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Thursday, June 22, 2017

BOOTS ON THE HIGHWAY: The end of a three-decade odyseey of the mind

About 30 years ago, my wife and I decided we wanted as much good health as we could control so we enrolled in a local fitness club vowing to stick it out forever... or at least a month. That's how it--this journey to alter the future--began.

So why all the boots, you might ask. (Oh, you haven't seen all of them yet.) Well, here's how that came about.

We knew that the only part of our busy day we could control was the early morning. Once our work day began, so did the excuses. We began going to "the club" at 6 am three-days a week. It was winter and it was HELL!

But we did it, starting with a 10-lap walk around an indoor track. Every lap took us past the opening to the early morning high-velocity aerobics class. We'd shake our heads and wonder how crazy you'd have to be to do that three times a week as we worked up a sweat to finish our mile.

But after a few weeks of boring walking, we thought we'd try the class, from the back row, to see if we could stay up. But to our surprise, the group... maybe 20 or so... welcomed us as if more of a crowd would make hell seem easier. To our surprise, it did.

Now here comes the boot part: Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:45 am, my wife and I. still in a sleep-deprived state, would drag ourselves into separate cars (since we had different work destinations) and try to believe this is what we should do as we drove to "the club." 

For one two-week stretch, we would separately pass a lost boot laying near one of our intersections. It was still there, weeks past when it should have been, littering the street corner where we turned.

"Did you see the boot? It's still there."

"I know! Somebody must be walking around with one cold foot in all this snow."

Then, one early cold morning, my wife noticed, "The boot is gone! I almost miss it."

Secret: I preceded her that morning and grabbed the boot. Then that night, without her noticing, I put in on the hood of her car.

The next morning we laughed and tossed the boot near the garbage can til next pick-up day. But fate intervened and that day she saw another lost or discarded boot on the road she traveled. Of course, she stopped and grabbed it for my car hood next day. "Isn't that odd? Two boots in two days. Bet that means good luck."

A few days later I found number three and we immediately bought a lottery ticket. Then, we couldn't believe our luck when we just missed the grand prize by only five numbers. "Imagine, if the 6 would have been a 3 and the 4 was 7 and the 2 was one place to the left instead of the 8, we would be millionaires!"

We just couldn't throw those good-luck omens away... and so it began.

It's really amazing what you see on the side of the road if you're paying attention, and we always were. It was a game and when we scored, we always we always knew it meant something because we pretended it did. 

"Oops, guess this means we have to go to Paparazzi's tonight."
"That's for your birthday."
"This means we'll sell the car today."
"I see a trip in our future."

And the more serious: 

"It's a prayer for Aunt Nancy to get better."
"For the new grandchild to be healthy."
"That Jim will get that job."

It was always something... and as the the boots started piling up, we got inventive as to how they should be displayed. We even took them with us when we moved. And yes, we were the talk of the neighborhood--'those crazy people' I think they said.

Our kids and friends added to our cache with an occasional find. We have boots from many states and several foreign countries. Furthest came back in luggage from Italy. It meant we would eat great pasta for the rest of our lives!

At last count, our garage looked like this:

So when we repainted, all 126 boots (yep, really)  had to come down. The total could have been much larger but some boots on the highway were just not safely retrieved. And believe me, it hurt to have to pass up a great boot. However, we did have a few daring trophies. One was in a busy tunnel on I-5 in Seattle... it was a firefighter's boot--a real treasure--that my daughter and I scouted first then grabbed at 3 am with virtually no traffic to worry about. She drove and I grabbed... took about 5 seconds. See if you can find it in the photo at the top of the post.

Sadly, it was time to take them all down. Most had  deteriorated so it wasn't emotionally difficult to do, then take to the dump for a proper burial among the trash. The fun memories however, and the spirit of the chase will always be savored. Doesn't mean we won't still pick up a stray for old time's sake, but since we didn't win the lottery, I blame the bad boots... oh, and the fact that we never did actually buy a ticket. So it's our fault after all.

Goodbye boots. I guess I'll just keep on driving and watching for the ones that got away.

