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Saturday, January 30, 2010

"In China, when you are one in a million, there are 1,300 other people who are just like you."

Bill Gates, the person responsible for contributing, through his foundation, more dollars than any other individual to world health and betterment, said that. Makes you stop and think. So I did. Pay attention because there will be a one-question quiz at the end.

Today, there are about 7 billion people on earth, give or take a few. This is about 2 1/2 times more people than were on earth just 60 years ago! By 2050, it is projected that there will be 9.5 billion people... and India will have surpassed China as the world's most populous country. Here's a projected 2050 rundown of the top 20 of 227 countries... with a few surprises thrown in:

  1. India --          1.57    billion people
  2. China --         1.46         
  3. U.S.A --            397  million people
  4. Pakistan --        344
  5. Indonesia --      311
  6. Nigeria --          278
  7. Bangladesh --   265
  8. Brazil --            247
  9. D.R. Congo --  203
  10. Ethiopia --        186
  11. Mexico --         146
  12. Philippines --   128
  13. Vietnam --        123
  14. Iran --               121
  15. Egypt --            113
  16. Japan --            113
  17. Russia --           104
  18. Yemen --          102
  19. Uganda --         101
  20. Turkey --            99   
Notice how many are in the western hemisphere... how many are in Africa... Asia... the Middle East? Reflect on how many are larger than you would have guessed... and which countries surprise you by their absence in the top 20? Hmmm.

OK. Now the one-question quiz: How many could you find on an unmarked globe? (Don't look at me. I flunked.)

That's today's history lesson kiddies.

Interesting Statistic ( nostalgic look back at a great one-liner)

The average cost to treat a bullet wound: $17,000. Life is so unfair... where would a pheasant get $17,000?

Alpha and Omega... in real life

Presently, only Yale and the University of North Carolina have one. It's a JEOL microprobe (a high powered microscope). What is so special about that? Well, your best biology lab microscopes can magnify up to 1,000 times. Now that's a lot, especially if you are in Biology 103 and looking at a fly. (Now you know where the idea for the Vincent Price movie, The Fly, probably came from.) But, through the lens of the JEOL, you can see 30 atoms laid end-to-end. That, my friends, is a 300,000 times magnification. OK, that's the alpha.

It doesn't take much imagination to know where to look for our omega. The universe, of course... you know, space everlasting. Scientists estimate it stretches to 6 billion light years from edge to edge... and is ever expanding.  As you may recall, just one light year is 186,000 miles per second x 60 seconds in a minute x 60 minutes in an hour x 24 hours in a day x 364 1/4 days in a year (yeah, about 6 trillion miles) x 6 billion years. (I just love that... it blows me away.)

That's the omega of the range of man's perceptual understanding... from .1 nanometers (about one ten- billionth of a meter (Shaq O'Neil, for example, is 2,100,000,000 nanometers tall) to 6 trillion light years.

Gives new definition to describing the one that got away, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Julia Childs, move over...

I've got a killer grape recipe... yeah, I said grape, as in pre-wine.

First: Go to the store (unless you have your own vineyard) and get the biggest, richest tasting, most luscious seedless grapes you can find... can be either red or green... or purple or white if you want to nit-pick.

Second: Take them home, of course, silly.

Third: Remove them from the stem, wash them, then put them on a towel to dry.

Now comes the tricky part: Put them all on a large-as-necessary flat baking pan, then stick it all in your freezer for however long it takes grapes to freeze.

Then, open that freezer and grab a handful... oh sure, they look and feel like marbles, but they make the most different and succulent treat you may have ever tasted! I'm hooked. Who needs wine when you have all this? Well, I guess we all need wine (heart-healthy, you know). And, contrary to an old saying, we really can have our cake and eat it too... which reminds me of a joke:

Paul was in love with Kate. Oh, how he loved that woman. The little minx, however, was quite a joker. She and her identical twin sister, Edith, who Paul didn't know existed, often switched places to see if they could fool him. And they did... time and again, much to their giggling delight. Nonetheless, Paul fell head-over-heels in love with Kate... or was it Edith? He really thought they were the same girl, so it presented a real dilemma when he proposed.

The girls confessed their little prank and poor Paul was so confused. "I never knew there were two of you... and I love you both so much."

Sadly, the girls had to tell him that he had to pick just one of them--rules you know.

The sad moral of the story: You can't have your Kate and Edith too.

OK, so you really will love the frozen grapes and one out of two isn't bad, right?... which reminds me of yet another great joke:

Harold was in bed with his wife one frigid winter night and to get warm, she put her cold, bare feet on his shirtless back. ""Oh my God, Margaret," he screamed, "your feet are like ice."

