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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Man murdered in 1958 died last year. True story... and others like it.


One cold, wet New York morning some 56 years ago, a Midtown Manhattan porter on his way to work felt a stabbing blow to his back. As he hurried away from his attacker, the wound began to throb and blood spread through the slit in his coat.

He made his way to a hospital for treatment but never filed a police report and his stabbing became part of the lore of the Italian immigrant and his family.

Antonnio Ciccarello died last fall. The medical examiner found evidence that his passing at 97 was subsequently caused by that long ago stabbing. Ruled as homicide, the city's oldest ever lingering death triggered a murder investigation which subsequently proved unresolvable.

If this was a Western movie, he would have been shot and stumbled...  twice around the world before he dropped.

Note: This scenario isn't altogether unheard of. If a medical examiner determines the cause of death can be linked to an attack, the age of the victim or time lapsed is not a factor.  Last year's death of James Brady who took a stray bullet in head during the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 was, in fact, a homicide.

Speaking of the dead, some have no earthly place to be. About 4,000 unknown and unclaimed corpses turn up in the United States every year? About half of those are murder victims. In medical examiners' evidence rooms, some forty thousand unaccounted for remains--murdered, suicides, accident victims--wait for a final material disposition.

"Unidentified corpses," says Deborah Halber, "are like obtuse, financially strapped house guests: they turn up uninvited, take up space reserved for more obliging visitors, require care and attention, and then, when you are ready for them to move on, they don't have anywhere to go."

These are the subjects of her new book The Skeleton Crew :How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases. Many of us, inspired by television's CSI, NCI, Bones and the like, want to be like Sherlock Holmes, solving cases others can't, with wit, guile... and the internet. "What say, Holmes, shall we give it a go?"

Digging around cold cases can prove to be pretty macabre at times, Halber says. There was an infamous Kentucky crime known as "The Tent Girl Case" because her body was found stuffed inside a canvas tent bag. The man who finally identified her began searching internet forums on missing girls in that area. He noted a posting by a woman searching for her lost sister near the date the body was found. A subsequent DNA match from a sample the woman supplied proved that the tent girl was her missing sister. Good work Sherlock.

Among others resolved are  "The Lady in the Dunes" and "The Jane Doe in a Red T-Shirt." As for "The Head in the Bucket" case... that's another story in itself.

Searches run the gamut from the headless to the heartless so sleuths have a wide variety to pique their interest. And it is productive. Some 30,000 murder victims have been identified after police have run into a brick wall. Still, says Halber, 99.9 percent of the cases remain unresolved. There are enough left for everyone with a Dearstalker hat and smokeless pipe mentality.

As a side note, Halber learned from talking with many forensic experts and attending often grisly autopsies, a human skeleton will fit into a 200-square-inch box. Good to know if that answer ever turns up on Jeopardy.

So if you are an armchair detective or just interested in a well told story, here's a book for you.

A very kind and well-thought-of lady died recently and her obituary read most pleasantly of the good she did for herself and others in her lifetime. Her final wishes expressed there be no funeral, no memorial service and no visitation. She did not want flowers sent but expressed only two wishes she hoped would be honored:  that "you think about me once this week and do a good deed---actually Do it." And "those who don't go to church regularly, attend church once within a month of my passing."

Not a bad tribute in itself for a gentle lady who liked people and treasured her privacy.

Reader note: My last three posts touch on Elephant graveyards, longest lived people and death. So enought of that for now. TO LIFE... and beyond. (except for this last comic strip.)

*NON SEQUITUR ©2014 Wiley Ink, Inc..  Dist. By UNIVERSAL UCLICK.  Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why more people are dying to become the oldest living person on earth.

He might look like Anthony Hopkins
"So where do you see yourself in 100 years?" Methuselah was asked in a job interview, or so the story goes.

"Oh, same old, same old." 

 Methuselah holds the record at age 969, according to the Bible. It is said that he didn't look a day over 900. He actually lived from Adam to Noah. But first people had to live longer or where would we be? With more than 7 billion people on earth, we gotta die sooner... or else.

 At this moment Jeralean Tally, born in 1899, is the world's oldest at 116. There are only four living who were born in the 1800s. Ages of record proportions are verified by the Gerontology Research Group which tracks such things.

Longest lived since the mid 1950s when verifiable records were tracked is Jeanne Calment, a chain-smoking French woman who made it to 122 years, 164 days. Take that Surgeon General. She probably liked snails too.

The average tenure for that title has slipped...  from one year to just seven months. For Gertrude Weaver who died last April, her reign was just four days. Fame is fickle. On the brighter side, with every death of the world's oldest, we all move one slot closer to the brass ring. Before her death, Weaver did acknowledge that she had completed her bucket list.