Ed Note: We were regular participants in hat high energy exercise class for almost 20 years... a class that had only four instructors in all that time and was filled with very sweaty--and warm, dear friends who knew each other by first name and any number of personal tales we shared. We attended weddings and a few funerals of those early morning maniacs--many of which we wouldn't recognize on the street with their clothes on--and shared joys and sorrow. It was one of the fullest, longest relationships that had the benefit of better health. We blame every one of them for those boots and great memories. (Special hellos to Del R. and Jim T.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Red Velvet Rope of life

I was 16 pages deep with more to go in my Google search for red velvet ropes. Most were listings to purchase or rent red velvet ropes for crowd control but a number of sites were for red velvet clubs... you know, the exclusive ones not meant for regular people. Red velvet ropes are mostly used to keep the riff-raff out and let the elite pass through.

WW with her invisible plane

But even if there are no red velvet ropes beyond nightclubs or the Oscars and the like, they exist metaphorically in almost every phase of our lives, invisible like Wonder Woman's plane (see invisible plane, left) or her lasso, but they are there.

My thought was triggered by Nelson Schwartz who has a book soon to debut on who and how we separate the elite of the world from us less special other folks. Our every day lives are filled with red velvet ropes of one kind or another. Most are so prevalent that we just accept them as a normal part of not being either elite or rich.

The medical field has many red velvet ropes. These on the inside do not sit in emergency rooms or doctors' offices til 3:30 waiting for their 2 pm appointment. Often, their doctors are on call and come to them.  Those inside the rope deliver their babies in $6,000/day hospital suites attended by cream of the crop medical care, often referred as high-end boutique health services. We sometimes deliver in the back seat of a cab. Their broken bones are not diagnosed in emergency rooms and set by the surgeon with an opening in her schedule. Treatment options? Not hardly.

In our justice system, most pretrial detainees remain in jail waiting trial because they can't afford bail at arraignment, and many must use overwhelmed court appointed council. Not surprisingly, this often means disproportionately delivered justice... something on the order of the Golden State Warriors playing a high school basketball team. It also leads sadly to the innocent being convicted for crimes they never committed. And those on the other side of the rope, being acquitted for crimes they did commit. Hey, it happens.

Who stands in long lines for rides at Disney World or doesn't swim with dolphins at Sea World? Who has little hope snagging a pair of tickets to Hamilton when it's the talk of the town? Care to jump airport lines? Too bad. Go to college at today's prices? The odds are not great for many on the wrong side of the red velvet rope.

Life's like that though and many of us are so used to our status that we accept the rope as a way of life. But to those who can't afford the opportunity, it's another way entirely.

Funny thing is, some of the privileged confess they actually experience a tinge of guilt when they glance across the red velvet rope.  There is nothing wrong about earning honest money. It's just that so many are critically behind those opportunity lines for any number of reasons. It might even be a matter of life or death for them.

Oh, there are exceptions of course. Remember the crucifixion scene in Monty Python's classic film, The Life of Brian? Those poorly born actually had the option to choose which side of the red velvet rope for them: "Crucifixion or freedom?" But given the choice, they messed it up. See what I mean?

 So a big thank you to the Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and all those with a philanthropic mentality who try to help those in great need. But the need overwhelms us all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here's a Golden Oldie from 2011, Remember tthat year? Neither do I. Briliant new post almost ready.


Other people's stuff, more or less.

Every day I try to say unique things... likeUnique New York, three times real fast... or the world's hardest tongue-twister, The sixth sheik's sheep is sick. 

Or, I had a wooden whistle and it wouldn't whistle, then I got a steel whistle and it still wouldn't whistle. So I got a tin whistle... and now I 'tin' whistle...   but enough of me.

I just read a little of Mardy Grothe's new book,  Neverisms: A Quotation Lover's Guide to Things You Should Never Do. It makes so much common sense:
  • Never order barbecue in a place that also serves quiche.
  • Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
  • Never make a speech at a country dance or a football game.
  • Never eat Chinese food in Oklahoma.
  • Never get caught in bed with a live man or a dead woman.
  • Never change diapers in mid-stream.
  • Never lose sight of the fact that old age needs so little but needs that little so much.
  • Never eat at a place called "Mom's."
  • Never give your girl and your dog the same kind of jewelry.
See? And you probably have your own. Let me know and I'll add to the list.

Then there are "Ruminations" by Aaron Karo that ring true. He says:
  • They want me to mail in my 'scrap gold. Scrap gold? Yeah, I keep it out in the garage next to the barrel of worn out diamonds.
  • I still don't understand why people have different opinions than me.
  • How did no one else have the same shoe size as Cinderella? Was she some kind of freak?
  • Why don't they just bottle tears and sell them as make-up remover?
  • All of those extreme couponers across America need to get together and propose a budget plan to the president.
  • One poor movie decision and now Netflix thinks I'm an 80-year-old woman
  • I hate it when people I hate like things that I like.

