Friday, July 31, 2015

The Biggest Story of the Mall

All I know about the Hollister stores is that I don't shop there.  I went there once to buy a gift card for a friend considerably younger, and I remember the staff looking at me as if I were there to commit an armed robbery, or, worse, try to be cool.


I walk past their stores in the many malls I mallwalk, and I hear the music and sniff the scent they exude, and that reminds me of the fans that food vendors use at carnivals, to blow the delightful aroma of frying sausage and onions into a crowd of suddenly-hungry people.

If you're going into business to sell clothing to people for whom coolness is important, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be cool or selling things to those who are, you'd better come up with a cool hitch, and that is what Dave Eggers wrote about in a recent article in The New Yorker ("The Real Hollister," July 20, 2015 issue). 

The whole Hollister story is all made up!  To quote from the article: 

For years, employees of Hollister stores, during orientation, were given the story, and it goes something like this: John M. Hollister was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent his summers in Maine as a youth. He was an adventurous boy who loved to swim in the clear and cold waters there. He graduated from Yale in 1915 and, eschewing the cushy Manhattan life suggested for him, set sail for the Dutch East Indies, where he purchased a rubber plantation in 1917. He fell in love with a woman named Meta and bought a fifty-foot schooner. He and Meta sailed around the South Pacific, treasuring “the works of the artisans that lived there,” and eventually settled in Los Angeles, in 1919. They had a child, John, Jr., and opened a shop in Laguna Beach that sold goods from the South Pacific—furniture, jewelry, linens, and artifacts. When John, Jr., came of age and took over the business, he included surf clothing and gear. (He was an exceptional surfer himself.) His surf shop, which bore his name, grew in popularity until it became a globally recognized brand. The Hollister story is one of “passion, youth and love of the sea,” evoking “the harmony of romance, beauty, adventure.”
Eggers writes that a man named Mike Jeffries concocted this entire story to build an aura of surf 'n' sun 'n' California fun for his stores so that kids in Conway, Arkansas would flock in and shell out $45 for a hoodie to get in on the Cali vibe.

Again, nothing wrong with this.  That's how businesses position themselves in the marketplace.  

Eggers drove to Hollister, California - the real town -  to look around.  His great-great-grandfather T. S. Hawkins was one of the founders of that town.  Hawkins was a man who went west in American's 19th Century expansion, and he became prosperous enough to leave large tracts of land that partially make up what is now the town of Hollister.  And the town's only hospital was named in honor of his late granddaughter Hazel Hawkins, who died at age 9 in 1901, in part because there was no hospital to serve the newly-formed town.  

California Schemin'
Hollister today is a town of 36,000 people, 2/3 of them Latino, a typical unglamorous American small town with some business and a lot of agriculture. It's just that most American towns did not have their name pulled out of thin air to serve as the fictional backdrop for a fable about a brand name. Abercrombie & Fitch owns the chain of stores, and so zealous are they to protect their brand name that they took legal action against a woman who lives in Hollister and tried to sell vintage blue jeans under the name "Rag City Blues: Hollister".  And the student athletes at Hollister High School began to worry that the company would come after them for wearing, say, a baseball jersey with their school name on the chest. 

With these things in mind, the local business community approached Abercrombie & Fitch, only to be told, they say, that the Hollister brand would not find the right audience in Hollister.
And this is why I love big commerce, whose attitude is, "We'll take your town's name and sell sweatshirts with it, but not in your town."

Eggers also wrote that he spent an entire day in town and saw not ONE item of "Hollister So Cal" clothing being worn. Well, I guess not! You can't get it there.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Worst Person

Walter "Chiclet-Teeth" Palmer
See?  This is why we need Keith Olbermann on the air every single day, because in a world filled with billions and billions of people, we need to have someone pointed out as The Worst Person In The World.

I doubt that anyone would argue that today's WPITW is Walter Palmer, of Bloomington, Minnesota.  He is a dentist by trade, but I won't dignify his dastardly life by calling him "Dr," out of respect to those who have earned that title and should be respected.

At his office
Palmer is the scoundrel who killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. Cecil lived in a park and was a beloved national treasure to Zimbabweans, so Palmer went there and participated in a scheme to lure the lion out of the park (where killing him would be illegal) with food so that he could shoot him with an arrow and then track him for a day before shooting him to death. And skinning and beheading him, leaving Cecil's six cubs fatherless and condemned to death as other male lions seek to exert dominance in the savanna.

And you wonder why Americans are so beloved all across the globe.

In 2008, this jackanapes went bear hunting here in America, since it's not fair to have all his atrocities happen overseas. He pleaded guilty in federal court in Wisconsin to misleading a federal agent in connection with the hunting of a black bear. He had killed a bear 40 miles outside of the zone where he held a permit to hunt bear, then he and his cronies took the carcass back to where it would have been legal to shoot it, and lied about it.

