Follow by Email

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

I'll be home for Christmas... if only in my dreams

 I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And Presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

If only in my dreams

Thank you seems terribly insufficient for your sacrifice. 
But it is "Thank you!" from the bottom of our hearts.

Friday, December 11, 2015

I BARK, BESEECH and IMPLORE you to read this post. And then, the book Ella Minnow Pea.

Barking, imploring, beseeching dog,

Some English teach- ers want to ban written use of the words GOOD, BAD, FUN, SAID and others. "We call them 'dead words' barked (implored? beseeched?) a middle school teacher in California.

A British Columbia Board of Education has a 397 word list of alternatives to the word SAID. Really. Why you could use sniveled, or emitted, or spewed or continued, the list notated, itemized, exampled, pondered, displayed. (See, two can play that game.) 

"I love you," John sniveled.

"Ditto!" Henrietta, all dewy-eyed, spewed.

You know, we're not talking romance language here.

I appreciate that educators are trying to instill imagination and color in the writing of their students, but that's not the focus. No one talks like that... or perhaps I should say, no one emotes like that. Creating good writing habits is not choice of words but how even the simplest of words can be magically used to paint a picture in every reader's mind. Using sniveled or barked is one way to get people to see you as some kind of a freak... and quietly back away. If it doesn't sound like it could come out of your mouth, then don't say, exposit, reveal, confess it that way.

Good writing doesn't even have to use all the letters. I loved Ella Minnow Pea, (L, M, N, O, P... get it?), a very different short book by Mark Dunn. This is how it is described by Wikipedia and me:

The novel is set on the fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina, which is home to Nevin Nollop, the supposed creator of the well-known pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog," which uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. Nollop's famous sentence is preserved on a memorial statue to him on the island and is taken very seriously by the government of the island. Throughout the book, tiles containing the letters fall from the inscription beneath the statue, and as each one does, the island's government bans that letter's use from written or spoken communication. A penalty system is enforced for using the forbidden characters, with public censure for a first offense, lashing or stocks (violator's choice) upon a second offense and banishment from the island nation upon the third. By the end of the novel, most of the island's inhabitants have either been banished or have left of their own accord.

The fun is that the book is cleverly written in the same fashion, with the banned letters not used in succeeding chapters. The last chapter is written rather cryptically with barely enough letters to form a sentence, let alone bring the book to its conclusion.

The island's high council becomes more and more nonsensical as time progresses and the alphabet diminishes, promoting Nollop to divine status. Uncompromising in their enforcement of Nollop's "divine will", they offer only one hope to the frustrated islanders: to find a replacement of Nollop's pangram. With this goal in mind, many of the novel's main characters take on the task with urgency because only five characters are left (L, M, N, O, and P). The elusive replacement phrase is eventually discovered by Ella in one of her father's earlier letters: "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs," which also includes every letter in the alphabet. The council accepts this and restores the right of the islanders to use the alphabet in it's entirety.

A good writer can write about anything using words of all kinds and make you want to keep reading.

“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
—Jack Kerouac

Friday, November 20, 2015

Money, money, money... it's a rich man's world...

Bjorn, Agnetha, Anni-Frid and Benny

Money, Money, Money is my ABBA favorite, though I liked all of their songs as did many. This  Swedish pop group was very popular in the '70s with their flashy clothes (like today's 'I can't believe they wore those clothes'), upbeat music and lyrics.

I work all night, I work all day
To pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad
And still there never seems to be
A single penny left for me
That's too bad
In my dreams I have a plan
If I got me a wealthy man
I wouldn't have to work at all
I'd fool around and have a ball
Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man's world
Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man's world
Aha, aha
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It's a rich man's world

This, a steal for only $159 million
I guess that pretty much explains why I can't afford the house of my dreams. 
The magic number for houses of the rich is now $100 million. And to think buying my first house for $14,500 was much more than I logically could afford... but I did it, then a few years later, made a killing when it sold for $14,900.
I have my eye on a nice little spec home in Los Angeles for $115 million, and I'm sure it's worth every penny. If things go right though, I can get it for $113.5 million, flip it and pocket the extra mill-and-a-half. Then I'll be a rich man too. Only problem.. I need $500 cash for earnest money to hold the deal til my financing comes through.
The $159 million bargain is in Hillsboro Beach, Florida and includes two 3,000 ft. guest quarters, an ice skating rink, a go-kart track, a private night club and a bowling alley. The house itself has $3 million-plus in gold leaf trim, six waterfalls--one 25 feet tall--a marble staircase, 11 bedrooms including a master suite with a heated plunge pool on the balcony, an 18-seat IMAX home theater, a 30-car subterranean garage, a wine cellar that will hold 3,000 bottles and a 1,300 gallon built-in aquarium. Builder's shrewd plan to cut back the expenses: two bathrooms. Smart.
Actually, I don't really want this house but I would like to build my $14,500 house right next door. In real estate you know, it's location, location, location.
Money, money, money... it's a rich man's world.

PS: ABBA also sung Dancing Queen, Take a Chance on Me, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Fernando, Honey, Honey, Name of the Game and Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! to name a few. And of course, their signature song, Mamma Mia, made into a long-running stage play and movie. Love 'em.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Singing to the deaf

Edie Jackson, music interpreter for the deaf

Edie Jackson does that.

Yes, deaf people do love music, they just hear it in a different way.

Thanks to Edie and others with her talents, this love of song is not exclusive to those who hear. Music is universal in appeal and where there is a will to 'hear,' there is a way.

Born blind and deaf, Helen Keller proved that many years ago. Wanna cry? Yes you do. See the moment she first understands here. It's worth the short detour. 