Other important things to know:
  • The incredibly beautiful 'Toilet Seat Hat' worn by Princess Beatrice, (Fergie's daughter--no, not the singer) at the royal wedding six weeks ago was sold at auction for  about $100,000 US dollars (I couldn't find the British 'pound' sign on my computer) to some lucky person. Don't worry... the money will go to charity... to help them buy toilet seats for that proverbial pot, if they have one. Now, who would pay a hundred grand, let alone be able to afford it?
  • Maybe one of these guys... The world's four richest men, Carlos Slim (a Mexican magnate), Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mukesh Ambani (India's richest) control more wealth than the world's 57 poorest countries. Take that, third world.
  • Malawi (in Southeast Africa) is considering a law against breaking wind in public. That could lead to a lot of finger pointing.
  • One out of three people under the age of 40 in the USA has at least one tattoo except in the NBA where the percentage has to be in the high 90s, which might skew the numbers. Now multiple ear-piercings are OK, but some go even further and opt for elf ears... where the tops of their ears are cut then sewn back together in a pointed shape. Neat, Tinker Bell.
  • Almost half of the adults left in Detroit are functionally illiterate, says a recent study. Gohw Tygers!
  • There are now 7 billion of us on earth... soon to grow to 10 billion by 2020... and perhaps 15.8 billion by 2100... and we'll still have room left over in Wyoming.
  • Talk about high paid athletes, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, called the "champion of all charioteers" in 146 a.d., retired at 42 with 36 million sesterces in earnings... about $15 billion in today's world, not counting Nike endorsements.  
True story: When a British schoolboy was unable to remove a vase that was stuck on his head (don't ask me how or why), his mom took him to the hospital on a city bus for a medically approved removal. Apparently, hospitals have better hammers. In an attempt to make the boy look more normal to the other passengers, she placed a school cap on top of the vase... but, according to reports, refrained from drawing a smiley face... because it might look 'too fakey.' (OK... I made the 'face' part up.)
 True fact: The average cost to treat a bullet wound: $17,000. Life is so unfair... where would a phesant get $17,000?

True statement: Good night. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Selfie Knows All (Part 2)

Ed. note: If this post looks a little familiar, it ran two years ago with the graduation of our first grandchild. We are blessed with 17 and this is proudly number 2. The message, however, remains vital forever and a day. Education, which should be a universal opportunity, always pays rich dividends.

Have a look at 863 of tomorrow's leaders. There are more than 40,000 high schools in the United States that graduated students this year. This is a Texas school shown in the 2015 selfie taken by its Valedictorian.

Joe photo-bombed by brother Luke
There... on the left, about 5th row from the back, that's the 52tnd President of the United States. She's sitting next to the guy with a beard. And on the right, 8th row, is the one who changes the world with an invention that assures even the poorest countries, potable water. Then there's the one who will help colonize Mars... and the mechanical whiz who invents the smallest, safest battery with the most power that runs for a year.

There are those who will break new grounds in ways never before imagined--those who go on to school and those who choose a different path--and all, we hope, who will enjoy happy, productive lives. High school graduates are a fairly healthy cross-section of us... and to these graduates and the rest of us, the abundance of hope rides high.

All are given life advice on how to do it right. The best seems to be simple and pure. Here are a few favorites:
  • "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the one who’ll decide where to go." - Dr. Seuss
  • "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” - JK Rowling
  • "Now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art." - Neil Gaiman
  • "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." - Eleanor Roosevelt
  • "If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito." -Bette Reese
  • "Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there. " -Will Rogers
  • "We don't stop going to school when we graduate." -Carol Burnett 
 And you in the lower half of the graduating class... you may have the greatest dream of all:

 "To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you too may one day be president of the United States." - George W. Bush

But most important, you matter:

"If you think that no one knows you are alive, try missing a couple of payments." Earl Wilson

You count big-time, graduates. It's your turn.  Please take care of us... and your children too.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Who doesn't like spaghetti? What? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!

Look closely... that is spaghetti (originally called macaroni as were all pastas in the 19th century) hanging to air-dry in a macaroni restaurant in Naples, Italy in the late 1800s. Sanitation was less than desirable and forks were unheard of for the street people who literally ate macaroni ate by the handfulls as a staple. Meat and vegetables were an expensive food, only for the wealthy. 