He could have been given five years in prison, but this being the American system of justice, Palmer was sentenced to one year’s probation and fined $3,000.

At his home
Now he goes to Africa, murders a beloved creature and says he thought everything was copacetic about it. People in his town of Eden Prairie (how ironic) are leaving stuffed animals at the door of his suddenly-closed dental clinic and at his home. His Yelp! reviews are scathing and venomous, as they should be.

I don't approve of people sending death threats to this cutthroat goon.  

But I think it would be appropriate if, after a trial is held and he is found guilty, he be taken on a helicopter flight over the Everglades and given a chance to observe nature in the wild, as ecosystems interact and species find ways to exist.

And then he should be thrown into the swamp.  See ya around, nature boy.  This is all for research, you see. As a dentist, he would see first hand how many teeth an alligator has.

And also second hand.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A good way to get kilt

I've been hanging onto this story since May, and since it's almost August, I thought I should pass it along. I would have done it before, but the days lately are just full of stories of people giving to the Girl Scouts and then retracting the gift, and the proper pronunciation of baseball players' names, and so on.

But it's time for this country to get it together, and we can start right down in Johnston County, North Carolina, where a 16-year-old student was kept out of his high school prom for a while because he...

a) set fire to the school building
b) poured an unpleasant substance over the Prom King and Queen
c) owed a library fine of 73 cents
d) wore a kilt

If you chose "d," then congratulate yourself for reading the newspaper so thoroughly, because David Leix and his date were shown the gate when Leix came to the door in the traditional Scottish male attire.

Leix says he's been wearing this kilt to formal events since he was a wee laddie, and has never had a problem before.  Kilts are worn by police and fire fraternal organizations the world over and by men of Scottish heritage.  And I checked as many sources as I could, and the answer for "injuries caused to person 'B' when person 'A' is wearing a kilt" comes back a big 0.  Nada.  Zero. The square root of sweet-who-cares?

The prom that the two teens paid money for and had to miss the first two hours of was called a "Praise Prom," thrown for children who are being homeschooled.

The teenager said volunteers at the door told him the “dress” was too short. Leix said calling a kilt a dress is offensive.

(Sounds like he's learned a lot in homeschool, which I am glad I didn't go to, because there are no Czechoslovakian delicatessens or pool rooms on the way home when you're already home, and those were two places I haunted in my angelic adolescence.)

So there you have it, the kids show up for the big night and some opprobrious mommy turned them away until a friend of his ran out and bought him a pair of black pants, two hours later.

Traci Lanphere is the organizer of the Praise Prom, and she says she has "never had a young man question this dress code. It is my understanding that David felt we didn't allow him into the Praise Prom because of his kilt. I was very sad to hear this because it is not true, as I want every student who attends the Praise Prom to feel loved and respected. His delayed admittance into the Praise Prom did not have to do with his kilt, it had to do with him not wearing the dress pants we required."

I guess I'll have to remain in the column of those who wonder what the difference could possibly be who wears what, as long as people are decently covered up. There are parts of this country where people are just not willing to allow people to do as they please, but I did not think that North Carolina was one of those areas.

I also hope that this yout ("Did you say 'yout'?  What's a yout?") will someday avoid growing up to be the sort of adult who tells teenagers they didn't keep them out of the dance because because they wore a kilt, but, rather, because they didn't wear pants. It's saying the same thing in different words while denying you're doing so. It's like saying that a steaming pile of asparagus is cherry pie because it isn't broccoli.

It's a sign of adults with insufficient faith in themselves and the kids in their community. Kilts are legal, so let's stop skirting the issue.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

1, 2, 3!

Good things seem to come along "in pairs of three," as I once heard someone say.  Take little lists, chock full of advice.

Homer Simpson once shared with us this list of three sentences that will get you out of any situation at work:

  1. Great idea, Boss!
  2. Cover for me!
  3. It was like that when I got here!

Simpson & Simpson
And, never to be outdone, his son offered three handy phrases for anyone caught getting down with something or up to something:

  1. I didn't do it.
  2. Nobody saw me do it.
  3. You can't prove anything.
And for those who aspire to be CEOs and COOs and CMFs of airline companies, graciously quadrupling airfares between DC and NYC when there has been a tragic multifatal AMTRAK collision that shut down the trains, here you go. Michael E. Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed wrote a book entitled The Three Rules: How Exceptional Companies Think, and from them we learn how to make a bundle in the marketplace:

1. Better before cheaper. In other words, don’t compete on price.

2. Revenue before cost. Profits need to come from price and volume, not cost-cutting.

3. There are no other rules.

Oh, but there are.  Three more hints, and then I'm off to do whatever today, as I wish you a happy one too!  Jean Shepherd, radio raconteur best known today for writing "A Christmas Story," said that with just three sentences, you can carry on a conversation with anyone about anything, especially someone who is going on and on about something. So, take these with you today, and be ready:

  1. "Beats me!"
  2. "That'll be the day!"
  3. "I'll be damned!"