The Miracle Worker is the 1962 story of Anne Sullivan's struggle to teach young Helen Keller how to communicate. Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Academy Awards for their brilliant performances.

Edie Jackson, when she isn't interpreting for the deaf at concerts, teaches the profoundly deaf and the hard of hearing and interprets for them on a one-on-one basis.

At concerts, she is either on stage or on a platform near the stage. She signs the lyrics and tries to convey the visual imagery in ways that the hearing would take for granted.

In a New York Times interview, Jackson says she "tries to rein it in since the show is about the musicians, not me. My dancing has purpose, though. The severely deaf patrons who are feeling the music may rely on me to show them what instrument is being played, the emotion and tempo and the highs and lows. I may let my fingers be the keyboard, my shoulder the bass, and so on.

"I learn the lyrics for all the music." She talks with the singers beforehand to be sure she conveys the right emotions but she also has to be ready for impromptu guitar riffs or singer's ad-libs. She interprets mostly for the band Widespread Panic but her highlight was at Jazz Fest 2012 in New Orleans "when Bruce Springsteen jumped onto my platform and danced and signed a bit of Dancing in the Dark with the other interpreter and me."  This is that moment.

"Concerts are so much more than words and melodies," she says. "Both deaf people and those who can hear go to socialize and enjoy the visual feast. Everyone has the right to music. I'm glad I can help."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Real true facts...

This is a triple overstatement. If it is real, it is true and it is a fact, no matter which order you put those words in. A real true editor would delete any two of the three.

However, that doesn't mean we don't know real true facts when we see them.

Real: Elephants can ride specially
built mountain bikes and this proves it.

True: The 9/11 terrorist attack was planned secretly by the Pentagon to give us a reason to go to war.

Fact: Aliens are for real and the government is concealing the evidence and we've all seen them.

Real: The Kennedy assassination was an inside job... and there was another shooter.

True--The United States allowed the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor because war would stimulate the economy and pull us out of depression woes.

Fact: There is no proof the earth is round and if it was, people would be falling off when they were upside down.

In Suspicious Minds,  new book by Rob Brotherton, he says we are biologically hardwired to find patterns in unrelated events. This is why more than half of us still believe the government is concealing facts about 9/11 and four out of ten think global warming is a political ploy.

"These conclusions," Brotherton says, are typically drawn from a hodgepodge of unverified photos and news reports and have only been amplified by the internet which helps connect people with similar mind-sets."

Blog disclaimer: All of the photos shown here have been verified  by me as authentic.
"When we are faced with events we cannot understand," the author continues, "it's natural for our brains to crate a narrative--even if it means 'casting the world in terms of us versus them' to potentially dangerous ends.

"Chances are," he says, you know some of those people. Chances are you are one." 

All I say is that one picture is worth a thousand words. THE CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES!

I think I have made my point.

PS for real: The most respected college professor I had, Dr. Paul Snider, told his fledgling journalism class that if any one of us EVER wrote "One picture is worth a thousand words," he would stamp our paper with his giant, red FE (Fact Error) stamp and we would fail the course. This one's for you Paul.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Two remarkable women you've never heard of

Gloria Tramontin Struck then and now... still ridin'
Remarkable Woman No. 1: This is Biker Babe Gloria Tramontin Struck, then... and now. She's still draws turns heads but for very different reasons.

Her father started a motorcycle business 100 years ago in New Jersey and Gloria was literally born in the business. But you couldn't get her to ride one. "I'm not going to do it," she said, "and you can't make me."

That is, not until she was 16. Now, at age 90, you can't get her to stop. At an age where most men are dead and most women require nursing care, she plans to ride cross-country as a 100th birthday gift to herself.

She has owned three Indians and 11 Harley-Davidsons and has been riding long distances to races and events all over the United States and Europe. She has ridden to the Sturgis Motorcycle rally in South Dakota from New Jersey every year since 2003 and is in the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum's Hall of Fame. She still rides to the annual rally in Daytona as well.

Aside: I've been to Sturgis (pop. 6,627) during Bike Week and it is an event to behold. In 2015 the Rally attracted 739,000 enthusiasts with a remarkable SDDOT traffic count of over 1 million, mostly motorcycles. The event, though no church choir, is relatively peaceable, fascinating and welcomed, as is the revenue it brings to South Dakota. On the roads around Sturgis during Bike Week, motorcycles easily outnumber everything else on the road. You can read more about it here.

Gloria draws attention wherever she goes. On her latest Sturgis run, "I'm not exaggerating," she says. "Every time we stopped for gas, every time we stopped for something to eat, people were watching for us. One woman came up and said, 'Excuse me, is your name Gloria?' I said yes. She turned to her friends and yelled, 'Hey, It's her! It's her! It's Gloria!'

"We had three days to get to Sturgis--close to 1800 miles one way. We spent so much time talking to people and taking pictures with them, we had to ride 80 mph to catch up on time. And it happened all over again on the way back.

"When I'm 100 years old, I plan on riding across country on two wheels. I believe it'll be the first time anyone's done it--male or female. I'm very active and I love new challenges. I always tell people: Live your dreams."

I wouldn't bet against her doing it.

Remarkable Woman No. 2:

The best free-throw shooter in the world doesn't play in the NBA and is not a man. Today's best free-throw shooter is Elena Delle Donne, the 6-foot-5 star of the WNBA's Chicago Sky.

And she's more than that. She won the league's MVP award this season averaging 23.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and two blocked shots per game. Yeah, that's good.

