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Monday, January 30, 2017

Five senses does not a nickel make. If you haven't got a sense of humor, nothing tastes, smells, sounds, feels or looks as good... and neither do you.

Most of us are blessed with the ability to see, smell, hear, taste and touch. That's good but definitely not enough. If you are born without a sense of humor, you are handicapped. Really handicapped. It's a tough world out there and to go it without a smile waiting to escape, you are one doomed Scrooge.

We've all known people who have little time or desire to laugh, tell a joke, enjoy a good 'slip on the banana peel' or ever be light-hearted. It's a tough world for a somber person. Have you seen the video Barack Obama just put on line? It's here... and it is absolutely non political, I promise. He makes fun of no one but himself and worth every second, even if you voted for Trump... or especially if you voted for Trump.

Person A
Person B




A test to see if you have a sense of humor is easy. Tell me which is more likely to have a sense of humor, Person A or Person B?

If you chose Person B, you lose on a technicality. That is Shakespeare's fictional character, Falstaff, painted by Eduard Von Grutzner. Person A is Bob Hope on a bad day.

So, where has all the humor gone? When we lost Robin Williams, we lost perhaps the richest example of what a sense of humor can do for all who have a chance to observe and laugh. His death had me searching for the funny side of life... the place where Williams most liked to live. If you click on the link, it will take you to my 2015 post of what funny can look like. Here's a tease:

Robin Williams tells this story: Bono was performing a benefit in Scotland before a crowded house. He started slowly clapping his hands and told his audience, "Every time I clap my hands, an elephant dies in Africa!" A man in the back row stood up and hollered, "THEN FOR GOD'S SAKE MAN, STOP CLAPPING YOUR HANDS!"

In my publishing life, I worked with many very rich and focused people. (Note: I was not one of them.) Some were a pleasure to be with, some though were real pains in the collective ass. Those were the most obvious humorless examples as a group that I can think of. They were the ones who took making more money so seriously that they forgot (or never learned) how to do anything else, let alone find time to laugh. Being humorless though, is far from exclusive to the wealthy, though they are the ones who can try to buy happiness. (Secret tip: it doesn't work.)

A sense of humor is not manifested in a joke. It is a way of looking at the world with a richer eye for human nature's joys and foibles. Sadly though, some just don't seem to have time.

Flashback: Obama to his audience at a press corp roast, "My mother was born in Kansas, my father was born in Kenya, and I was born, of course, in Hawaii," he said — with a wink.

Live life to your principles... WITH GUSTO!  What that does for the soul... that is something that amazes me most.  

Elsie had it right: (with thanks to Fred Ebb and John Kander who created the song and Lisa Minelli who made it come alive in Cabaret.)

What good is  sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band.
Come blow a horn,
Start celebrating;
Right this way,
Your table's waiting.

No use permitting
Some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!

I used to have a girlfriend
Known as Elsie,
With whom I shared
Four sorid rooms in Chelsea.
She wasn't what you'd call
A blushing flower...
As a matter of fact
She rented by the hour.

The day she died the neighbors
Came to snicker:
Well that's what comes
From too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out
Like a Queen,
She was the happiest corpse
I'd ever seen.

I think of Elsie to this very day,
I remember how she'd turn to me and say:
What good is sitting alone
In your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

As for me,
I made my mind up back in  Chelsea,
When I go, I'm going like Elsie.

Start by admitting,
From cradle to tomb
Isn't that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum,
And I love a Cabaret.
 
: - )



Saturday, January 28, 2017

How many is 6 million?

In honor and rememberance on Holocoust Day, 2017

If you wrote one 3-letter word in type so small that it takes a good magnifying glass to read it... and you printed that word, again and again, in a book large enough to fill a coffee-table, with each word butted against the other, border to border, six-million times, the book would be 1,250 pages thick and almost illegible.

That book is titled And Every Single One was Someone. Its only word is "Jew."

Each word represents one Jew killed during the Holocaust... one human being who breathed, worked, loved and lived. It's new, available at Amazon and elsewhere.