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hard copy - because it's hard to read

A lot of people went to the movie "The Jerk" believing it to be a biography of Mel Gibson, but at least they got to see Steve Martin running 'round hollering, "The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!

I mean, really.
There was a time that people wanted, liked, and needed the phone book from the phone company, that compendium of people's names and addresses and phone numbers printed in a volume the size of your Aunt Tilly's sofa cushion that you sat on while wondering who would ever buy, let alone eat, that crazy hard candy seen only in old people's houses.

But we're talking about phone books here, not hard candy. The phone companies still print them, and most people toss them in the recycling bin about 15 seconds after bringing them in from the doorstep where some pixie dropped them off before scampering off as only a pixie can.

People with those cell phones have all their friends' numbers in their Contacts, and when they need the name of a new pizzeria or drywall contractor, they just Google the thing and off they go.

But there's a commotion brewing in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.  I heard about this on the Canadian radio news show "Here and Now," which I listen to on NPR late at night after the Orioles have rendered me sad and sobbing.

The new 2015 phone book came out, and the book itself is smaller, and the font they used to print it is smaller, and guess which segment of the population uses phone books?  Those in the upper age demographic.

What else do we know about people in that age bracket, which is to say, my age bracket?

They can't see little tiny print!

Beverly Joseph, of River Ryan, pictured here, doesn't like the new little book and she says the print size of the listings is too teeny.

"You can't read it. You need a magnifying glass," she said. "People that don't have eye problems are going to have eye problems. They cut the book down to a child size."

Someone up there contacted the phone company, and their spokesperson, Fiona Story, said they have been changing the format of their phone books all across Our Neighbor To The North for several years now.

"These changes are permanent,* however, the directory does continue to evolve with the introduction of new covers and increasingly localized content and neighbourhood information," wrote Story. "Many of these changes were made based on user feedback and research, aligned with our efforts to ensure we’re meeting the needs of print directory users while making sure we’re being efficient in our use of recycled paper resources."

She said all this in an email that she probably sent in "normal" size font.  She went on to say that most of the phone listing business up there is now digital, and "Print, however, remains a part of our product offering as it continues to address specific needs of both users and businesses alike."

Wow.  They even employ that Business Speak up in Canada!

My free suggestion to the Canadian phone company?  Free magnifying glasses with every phone book!

* - "These changes are permanent" means "We saved a nickel and we're not about to go back to a comfortable font, so tough noogies."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday rerun: Huh! Look who tied the knot!

I always enjoyed reading the wedding announcements in the local Baltimore County paper, the Jeffersonian, when I was a lad. First, they had a small column listing all the wedding licenses issued by the county in the past week, but all you got there was something like: SMITH, John A, 21, Towson - - - JONES, Mary E, 19, TowsonOf course it was always pointed out when some guy of 57 was marrying some 19-year-old, but we always attributed those things to spring fever, even in the middle of October. Then the big day would come and the happy couple would be toasted in the pages of the "Jeff" with a picture not much bigger than a baseball card, and below, the following: John A. Smith of Towson and Mary E. Jones were wed on November 20 at the First Church of All That's Good and Holy. Following a honeymoon trip to Trenton, New Jersey, the newlyweds are living in the Lutherville area. Boom. That was it. Nowadays, some papers give it this treatment:
White-winged doves took to the sky on Saturday to celebrate the unification in love and holy matrimony of John "Daddy Love" Smith and his long-time flame, Mary "Puddin' Pie" Jones. Mr Smith, an overnight lubricant operator for Mother Truckers, Inc, a Laurel-based transportation and delivery service, was attired in his full dress uniform of Doc Martin saddle-toe oxfords, blue Dickies trousers with matching chambray shirt, and his lucky Ravens cap. For the occasion, he chose a neck tattoo of Wile E. Coyote. A vintage Montgomery-Ward gown in shimmery pearl, with chiffon bodice and six-foot train, was the highlight of the trousseau of the new bride, who is self-employed as a regional phlebotomist. Her shoes were quite old, her peace-sign bandanna was new, she borrowed twenty dollars from her uncle, and for something blue, she reached into her 'special' drawer for a cerulean bustier purchased in Tijuana on a pre-honeymoon visit. The ceremony was performed by Officiant Moonchild Harmony, a representative of a local faith.Music for the wedding was provided by Leonard Skinner, a one-man Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band. The new couple send big love to family and friends back home.