"Cold feet, warm heart," she replied, smiling wickedly.

"Well," her husband said, "One out of two isn't bad."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Award season is upon us

While we are priming up for the Academy Awards, some of us have already watched the Golden Globes, the Grammys, the Emmys, the Tonys, the People's Choice awards, the Screen Actor's Guild awards, the Independent Spirit awards, the Director's Guild awards, and on and on.

However, none of these dramatic, climactic, suspenseful presentations ("I want to thank the Academy, my beautiful wife Zeona, and little Ricky and Lucy... you kids go to bed now, and of course, my agent and best friend, Bradley F. Braverman") are my favorites. No, not by a long shot. Who can deny the thrill of the Darwin Awards (highlighting human stupidity) or the Bulwer-Lytton awards (featuring the world's worst opening sentence of a fictional novel). Now here is class, excitement and real human entertainment... and somehow, the two do go together...sort-of. For example:

Darwin 1: When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up, the robber-to-be earned his Darwin by turning the gun to his eye so he could 'check down the barrel'... then he pulled the trigger again. It worked!

Bulwer-Lytton 1: Harvey placed the muzzle of the .45 against his head, and as the cold steel touched his temple, a sudden shiver raced along his spine and the hair-trigger took on the frisson, his brains missing Marlene's photo, where he wanted it to go, and splattered across his burgundy nightgown, so he got the color combination right.

Darwin 2: As a female shopper exited a convenience store, a man grabbed her purse and ran. Within minutes, police grabbed the snatcher and took him back to the store. When asked to stand in front of the lady for a positive ID, he replied, "Yes, officer. That's her. That's the lady I stole the purse from."

Bulwer-Lytton 2: After quickly scrutinizing the two dangerously buff men coming toward her in the dark and wondering whether she could take them both out, P.I. Velma Plusch mentally inventoried her arsenal -- two pistols, two stiletto-clad feed, two leather-gloved hands, two each eyes, ears, lips, and breasts -- and decided that she could.

Darwin 3: An American teenager was in the hospital recovering from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train.  When asked how he received the injuries, he told police that he was simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he was hit.

Bulwer-Lytton 3: Leopold looked up at the arrow piercing the skin of the dirigible with a sort of wondrous dismay -- the wheezy shriek was just the sort of sound he always imagined a baby moose being beaten with a pair of accordions might make.

Now here's a toss-up: After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting had escaped.  Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride.  He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn't discovered for three days.

You know what today is, right?

This (if it is still Monday, January 25th) is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day!   You know you love it, but did you know that it was invented as a wall paper? Some use it as a wrapper to protect things in shipment or storage. That is the "standard way." But most of us use it as something far richer... as therapy for the body and soul. Who doesn't enjoy the 'pop-pop-pop' that can go on endlessly (or until the bubble wrap and time to pop run out.) For some it is a mania. For others it is an indescribable nuisance.

Now the real deal is to find those 'mania' people and pair them with the 'nuisance' variety... then stand back and watch what happens.

If you want to know more, go to the Bubble Wrap site (highlighted above) and read the story. It's five minutes of pseudo-popping fun. BUT... if you want something I-tangible, go here: Just don't blame me if you can't break away from this compulsive fun for hours. Oh, by the way, there are 250 Facebook pages for Bubble Wrap.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Are we scared to death yet?

Obviously not... but there is a case to be made.

When I grew up, I was frightened by the average things that frighten a young boy:
  • Step on a crack, break your mother's back.
  • Polio... what if I get it and have to spend the rest of my life in an iron lung?
  • Those two kids down the street who beat me up and took my school lunch money... honest.
  • That really cute girl.
  • Atomic bomb practice-- ("Everyone under your desks, cover your head and DO NOT look towards the windows.")
  • My mother when I made her mad.
Then I got bigger and I was frightened by:
  • Puberty. 
  • That really cute girl.
  • Pimples and ring worm (got it)... and cooties.
  • Being accepted.
  • Being drafted and getting killed in the war.
  • Dying.
Then I fell in love and got married, bringing new fears:
  • Does she love me?
  • Will my kids be ok?
  • How will we ever have enough money to send them to college?
  • Will I ever have the luxury of an erection lasting more than 4 hours?
  • Divorce. 
  • That really cute girl.
Now I am fully mature (by most judgments, not including my wife's), and I have come to the understanding that almost all of those past worries didn't come to pass. I (we) tend to over worry everything, humans that we are. Today, we have digitized the full scope of all that we can and do worry about. And it makes me wonder if there actually are more worries or if we have just learned, with the help of the media, that we do have the capacity to worry more... and have found new things to worry about:
  • Cancer, crime, Y2K, terrorists, homosexuals, heterosexuals, republicans, democrats, smoking-- or not, yellow teeth, global warming, biological warfare, nuclear destruction, not having enough friends on Facebook, Tiger Woods, Octomom, money, Jenn (ever since Brad left her, she has been on our minds), money, jobs, health care, bombs in underpants, money, crooked politicians, pandering politicians, elected officials who care more about their wants than ours, flu, China, the fog on Interstate 80 somewhere in America (thanks Weather Channel), pork (the Washington kind, not the eating kind, though we worry about that too--Is it cooked enough or will we get Salmonella?), money, inflation, depression (economic and mental), etc.
It is us lucky ones that seem to have become the hopeless... the despondent... the glum. There are people who have major league worries, like staying alive, finding water to drink that doesn't make you sick, making an honest or dishonest dollar (literally, $1) to feed your family, earthquakes, tsunami's, hurricanes, failing health, joblessness, homelessness...