Last season, Delle Donne sank 207 of her 218 free throws--95 percent. Over the last three seasons, including playoffs, she has made 94.1 percent of all her free throws. No one in the NBA or in college, male or female, does it better. (The NBA average for the last 20 years or so has been around 75 percent. Notable stars have fared far less. One of the greatest, Shaquille O'Neil, missed 3520 free throws in his career--about half of his attempts--and was so bad at it that the opposition would foul him on purpose to keep him from scoring. They called this defensive move 'Hack-a-Shaq.' It was so popular it became a crossword clue. And Shaq makes millions more than Elena.

When Delle Donne was 12, she hit two free throws to tie a game with 0.1 second left on the clock in the national Amateur Athletic Union baskeball championships. Her team went on to win that game and the national title. "In my mind nothing will be as bad as that," she said.

Under her dad's tutelage, when she was 6 or 7 she practiced on a lower basket to develop technique. And she learned quite well. Her free throw routine is to find the dot or nail that marks the middle of most free throw lanes. She lines her right foot up on that spot bounces the ball three times, places her index finger on the ball's air pinhole, bends her knees slightly and makes an L-shape with her shooting arm.

"From there I just lift and flick, and a little bit of ankle pop." SWISH! ... time after time after time.

The wonder is, why can't basketball players who earn millions and millions get better at something that is free and the second easiest shot in basketball? Ted St. Martin says anyone can do better. As a coach of the practice, he guarantees 90 percent. And he should know.

St. Martin, now 80, holds the world record for consecutive free-throws: 5,221 in a little over seven hours at the line! (Wow. In my freshman in high school basketball career as a bench sitter , I made one... and missed one, so I'm only 50 percent myself.)

So in theory, any good athlete can do lots of things with practice. Though I don't know about that. Ever watch the talented Charles Barkley hit a golf ball? Enjoy.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

R-e-d l-i-g--ht... g-r-e-e-n-l-i-g-h-t... DynamiteBOOM!

Remember the kid game,  
Red light, green light, dynamite Boom! ?


Bummer. You must have led a sheltered childhood.

Anyway, it was a flawed game because it didn't have a yellow light. And yellow lights are what makes the world go 'round say the traffic engineers.

The yellow light governs how smoothly traffic flows through the intersection. If the yellow is too long, too many cars dangerously crowd the intersection. Too short and drivers get caught on camera 'running the red.'

Federal guidelines say yellow lights must last between 3 and 6 seconds. Getting it right to the half-seond would cut red light violations in half. It's a tricky equation however because there are so many variables--speed limit, volume of traffic, grade of the roadway, weather condition, time of day, impatience of the driver, etc.

Studies say ideally you need 4.5 seconds for the perfect yellow. If only 3 seconds are provided, drivers would either have to stop abruptly or proceed through and risk running the red. So getting it "just right" is all of the above plus safety.

A waiting driver's response to the green light is one second. So proper acceleration is another vital factor.

Tony Schumacher
I wonder how eight-time NRHA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher, (nicknamed "The Sarge" befitting his sponsor, the U.S. Army) would handle this. Pretty good, I would guess. Quick on the gas pedal on green, it took him just a tad more than 4 seconds to accelerate to 337.58 mph in 1/4th mile from a standing stop-- a world record.

FYI: Top fuel racers can hit 100 mph in about 4/5ths of a second.

Now when you time a yellow for Tony and his friends, you really do have to get it just right.

Schumacher's Top Fuel car

My road to riches is to come up with 'the golden formula' that produces safe, smooth driving. Can you imagine what saving one second of time for every car at every intersection in the world would do for saving gas? I figure that instead of self-driving cars, we develop self-driving Top Fuel racers. We would not only save an incredible amount of gas and time but we would be able to get from Chicago to New York in less than a minute, not counting bathroom stops.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trade your cow for these magic beans...

TRADE... Your cow for these magic beans, My kingdom for a horse, Anything for a golden touch.

Bartering has never gone away but today, money has become its most popular medium of change.

Money gives an exact measurement, 3 for a dollar, $2.399 for a gallon of gas, etc. The value is set.

However, a new day is dawning with the realization that perceived value of this for that is often in the eye of the beholder and cash is a finite commodity. Trading (and bartering for value) is perhaps the greatest way to create a win-win and save the bucks for something else.

In days past, commodities could be traded for services--a massage for a chicken, shoe my horse and I'll plow your field, Thanksgiving turkey for three haircuts, scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. I saw how well this can work by watching two of my children who barter whenever possible.

A winning 200-word essay for this charming two-centuries old New Hampshire Inn was a great barter opportunity. The owner decided to sell in the same manner she acquired the property 22 years earlier. At the cost of  $125 to enter the contest, you too could have been a winner at better than lottery odds. This is a legal contest of skill however--not a lottery--and comes with its own complications as you can see.

An Alabama couple offered their farm (sheep and goats included) for a winning essay and $1. A similar contest for a  Maryland home allowed the winner to acquire for $100 and a chocolate recipe. 

But say you don't want this valuable Inn for $125 and have something simpler in mind. There are web sites that specialize in this even beyond Craigslist and eBay.

A few years back 17-year-old Steven Oritz bartered a used cell phone a friend gave him for a 2000 Porsche Boxer S Convertible. It took him two years and 14 carefully planned trades but he did it by following the pattern of Canadian Kyle MacDonald.  Here's his story. 

In 2005 MacDonald began with a red paper clip and ended up with a two-story house. Wanna see how he did it? Click here.


WORSE BARTER OF ALL TIME? Without a doubt, Adam and Eve gave up Paradise for a bite of an apple.

Monday, October 12, 2015

All there is. All there was. All there ever will be.

That could be biblical, but it's not.