I say, the less we know...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, July 25, 2015

At the recent All-Star break, each big league ballclub announced their "Franchise Four" - the four players who best represented the best days of each team.  It would be very difficult to argue against any of these choices for the local nine.
Regular travelers to Asian have seen this before; it marks the border between China and Mongolia.
All cats love to rub their backs against something, even a hot stove!  I guess that's because they can't operate a backscratcher.
When last we saw Colin Farrell's character in "True Detective," he was menacingly telling Vince Vaughn that the two of them needed to have a conversation.  Even though burnout cop Ray Velcoro gives about half a foot in height to towering Frank Semyon, I think I can predict how it will turn out.  A lot of people are knocking the show this year, but it's popular at our house.
This is the time of year when we love to see polar bears beating the heat like this.
To salute the 1986 movie "Hoosiers," the Indiana Pacers will be wearing and selling these throwback uniforms this year from time to time, just because.
Restaurants, grocers, drugstores, cafeterias and plants, get ready! I'm about to make big bucks in the lucrative homemade donut business.  Why, I can make 14 dozen of them an hour on this electric machine!
A great 60's album cover from what we fans of Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours call "The Great Band," because this group, with Jack Greene, Cal Smith, Leon Rhodes, and Buddy Charleton was the finest ensemble the old man ever put good that they put out an instrumental album to show it!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Why I want to go to Cuba

If you watch baseball games, or listen on the radio, you surely know that there a lot of ballplayers from Cuba and other Latino nations.  They are good at playing baseball, because the climate is favorable for playing ball all year long, and because getting to the American Major Leagues means a whole new prosperous life for the player and his family.  Many a man who now earns the price of a new baseball, glove and bat for about 1.4 seconds of time on the field grew up playing barehanded, using sticks for bats and rocks for baseballs.   It's the dream, and we welcome those with the talent and drive to live it.

But the names have changed over the years, especially for Cuban émigrés and, for that matter, for Cubans still in Cuba.  In my long-ago childhood, the names Pedro Ramos, Manuel "Potato" Cueto, and Camilo Pascual were heard on the radio as often as those of Fidel Castro and Fulgencio Batista.  Those first names were standard in Cuba back in the day.

And sometime during the 1970s and 1980s, a new name trend began in "the island nation 90 miles from Florida," as Cuba is always called in the news.  It was called "Generation Y," a nod to Generation X, the people born here after the post-WWII baby boom, the people born between 1961 and 1981 who flock to Quentin Tarantino movies on their way to, and home from, Starbucks, the chain that convinced people that coffee was more.

The new name trend in Cuban Generation Y saw many of the children born there with newly-invented names inspired by Cold War Russian first names such as Yevgeny, Yuri or Yulia. One of them is a blogger and dissident writer named Yoani Sanchez; she chose "Generation Y" as the title of her blog.   

Part of the reason away from traditional saint's names was that post-Revolution Cuba was officially atheist.  Los Angeles Dodgers fans have occasionally considered nominating Cuban defector outfielder Yasiel Puig for sainthood, but that is strictly unofficial.

However, just like the weather, wait a while, and things will change.  Cuba and the US are re-establishing diplomatic relations, travel from here to there is within reach, and soon, I'm sure, the lovely Havana nights will be illuminated by golden McArches and red Red Robins.  When you take that trip to Cuba, they say the trend is that you'll meet more people with traditional Spanish names such as Juan and Juanita and Maria and Alejandro, and fewer who answer to Yoleissi, Yuniesky, Yadinnis, Yilka, Yiliannes, Yonersi, Yusleibis, Yolady, Yudeisi or Yamilka.  There were many kids christened Yotuel, a blend of the Spanish pronouns "yo," ''tu" and "el," ("I," ''you" and "he" in English.)

I really want to go to Cuba to see all these cool 50's cars, held together by ingenuity and homemade parts
Fashions, fads and fancies come and go, says Carlos Paz Perez, a professor at Miami Dade College and an expert in Cuban linguistics. "The Y thing was like a fever, a boom. It was (about) doing something different from the monotony of the Pedros and the Rauls," he said. "But now that has passed and there is a tendency to recover traditional names."

Which will be good for those who remember the dialogues they had to perform with another student in Spanish I.
Raúl: ¡Hola! Me llamo Raúl. ¿Cómo te llamas?
Sofía: Hola, Raúl. Me llamo Sofía. ¿Cómo se escribe Raúl?
Raúl: Se escribe R-A-Ú-L. ¿Qué tal?
Sofía: Bien. ¿Y tú?
Raúl: Fenomenal, gracias.
Sofía: ¡Qué fantástico! Adiós, Raúl.
Raúl: ¡Hasta luego!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Do we even read the signs or just pretend they don't apply to us?

Opinions are like toothbrushes: everybody should have at least one.

But most of us have our opinions on the big topics (politics, religion, football/baseball teams) and we enjoy friendly discourse and conversation about these notions with our well-informed friends.  It's how we learn, how we share.

I am for eating beef, reading, music, and having a lot of laughs, and I am against drunk drivers, people shooting or stabbing each other, and poor grammar, spelling, and diction.

That leaves everything else in the world as a decision to be made when the topic comes up, but I recently came across a topic on which I just can't be sure how I feel.

