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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Money, Money, Money...

ABBA: Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny, Bjorg

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It's a rich man's world

 ABBA had a ton of hits from the mid '70s to the late '90s. Its songs are the heart of the popular musical, Mama Mia. But perhaps no ABBA song has more relevance than its 1976 recording of  Money, Money, Money.

Maybe you've seen this story: 85 of the world's richest billionaires are as wealthy as the poorest 3.5 billion people in the world!

Forbes Magazine tells us there are l,426 billionaires in the world today. So minus the 85 super wealthiest, there are 1,341 'poorer' billionaires (not counting Scrooge McDuck or Richie Rich) on the outside looking in. How's it feel, you guys, to be poorer?

Bill & Melinda Gates with Warren Buffett
Now before you get the wrong idea, I really like the rich... and so should you. Even if, in our lesser status we are envious, make fun of them or notice a few may be jerks and worse, a world without rich couldn't work. I think that's been tried. Most rich have earned their fortunes by creating opportunities and providing services for others... and many are dramatically benevolent.

Not only have Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett already committed more than half of their billions through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they have gotten 102 other 'very rich' to sign The Giving Pledge agreeing to do likewise. And they continually work to recruit others like themselves. Take a look... the Giving Pledge makes very interesting reading. 

Bill Gates once said he and his wife plan to leave their children a very small  (but still not bad) inheritance of their mega billions with the remainder to be used for continuing benevolence. These actions represent just some of the good that money can do.

And no, they and all their pals cannot solve all the world's unbalance. They have done, and will continue to do great things for humankind. Yet, there remain many, many below the poverty line that struggle mightily. These include the new poor--"not only  those laid-off blue collar workers but also downsized tech workers, managers, lawyers and other once-comfortable professionals," says The Atlantic. "Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money... (which) arises largely from inadequate wages." 

OK. I'll stop there because I'm trying to be apolitical.

It is ironic though, that professional athletes in many sports regularly sign million-dollar contracts and in most states, the highest paid state employee is a football or basketball coach, yet a teacher often cannot make a wage great enough to support a family. And no, it is not the athlete's or coach's fault to take what is there but our misguided judgement of value to benefit which has deep roots. Give the rich their due, but money cannot buy everything... and it certainly cannot buy poverty.

The fact is, the spread between rich and poor is widening and the middle class is 'middling' at best. The greatest benefit of a robust... or any economy goes to the wealthy. It's expensive to be poor because a far great percentage of all dollars goes to just trying to get by... and sometimes, even with help, that is not enough. Poverty is a hole without luxury, opportunity or an easy way out.

I hope and pray that those with the power to move mountains get on this case.  


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Two hip replacements later, with x-rays to prove it.

Tess, surgical scar and all
Every pet is special of course, but our golden Tess is 'specialer' to us.

She (and her sister, Abby) are HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response  dogs, two of 235 in the country who respond to tragedies and crises where there is need for comfort. Classified as a working dog, Tess was last at the D.C. Naval Yard after the shooting there that took 13 lives.

But what sets her further apart from many is that she has just completed her second total hip replacement due to significant hip dysplasia in both hips--it was bone against bone, our vet told us after the surgery. Sadly, this is a genetic trait in some golden retrievers. What this picture shows is the shaved area and surgical incision on her left hip, stitches still in place. These x-rays tell the story:

One hip done last spring
This shows Tess with her first hip replacement. You can compare the artificial hip with the non-treated hip. We were told the degree of her dysplasia was 9 on a 10-point scale.

Tess with both hips replaced

This x-ray was taken just after the second surgery and it shows both new hips.

The rather amazing thing about a hip replacement in a dog vs. one in a human is that  they both seem very similar in technique and apparatus to a non-medical eye. The x-rays look eerily similar but the human version costs lots more. Lesson: Get your next hip replacement at the vets.

Tess's procedures were both done by Veterinary Surgical Referral Practice in Cary, NC. Our Labrador retriever, Abby, has had surgeries there for torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) on both of her hind legs, something Labs seem prone to do.

Amid all the owner trauma, we could never have imagined how comfortable we were with VSRP. These veterinary pros specialize in neurosurgery soft tissue and orthopedic surgery for pets. They really care for their patients... and just as vital, the patients' owners too. We, with lots of experience, highly recommend VSRP.

Tess moving well with both artificial hips
Our biggie... we have pet insurance by Petplan . The people at Petplan were incredibly helpful from our first contact on the web. Not only were they easy to work with but personal, caring and empathetic  They made a significant difference. Again, from our experience, we highly recommend Petplan.

As an aside, we know how fortunate we are to not only have the great dogs we do but the means to afford the reasonable insurance premiums and the co-pay difference. We are grateful.