SILENCE PLEASE! This photo is the pretend library of everything that was ever, is and will ever be in print. NO TALKING! If your eyes are good and you squint, you can see books lining shelf after shelf. It is far, far smaller than the space such a collection would fill. QUIET!

The number of volumes that would actually be, according to the math nerds, is 10 to the power of two million... far too many zeros to list on this page. The premise presumes that each of those "books" are 410 pages, 3200 characters per page. It would require more digital storage than could fit in the entire universe. And imagine, all this from an alphabet that has only 26 letters to work with.

I was taken by the story in Smithsonian magazine that proposed this premise, based on Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges who, in 1939, wrote an essay, The Total Library. "Borges imagined a library," said the article, "that held not just every book ever written, but every book that could be written, every book-length combination of characters in every possible sequence. It would contain, along with an almost infinite quantity of gibberish all of civilizations' wisdom, true accounts of the past and future."

This, to my blogging delight, includes all the work of the 'Infinite Number of Monkeys' theory which in itself, is a delight to read.

Borges felt wisdom is useless if it is lost in a sea of nonsense.

Take for example all the political rhetoric churning on a 24/7 basis from one election campaign to the next. Ah, now I see what Borges

The downside: If The Library of Babel actually did exist, all the writers (and monkeys) in the world could take the rest of their lives off. It's already been, or will be written. Sorry New York Times, 'All the news that's fit to print' already has.

The upside: Think of the royalties.

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison 

Sorry Toni, too late.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

United Flight 93, Sept. 11, 2001

Remember where you were that day, 9/11, when you first heard?

This is United Airlines' tail number N591UA on the Newark runway heading to San Francisco that terrible day. This is the aircraft terrorists took down near Shanksville, PA. This plane was aimed at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. just 18 flight minutes away, where Congress was in full session. This is the plane that those on board saved the lives of many more at the cost of their own.

The intended target
Of the four aircraft Al Quada hijacked that day and the many heros that came forward, United 93 was the only plane where those heros were able to effect a change in the terrorist's plan. United 93 was 29 minutes late departing and the passengers on board learned what had already happened that morning. When their plane changed course, they knew they were part of that same plan.

There were 40 in all--33 passengers and 7 crew-- excluding the hijackers. For the last 25 minutes of their lives, all knew their probable fate. All died as the plane, inverted, slammed into the Pennsylvania hillside at 563 mph. The 45 degree angle of impact assured there would virtually be nothing left.

Visiting the just completed National Memorial's Visitors Center tells the sad tale more completely than is comfortable. It tells the individual story of each victim, who they were, how they lived and why they came to be on that flight. It shows where they sat and for some, how they responded. You can listen to some of those  phone calls those last minutes and voices captured in the cockpit. You will cry. It tells how they were able to do something that saved the Capitol and so many of those in it.
Unlike the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, there is more to tell of these 40 because they knew and had time to act. You hear recorded testimony of their planings in the face of an impossible situation. We can sense their emotions as the scenario is played out.

Small fragment of the plane
At the point of impact, there was virtually nothing left of anybody or anything. Diligent forensic work identified every victim by DNA testing. All remain interred at the site which has been over-planted with flowers and grasses natural to the area. It has been fenced as a grave-site open only to family and friends. All are individually immortalized as part of a Memorial Wall that guards the site itself.

Remarkably, one small fragment of a credit card was traced back to one of the hijackers and tied to a money trail leading to new information.

The displays there relived, in most interesting fashion, that whole, infamous day as it unfolded. Seeing it all 14 years later is profound. The story of United Flight 93 and its victims is as good as it can be told. The legacy of those that flight might have inspired others to fight back against terrorists.

This newest memorial, a National Park site, is most visit-worthy and a fitting tribute to those aboard who made an incredible critical difference.

BLOG INSIDER TIP: If you haven't clicked on the link highlighted in the 4th paragraph above, do it now for a nice new review of what you'll see there.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Where has all the humor gone?

Robin Williams... the best!

Where has all the humor gone? Are we so busy worrying that we don't have time to laugh anymore or even think funny thoughts?

Chuckles the Clown of the old Mary Tyler Moore was eulogized as Mary remembered by his favorite line: "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants." Funny or not? I dare you to decide here.

Biggest problem is, to think funny you can't be mad or angry all the time... like most of us seem to be.

The earth is warming, death and killings seem to call for more guns just in case we have to shoot or kill someone ourselves, the stock market controls too many lives, bad guys have all the power of today's killer technology and a mere handful can do more damage than the atomic bomb, omnipresent politics are more divisive than ever, wars never end, refugees flood the earth, the rich get richer, the poor struggle every day, the Congress we elected is one of our least trusted bodies with a primary goal to get reelected... and after all that, we die.

Is that all there is?

Where is the balance? Have we tuned out human nature? We the people... are human... and funny. Sometimes funny ha ha, some times funny stupid. Sometimes they laugh at us, sometimes we laugh at ourselves. I think we have become somberly focused on every negative aspect--real or imagined--that permeates our minds.

In my former life as a magazine publisher, I wrote a column called For Your Information that began in 1962 and continued monthly through 1996. It was a lighthearted attempt to lift spirits and laugh at ourselves. What could be richer than that. I had a section in every column called "Dumb Crooks" and later added "... and Stupid Sounding Lawsuits." It was the best read feature in the magazine and generated the greatest reader response. People love to laugh... they just sometimes forget.

Way before anyone else, I started a trend that resulted in books, stories and television specials of the stupid things we do. Today, Chuck Shepherd has picked up the theme in his News of the Weird that regularly appears in a delightful 24-page monthly newspaper, Funny Times. If you think you might actually enjoy funny news and cartoons (both political and human nature-filled), do yourself a favor and check it out.