The water at the center of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. regularly sees people hopping in for a cooldown on these days when the temperature approaches 100° and sidewalks and paved streets seem to be melting. The National Park Service doesn't even mind if you sit on the edge of the water and chill your dogs (by which I mean your feet!  No pets are allowed there at all.)

But they don't want you to make like Michael Phelps and turn the place into a swimming or wading pool.  Park Service spokesman Bill Line says it's illegal to walk or wade in the water or to splash others in the Rainbow Pool.

"It is also considered to be highly disrespectful to World War II veterans, sadly most of whom are no longer with us," Line said. "There should be a high level of respect and decorum displayed at all times at the Memorial."

It really shouldn't come to this, but sometimes Park Service officers have to make people come out of the water.  Line points out to a local TV station in DC that the Memorial "is not and never has been designed to be a swimming pool. It is to commemorate and honor the supreme sacrifice that 16 million people made during World War II."

I've never been there, but I saw the above photo the other day and reposted it, to see how people felt about the situation.  And I got a lot of interesting and well-thought-out comments about it. I would guess  - although I didn't tally up the "votes" - that most of those who commented on my page felt that wading and splashing in the memorial pool was disrespectful to the memory of the veterans, but there were those who said that the veterans would want people to cool their feet on these days when it's hotter than the hinges on Hades out there.  There were good points being made on either side of the matter, and even some of those who were for people getting in there were veterans themselves, although none of them served in World War II.

And that's when my Dad served, and I have a feeling that if he were still here, he would a) be 102 years of age and b) the side of him that felt that rules were meant to be followed would overshadow the side of him who would want to cool his heels in the waters of a fountain honoring him and his fellow sailors, soldiers and airmen.

But you'd have to ask him.  His opinion is as good as anyone else's.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Your Cheatin' Heart

The way the internet got all in a dither the other day, you would have thought that Donald Trump's hair fell off or something. But this was even worse!

Country music "sweethearts" Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton are splitting up after four years of marriage.

"This is not the future we envisioned," they told Us Weekly in a statement. "And it is with heavy hearts that we move forward separately. We are real people, with real lives, with real families, friends and colleagues. Therefore, we kindly ask for privacy and compassion concerning this very personal matter."

They lived in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, the town that gave the name to the song "Tishomingo Blues," which is the theme song for Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion" radio show.

Since they make what passes for country music these days, and since what passes for country music is very popular, these two are popular, and their imminent divorce seems to be striking at the hearts of many people, people who figured that if there was one good and true love in all the world, it was Blake and Miranda.

Well, friends, here's the good news: Blake and Miranda, together in seeming love and harmony or battling through an acrimonious divorce, have nothing to do with your love, so relax and keep yours together the best way you can.

I can offer this advice as a long-time happily married person. Everything I ever read about these two always concerned their fervent declarations of mutual love and respect, and he was quoted often about how he gave his wife permission to look through his phone and his computer any doggone time she cared to look through his electrons for who knows what?

People in a real life committed honest faithful relationship don't even think about that sort of thing. I never have told Peggy she is free to examine my stuff. Of course not. Just to say so is to hint that there just might be something to hide, which I have not.  A thorough trip through my texts, emails and saved photographs would yield nothing but reminders about physical therapy appointments, jokes about Donald Trump's hair, and pictures of Norm Macdonald telling jokes about a moth.

Hint to those about to make a decision on a partner:  A person who more than once says, "I got nothin' to hide" has something to hide.  Just ask Kaynette Gern Shelton, the first "Mrs Blake Shelton," whom he divorced shortly after taking up with Miranda.

But, just to show how things are down on his farm, Rolling Stone magazine reports that Blake has been very upset in the last few weeks and told her she had to get her animals off his Oklahoma ranch by Monday.

Get those cows and horses outta here!

Next wife, please?
Miranda Lambert Blake Shelton divorce
And here I thought these two crazy kids were going all the way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Being There

I have thought a lot about the act of suicide - not for myself, for crying out loud; I'm not about to want to leave the party early - but I think about how desperate a person must be to take his or her own life, and, in some cases, to take others along.

I was just a barefoot boy with cheek of tan when the man named Anthony, our laundry deliveryman, committed suicide after murdering his wife.  He used to give me extra shirt cardboards that had pictures to color on them.

And our school librarian jumped off the Bay Bridge, apparently the result of a marriage gone bad.

No need to go into detail, but I've seen plenty of people affected by suicide and I still don't understand it.  It must be the last possible resort for someone who feels utterly and miserably trapped by circumstances.

Such was the case late last week when a man living in the next community over from here killed his two sons and then himself. His girlfriend said he was so despondent over having lost his job the week before that he saw no hope for the future.  And he decided not to leave his sons here on earth to carve out their own futures, and took them with him.

