivet, pulled his shirt through the sleeve of his jacket (I saw a magician do that once), then repeatedly stabbed him with a carving knife. She apparently showed some compassion stopping short of a 'full wedgie.'

As police tried to calm her, suggesting she may have been too 'up-tight' about the whole thing, she yelled, "I WAS A 40-A-DAY PERSON. I'VE DONE VERY WELL WITHOUT THEM. DO I LOOK TENSE!?"

Though unreported, the surprised victim probably asked, "You call that foreplay?"

Monday, February 9, 2009

In case you missed it...

In Malaysia, a 27-year-old man was on trial for drug trafficking, an automatic death sentence if convicted. There is no doubt he is guilty... but he was acquitted. Why? He has an identical twin brother and authorities could not prove which twin had the key to the stash... reminiscent of the 'Which twin had the Toni' ad campaign of many years ago.

The presiding judge said she couldn't send an innocent man to the gallows and since authorities found it impossible to prove who was who and which owned what, the acquittal stands. In a show of unanimity, he twins wept and hugged as the verdict was read. (One was heard saying to the other, "All this time I thought it was you." ed. note: that's a joke.)

Question: Does this mean that if there were identical triplets, is it best two out of three?

How about siamese twins Chang and Eng? (They did have one wife apiece with lots of twin-specific children. The only thing they did not have was privacy.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Want to add five years to your life?

Quit smoking. But what about those of us who don't smoke? Are we doomed to live life 'just as it is written?'

Nope. Got a good deal for you. Add ten years by being positive. (If you are already positive, please ignore this message.) Really, the glass of years is half-full.

I attended an interesting talk yesterday. (My second in two days... just like being in school again.) This one was given by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a social psychologist who conducts research in emotions and positive psychology. She was promoting her new book, Positivity, which stresses the value of joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, compassion, humor, etc. and the resulting benefits. "We are like daylillies," she says. "Our minds open and close, not on daylight or darkness, but on positive and negative emotions."

Her research, and that of her colleagues and associates, shows that positive people live longer, fuller and happier lives... adding sometimes, ten more years. Now that makes sense. The collective research in this area seems to have come up with the ideal ratio, 3:1, of positive to negative thoughts.

Her book acknowledges that negative thoughts happen... they are an unavoidable part of life. But we can balance them, even in the worst of times, by understanding how to... accentuate the positive (there I go again... breaking into song). Understanting and accepting this theory is step-one on the road to improving your ratio.... or sustaining it in tough times. It is a balancing act... kind of like life itself. With so very much written and talked about being negative by its very nature, it's good to be reminded that there is balance, but it has to come from us.

If you like this thought, thumb through her book and see if it is 'worth a buy.' I think the examples she gives easily makes it worthwhile.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Is there such a thing as a coincidence?

Sitting in the Coffee Scene this morning with seven other caffine- addicted souls, two were casually working different crossword puzzles as we talked. One was hung-up on an answer, so he asked, "destroyer hunter?" About three of us answered, "U-boat."

The other puzzle worker flipped his pen in the air. "Look," he said, pushing his work to the center of the table: He was answering the clue "kapitan's command" and was just writing in U-B-O-A- when the first question was asked.

Believe it or don't... but pretty interesting, I thought. Then, I wondered how far these 'coincidences' actually reached. There are so many examples, from the trite to the bizzare, but how about this one as a highlight:

It spans nearly 200 years in which three ships sank in the dangerous waters of the Menai Straits off the coast of Wales.

The first sank on Dec. 5th, 1664 and of its 81 passengers, there was only one survivor... William Hughes.

The second sank on Dec. 5th, 1785 and all aboard perished except for one survivor... William Hughes.

The third sank on Dec. 5th, 1785 and of its 25 passengers, only one survived... William Hughes.

Now this tells me that; a) Dec. 5th is an unlucky day to sail the Menai Straits; b) William Hughes is either a very lucky name or a very lucky, very old man; c) there are such things labeled 'coincidences' that are almost impossible to simply call matters of chance; d) all of the above.

Best one-liner in a speech I heard yesterday

Had a chance to meet and listen to author/sportswriter Frank Deford last night. He is senior contributor to Sports Illustrated, where he spent most of his career, and an NPR regular. He also contributes to HBO's RealSports with Bryant Gumbel. I have followed his writings for years... he is glib, perceptive and handles the personal side of the story better than most. His talk, 'The hype and Hoopla: The Good and Bad of Sports,' was 90 minutes worth of humor and pleasure to hear, filled with personal anticdotes and opinions about everything sport. Best part, you didn't have to be a sports buff to enjoy it.

One respose in particular surprised me. When asked who was the nicest sports personality he ever met, he said (paraphrasing), "It wasn't the nicest person but the nicest group." (You'll never guess who.) "I traveled with them for a week doing a story... the Roller Derby folks. They were kind, humble, hungry and loved what they did. They didn't make much money and they rushed for the chance to help set up the track and take it down because it meant extra dollars in their pockets. Really nice people. Now can you imagine," he concluded, "any of our pro atheletes wanting to help put things away or pack up for the next trip?"

My favorite line: When talking about tv viewship, men vs. women, he said men don't really care what is on tv. They care about what else is on tv.

Deford has a regular NPR feature that airs every Wednesday moning about 6:50 am

Sunday, February 1, 2009

How do you construct the world's tallest building?

(Click on BABU at left for a really spectacular view)

I guess, this is one way, but I get anxious looking down from the fifth floor, so count me out. However, Babu, known as the "Indian at the top of the world," is on the job. He is the crane operator helping build the world's tallest structure, the 2,687 ft. (1/2 mile high, 160 stories) Burj Dubai. (The Sears Tower in Chicago is 1,730 feet, 101 stories.) The cramped cab at the top of the crane is also his home. (Can you imagine the view... the queasy stomach? What happens in the wind, I wonder.) Apparently, it takes too long to come down to the ground each day to make it worthwhile. When the building is completed, its elevators will be the world's fastest at 40 mph... no doubt, because they have to be.

Stories about Babu's daily dance with death are discussed in revered terms by Dubai workers. Some say he has been up there for more than a year now and that he is paid 30,000 dirhams a month ($8,168) compared to the average wage of 800 dirhams a month. All seem to agree he is worth it.

This whole project is fascinating. Want to read more? Go to burgdubai, the official website for the building. It gives lots of info of how the building has been designed and how it will be used.