Here are a few examples of how funny (and/or stupid and/or ironic or just plain ridiculous) we can be in real life:

  • A Nebraska man is in prison for shooting his girlfriend with a pistol. The 22 caliber bullet cut right through her tattoo that read, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun."
  • Car-jacking isn't as easy as it seems. When the thief ripped-off the ar of a handicapped driver, he didn't know how to use the hand controls. So he got out of the car and handed the wheel-chair bound victim the keys, then stripped off his ski mask and said, "Just kidding." 
  • A woman from Arkansas is suing her college for a classroom exercise of 'musical chairs' that went wrong. She claims in her suit that the game was played wrong because the instructor had asked her and two other students to play with only one chair. The resulting game scramble that ensued, she claimed, cost her two broken fingers and forced her into "years" of surgery and physical therapy. She asserted that "everyone knows Musical Chairs should be two chairs for three people." She asks for $75,000.
  • In Australia, a man about to board a 14 hour flight to Vienna was stopped by authorities who discovered he had 35 geckos under his clothes, all taped to his skin. Sounds like the kind of guy I get stuck next to on a plane.
  • A recent demonstration of 100 people outside Britain's Parliament to protest legislation to curb psychoactive drugs, passed out gas-filled balloons containing nitrous oxide--laughing gas. The demonstration turned funny as the group took hits from their balloons and "erupted in fits of laughter."
  • From the 'New Product' department: A Yom Kipur workaround for "fasting" coffee addicts: caffeine suppositories.
  • Extensive research by Animal Behaviour Science magazine cautions pet owners that they may be petting their cats all wrong! Felines seem to prefer face-caressing, especially between the eyes and ears, and are negatively aroused by tail-petting, especially at the base.
  • The Welsh language is such a severe mutation of the original English spoken in the Middle Ages that it is barely distinguishable from Klingon. In fact, the Welsh government, responding to queries about a possible UFO sighting near Cardiff airport, playfully issued its galaxy-friendly response in Klingon: "jang dvlDa je due luq." And if you wish to say "I cannot understand in Welsh," simply respond "nad oes modd i ddeall Cymraeg."
  • In Arkansas, a man representing himself on a disorderly conduct charge was found guilty. So he took down his pants and mooned the judge. Not one to take a joke, the judge added 5 months for each cheek.
So seriously, laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone, or worse yet, go to jail for 10 months. Sure cure for the frown, the always funny, never blue Funny Times web page

Try not to take yourself so seriously. There's always someone worse off than you. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Death is God's way of telling you to slow down...

But a new technical break- 
through has given you a way to beat the odds, sort of. Holograms rock... and so do the dead.

Michael Jackson has made more money being dead than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes... unless you are Donald Trump. And that number will grow dramatically thanks to the sold-out dead concerts soon, several lawsuits notwithstanding.

Since Michael died on June 25, 2009, he has made more than $2 Billion... and those who know estimate that before he is extra-dead, he could top out at $60 Billion or more, including MICHAEL JACKSON LIVE DEAD in concert! Bill Gates eat your heart out.

Side Note: Oh, sorry Bill, you are THE great example-- still alive and you keep on giving back. According to Melinda Gates who manages the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $33.5 billion has already been spent  and has saved millions of lives. Even better, most of the remaining Gates' billions will be added at their deaths to save many millions more. Imagine leaving a charitable bequest that could top $100 billion. Thank you so much for all you do with your fortune.)

So how would you like to see Liberace in concert this next weekend? (Don't answer.) Well, you can, sort of. You could also see Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe and others who are just semi-dead... a mere technicality.

Dead celebrities have been revived in commercials for years, usually using archived footing. Fred Astaire danced with a Dirt Devil in 1997. Remember Michael Jackson at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards? (Truly amazing.) New technology now can bring them back even more unbelievably in three dimensions for new performances before live audiences.

One trick is fusing a computer-generated animation of the dead celebrity's head onto a body double. Are you listening Ted Williams? Those most usable deceased would be those who left lots of archived footage. Bing Crosby is the poster boy here... he pitched everything from Chesterfield cigarettes to Kraft cheese. Here's to your health, Bing. Oh, never mind.

There is even talk of a second life for Andy Warhol who died in 1987 and maybe even Lassie (though there were five Lassies... and all of them female impersonators and they all looked exactly alike.) The important thing though, is Timmy was rescued from the well.

Do I see Sara Palin and fam?. Not so fast, Sara,

One of the most impressive "live" performances can be seen at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Having been to 10 presidential libraries, this is a 'must see' for a lot of reasons. Just be wary, what you see may not be what you think you see.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Just back from a cruise...

RMS Titanic

 And no, this wasn't our ship... and Leonardo and Kate were not on board.

But, we did see the graves of 150 Titanic victims in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Seems that was the closest port to the disaster and those buried there were the initially unclaimed. Subsequently, most have been identified but mysteries remain.

The graves are laid out in the cemetery in the shape of a ship on its side and all markers bear the same date of death, April 15, 2012.

Director of the movie, James Cameron spend considerable time here trying to piece the unknown all together with the facts. You will see the grave marker of J(ack) Dawson, the character played by Leo but since he is a fictitious character in the movie, this person is not him, but that's where the name came from.

The markers showed infant graves and names and mysteries of others as the stories pieced together. It was a profound stop.

This called for another DVD showing of the movie with a little bit more knowledge and enthusiasm to work with.

Of rhe 2,224 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,500 died. Among them, some of the richest... John Jacob Astor, Henry Guggenheim, Macy's owner Isidor Straus and "Unsinkable Molly Brown" ... and some of the least rich including the three stowaways locked in the ship's brig.