There was a time when psychological and psychiatric services were just not available for the average family, and people with problems from which they couldn't escape had no recourse.  Call your local health department for a referral, call or visit a hospital, google "counseling services" along with your zip code and you will get linked to help.

And while we mourn the sad loss of three people, let's remember that the person who feels they are in the deepest throes of depression is not always ready to reach out for help. It just might take one or more of their friends and family reaching out, saying that they're here, putting a literal or figurative hand on the person's shoulder, and saying, "Let's work this thing out together, you and me, ok?"

Movies and TV shows glorify the all-American cowboy, John McClane in the eighty-seven Die Hard movies, standing up to countless terrors and terrorists.  It would be great if we all could be McClane, dropping witty bons mot and terrorists at the same time.

But some people are facing terror more awful than Hans Gruber. For some people, the bridge back to the life they knew, the life they want again, is out, and sometimes we have to be that bridge.

I can't tell you what went on in that house around the corner, or in that father's shattered mind.  For all I know, lots of people tried to help him, and nothing worked.

But that just means that when we have a friend standing on the edge, we can try and try and try to bring them back across that bridge. Sometimes just knowing someone is there for them is all they need.

Monday, July 20, 2015

What to choose?

They call it the "Prisoner's dilemma."

Professor Dylan Selterman teaches Psychology at the University of Maryland, and on his final exam he adds a little bonus question at the end:

     "Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade," the prompt read. "But there's a small catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points."
So, if everyone in the class is of the mind to be generous and share, everyone will get two points.  But the prof has been springing this deal on his students since 2008, and only once - one time! - has a class had enough people choose the two points so that everyone who scored a 79% got boosted to 81%, and so forth.

Every other time, the students got greedy.  This all reminds us of the old MASH tv episode where they're about out of food and find that Frank Burns has some chocolate bars squirreled away in his jacket and tries to get away with gobbling instead of sharing. There are extra points to be had on this exam for free; no extra work or knowledge is required to get them.

The wise student, the generously-inclined, would vote for the 2 freebies and count on his classmates to do the same, providing a boost for all.  But we now live in a world where everything is seen as "You versus me and I will do anything to win, no matter how small the victory."

Dr Selterman says, "In reality, if too many people overuse a common resource then everyone in the group suffers, not just the selfish ones. This is what I want students to learn from the exercise. Their actions affect others, and vice versa."

And he adds, "It's too big a temptation for some students to take the greater points option, and it seems to me like just a piece of human nature."

"Social dilemmas are like drama."  Rafikian also learned that.
Of course, this being modern times, a student tweeted about this and soon everyone was all a-twitter about the prof and his unusual "mind game."  U of MD student Shahin Rafikian liked the idea of racking up free bonus points, but, "I was first upset because I was thinking, 'I know there's going to be some selfish kids in the class,' but I am still hoping that everyone was choosing two points," said Rafikian, who went with the two-point option.

He learned more than most people from this class, didn't he? Either we're all going to row this boat of life together or it's going to tip over.  That's a point worth two points.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday rerun: Hurray for Captain Spaulding!

Being a man without kids, I am often in the position of amused observer at how people raise their own broods, with varying levels of success.  I am prepared to state that the most successful parents are the ones who work at it.  Children rarely go to the library to check out books on etiquette, responsibility, manners, and how best to handle life's day-to-day activities.  They need to be taught, they want to be taught, and they look to good ol' Mom and Dad for the teaching.

I am thinking of two families I have recently observed. (Suddenly I feel like this is taking the turn of the journal of an African explorer, who takes to the wild to observe a family of jaguars in their rituals and child-rearing techniques.)  But here is my non-clinical report:

Family one was a mom and dad in their early 30s with two kids, a male about 8 and a girl about 10.  I saw them on the sidewalks of Hampden as they left the 7-11 and proceeded down The Avenue Which Is A Street (36th, in fact.)  The parents were embroiled in a discussion over the mores of a friend of theirs, a female who was currently enjoying the attentions and affections of two males, and was unable to choose between the two gentlemen.  In graphic detail, in front of the children, the mother laid it out for the dad: their friend enjoyed doing the horizontal hoo-hah with both of her swains, but only one of them had a "@!%$ing job" at the present time. while the other was a layabout, a neer-do-well, quite possibly a rakehell.  (My translation).  At some point, the mother turned to the children trailing behind and bellowed, "Eat your dinner!" and the kids, chastened, renewed their foraging through their bags of Cheese Puffs and guzzling their grape sodas.

The other family, I saw the other night at the hospital.  Peggy and I went to get some dinner in the cafeteria while Mom had an MRI.  A young (30s) female doctor, in scrubs, was dining with her husband and their three youngsters, girls about 7 and 5 and a boy about 3.  I got the impression (and I rarely do impressions anymore) that the dad brought the kids over for some mommy time while she worked the night shift.  The parents made sure to get decent food for the, with some veggies on the side and water to drink.  Of course, the kids wanted soda and ice cream and made these preferences known, setting off a round of a game that's been played between parents and children since the first caveman dragged home a wooly mammoth and grilled it up for the brood:  "Come just this much and then you can have dessert."