Biggest benefit by being the oldest person: No peer pressure.

Science tells us that a baby born today could reasonably live to age 150 because of all we now know. Question is, would anyone want to do that... especially if she were a Cub fan? And I do say she because it is the women who have the longevity edge, theorized because they have two X chromosomes--the second being like a back-up--and men only have one chance at it.

All of this is speculative, of course, but things such as war and famine and lack of potable water have a way of changing expectations. The Syrian civil war has dropped that country's life expectations from 79.5 years to 55.7 years.

Maybe Benjamin Button had the right idea. He died at 0 in poo poo pants after being born a shriveled-up old man. "Hey Ben, you look younger every time I see you."

The very long lived are called antediluvians.

After Methuselah's 969 came Noah who made it to 950. Adam was 930 and Seth was 912. Eve was up there in the 900s, so it is said, but she gets extra credit because she had 56 children--33 sons and 23 daughters--all of them after her 100th birthday. Talk about late in life babies... or not.

Humankind however are pikers. The world's oldest tree has lived almost five times longer than Methuselah and is still racking them up. It grows 13,000 feet up on California's White Mountains. At 4,768 years it has more rings than Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liz Taylor combined. Then feel sorry for Mormon founder Joseph Smith who had to buy 28 of them.

Will Rogers had a good plan for longevity:  "We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress."

And it is Rita Rudner who gives a hint as to why women live longer: "My grandmother was a very tough woman. She buried three husbands and two of them were just napping."

But it is George Carlin that has the best attitude: "So far, this is the oldest I've ever been."

At my last physical, the doctor said I'd live to 75. When I told him I already had, he said "See, I told you so."

Good luck on your journey but remember, it's not how long but how well. Be nice!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Elephant graveyards and lots of other interesting, totally unrelated stuff.

Believe it or not, this magnificent Elephants' Graveyard is a sand sculpture by Paul Hoggart and his wife Remy. And I thought I was good with a small plastic bucket and shovel when I made a snow cone on the beach.

This was not the couple's first attempt as you can imagine. They have traveled the world impressively creating beauty on beaches and everywhere there is sand. You must see more here.

I stumbled across something remarkably similar just last week... an old TV graveyard. That's my beauty on its side next to that snazzy mahogany model anyone would die for. My set weighed about 150 lbs and was so unbalanced that it took two strong men (one me, of course) to get it out of its 'safe place of honor' and into a Jeep 'hearse' to its final resting place.

Don't tell it but the replacement cost less, was bigger and better and weighed just 15 pounds.

Talking about change in time and technology (which I am), I recently read that 1); an unmanned commercial space craft 2); delivered 40,000 lbs of supplies to the 3); International Space Station. Upon its arrival, 4); a robotic arm operated by 5); an Italian 6); female 7); astronaut secured it and unloaded, among other vital items, 8); an espresso machine for a great shot of coffee.

Now you don't have to go back too far (like when television was just black and white and fuzzy ) before any of these things were only imagined in Popular Mechanics. The only difference is that everything evolves faster now and old time imagination is way, way out of date.

For Example: Technology now exists, say the Chinese, for a submarine to travel 6,100 miles underwater--from Shanghai to San Francisco--in an hour-and-40-minutes. The Russians have already developed a torpedo that traveled faster than 230 mph.

This is all because of a technology that creates a frictionless air 'bubble' around a vessel that allows it to 'fly' underwater, facilitating incredible speeds. Thinking outside the box that assumes engine thrust, this concept uses a special liquid that would be ejected from the nose of the vessel that would 'lubricate' it and reduce water friction to less than that of a plane flying through the air.

Impossible? Don't bet against it... or anything else that sounds too incredible. Be mindful, we are now accepting applications for those wishing to be on the first spaceship to habitate Mars. (The catch: it's a one-way trip. The brighter side: You won't have to change flights in Atlanta.)

Solar Impulse 2
A little slower than that: Two Swiss pioneers have a plane that can fly around the world totally on solar power. The single seat Solar Impulse 2 has 17,248 ultra efficient solar cells that transfer solar energy to four electrical motors that power the plane's four props. The cells also recharge four lithium polymer batteries to power the plane at night.

The Solar Impulse 2 is about the size of a mini van but has a wingspan similar to that of a Boeing 747. Its optimal flight speed is about 43 mph and can can fly as high as 37,000 feet.