MS Maasdam
Our cruise ship, the Holland-American liner Maasdam, considered 'small,' was almost as big as the Titanic and could hold about 1,700 passengers and crew in a pleasant way. We left from Boston to Bar Harbor, then Halifax, Charlottetown, Quebec City and Montreal with a few days at sea.

During the cruise, I tempted fate by reading Erik Larson's story of the sinking of the Lusitania, Dead Wake. I am pleased to report no submarines were sighted... but we did see a whale.

All in all, Nice trip.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Story of a Circus Dog and His Famous Owner

Warren Braren

Last post (scroll down one), I told you about my friend, Warren Braren. He was the whistle blower who brought down the tobacco industry in the 1960s, forcing its advertising off the broadcast media and into a new reality of the scourges of smoking. While there can be no telling, he may well have helped save a large number of lives by his actions. If you haven't already done so, read his New York Times obituary, Warren Braren, 82, Dies; Urged Ban on Tobacco Broadcast Ads . It, in itself, is a history of the taming of the beast.

Warren was many things and had many great stories about them all. He had circus family relatives close to his heart and he has tales to match. You may recognize his uncle, Lou Jacobs, the famous Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus clown from his U.S. postage stamp and his dog Knucklehead.

First, about the clown because who doesn't love a clown... ok, not you Kelly: According to John Goodall on Buckles Blog, a site for the discussion of circus history, Jacobs was amazing. "He zipped around the hippodrome on water skis; zoomed past amazed spectators in a motorized bathtub; chased down a cigar-smoking clown "baby" who was attempting to make a getaway in a souped-up baby-buggy. In 1948 after years of work, Lou Jacobs had perfected his most famous prop, a 2-by-3 foot, working minicar. He contorted his 6-foot-1-inch body to fit inside the tiny car
"Lou opened the act by entering the center ring in his loud honking car. The car would start to sputter and backfire as he pulled up to a 'gas station.'
His emergence from the car -- beginning with the appearance of an oversized clown shoe jutting into the air -- never failed to bring gasps of delight. Once he was out, Another clown insisted that the car was not parked close enough to the pump. Lou whacked him over the head with a mallet and a balloon welt rose on his head. The car would sputter and backfire as Lou tried to move it closer. He then removed the radiator cap, a snake lunged out and a geyser of water followed. Lou sat on the geyser only to have water squirting from the top of his head. When he stopped the flow with his hand, the water squirted out of his mouth. Finally, the car was pushed closer to the pump. The other clown climbed inside the pump and Lou threw in a bomb. The explosion sent up a dummy dressed like that clown and it floated down under a parachute. Lou closed the act by making a speedy exit in the midget car in an attempt to evade the pursuing clown cop. Needless to say, Lou was always a big top hit."

That's Knucklehead on the right

Now about his famous dog:
Jacobs's trademarks included a tiny hat perched precariously upon his pointy head, and his feisty Chihuahua, Knucklehead, which Mr. Jacobs trained, always, to steal the show.
And, shades of Bugs Bunny, the canine played the role of a rascally rabbit, complete with bunny ears, eluding Big Game Hunter Lou Jacobs -- only to play dead when finally shot at. After Lou moaned with remorse, Knucklehead would sit back up, the pair happily reunited. Jacobs and Knucklehead remained partners for 14 years.

This is Warren's story story about Knucklehead:

"When the circus was in Madison Square Garden, I went to visit my uncle before the show. He asked me if I would please take Knucklehead to the vet who he had called earlier. Knucklehead was 14 and seemed very ill. Lou told me that because there were two shows that day, he couldn't take his beloved dog himself. 

So I did. And while being examined, the dog collapsed and died, right on the vet's table. I just didn't know how I could relay that sad news.

I got back just at intermission and seeing me, my uncle rushed for the news.

"Knucklehead died while the doctor was examining him," I told him.

"He broke down and sobbed uncontrollably at his dressing table. Tears streaked his make-up.

"Then, the curtain to his cubicle parted and the ringmaster said, 'Five minutes Lou.'

"My uncle got control of himself, fixed his make-up and was ready for the second half of the performance. I watched from the back and he brought down the house as usual, as if being funny was his life. And it was.

"When the show concluded, he came back to his cubicle where I was waiting and began to sob again as I recounted the sad story in detail. 

Several hours later, in front of another full house, Lou made them all laugh, again and again.

As they say in the circus, the show must go on. And amidst the laughter, he funniest man in the house was also the saddest.

This is possibly the last I will write about my friend Warren... but just one more for the memory:

Another time Warren was asked to take charge of a young, full grown lion who was raised from a cub by the lion tamer. The lion was too young to go on the first swing as the circus hit the road. 

"He's as domesticated as a lion can be," he was told. "You'll enjoy his company." And Warren, always up for something fun and different, did. He often took the young lion with him in the front seat of his car as he was running errands. And many in the Sarasota area took notice. When Warren went in for a doctor's appointment, he mentioned it.

Unbelieving, the doctor decided to call his bluff. "If you really have a lion, bring him in." 

Not long after, when the doctor opened an examining room door, there was Warren and the lion sitting on the table waiting for a treat.

The surprised doctor said there would be no charge for this visit as his delighted staff looked on.

Good Bye Warren and thanks. You were a rich part of my life. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I interrupt this blog to salute an American hero...

... An American hero and proudly, I say, my friend and former business partner. I'm guessing you don't know Warren Braren but he has positively affected your life... and millions of others too. Please read my testimony below, after his obituary.