Times three.

And while negotiations raged on with the girls, the boy gave up on eating altogether in favor of darting around with a toy helicopter.  And the girls would not touch their corn.  And the father went off to round up the little helicopter pilot and the mother nibbled at her food while cajoling the girls to "just try the corn!"

And then her dinner hour was about over and she hurriedly finished her chicken sandwich while the dad shepherded the kids into one eddying mass for a minute. 

And I pictured both families, times 365.

So where did they get "Whitey" for a nickname?
They say that environment and parental raising are not the only factors that determine our suitability for later life, pointing out that the Bulger family of Massachusetts had a son who became a college president and another who became a mobster, currently on trial to explain nineteen murders.

I guess we'll have to see.  I remarked to the weary doctor that the time would come in a few years that she and her husband would be sitting home on a Saturday night while all three kids were on dates, wondering why it was so quiet! 

And she said she would miss what's going on right now.  That's the difference, right there, as I see it!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, June 18, 2015

This is what's left when a flood recedes but it's just about 32º and ice forms as the waters recede!
Next Friday the 24th will mark the final edition of Keith Olbermann's show on ESPN2.  I understand that he's not to everyone's taste, given the preponderant number of people who stop me on the street to say they can't stand him. He's smart and he's a walking encyclopedia of sports and a whole lot of other things, so naturally ESPN had to dump him.  There's an election coming next year and someone will hire him!  I'll let you know...
Near the shoreline of Ft Bragg, California, there was a trash dump with many many colorful bottles. The water overtook the dump and now the beach is known as Sea Glass Beach.  This really must look special with the sun beating down on it.
It took 9 1/2 years for a spaceship the size of a piano to travel from Earth to Pluto and send back vacation snapshots.  Since the return trip from a holiday getaway always seems much shorter, look for the spaceship to be back by Labor Day.
This was taken on January 1, 2007 in Perth, Australia.  As Perth welcomed in the New Year, the Comet McNaught made a special guest appearance between the fireworks and the lightning from a passing thunderstorm.

This foamy, surfy scene was off the coast of Portugal. Imagine being up in that lighthouse!  Me neither.
When you take a picture, perspective matters.  Or, is this the largest dog in the world?
From the name of this week's classic album cover, it sounds more like it was recorded in the infirmary of a boarding school where a lot of kids have hacking coughs and colds.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bleach blechh

If you text, or receive texts, you've seen emojis...the teeny tiny itty bitty cartoon images of kids, cats, houses, cars, slices of pizza...all the things we need to illustrate our colorful lives.  Because even a picture the size of a pea says 1,000 words, we insert them in texts to represent 999 words.

But, just like in the day when I as a kid wondered how come the "flesh" Crayola crayon looked just like my skin and nothing like Jackie Robinson's, someone finally wised up, and added some new faces.  
New emojis represent us all

And before you know it, two things happened. Predictably, the tired chorus of people who wish it were still 1934 whinged about the "need to be politically correct," because they, what?  Hate to be correct about something?  Prefer that huge portions of the world, the country, their state and county, feel left out?

And then, someone doing a job that didn't even exist in 1934 made a big faux pas.   

Someone in the social media department at Clorox bleach decided to get some free publicity by tweeting "New emojis are alright but where's the bleach," which sounded to everyone in the world, except the doof who wrote it, like they were asking that all the new emojis of color become all Donny and Marie in tone again.

It's hard to imagine that in America USA in the year 2015 someone employed in a rather important position by a major company (although, who uses bleach anymore? And why pay extra for the name brand, like the Buy 'N' Save label bleach won't sanitize and de-scent the garbage cans?) could be so obtuse. But, as always, corporate spokespeople rushed in to fill the void:  

"We apologize to the many people who thought our tweet about the new emojis was insensitive," Molly Steinkrauss, a spokeswoman for Clorox, told CNN.
"We did not mean for this to be taken as a specific reference to the diversity emojis—but we should have been more aware of the news around this. The tweet was meant to be light-hearted but it fell flat."

How interesting that people in the bleach business have such tunnel vision that they think the texters of America, indeed the globe, need a bleach-bottle emoji, because how many times have you been writing to someone and the topic turned to bleach?

That many.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What the Heck

In all the commotion that has followed the release of the new, old, Harper Lee novel "Go Set a Watchman," maybe it would be best to remember one thing: that it is a novel, a work of fiction.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch
Everyone is all worked up because in this book, written before Ms Lee's landmark (and until this week, only) novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," the hero of Mockingbird, southern lawyer Atticus Finch, is portrayed as a racist who once attended a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan and has rather dim views of the African-Americans among the Americans.  