The pasta-eaters of Naples were a major tourist attraction of that time, written up in guide books of the city. Restaurants would put out dishes for the beggars to attract a crowd and sometimes, tourists would "buy for the house" just to see the scrambling for food and the show of eating 'Naples style.'

Pasta was to be swallowed hot from the water in a single, uninturrupted mouthful using both hands and pausing only to clear the esophagus. Red sauce, meat balls and other toppings and additions came later. So what could be wrong than to feed the hungry and delight the onlookers at the same time?

This, of course, was before restaurant scoring which is good because negative numbers might drive off the customers.

While Naples had a reputation for the finest of macaroni, the working poor and beggars got only the cheapest flour, sometimes mixed with dirt to stretch ingredients. If available at the time, beef fat was added to the water for some flavoring. Nonetheless, it still filled the bellies of the hungry who often lived to ripe young ages.

Legend has it that Marco Polo brought macaroni back from China in the 12th century but Italians find that hard to accept, thinking they were born with tomato sauce in their blood. Want proof? Try ordering chow mein lasagna next time you're in a Chinese restaurant and see what you get.

Side note to authenticate pasta expertise: All four of my grandparents immigrated through Ellis Island from Italy and my parents were first generation American born... so I guess genetics made me a pasta expert and a gourmet "pasta from scratch-to-the-table in less-than-an-hour" specialty chef.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Things That Amaze Me Most: Part VIII, Us Humans


This was my blog post on March 12, 2011--more than 6 years ago. Still blows my mind. As I told you before, there are a number of things/events/emotions that absolutely blow-my-mind because they are so introspectively amazing and give me a deeper sense of awe. So I made a list of the things that amaze me most... some big, some small, some acts, some things... but all, in my mind, amazing.  So far:

Part III: THE YOUNG: Babies, toddlers and teens
Part IV:  LAUGHTER: A peek into the soul
Part V:   NATURE: Her splendor and fury


Big, small, short, tall-- from a single cell embryo to Troy Jackson... who just died at 38. Troy was a basketball player... a 'classic' big man who could handle the ball--and look at how he could handle it. He was 6'10" tall and weighed as much as 500 lbs... or Shaq O'Neil who wears a size 23 shoe.

 Or... the World's Tallest man - Bao Xishun (7ft 7") or... the World's smallest adult, He Pingping (2ft 4").  How the heck did that all happen?

Funny thing is, we all started (with few exceptions-- in vitro fertilization, donor sperm or egg, Mary, mother of God, etc.) the same way. And if you don't know what that way is, then you'd better finally have that talk with mom and dad.

In any case, this is what the initial courtship  looks like... and yes, it is a difficult first date but well worth a few seconds to see how your mom and dad created you, exclusively.

Aww...The new baby. He/she has mom's eyes... and grandpa's sloping forehead, and cousin Ernie's long, tapered, pool-playing fingers... er, no fingers yet... but just you wait.

It is absolutely mind-blowing INCREDIBLE! From a single cell to... you and me, with all of our complexities, foibles and personalities. And the reason Baby Blue... or Pink, will look like us is that he/she has our genetic imprint... the heredity coding that says if your second toe is longer than your big toe, so will your baby's be... and if that big nose comes from grandpa's side of the family, baby's will look Italian too. The hair, the intelligence, the health, both good and bad, will all come from mom and dad and beyond.

As if that isn't enough, just imagine what we have learned to help us through life... all the technical, medical, psychological and social advances (and detractions) that build from generation to generation. Heck, our great-grandparents could have easily died in childbirth, or from appendicitis, or a bad tooth-ache, as many did! We even watched television in black and white, for God's sake. And we have, for better or worse, adapted to it all. 

Whether we are born here of there, of this race or that, big or small, male or female, we have a commonality to our heirs and one another:

If you are an Adam and Eve fan, then hello brother, hello sister.
If you go more for evolution, then shake hands with me, you big ape.
If you feel there is a place for both, I'm your man, just like him, her, it.

OK... are you ready for the moral of this story? We are all linked and dependent on one another... we just all haven't come to the point of accepting that as a human race. We still hate, show envy and prejudice. We still ignore the human rights and needs of others. We still kill and mistreat. The Golden Rule has nothing on us.