A word about prognoses... Tess's sister Abby, with ACL surgeries on both hind legs at VSRP-- the last about three years ago--runs 4-5 miles with me three times a week. Abby is a powerhouse. She loves to run and, if we are on a downhill and she spots a squirrel, I'd be in trouble if I didn't have my feet under me. She is so strong.

Rear view
Tess, on one artificial hip for the last months before this latest surgery, moves comfortably on her first hip replacement. She very obviously and painfully favored her unrepaired hip.

Biggest warning: The rehab is a real pill. Tess was on her new hips the morning after both surgeries. She comfortably walks on the new hip and thinks she is almost ready to go. However, the bone needs to graft around the implant and that takes 16 weeks, so she must be kept low key. She can't run, slip, jump or romp until she meets the specific rehab schedule set down by VSRP.  Fortunately, our dogs 'get with the program' and that helps a lot. It's a commitment... but satisfyingly worth the effort.

If you have ever have the need for any of these services or wonder if this is the thing to do, don't hesitate to help your animal if it is at all possible. Our dogs are both seven-years-old and they have a greater mission than just being our pets, as if that wasn't enough. They are also both members of Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program for hospital, hospice and other animal assisted therapy needs and have specialized training for their HOPE AACR mission. They have a significant impact on many more than us.

This was a great decision for us. If you have the means and need, go for it. And if you live close enough, there would be no better way to proceed than than to use VSRP and Petplan. Both are competent pros that have meant much to us.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Goofus and Gallant for rich kids

If grandma ever gave you a gift subscription to Highlights Magazine when you were a youngster in elementary school, you know Goofus and Gallant. This feature has been in Highlights since its inception in 1948 but it originated in 1936, created by Gary Cleveland Myers.

Goofus always did things poorly or sometimes rudely. Gallant always did things better, kinder. There was always a lesson for the young reader, with appropriate images, to do this, not that.

Goofus, with a bratty face, tells mom: "Here, sew this button on."
Gallant, with a smiley, sweet face, one arm on grandma's shoulder asks: "Will you please sew on this button."

Goofus, grabbing newspaper from mom says: "I want to read the funnies now."
Gallant, asking dad politely with a smile: "Are you finished with the funnies?"

So recently, the Wall Street Journal  put out its own version showing how rich parents should talk to their rich little inheritors... and I didn't make these up.

Picture shows rich father patting son on the head at the dinner table with a servant in the background holding a tray of food to be served.

Don't say: "Why are you asking about money? You don't have to worry about any of that."
Do say: We are lucky. My grandfather build a successful company and passed it down. Here's what that money can help us accomplish."

Picture shows rich mom talking to her young daughter in a limo en-route to airport.

Don't say: "The limo drive is so slow, I hope there will be time to hit the duty-free shop before first-class boarding starts."
Do say: "You can learn a lot by seeing the world. Would you like to help decide where to go for our annual vacation?"

Picture shows son asking rich dad--cocktail in hand while sitting in a comfy chair in his smoking jacket--for a few bucks to replace his broken lacrosse stick.

Don't say:  "Here's $3,000. Will that be enough?''
Do say: "Here's $300. That should be enough to replace your broken lacrosse stick and cover your snacks for the month."

Now don't get me wrong. I think these are fine lessons. But I still sense a touch of "lots richer than me" coming through.

Maybe we need alternate lessons for the middle class while there are still a few thousand or so of us still around.

Picture shows kid asking dad, in overalls working on the family car, for $20 to replace his punctured basketball:

Do say: "Sure son. Here's all my loose change. Ask your mom for some change from the jar in the kitchen cabinet and I'll see if I can find another few bucks next week."
Maybe say: "Here's a buck. Go buy a lottery ticket."
Possibly say: "The Harlem Globetrotters have a trick play using a deflated basketball and they are rich. See if you can learn from them."
Perhaps say: "You have a birthday coming up. We'll see."
Can't say: Here's a thou, get something good... and those fancy Michael Jordan shoes while you're at it."
Best say: "Here's $20. Go get 'em Tiger!"

So you see, most of these are very good suggestions. What's right for you just depends.

I really don't mean to make fun of the super rich... much. Those who are born with a silver spoon in their collective mouth (disgusting image!) do not have an easy life. Actually, I've worked all my life for people with money (both inherited and earned) and their lives are often not as 'rich' as mine. I'm really glad Bill Gates has all that money... and how he uses it. While he could leave his kids billions, he has vowed to give most of it away, leaving each heir only $10 million. And, no joking, I really think that is cool. Now there's a great kid lesson by example.