All this and the Facebook too.  Despite all of our triumphs and ever evolving ways to help and harm humankind, recent studies have shown the internet may not make you smarter, but it will make you think you are. Tweet that!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

From Then to Now: A journey by a story teller who held the nation in his hands.


(A true story)

On the evening of October 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States heard a startling report of a what was initially thought to be a meteor strike in the New Jersey countryside. With sirens blaring in the background, announcers in the field described mysterious creatures from outer space, terrifying war machines and thick clouds of poison gas moving toward New York City. As the invading force approached Manhatten, some listeners sat transfixed while others panicked and ran to alert neighbors or to call the police. Some even fled their homes flooding the roadways with cars and accidents.

All of this was reported by wire services and appeared in newspapers from coast to coast. There was only one hiccup. It was actually a radio program.

The next day, the Boston Globe's banner headline read: "Radio Play Terrifies Nation."

Orson Welles broadcasting
Yep, the play was a fake newscast... a tale spun by 24-year-old Orson Welles who, later in his remarkable career, was seen by many to be the greatest movie director of all time.

At this moment though, radio was the medium that made the most noise and Welles' Mercury Theater was one of its premier programs. There were no televisions or cell phones. Social media was limited to eavesdropping on the neighbors' party-line telephone conversations.

It was estimated that the radio drama was believed by more than a million people who didn't hear the disclaimer at the beginning of the program

Word spread from person to person and there was some sense of panic... but the reports that made the news turned out to be broad exaggerations with little basis in fact. Yet, the medium proved the message valid to many and Welles showed how to use its power. This, of course, was before Brian Williams was born.

Welles proved he knew how to move and motivate a listener. He showed it again with one of the top rated movies of all time, Citizen Kane.  And 30 years after his death, his unfinished last movie, The Other Side of the Wind will finally be produced for release this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Rotten Tomatoes' list of the 250 greatest movies of all time, has Welles' Citizen Kane and his The Third Man as nos. 2 and 3, just behind The Wizard of Oz. If his new movie, 77 years after the radio broadcast, achieves as much, Welles would be the first to show such transcending breadth. 

An early radio
Today, from Star Wars to Avatar and beyond, special effects and new technology innovations have evolved and given us a pseudeo-sophistication. For those who have only seen a radio of that day in museums, radio was special in a way that anyone who hasn't had that original experience could never know. We have literally evolved our way past that emotion.

 Broadcast Hysteria by Brad Schwartz tells the story of Welles' radio play and "the art of fake news." But it's his conclusion that tells why early radio was the perfect medium for drama. Like a movie, it had all the scripting, actors, sounds and elements but the staging, costumes and visualizations powerfully play out in the mind.

Television, Schwartz says, demands visual depiction but radio captured its audience in a different way. "It's not so much that picturing the Martians in one's head makes them easier to believe, it is that people see the Martians they are ready to see."
Earlier radio broadcast
Radio was the true 'theater of the mind' and it was powerful.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Snow White wouldn't say who was her favorite... but who couldn't like Happy?


Who couldn't like Happy? Why can't we be more like him?

(Pay attention because in every Disney movie there is a lesson to be learned.)

Actually, happiness comes from the outside in. We are happy because we win the lottery or our team does well or our children get good grades or someone smiles at us or it is a nice day or we are loved. Happiness is a triggered emotion.

So why aren't we more happy more often?

Sadly, we live in a world where 24-hour news is the norm and happiness is not news. Bad weather, war, discord, murder, mayhem, car crashes, fire, politics,  Sofia Vergara's eggs and everything else that boosts TV and social network ratings... now that's news... and it is ever-present.

We now have 24/7 politics and nothing has divided us more. With our next general election more than a-year-and-a-half away, we already have seven announced-for-president candidates actively campaigning with more to come... and the closer we get to an actual election day, the more the campaigns will tell us why the other person is bad. We elect not on merit for one but out of disgust or political affiliation for the other. And when our candidates get elected their biggest focus is to seek re-election... as soon as possible. 

And we are nasty. We don't just disagree anymore, we get angry. We rant. We rave. We hate. We have lost any sense of win-win.

Just where would Snow White be today if her seven dwarfs acted like we do?

Pop Quiz: You know Happy. Bet you can't name the other six.

Well, Doc is obviously Snow White's senior adviser... the grizzled old sage that carries the lantern of truth.

Grumpy is the eternal pessimist who has been around the block and sees where danger lies. It lies everywhere when you have an Evil Queen who can turn herself into any number of bad characters. No doubt about that.

Sleepy is the group's adviser of boredom... like the canary in a coal mine. If Snow White sees Sleepy alert, something is dangerously wrong.