We can do better. We have to, because every moment of every day, there are more of us than ever before--5 times more people now than in 1900-- and we are all living in the same house as we always have... the one we call earth.

One last thought about that "house:" A mom tells of the conversation she had with her daughter... and the simple wisdom of a child that we often forget as we age.

Today, in the cutest voice, my 8-year-old daughter asked me to start recycling.  I chuckled and asked, “Why?”

She replied, “So you can help me save the planet.”
I chuckled again and asked, “And why do you want to save the planet?”
 “Because that’s where I keep all my stuff.”

(Thanks to Marc and Angel Hack Life website.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

IMMORTALITY LIVES! (So how is that headline for redundancy? But wait, it's true in the oddest sense.)

Henrietta Lacks

Have you read the book or seen the new movie, The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks? Rebecca Skloot wrote the true story in her 2010 best-selling novel and Oprah stars masterfully as Lacks'
Oprah as Lacks daughter, Deborah
daughter in the movie version.

Just a month ago, I blogged "The 'God' Molecule: Heaven can wait, I'm going to live forever and ever." . It was all about humankind's quest for immortality and how Silicon Valley billionaires and scientists are actually believing it is possible to live forever, in one form or another. (Really! That's what they think and they are putting their money where their mouth is to prove it.)

When I blogged about immortality, I hadn't thought of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31, who had beaten them to the punch. Lacks'  cell line, taken from her biopsied tumor, are still alive and multiplying 66 years later! It has been proven these cells can live in the lab and give science the essence of a living person to aid medical science, forever immortal.

In fact, those cells are regarded as invaluable in their use as a living cell line to test against all diseases in search of clues to discovery of cures. The hela cell line has been credited with advances in chemotherapy drugs, the polio vaccine, gene mapping, stem cell research, HPV vaccine and in-vitro fertilization to name a few successes. And their extensive use offers a continuing promise of more. Her cells are working and reproducing in virtually every medical laboratory seeking answers.

Rebecca Skloot
As author Skloot wrote and became part of the story in her investigative reporting, it is more than Lacks' immortal cells. It was a difficult story to obtain over years because of Lacks' family's objections. It was Lack's daughter Deborah who was the key to overcoming those objections. In pursuing the truth, Skloot became a true friend to the Lacks' extended family.

Lacks' cells--known world-wide as the "HeLa cell line"--continue to be offered for valid scientific research, were harvested without Lacks' knowledge or permission, a practice later deemed acceptable by the Supreme Court. It took Lacks' family 24 years before they, and the world, knew the donors' name.

Today, Lacks' ancestors receive their only compensation from a fund Skloot set up for their benefit. They have never received compensation, though money has been made in marketing the cells by others. In fact, the Lacks family at that time couldn't even get health care.

As Skloot later said, "We hear a lot about science versus religion, but what I saw over an over was Deborah's faith keeping her anchored and opening her up to learning about the science. She really believed her mother was brought back to life in these cells to take care of people, like and angel, and that was so rooted in her faith. That let her overcome a lot of her fears, like going to see the cells for the first time. " 

The enormous medical interest in the HeLa cells was seen at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Bookstore (a great bookstore with many name authors visiting) when Sklook was promoting her book in 2010. The overflowing crowd, made up greatly by the medical profession from the areas' major hospitals and medical community, was larger than any other in the bookstore's history.

It just goes to show again, how some of us continue to live in one way or another to contribute to the world, far beyond what anyone could have imagined. Some, like Henrietta Lacks, live famously for the good, often without their knowledge. Others live infamously for the hate, sorrow and ruin they left in their wake. That's life.

PS: As a writer myself, the movie is a good preview in what a reporter sometimes must do to rightly and accurately get a difficult story that needs to be told.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

If all the world had a laugh track, nothing would be funnier than elevator music... Aunt Minnie's funeral... the Cubs losing... slipping on a banana peel (wait, that's already funny)...

Nothing makes me feel more duped than to listen to the laugh track behind the Big Bang Theory or even I Love Lucy and think laughing was my idea.

On the other hand, if the whole world had a laugh track, Donald Trump would have us laying in the aisles. (I know, not funny but I... ha ha ha... just can't... ha ha ha... help myself.)

So after all these years of bitter--but hilariously funny--resentment over this fake, not even realistic laughter that starts at the same moment and stops as if someone put a giant hand over the audience's collective mouth, sometimes at the right spot, most often trying to make something unfunny, funny, I sought to understand more.

