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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."

    Tuesday, August 11, 2015

    How many bricks to a gallon?

    Illustration A

     In California, the drought is so bad that my favorite sister in San Rafael had to put another brick in her toilet.

    That makes five now. It just breaks her heart how the bricks scratch the porcelain bowl as they swirl counter clockwise into the sewer with each flush. And at today's price of bricks, going too often could break the bank, she tells me.

    Hey sis, I think you're putting them in the wrong place. See illustration A above.

    OK, serious now. With almost 3/4ths of the earth covered in water, how come some have too much and some too little?

    The Pacific Ocean from as seen from space
    One of the most amazing things I ever saw was this shot of the Pacific Ocean from space. WOW! With four more oceans left to fill the rest of the hemisphere we don't see, where will we find room for land?

    While the Earth's surface is 71% water... and more than two miles deep in the Pacific's Mariana Trench (which is 1,580 miles long and 43 miles across--take that, Grand Canyon) water is only .025% of the Earth's mass. If Earth was represented as a 12" diameter globe, the average depth of the oceans would be no more than the thickness of a piece of paper.

     So while the water on earth might seem an endless resource, there is far more earth... with a thirst that all the oceans haven't been able to resolve. Fact: There are 2.5 billion human beings of our 7 billion population-- more than one out of three of us-- who lack ready access of clean water to drink... and they just die--literally--trying to quench their thirst.

    Wanna see something that helps defines the conundrum? Actor Matt Damon and Gary White founded . Watch their 2:50 minute video. Then ask yourself: If more than 1 out of 3 of us are living day-to-day for their next drink, are we, as sated human beings, ok with that?

    And no, we cannot all move to Canada. It is important that we recognize we are the "haves" and that comes with responsibilities.

    "If we are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner."
    Marlon Brando