Bashful is Snow's comfort level gauge. If Bashful is uncomfortable, everyone should be uncomfortable for some good reason. Bashful and Sleepy work in the same office.

Sneezy isn't allergic to pollen but his nose is at once alert if there is a bad apple in the bunch.

Dopey is the comic relief that every group needs. To laugh is to live more fully.

Happy is the external trigger to Snow White's joy of belonging.  He is her chief of lightheartedness.

Hi ho, hi ho, are we missing the lesson to know? There is danger in the world (a.k.a. the Evil Queen/old hag). But there is good to be had if we know how to focus our thoughts and balance our stance, count our blessings, whistle while we work and sing a happy song. Every bumper sticker in the seven dwarfs forest reads SNOW KNOWS.

I want one of those bumper stickers.

Disclaimer: If my analogy of Snow White to the United States is taken as an endorsement for a woman President, you are right. We SHOULD also have women presidents because they are fully half of our resource. But if you think I am referring to our next President, then change the name of the analogy to Snow Jenner and I think that will satisfy every interest.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The art of the short story: A warning to long talkers and writers everywhere.

 For Sale, baby shoes, never worn.

If done well, it may only take six words to write a poignant story. This one is credited to Ernest Hemingway.

As the story goes, Hemingway was lunching with fellow writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. His pals doubted that was possible. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around, then collected all the money.

Now all the world is not lived in a day, so short could mean lots and long could be few but the point is, get to the point before you lose the opportunity. Enough is just what it takes.

Mark Twain was known for his wit, among other things and he could put together a few pretty good sentences now and again. All of his quotes are fun to read and some of his quotes about writing offer a key to his success.
  • A successful book is not made of what's in it but what's left out of it.
  • One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.
  • The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell together, as quickly as possible.
    Old lady screaming.
  • Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.
  • I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
  • It takes a heap of sense to write good nonsense
  • The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.
  • Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.
  • My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.
  • I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
  • Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  
He said one thing that so resonated in his time that it was repeated as often as it had relevance...
which is why it is still repeated today.

Larry Smith founded Smith Magazine in 2006. He started The Six Word Memoir project   in November 2006 in partnership with Twitter. It was a simple online challenge asking: “Can you tell your life story in six words?” It really caught on. Now more then 1 million Six-Word Memoirs have been shared across Smith Magazine sites and picked up by media around the world. It has proven to be an impressive teaching concept in schools and a team-building technique in the corporate world in getting to the core of conceptual thought.

Tweets and six-word submissions to the many Smith contests and challenges show humor, love, happiness, food, America, etc. succinctly and impactfully in just six words proving how simple it is to convey a feeling, idea, concept, question, emotion... It's a discipline that rewards by just getting it out there.

"Love bites. But so do I.
"We met over silverware and dysfunction."
"Only wine can save me now."
"Dispensing wisdom I do not have."
"I can always make myself laugh."
"Unplug for 24 hours and recharge."
"I'd pick you over french fries."
"Saw my mom in my reflection."
"Parenthood is a form of insanity."
"Wrote 2167 words today. Deleted 2141."

Then I read this book: How To Write Short. It's funny and smart... with lots of reasons why and examples that made it worth its cost. First lesson in the book is a keeper.

 Consider these documents:
  • The Hipppocratic oath
  • The twenty-Third Psalm
  • The Lord's Prayer
  • Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
  • The Preamble to the Constitution
  • The Gettysburg Address
  • The last paragraph of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech
If you add up the words in these documents, the sum will be fewer than a thousand, 996 by my count.

Then you have the author's fun examples to illustrate what he is saying:

"Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect." Steven Wright
"God is love, but get it in writing." Gypsy Rose Lee
"Ran out of deodorant midway, so one arm is Shower Fresh, the other is Easter Lily. This has the makings of a wild day." @phillygirl
"Santa has elves. You have Target."
"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
"Where's the beef?"
"I like Ike."
"Just got a press kit in the mail from Gallo with a wine cork marked 'starter cork.' They obviously don't know me."
"Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly."
"If Jesus had been born just 40 years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses." Lenny Bruce
"The Hokey Pokey Clinic: A place to turn yourself around."
"I wish I were an Oscar Mayer weiner."
"If you live in New York, even if you are Catholic, you're Jewish."
"The baby just saw me naked. Now she knows where she got her thighs." @AuntMarvel
"Take my wife, please" Rodney Dangerfield
"Jesus wept."

Last paraphrase mine: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the sentences I cannot change,
The courage to edit the words I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

TRUE STORY: I got a ticket once for speeding along at 1,300 mph!