Well, I did. Here's the skinny:

Charles "Charlie" Douglass, a sound engineer with CBS Radio after World War II, is the man who invented the laugh track. So who can get too mad about a guy who helped develop shipboard radar systems for the Navy, no doubt saving many lives.

Before television--in 1948 there were only 100,000 televisions in the United States--audiences often experienced comedy listening to the radio or watching live performances as part of a studio audience. Live audiences didn't always laugh in the right places or at the correct moment. So when the show was broadcast, crowd reactions often went amiss or just weren't that funny. It was a problem for the producers and listeners/watchers alike.

Want to see what I mean? Watch just a few minutes of this Big Bang Theory episode filmed on a sound stage with no audience and see what you think. The laugh track or sound augmentation has been stripped away. Not much fun, right?

If a joke did not get the desired chuckle, Douglass added appropriate laughter. If a live audience laughed too long, he gradually muted the laughter. This was known in the industry as "sweetening" to get a "just right" response.

Comedian Milton Berle
Comedian Milton Berle, listening to a post-production editing session, felt a joke he told fall flat. After Douglas inserted a laugh, Berle said, "See? I told you it was funny."
Soon, Douglass was simulating the audience response for Bewitched, The Munsters, Beverly Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch and more. While this augmentation was controversial at the onset, it soon became standard practice. His "laff box" was kept secret at first. It actually was a box, about 2 feet tall and operated like an organ. The device was padlocked so his technique could not be known. Few in the industry ever witnessed Douglass at work. The 'laff box" actually turned up in a 2010 episode of Antiques Roadshow to be valued at $10,000.

Today, it is a digital device about the size of a laptop with a great many more laughs and other human sounds. The technique has evolved... though sometimes, not for the better because no matter how much laughter, some things are still turkeys.

But I am now a believer of the need--though not every imposed laugh track fits my taste or worse, works to milk a lame situation--laughter is worth it. It still bothers me to be instructed when to laugh. But then again, laughter is always worth it.  

Wonder where the quote "Laugh and the world laughs with you... " comes from? Read on and be in awe.

It was poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, born in 1850, who knew, even that far back, what is really important in life. Her poem "Solitude"  resonates through time and seems to have special relevance today. Here's her first few lines for you sluggards who will read no further, but do yourself a favor and read the whole poem below and take it to heart. It's worth it.


Related Poem Content Details

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Are you smarter than you think or dumber than others around you? HINT: The answer is yes.

I used to write a popular magazine column about nothing. It was just my musings of life and items that caught the general interests of my readers. One of it's best features was a section I called "Dumb Crooks." That section drew the most mail from all over the world. Seems people just love to hear and share true stories that are funny and hard to believe.

There was a story about a man who, without a mask or any disguise, robbed two banks. When quickly apprehended, he was incredulous as to how the police recognized him. He was under the belief that if he rubbed his face with lemon juice, it would make him invisible to surveillance cameras. It didn't.

Dumb crooks most often don't know they are dumb. But then, many times, neither do some of us. That condition--being not as smart as we think we are--is known scientifically as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

As Wikipedia simplifies it, "The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher that it
really is... Research also indicated high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others."

The pattern of over-estimating (or underestimating) competence was seen in diverse skills such as reading comprehension, practicing medicine, strategic game playing and driving. In comprehensive tests with undergraduate students in psychology courses at Cornell University, Dunning and Kruger examined student self-assessment of logical reasoning skills, grammatical skills, and humor. After being shown their test scores, the students were asked to estimate their own rank in class. Most noted was that students who were about to get Ds and Fs thought they had turned in B or better work.

"Across four studies," the authors found that "participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performances and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd."

Also learned: students of high ability tended to underestimate their relative competence. Participants who found tasks to be easy, erroneously presumed that the tasks also must be easy for others thus assuming others were as competent, if not more competent, than themselves.

The conclusion: The smartest don't give themselves higher marks. The less learned don't know that they are and make statements they regard as just as profound. Belief of the listeners is whatever it is by who is listening.

Best news though,  a follow-up study suggests that grossly incompetent students improved their ability to estimate their rank after minimal tutoring in the skills they had previously lacked, regardless of the improvement gained in skills.

See, education is always good.