His impact was significant enough to earn a prestigious multi-column obit in the New York Times with a picture THIS BIG. This is real American history with our friend Warren as Paul Revere. Read it carefully to appreciate how difficult what we take for granted was then and how far-ranging Braren's efforts were, from taming the cigarette industry to how toys are marketed on television today. It took bravery and perseverance but that's just the kind of person he was. Here, in large part, is that New York Times obituary:

Warren Braren at a hearing on cigarette ads in 1969. Credit Associated Press
Warren Braren... "is a reformed smoker who helped trigger a congressional ban on tobacco advertising on television and radio in 1970 by blowing the whistle on broadcasters’ lax self-regulation, died on Thursday at his home in New Milford, Conn. He was 82.

Richard Kluger, whose book “Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris” won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997, said in an email that Mr. Braren “was among a number of unheralded figures who stood up to the tobacco industry at the time it was perhaps the wealthiest and certainly the deadliest practitioner of unregulated American capitalism."

Mr. Braren had managed the New York office of the National Association of Broadcasters’ Advertising Code Authority and been recently fired from the job when he accused the group’s president, Vincent T. Wasilewski, of lying to a House committee about the association’s attempts to regulate cigarette advertising.
Mr. Wasilewski had told the committee that an association watchdog group was closely monitoring cigarette commercials to make sure they complied with the industry’s self-imposed restrictions on pandering to young people. Mr. Braren, testifying later before the same committee, gave a different account.

“In the most candid terms, Congress and the public have been misled as to the real nature of the broadcast self-regulatory program on cigarette commercials,” Mr. Braren said.

He continued: “They have been told that an active and effective self-regulation program exists. In reality it is virtually nonexistent,” adding that it had not been functioning for more than a year, when “broadcast self-regulation became synonymous with trade association lobbying.”

“While efforts were made at one time by the Code Authority to play a significant role in dealing with the content of cigarette advertising,” Mr. Braren said, “these efforts have failed.”

His testimony touched off months of jockeying by tobacco industry lobbyists, whose executives proposed various compromises before finally yielding to a total ban, seeing it as inevitable....
After he left the Code Authority, he continued his criticism of the broadcasters (“Truth to them is a business truth — one of economics,” he said) as executive director of the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting, an independent watchdog group.

He later became executive director of Consumers Union, where he urged that commercials on children’s TV shows that condition them “to buy irrationally and impulsively” be banned. He was also marketing director for Times Mirror magazines and an independent media consultant.
[I was his partner in this phase of our careers.]

While working for the Code Authority, Mr. Braren said, he had been frustrated trying to enforce the broadcasters’ advertising code and was finally driven to blow the whistle by Mr. Wasilewski’s public testimony. The House committee agreed to reopen its hearings to accommodate him. He also made available a confidential analysis by the authority’s staff of all 372 radio and TV advertisements for cigarettes being broadcast in 1966.

“For the first time broadcasting is confronted with the dilemma of accepting advertising for a product which, through normal and obviously popular use, is potentially if not necessarily capable of inflicting irreparable harm upon the user’s health,” Mr. Braren wrote in the analysis.

The analysis found that “smoking is made to appear universally acceptable, attractive and desirable,” that “the adult world depicted in cigarette advertising very often is a world to which the adolescent aspires,” and that “the cowboy and the steelworker are symbols of a mature masculinity toward which he strives.”

The staff’s recommendations to rule out sports settings, hero images and even depictions of smoking in ads went nowhere, Mr. Braren said.

The broadcasters’ advertising code was originally adopted to fend off further federal regulation after a 1964 report by the surgeon general declared cigarette smoking a health hazard, barred advertising clearly appealing to buyers under 21 and said that ads “shall not represent that cigarette smoking is essential to social prominence, distinction, success or sexual attraction.”

Mr. Braren acknowledged that he had been fired shortly before he testified, prompting some defenders of the tobacco industry to dismiss him as a disgruntled former employee. In the House, the chief response to his testimony was a vote to raise the health warning on cigarettes from “hazardous” to “dangerous.”

The Senate was less forgiving of the industry. Broadcasters, who feared a total ban, suggested that cigarette advertising be phased out over several years. But a House-Senate conference committee, meeting in March 1970, agreed on a complete ban that would go into effect on Jan. 2, 1971, and Congress passed it — while prohibiting mandatory health warnings in nonbroadcast media.

In the end, tobacco executives, seeking to stave off stricter regulations, decided that ceasing broadcast commercials would do more harm to potential new competitors than to established brands and accepted the ban, stunning their critics. The industry shifted the focus of advertising to printed publications and popular sponsorships and promotions.

The congressional ban took effect at the end of the day on Jan. 1, 1971 — after the big college football bowl games, and a 90-second Marlboro commercial that concluded with four cowboys galloping into the sunset for the last time.

Now about the Warren I knew: What really made him a treasured friend is that he was sincere and persevering, a modest man, kind and incredibly interesting with strong family ties to the circus world and stories to match. And he had a wonderful spouse in Bodil, who survives him. She was his most charming, interesting, inventive wife with a dynamic career to match his. Between the two they had a household of warmth, the arts and good taste. The couple's pursuits broadly followed those interests. Their benevolence extended far. They shared wisdom and broad accomplishment. What a pleasure to know them both. What a loss to lose Warren. My sincere sympathy to Bodil.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I felt the earth move once!

Actually, I have had two very notable visits to The Willis Tower--formerly The Sears Tower--2nd tallest building in the western hemisphere. It rises 108 stories, 1,452-feet (1730 counting antennas) above Chicago's downtown. Its ultimate height was determined by what the FAA would allow so it would not affect planes landing at Ohare and Midway airports.

But first, as they say on television, some interesting background.