The Concorde

Oh, it's true! The headline is supposed to suck you in, but it actually happened. I did go that fast and the $1200 ticket was for my airfare to fly in the Concorde from Paris to New York.

So here's an earthly comparison: In Finland recently, a man was caught going 64 in a 50 mph zone. His ticket cost $58,000. That's also a true story.

A speeding fine there is proportionate to your wealth, the theory being that if it hurts for the little guy, it should hurt proportionally for the wealthy. A few years earlier, a very rich Finn was speeding through Helsinki on a Harley. His world record fine: $103,600.

So the take is that if you are very poor, you could almost speed for free. Those poor... they get all the breaks.

But let's go back to the Concorde because it really is/was impressive. The ultra sleek supersonic jet airliner that first flew passengers in 1963 made its final landing after a sad disaster and plain old economics forced the issue.

The plane, built for British Airways and Air France was an amazing aircraft that could get you from Orly to JFK 90 minutes earlier that you left... sort of like a time machine.  My flight left Paris at noon and arrived in New York at 10:30 am same day. It was a short 3 1/2 hours in duration. Because of its premium cost for an all-first-class cabin and the lure of the exclusiveness of the day, this was a most popular transport for the 'beautiful people'... ergo, me.

Boeing's 2707
Oddly, at the time, Boeing was competing for bragging rights to be the first and best supersonic transport... and it should have won on merit alone.

The Boeing 2707 would hold more people--up to 300 vs. 99 for the Concorde--and was faster--2,000 mph (at mach 3) vs. a mere 1,300. It was designed to serve a larger, more lucrative market--from America to the Far East. The Concorde, built by an English/French consortium got there first. Boeing deemed it impractical to pursue it's sleek, moveable swept-wing concept that used fuel faster that a mobile home pulling a heavy car uphill. (Trust me... I know this.)

My Air France Concorde flight experience was a story in itself. This was my first trip to Europe. I was in Brussels on business the week before and having a day and a half left before my flight home, I took a trip to Paris. Oui, oui!

When I arrived however, my suitcase was caught in an impromptu baggage handlers' strike and all luggage was simply delivered at the curb and dropped without regard to where it came from or where it was to go. So, after spending a fruitless half-hour looking,  I gave some official-looking airline person my bag tag and said that if found, please route this bag home. I had no time to waste for my own short grand adventure.

I went back to Orly early Monday morning for my return to Brussels to catch my booked flight home. When I checked in, I saw my flight was cancelled because of ice and snow! So I, an American in Paris, was stuck, or as we say on the Continent, colle. But because I needed to get back for an important meeting (to justify my actions), desperate measures were called for.

Gosh, there was a noon flight that would allow me to do it... but it was the Concorde. And, miracle of miracles, there was just one seat left, probably next to some really exciting movie star, I was sure. So I grabbed it! (This was way before 9-11 when flying was more glamorous and restrictions were almost non existent-- but that's another great story.)

After a few hours wait in the very exclusive boarding area with plenty to see, do and eat, we boarded. My seatmate's movie star persona may well have been Lassie, but the thrill was still there for me. After we de-iced, we taxied for take-off and I could feel all the eyes in the terminal were on us... and I was so cool.

The lift-off was impressive as the Concorde has a drop-nose for this phase of the flight. Once at cruising altitude after an incredibly sharp, fast climb, passengers were told that we could watch the "Mach Meter" at the front of the cabin to monitor our subsonic speed until we reached the ocean. (No sonic booms over land.) Then the Captain announced "Ladies and Gentlemen, please be seated as we are about to accelerate to our cruising speed of mach 2.1 (about 13,000 mph). And accelerate we did, being pushed hard back in our seats with grins on our faces--except for my seatmate 'Lassie' who probably did this three times a week.

Do you know that at 58,000 feet, you can actually see the curvature of the earth from those tiny windows? As I relished my lobster and steak with the proper wine accompanying, I enjoyed the view inside and out. (The Concorde had a smallish all first-class cabin with 2x2 seating.) After dessert and coffee with an appertif, we were invited in small groups to visit the cockpit and visit with the Captain.

Then, as perfect trips often end, after arriving in JFK and walking through an almost empty baggage area with half-dozen luggage carousels idle, one was turning slowly and it carried only one bag--mine! I have no idea how or when it got there but I picked it up without breaking stride and caught my home-bound flight.


FYI: The Museum of Flight in Seattle (of course) is is a great experience for the airplane lover. It has one of the remaining Concorde aircraft an you can walk through it. It also has the SR-71 Blackbird and a walk-through replica of the International Space Station and so much more, most fully accessible.