Isn't it sad that in the United States, we chose to prioritize more dollars to punish and incarcerate criminals, build walls and prioritize the wants of our congressmen who spend to get reelected than to educate youth at every level under all circumstances for the enrichment of our future.

NOTE: There are other writings such as THE STORY OF  STUPIDITY: A History of Western  Idiocy from the Days of Greece to the Moment You Saw this Book, by James F. Welles, Ph.D. that are interesting and/or fun to read as we learn why we are often so gullible, but that's today when all of us seem to be living in a stupider world and believing in most things we see in social media and hear elsewhere.

 Special Bonus section:
Dumb Crooks from my past

     In Chicago, a man brandished a gun as he held up a store. As he pulled the magazine out of his gun to show the store manager it was loaded, the gun discharged, shooting the crook’s finger completely off. The gunman regaining his composure, fled with a television set and five bucks
      Police used the finger to get a print that helped find and convict the robber.

     Of all the great dumb crook stories, the strangest is of Yugoslavian Siamese twins Ennio and Mario Borovac. The 35-year-old brothers were joined at the stomach and chest and shared vital organs. Unfortunately, they also shared breathing space, and Mario had bad breath.
     Ennio tried and tried to tell Mario to do something about his breath, but Mario simply wouldn’t brush his teeth! Mario finally got tired of the lectures and slapped Ennio in the face. Ennio plotted his revenge. He got a gun and shot his brother. Twenty minutes later, Ennio bled to death.
     The police belatedly charged Ennio with first-degree murder–although shooting his brother was technically a suicide.

     In a bumbling rampage that covered three square miles of southwest Houston, Texas, and lasted only an hour, a crook later nicknamed “Lucky,” robbed a McDonald’s, ran to a nearby auto parts store and took a hostage, shot at a police officer, released the hostage and grabbed a second hostage with a car, forced the him to drive to a condominium complex, kicked open a door, got into a gunfight with one resident, tried to steal another car but couldn’t get past the complex’s electronic security gate, ran to a nearby Dairy Queen, tried to commandeer a meat truck, was beaten and disarmed by the truck driver, escaped by running into a residential area and began jumping fences, landed in one backyard where he was attacked by a terrier, jumped another fence and landed in a yard where he was attacked by a pair of German shepherds, managed to get away from the German shepherds but was taken into custody by police and charged with six felonies.
     Still think you’re having a bad day?

     One dumb crook is the good driver who was leading police on a high-speed chase through suburbia. Skillfully, the police stayed on his tail despite the crook’s twists and turns and daring evasive action.
     How were police able to stay with him? Good driving? Luck? Maybe a combination of both— and the fact that the escapee, like every good driver, properly used his turning signals for each and every 100-mph turn.

     An East Coast burglar loves shiny shoes. Sometimes he polishes his shoes two or three times a day. He was convicted after evidence showed he paused during a burglary long enough to shine his shoes, leaving his can of shoe polish and a personalized rag behind.
When asked by his public defender, “You almost have a fetish about your shoes don’t you?” the man answered, “Yes, I do.”
    If the shoe fits…

     A prisoner spent two days “highlighting” his body (private parts and all) with yellow marker pens in an attempt to convince his warden that he had a severe case of jaundice. He wanted a transfer to a hospital where he could escape more easily.
     He almost got away with it until one night a guard caught him coloring his face.

     A man who robbed a liquor store with a shotgun told the clerk to give him the bottle of scotch he saw on the back counter. The clerk refused because he didn’t believe the crook was 21. The robber quickly whipped out his driver’s license to prove the fact. The clerk, satisfied, put the scotch in a bag, and the robber left happy–until the police showed up at the address listed on the driver’s license and arrested him.

     A Filipino man must have learned his crime skills by watching Wyle E. Coyote. On a flight to Manila, he donned a ski mask and swimming goggles, then pulled a gun and a hand grenade announcing he was hijacking the plane. When the pilot convinced him that the plane was low on fuel, the hijacker decided to simply rob the passengers. With $15,000 in loot, he ordered the pilot to lower the plane to 6,500 feet. He strapped on a homemade parachute and told the attendant to open the door. The hijacker had trouble getting through the door with his parachute on, so the attendant helped by pushing him out. Before leaping, he had pulled the grenade’s pin and mistakenly tossed it back into the plane. Clutching the live grenade to his chest, he blissfully sailed back to earth. Well, almost back, that is.

*Reprinted with permission.