We more fortunate do have worries, real and imagined, that seems to dominate more of our lives and minds than our blessings, our opportunities, our optimism. Where is that 'we can do it, we will overcome, we can rise to any challenge' mentality? Have we become a "glass half empty" nation of cynics? I hope not. I hope not. Enough bitching. Time to 'suck it up!' We have not been gifted with blessings just to squander them mindlessly dithering.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Things you will be richer knowing...

... though not in dollars.

  • India is known for a lot of things... most of all, a lot of people. Of it's 1.2 million residents, half--600-plus million--have no indoor plumbing (i.e. toilets). FYI: That is twice the number of the entire U.S. population. In addition, India has 238 million cows, more than any other nation. These walking hamburgers (my phrasing, not theirs, since cows are sacred in India) burp, belch and fart. Add 200 million more sheep and goats to all of this and you have a contribution of methane gas that does more damage to the environment than all of India's dynamically growing number of cars, motorcycles and motor bikes on the road. Pee-yew! I mean phew! The numbers boggle the mind.

  • In China, a pretty strong guy just set the world record by doing 12 one-finger push-ups. He can also do a one-fingered handstand with his right index finger. And, I'm just guessing here, he can probably pick his nose like a demon too.

  • Today's news just brought the sad story of a man mauled in his daughter's home by her four pit bulls. Ever wonder what possesses someone to have four pit bulls in her house? Ever hear of Golden retrievers or Yellow Labs?

  • Hate to tell you I told you so (not really though), but television can kill you... or at least, shorten your life expectancy. According to the American Heart Assn. Journal, a recent study shows each additional hour spent in front of the TV increases the risk of dying from heart disease by 18 percent. Scroll three posts down to Which half are you in? and you'll see my 'told you so' moment. So, the watchword is discretion... watching TV's good stuff (and there is lots) takes some discretion. "I watch Dancing With The Stars and that Simon Cowell thing, every rerun of America's Funniest Videos, and smoke. How am I doin'?" Sorry pal. Your best hope is that you are an optimist. Other studies show that "the glass is half-full" people live 14 percent longer, so maybe it's a trade-off. And if you don't like that, stick around and wait for the next study.

  • A big OMG! to the young South Korean girls who took home $10,000 for winning the LG Mobile Worldcup texting championship in NYC last week. The two girls texted, word-for-unabreviated-word, from a written script for one hour, switching off when one of the girl's texting fingers needed a rest. They were penalized for errors so the pace of 35 wpm for one hour was even more impressive. They LOL all the way to the bank.

  • In a small Chinese village (and I mean really small) where no inhabitant is taller than 4 feet, 3 inches, outsiders not 'measuring up... er  down,' are banned. Do I see a lawsuit coming?

  • Point to Ponder: "Insane people are always sure that they are fine," says writer Nora Ephron. "It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy." Fact: one out of four of us are mentally unstable in one way or another. So look around and figure it out. Me? I'm fine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Truely, A Marriage made in heaven

Perhaps only once in a lifetime are we given a 'sign from above' as clear as this. Our role as fellow humans is not to wonder why, we just have to recognize what fate has made abundantly clear to the world and be in awe.

Here are the facts:

A 50-year-old Israeli man has just been granted his 11th divorce (setting an Israeli record, by-the-way) and is once again bride-hunting. Usually, he marries for a few years, divorces, and then, as he tells it, angles for another lucky woman. "I send out the hook in all directions, and the fish come on their own." Poor guy just hasn't yet landed 'Mrs. Wonderful.' But then who of us catches that trophy on our first (or eleventh) cast?