While money cannot buy happiness, it also cannot buy poverty. My dad, who died many years ago, told me, a person with $10 million isn't that much happier than one with $9 million." Of course, that was when a million dollars WAS a lot of money.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Summer of 1927

Charles Lindberg and his Spirit of St. Louis
The summer of 1927 in America is more interesting than you could ever imagine, for a lot of reasons. Author Bill Bryson's latest work, One Summer in America, is all over it, as usual. Bryson is a most interesting author, researcher and story-teller with a WIDE range... but more of him later.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly the Atlantic and take the prize so many aviators of the time died for. Known as Lucky Lindy, he was! He captured the nation and the world in ways unimaginable today except by the historically trite like Justin Beiber, the Kardashians, reality TV, yada yada. My, how the world has changed.

Lucky Lindy even had a hit song about him that swelled the pride of every American:

Lucky Lindy (Recorded by Vernon Dalhart ca. 1929-1930)  

From coast to coast, we all can boast and sing a toast to one
Who's made a name
By being game.  
He was born with wings as great as any bird that flies
A lucky star
Led him afar!

Lucky Lindy! Up in the sky
Fair or windy, he's flying high.
Peerless, fearless --- knows every cloud
The kind of a son makes a mother feel proud! 

Lucky Lindy!
Flies all alone In a little plane all his own,
Lucky Lindy shows them the way
And he's the hero of the day.

Just like a child, he simply smiled while we went wild with fear  
That Yankee lad!
The world went mad!  
Everywhere we prayed for him to safely cross the sea
And he arrived In gay Par-ee! 

But Lindy was far from the only story... only the first of that 1927 summer. Babe Ruth was pretty noteworthy that same year... as was Al Capone, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge and flag pole sitting. It was the advent of sensational journalism which filled our eye with colorful tales of murder, mayhem, scandals and con men that  caught America's eye the same way CNN, Entertainment Tonight, American Idol do today, but this was before TV...  when we first 'got the fever.'

Bryson writes: To a foreign visitor arriving in America for the first time in 1927, the most striking thing was how staggeringly well-off it was. Americans were the most comfortable people in the world.

American homes shone with sleek appliances and consumer durables--refrigerators, radios, telephones, electric fans, electric razors--that would not become standard in other countries for a generation or more. Of the nation's 26.8 million households, 11 million had a phonograph, 10 million had a car, 17.5 million had a telephone. Every year, America added more new phones that Britain possessed in total.

 Made in America? How about 42 percent of everything! Four times more cars than all the rest of the world. More gold reserves too. America only had 120 million people then, about a third of today's number, and most of those lived on farms or in small cities.

Travel? Railroads and airplanes, new as they were. We had one transcontinental highway and it was only half-paved from the Iowa to the Pacific. No TV of course, or air conditioning. Lots of homes had horses but didn't have toilets. A different time for sure.

But zeal? We had that. It was zeal and happenings and circumstance and curiosity that marked this remarkable summer. So did I like the book? Guess. It's filled with tales about all of the above.

Bill Bryson has always been a favorite of mine. He was born in Iowa with a lot of growing-up time in England where he now lives. He writes mostly non-fiction, most interestingly. His range is broad. He has a book about language called The Mother Tongue. Another about words called (you're not going to believe this) Words. I especially liked A Really Short History of Nearly Everything... and it is! Really. I found it most palatable as an audio book that I could listen to in drive-time snippets because there is so much to digest.

He is a good read... One Summer in America fits the bill just fine.

Monday, January 6, 2014

"You don't always get what you pay for."

When buying art, don't be fooled, like the West Virginia lady who paid $7 for a box of kitschy treasures at a flea market a few years back. She HAD to take the painting because it was in the box she wanted.

What attracted her to the simple little box was a very cute leather-crafted Paul Bunyan doll that she was sure she could resale at a profit and an adorable plastic cow that she liked for her kitchen. The silly little picture, about the size of a post card... well, she thought the frame might be worth something if she removed the engraved Renoir plate from the front of it.

It just so happened that the annual Starving Artists painting sale was going  on in my hometown that same weekend. It offered hand-painted 'steals' for as little as $9.95 with Van Goghs for only $49.95.

Sofa-size painting

AND, you can have this magnificent 'sofa-size' painting as your very own--with many more this size... and just as great to choose from--for only $69.95, none higher!

Now I ask you, who is the bigger fool? Why would you waste $7 on a painting no larger than a post card when you can cover your whole wall behind your couch with something this big, this awe-inspiring and this cheap?

Some people just don't know art.