One World Trade Center--built in 2006 as a tribute to the two World Trade Center buildings--including antennas is 46 feet taller at 1776 to honor the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Completed more than 40 years ago, The Willis Tower is an ancient, not particularly beautiful building by comparison to today's giants. But it was for a number of years, the tallest building in the world. That was before technology and bragging rights made the race for the sky a worthy pursuit. Today it occupies last place in the tallest top 10 list.

Notably though, the race for the tallest is still to the future. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright who died in 1957 proposed to build a mile-high building rising 548 stories to house exclusive residences for more than 100,000 residents. He had the plans ready for presentation to Chicago movers and shakers but the practicality and the cost put the project on permanent hold just one year before he died. He did however show that a structure that high was possible.

Today the focus in New York where skyscrapers abound has turned to very tall and slender exclusive residence buildings using new technology with different types of unique problems to solve. More of that next post. Hint: If you are liking that thought of that killer view of Central Park but aren't yet in the multi-multi-million (or billion) dollar bracket, some nice little bungalow almost anywhere might be a better option. More about that tomorrow.

Now, about me... it's all about me:
View from the Willis Tower 103 floors above Chicago
Experience No. 1: The Willis Tower is actually built four feet shorter on one side and designed to sway as much as 6 feet in hefty winds. (It ain't called the Windy City for nothing.) I was on the 100th floor in the offices of a large attorney firm surrounded by at least a dozen 'dot every i, cross every t' legals as we were closing on the purchase of a group of magazines. (That was my business.)                                                                                                                                                       
The winds were howling. We could all feel the building sway as if we were in a boat on the sea. Six feet at 1/4th mile high made me appreciate how those ultra high divers must feel as they climb that skinny ladder to the top. It was no small thing to the senses to imagine us about to topple to our deaths. We were not much comforted to be told 'That's why we don't fill the coffee cups and water glasses too full (ha ha ha.)"

Personally, I believe the whole thing was a bargaining ploy to get us to act irrationally just to get the heck out of there.

Experience No. 2: Perhaps the weirdest phenomena I have ever experienced is when I took my family to the Tower's 103rd floor SkyDeck on a later trip. The crowded elevator ride to the top and down is without an attendant. It took just over a minute in the large express elevator, gulping to clear our ears as we rose. Our progress was marked by a silhouette of the building on a monitor. Rising, the image filled, as if one was pouring milk into it, until we were at the top. Going down, the image emptied.

But a strange thing happened on our descent. All 40 of us in the giant cage watched progress of our trip to ground level. But about half way down, the image showed us stopping and then beginning to rise to the top again. Now we all knew that the elevator NEVER stopped or even slowed. It was a straight shot down. Yet, the image told our senses differently. When we finally stopped and the doors opened, we all felt sure we were at the top again... but we weren't. There was a big laugh and sigh of relief as we all realized we were unintentionally duped.

Proof again that mind over matter is a fact.

Tomorrow: The longest commutes by elevator.

    Thursday, August 13, 2015

    As the Dalai Lama said to the hot dog vender...

    Make me one, with every- thing.

    Zen jokes just don't have the great punch line, but hey, anything is better than meditation, right?

    Actually, wrong. The more I read, the more I believe that mindfulness--or by any name you put to it--is proving its value.
    If Apple and General Mills and Google and Nike and Proctor&Gamble and HBO and Aetna and Target and Deutsche Bank and Yahoo and even lawyers and the United States Marines, for God's sake, believe the simplicity of the exercise and the enormity of the benefit makes it a "no-brainer."

    Just the thought of something that goes back to Buddha with a mysterious 'aura' is, in itself, "off-putting" to many. Meditation, or mindfulness--a richer name because it describes the benefit--is not a religion or a cult or some weird Tibetan thing that steals your mind. In fact, it gives you more of what is good in you.

    I just read 10% Happier by New York Times Bestseller author, Dan Harris and I am so impressed. The book's subtitle better defines its benefit:  How I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works -- A TRUE STORY

    It resonated because Harris, an ABC co-anchor of Nightline and the weekend editions of Good Morning America as well as numerous other assignments, tells the story of his journey... from need to discovery, disbelief, finding, experiencing and putting it all in his understandable path to a richer benefit in his life than he imagined possible. Harris as a good news person, had access to many of the people we only read about. He asks most of the questions we would want to ask. Then he recaps with thoughts, insights and frequently asked questions.

    "What I found blew my mind. Meditation, once part of the counterculture, had now fully entered the scientific mainstream. It had been subjected to thousands of studies, suggesting an almost laughably long list of health benefits, including salutary effects on the following:
    • major depression
    • drug addiction
    • binge eating
    • smoking cessation
    • stress among cancer patients
    • loneliness among senior itizens
    • ADHD
    • asthma
    • psoriasis
    • irritable bowel syndrome
    Studies also indicated that mediation reduced levels of stress hormones, boosted the immune system, made office workers more focused and improved test scores on the GRE. Apparently mindfulness did everything short of making you able to talk to animals and bend spoons with your mind.

    "In a nutshell," He says," mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now--anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever--without getting carried away by it." 

    Now here is the best part: It is easy to see for yourself with no hard wired process required. You can do it in your own home (and not tell anyone... just in case) or as part of a group. The cost, if any, is modest. You can 'put your toe in the water' and go from there if you choose.

    Best tip I can offer: Get this book for an understandable approach to the whole thing. It will answer most questions in an pleasant to read presentation. There are, of course, many other options in books, on line and in groups and classes.

    As for me, I'm sold. I just won't even try that cross-legged thing and that's just fine.

    As the Dalai Lama says, "IF YOU want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."