Fear not, poor Israeli man! All is not lost! The 'chum,' as they say, is in the water.

Remember Wok Kundor, the 107-year-old Malaysian woman I told you about in September? She has just divorced her 37-year-old, 22nd husband... they just couldn't make it work (don't ask). And she is anxiously looking for "Mr. Right, #23!"

"My intention to remarry is to fill my forlornness," she said. "I realize that I am an aged woman. I don't have the body nor am I a young woman who can attract anyone," she acknowledged... but, according to 22 husbands to date, she has a wonderful personality.

So here we have two soul-mates who, collectively, have more marital savvy than any other two people on earth... ever! I hereby direct eHarmony, in the name of all things fated, to work its magic and connect these lovebirds... and I am certain wedding bells will soon be ringing. (Thank God internet dating doesn't have the stigma of years past. It's one less barrier for these two turtle-doves.) As for the pitter-patter of little feet, that is not my department... but one can hope.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's a "Nuts Out There" kind of world...

... but just perfect for my blog. For example:
  • A guy arrested for slashing the tires of 45 or more cars in Colorado, explained to police that he had been overwhelmed by radiation from a nearby nuclear plant and, oh yeah, he had been forced by his mom to wear braces on his teeth as a child. Well that certainly makes sense. 
  • A German man was arrested for beating another with a swan. Said he had been in a park when he met a man with an offensive East German accent. Grabbing the nearest swan by its neck, he swung it mercilessly at the stranger, yelling "They should rebuild the (Berlin) wall right up to the sky because of you!" Neither the man or the swan suffered serious injuries. I guess the swan wasn't loaded... but the man was. 
  • The family of an English missionary who was eaten by cannibals on a Pacific island in 1839, received a formal apology from the descendants in a reconciliation ceremony... along with the promise to remove that recipe from its cook book. (You do know I made that last part up, don't you?)
  • Steven Foster (not the dead songwriter but a supermarket clerk in England) returned $1.3 million that was wrongly deposited in his bank account by his employer.  "At first, I just thought it was a Christmas bonus," he said. (I made that quote up, too.) Anyhow, the employer rewarded him with a case of Budweiser. (That's true.) Personally, I think a case of Fosters would have been more fitting.
  • From the 'Well I'll Be A Monkey's Uncle' department: An Australian orangutan escaped from her enclosure using a stick to short-circuit the electric fence, then climbing out on a ladder she made out of debris. "We've had issues with her before where she tries to outsmart the keepers," said one of her keepers. I think she just did.
  • A guy in New York was fed up with the poor customer service he was receiving from his bank, so he did the obvious. He sued them for $1,784 billion, trillion (1,784 followed by 21 zeros), plus $200,164,000, to teach them a lesson. The suit was eventually dismissed when it was noted that the dollar amount requested is more money than exists on earth.
  • And finally, another New Yorker (do you notice a pattern here?) driving erratically, was pulled over and charged with a DUI. As the officer approached the car, he noticed the man climbing from the driver's seat into the back seat. The man then told the officer that, although he had been drinking, he was not the one driving. The officer did take note that there was no one else in the car.

Which half are you in?

Caveat: I wrote this rant then let it sit on my computer for a few days. I really feel strongly about what I said, but I have to acknowledge that it is somewhat sarcastic... ok, a lot sarcastic. I do feel television has value. There is no doubt that kids do learn more, earlier... and it can bring the world, and what's important, to our doorstep perhaps better than any other passive way. But that requires some judicious use, for sure. And television is entertaining, but again, it's what we choose to watch instead of watching anything and everything because"'that's what we do." Television is also insensitive, obtrusive, invasive, habit-forming, moral standards setting and molding. It is a 24/7 advertising machine. That said, it feels good to rant and rave and be sarcastic. After all, It's Nuts Out There.)

I was watching TV last night... and falling asleep on the couch... again!  I wasn't really that tired. I was bored to death. That was my fault for allowing it to happen... but it doesn't stop me from blaming the 'All-American Hobby' for my own weakness.

We have more than 130 channels of "entertainment" on our cable system (not counting those you can pay extra for). Of those, a handful are shopping channels. There are maybe a dozen sports channels of one type or another. Then there are the network channels, news channels, the animal channels, the Spanish broadcasting channels, the public service channels, kids' show channels and lots of other stuff.