Oh, the silly little Renoir it seems was painted by French Impressionist, Auguste Renoir about 1879. (So, "Ooh La La.") It is titled Paysage Bords de Seine, or Banks of the River Seine as I like to say in good old American. Those French have a different word for everything... and they go crazy over Jerry Lewis. Does that make me want that painting, even if it would bring around $100,000 when sold at auction? 

All said, how silly would that tiny little Renoir look on the red accent wall behind my massively
The Kiss
comfortable, overstuffed Scotch-plaid recliner couch? I'd probably have to buy a new frame... something much simpler, perhaps in black. No thank you! I'm a Starving Artist man where your money always buys a lot of square inches of canvas and it only takes a hundred bucks or so to do the whole darned house.

A nice "sofa-size" would also enhance my last steal... a really nice plaster of Rodin's The Kiss which set me back 25 smackeroos at a Starving Sculptor tent sale next to a BP Station last summer.

The pleasure I get from the "Oohs" and "Aahs" from all my art critic friends is my greatest reward. And besides, these artists will probably be next century's famous dead people... and they probably are really starving.

PS: The Renoir was possibly stolen from a museum in 1951 and not seen since. Courts will decide the true owner.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chickery chick, cha-la cha-la...

What is Chickery chick? It's music from the past... way past, like this 1945, Number 1 song on the Hit Parade by Sammy Kaye. While music before TV, the internet, rock and roll, Motown, grunge, new age, etc. was different (lots of novelty songs to 'catch your ear'), music then and music now has always had a magic quality.

Once there lived a chicken who would say "chick-chick"
"Chick-chick" all day
Soon that chick got sick and tired of just "chick-chick"
So one morning he started to say:

"Chickery chick, cha-la, cha-la
Check-a-la romey in a bananika
Bollika, wollika, can't you see
Chickery chick is me?"

Oh, there's more. If you don't know the words and the tune to Chickery chick, check it out here. It's cute.

So what's the magic quality? "Psychologists believe laws, stories and customs were presented as poems, chants and, eventually, as songs, in order for them to be memorized and recalled accurately. The idea was that the chant would help people to remember large sets of information across the ages. Music aids memorization by providing a rhythm, a rhyme and often, alliteration. All that structure is the key to unlocking information stored in the brain--with music acting as a cue." *

Many researchers think the brain function that responds to music evolved long before those related to language and that humans developed music and dance to aid in the retrieval of information.

Think it's an accident that most commercials include music? At today's Super Bowl prices --$4 million for a 30 second spot, if one was still available--advertisers will do everything they can to be remembered.

That's also why even patients with advanced Alzheimer's dementia have been know to sing along to a familiar song... or even play the piano or other instruments they once knew. (Visiting an Alzheimer wing a few years ago, I heard the most magnificent violin concerto coming from one of the rooms. Tracking the sound down, I was amazed that it was coming from the bow of a professional violinist who couldn't even remember his name or family.) Ever watch a concert and see everyone in the audience mouthing familiar songs as the artist sings or plays them? We're that good without giving it much thought. 

We just remember songs better than we remember grocery lists (Hmm. What rhymes with spaghetti?), where we put the keys or what my wife/husband said just two minutes ago.  Now if you try real hard, can you remember the Alphabet Song? Good! Lucky for us, the letters go in that order or we would really be mixed up.

Memory is triggered by songs and similar structures like rhymes and associations we create. After reading The Memory Book by Harry Loraine and ex-basketball player Jerry Lucas many years ago, I tested the theory. On a family vacation when my oldest was just 10, I used techniques of association taught in the book to see if the kids could recall long lists of unrelated things. After a short, simple explanation and a single read-though to help them build an association to the word, all but the youngest could repeat lists as long as 20 items--forward, backward and from any point I challenged them to start. And they could retain that memory and other lists as I tested them during our vacation, or as long as it was important to them. It amazed us all.

Sadly, it takes mental discipline to condition yourself to think this way until it becomes second nature--like doesn't every good habit? And it wasn't important enough for us to do, so we just struggle our best to retain our sieve-like memories. Now what was the name of that guy you were just introduced to one minute ago?

But for fun, unless you were born after these songs were sung, can you remember some of the lyrics to The Witch Doctor song? (... and he said, Ting, tang, walla-walla-bing-bang.... ) or that hauntingly beautiful It's a small, small world?

So there you have it. Now, with practice, your conversations at home and work will all sound like The sound of music, Oklahoma and The king and I  or a Dr. Seuss book so we will never forget where we put those glasses or keys again.

Memory is a funny thing... so much is in our head but getting it out... now that's another matter. Oh geeze... I forgot my pants again.

*Dr. Henry L. Roediger III, professor of psychology at the Memory Lab at Washington University in St. Louis.