There is a much larger book at the Holocaust memorial and museum in Washington D.C. simply titled Book of Names. It is 6 1/2 feet tall, 46 feet in circumference. In it are the documented identities of 4.3 million of the those victims. 

      What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people 
     wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”
     ― John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 

In Peoria, Illinois, there is an outdoor Holocaust memorial of 18 Star of David shaped glass columns filled with 11-million buttons that represent six-million Jews and five-million  “enemies of the state” who were murdered--political and religious leaders, Roman gypsies, Serbians, Catholics, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trade unionists, alcoholics and the handicapped. Each targeted group wore a different colored triangle to identify their “enemy” status. The columns, filled with buttons from different parts of the world, are wrapped in yellow ribbon labeled "No Hate Zone."
  
     Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous 
     are… the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions. 
     ― Primo Levi
 I wrote this three years ago and it will always be relevant. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A.

General Bulllmoose






General Bullmoose was real... in a manner of speaking. He was the creation of cartoonist, satirist Al Capp, creator of Li'l Abner. Daisy Mae, Mammy Yokum and a host of others way back in the 1950s.

And for all you who say "Huh?", you're probably a millennial or newer. But there is relevance here because General Bullmoose is rather like someone we all know who acts a lot like him... someone new to the political scene in a very big way.

Capp created Bashington T. Bullmoose as the epitome of a mercenary, cold-blooded capitalist tyrant tycoon. His bombastic motto, "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A," was taken from the former head of General Motors, then America's largest corporation. Bullmoose had a boyhood dream: to posses all the money in the world and he--or General Motors--
Kim Novak a.k.a. Bim Bovak
nearly did. Bullmoose industries seemed to own or ontrol everything. He had a milksop of a son named Weakfish and was sometimes accompanied by is electable 'secretary," Bim Bovak (think Kim Novak). Li'l Abner became embroiled in many globetrotting adventure with the ruthless, reactionary billionaire.

America was the icon of the universe... the most powerful of the superpowers, the one all others looked to when something... anything was needed. We were the export kings... the breadbasket... the shining example of what everyone else wanted, as we still are, in some of the same and many new ways. Our capitalistic bent said supply and demand was the rule... we were the supply... and everything American was in demand. So what was good for General Bullmoose was good for the USA--more in truth than many were willing to admit.

Ah... it's good to be king.

But that was then. This is today.... America remains, as always, the tallest of the tall and still greatly admired by most.  But if you have read Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat, you have an interesting history of how things have changed... and they have. That's evolution for you. Things change, we adapt.

Supply and demand have changed. Best single example: Walmart. Most products are not made in America but we buy them-- making Walmart the world's largest retailer... for now--because we find stuff there that we want/need, and it is usually competively priced, having been made--here and everywhere in the world-- and delivered to their shelves at a most competitive price point. We create our demand, the flat world supplies it.

Today, we are consumers, by 2/3 to 1/3 over what we export.

Made in America is still a great thing... but far from the only thing. Made in China, made in Japan, made in Taiwan, Germany, Portugal, etc. is so today. Picture the world as (forgive me) one big Walmart. General Bullmoose is dead (and so is Al Capp, in 1979).

Think I'm kidding? One look through your closet... your garage... your house, will tell you I'm not. But there is more:

San Francisco just rebuilt its Bay Bridge, the link between 'The City' and Oakland. And that rebuilt bridge, honest, was built in China. Two dozen giant sections-- each as big as half-a-football field-- were built there and shipped 6,500 miles to Oakland for assembly. California says it saved hundreds of millions of dollars and obviously, believes the quality will serve its citizens well.

China, reports the New York Times, is also 'building' copper mines in the Congo, high-speed rail lines in Brazil and huge apartment complexes in Saudi Arabia. China also builds your iPad, toys, jetliners and lots and lots of other products. Want to have a look at what we import and from where? Check this out. Pretty interesting.

Yes, we still make stuff. Yes we still innovate. Yes we are still really good at lots and lots. But our product mix has changed and the world is larger, smarter, flatter... and much more productive. Has to be. World population has grown from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.1 billion in 2000 and will be around 9.3 billion by 2050! Prolific little buggers, aren't we?