Seems like 70 percent of the non-sports, non-news programming is made up of reality shows -- lots of them-- and silly 'sit-coms' all copying one-other, with most set on expanding our moral boundaries, game shows that ask questions and, more popularly, game shows that embarrass people, American Idol, America's got talent, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance... and of course, America's Funniest Videos (usually with different syndicated reruns on several different channels, five or six nights a week). Oh yeah, the reruns are for us to enjoy again and again... and don't say we don't.

Will weather actually happen unless it is reported on 30-40 of times a day... or on the Weather Channel where weather is not just anything -- it is the only thing? When I grew up, the weather still came, as I recall... maybe not. I was just a kid then, so what do I know? I guess I should be happy to be aware of possible fog conditions somewhere in California or rain across the plains... "so you be careful out there." OK, information is good and some can be critical, but wouldn't less seem like more? Problem is, if it were otherwise, what would the stations/networks have to sell commercials around? Also, weather makes a great 'tease' ... "Bill has some big weather news... and you folks on the west side, prepare to take cover... coming right up after the break."

We get three hours of the same news stories, over and over, every night... not all the news but pretty much just the news that the media thinks we want/need. Sometimes the media makes its own news by determining what they want to show us... who in Hollywood is divorcing and who is in rehab, how much weight Gerard Butler has gained and how Octo-mom is doing. Did Jon really leave Kate or visa-versa? And what is even sadder... we really do want to know that... and it is infinitely more marketable.

(Fact: Most of our next generation uses TV as its primary... and often only news source for its intellectual enrichment.)

Then there are the commercials and infomercials that take as much as 15 minutes of every broadcast hour.We are being 'pitched-to-death' most waking minutes... so much so that we know what one must do with an erection that lasts more than four hours.

Well, call me a cynic (because I am). I know that worthwhile programing and information is available. And what's wrong with being entertained? Television does have its value... but it has great faults.... but not the greatest fault.

That greatest fault is ours... and how we use/abuse this human magnet. (We have six sets in our house, but every room is 'wired' in case we need more.)  It is sad  that we often make the choice to let the television to be our primary focus... and our primary medium, watching anything and everything that is on. This is especially true at night when we have to confess to ourselves that "there just isn't anything 'on' tonight." but watch whatever, anyway. There is no doubt in my mind that television does a lot of our thinking for us. And THAT is the real kicker.

Most television programming is aimed at the lower common denominator... because it works best that way.  And if you figure that in the United States (or pretty much anywhere else), half of the people are below average... then presumably, you would think that those in the upper half are too smart to be helplessly held hostage by a stupid, unblinking eye. Would we?

Now here's the question: Which half are you in?

PS: For those 'on the other side,' there's a web site that might come in handy...

Monday, January 4, 2010

This could be your lucky year... with an asterisk*

*you gotta die to win.

Here in the U.S. on January 1, the estate tax, which has to be paid at death (so why am I worried about it?), has expired (er, excuse the word... been suspended) for one year. If you are/were rich enough (again, why am I worried), and died before the new year arrived, Uncle Sam could take as much as one-half of your estate's value. So as the new year approached, some families were playing God/Midas... "Do we keep Uncle Otto's respirator going until the stroke of midnight or do we pull the plug?"

Actually, that was possibly true in very few cases, and possibly only humorous if you are not Uncle Otto or his family. (In this blog, gallows humor is allowed... "Is that the best noose you can tie, you pathetic excuse for a hangman? I'd worry about you if I was your mommmmmm.... SNAP...argggh... swing.")

Anyhow, I have guaranteed that I will not die before my money runs out. I just shorten the death date guestimate on my financial plan to match my remaining dollars. See... it's win-win.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How to save New York

The New York Times asked a few of its prominent citizens for their new year resolutions for building a better New York:

Elliot Spitzer, former governor, attorney general and alleged prostitution solicitor said "I would love to see investment bankers actually do God's work." Gotta start somewhere, I guess.

Keith Nelson, founder of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus (yep, that's the korrect spellling) said "...the city should open a unicycle lane and special unicycle access to every bridge in New York."

Robert Burck, The Naked Cowboy of Times Square said "I'm waiting for the city to put my new product line into the Times Square retail center that's coming. So far, we've got Naked Cowboy shot glasses, Naked Cowboy T-shirts, Naked Cowboy protein powder and a Naked Cowboy tequila. It would also be nice if they could open up a Times Square wedding chapel. I'm an ordained minister.  It's a multimillion-dollar industry. Why let all those people to to Vegas to be married by an Elvis impersonator when they can do it in a unique way, right here in New York, by either myself or one of my licensed franchisees?"

In all fairness, there are other resolutions that read a little different. These three might just be a good starting point.