General Bullmoose is dead... we are not. But we sure are different.

The pendulum swings. Lately, some American companies are bringing production back to our shores. Hopefully today's General Bullmoose (guess who) will be successful to find the perfect balance. But capitalism's rules (and we are capitalist) mandate that where it's made, how good it is made and how much it costs will always be changing variables that make products more or less attractive.

It's kind of like the old, and still true, maxim: You can buy it cheap and/or you can get it fast and/or it can be of the top quality... but the paradox: you can't have all three at the same time. No country--America included --can be all. So the perfect balance must be struck. Our most fortunate position; we are blessed with an abundance of so many things to make this balance work better... more than most other countries who also must find their perfect place in this world.

Note: Wikipedia helped with the General Bullmoose description.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

As they say in the circus, The Show Must Go On... or that's what they used to say, anyhow.

*This iconic image, with the greatest respect for the elephants who have been retired.
Sadly, sadly, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (The Greatest Show on Earth) will literally "fold its tent" for the last time in May of this year. The circus has been a fixture in the lives of Americans since 1884 when five Ringling Brothers began in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

I was one of thousands of big eyed kids across America who lived close enough to the railroad tracks to greet the circus train as it unloaded for its periodic stop in Peoria, Illinois. And the circus embraced us by 'allowing' us to carry water for the elephants (or any number of mundane chores) in return for 'absolutely free' tickets to see the Big Top at any matinee performance. The tickets did require that any youngster with a free ticket must be accompanied by at least one paying adult--a fair trade-off us eager kids always felt.

The circus with its three performing units will leave some 300 performers and support staff without its most grandiose venue and adults everywhere without an opportunity to ooh and ahh with eager-eyed grandchildren. There will still be a few other circuses touring but not the grandest of them all.

Rising costs, valid animal welfare concerns and diminishing interest were all culprits in the demise of an institution. And for me personally, a loss of heart as I recall a beloved business partner who had a circus lineage. I wrote about him not too many years ago. He was a remarkable man with a story well worth retelling:

Warren Braren

The Story of a Circus Dog and His Famous Owner

About two years ago, 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. And good bye Ringling Brothers, you have brought joy and delight to very many of us. 

Good Bye clowns.
 







Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We have so many reasons to be thankful in a complex world where negativity dominates our news 24/7. Sometimes, it takes a real effort to focus what we too often take for granted.


I am so thankful for my children and grandchildren, some shown here.
 
I am thankful for the love and respect of my spouse and the love that surrounds me.

I am thankful for the enrichment of friends near and far. 

I am thankful for living where I live,

I am thankful for the freedom I enjoy.

I am thankful for the blessing of health, to whatever extent.

I am thankful for the joy that often overfills my heart.

I am thankful for a returned smile and kindness in any and every form.

I am thankful for every new year.

I am thankful for every next breath.

I am thankful to share in others' good fortune.

I am thankful to worship God as I see Him/Her.

I am thankful for my fellow man/woman and the diversity of our world that makes us all greater.

I am thankful for all the skills and talent we all bring to a common table.

I am thankful to be an important part (as we all are) in a greater world.

I am thankful for every volunteer and participant in life and all its splendor.

I am thankful we never stop learning.

I am thankful that this list could go on and on. I know it is a different list for each of us. My overwhelming hope/wish/desire is that this is the year we can put 2016 and all of its negativity behind us and build a better us rather than WE vs. THEM.

Life is hard and the evolution of social media and instant awareness is challenging. But, like my favorite story, we can better-manage making a difference to just one person--ourself.


Two men were walking on the beach, naturally littered with washed-on-the-shore starfish. 
Every few steps, one of the men would stop, pick up a starfish and throw it back ito the sea. 
After this had happened about half-dozen times, the other man chided him.

"Why are you doing that? There are thousands of starfish on the beach. 
You can't really make a difference."

First man flipped the starfish he was holding back into the ocean. 
"I can to that one."


PS: This is the 5th time in more than 500 blog posts that I have used this Starfish Story. It is a story I/we should live by. Everything starts with one.