First of all, remember that "Watchman" is actually the early version of "Mockingbird," submitted for publication in 1957.  Ms Lee was asked by her editor to tone down the Atticus character and make him more of the moral touchstone that he became in "Mockingbird" after two years of rewrites.

So, no reason to be dismayed. It would be a good idea to read "Watchman," if you've a mind to, and then reread "Mockingbird" to see the progress of the man's mind.  Remember, the late 1950s were not a period of great enlightenment as far as race relations went, which was not very far at all, to be frank about it.  Reading them in reverse order of publication would give you the happy outcome that novel readers love.

I read a lot of biographies, and I am constantly dismayed at the moral failures of otherwise great people.  To read that Bobby Darin cheated on my beloved Sandra Dee is something I will grapple with forever.

Back to Atticus, it's sort of interesting that the name itself is Latin, and means "Man of Attica." That's the region in Greece where Athens is found, and Greece is all over the news these days.  Every newspaper, every newscast, Greece is the word.

But some people are now upset that they named male children for the Atticus character. In the New York Times review of "Watchman," Michiko Kakutani says Finch was “the perfect man … In real life, people named their children after Atticus. People went to law school and became lawyers because of Atticus.”

Hollywood actors Casey Affleck and Jennifer Love Hewitt named their sons Atticus, and, of course, there is the most famous non-Finch Atticus, Atticus Shaffer, the great actor who brings to life the role of Brick Heck on "The Middle."  
How comes this kid dresses like I do?  Because I dress like a kid!

So those who find the newly-discovered Atticus Finch a less-than-perfect namesake can now just say they named their kid for Brick! And it could have been worse - you could have named the boy "Finch"!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The age-old story

Sometimes, your day in the sun is short, but it's always good to remember that feeling of being special for just a little while.

It's like the guy or gal who invented the hamburger. What an idea! Take some ground beef, fry it up in a patty with some onions and slap it on a roll with some catsup and mustard and pickles, and you really have yourself a fine meal, right? And that person basked in the glory for as long as it took until someone else came along and said, "Hey!  Look at what I did!  I put cheese on that thang!"

Cora Purcell is about to turn 104 years old tomorrow, and last Saturday night she had the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Orioles' game against the Nationals.  Mrs Purcell has been a fan for a long time. She saw Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run in Washington in 1927, a record that lasted for a long time.  

But she has lasted even longer, and did very well at her task, tossing a curve ball to O's second baseman Jonathan Schoop and getting a nice hand from the crowd.  

You'd have to figure that no one any older was going to come along and top that, and then the very next day in Seattle, Evelyn Jones left the retirement home where she lives to go to the Mariners game and throw out the first pitch.

Ms Jones is 108 years of age.

For those of you planning to take the mound after becoming a centenarian, Ms Jones credits her long life to exercise, eating beef and vegetables, and drinking alcohol just once a week. And the good genes play a part too... her mother lived to 89 and her father lived to be 95.

But, alcohol just once a week?  Come on, now!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"I'm 18, I get confused every day" - Alice Cooper

Someday, I hope to understand how certain people think, and how, when they go to think about something, they forget what they were like when they were 18.

Now, I love people of all ages, and 18 is a pretty good age.  It was for me. I finished high school (owing in no small part to a reluctance among the faculty to see me looming in their classroom doors again that fall) and I had a union job at the A&P that paid pretty sweet and I had friends to run around and guzzle beer meditate on the meaning of life with and I was a volunteer firefighter and that summer alone, I had three different women ask me to get married.

The fact that they were my mother, my sister and my grandmother takes nothing away from what a happy dude I was at 18.

But I was not responsible enough to get behind the wheel of a big rig semi and roar across the nation's highways, no Siree Bob.  

However, right now, some people in Congress (I won't mention what party they're with, but you can guess) are proposing to change the regulations that so far have kept you and me alive to allow people as young as 18 to roll 18 wheels under 16 tons.

Right now, you have to be 21 to drive a truckload of turnips to the Buy Bye Bye warehouse, but these senators want to allow an unlimited amount of contiguous states that join together in "compacts" to drop the age limit to 18 for interstate trips.  

That means if Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania sign such a deal, that goofy kid down the street could be pushing a big Mack from Portsmouth to Williamsport, from Hershey to Harrisonburg, or from St Mary's PA to St Mary's County, MD.  And probably without stopping or even slowing down very much!

The Senate plan would allow them to start careers careering up and down the roads, and then after four years, the Secretary of Transportation would be required to see whether teens have "an equivalent level of safety" in comparison with older truckers.

In 2013, drivers aged 18-20 were in 66 percent more fatal traffic accidents than drivers 21 and over.  

You want to see an 18-year old driving this?  Like
the kid down the street who races to pick up
his girlfriend at 127 miles an hour?
But there's a shortage of truck drivers, because everyone these days is breaking their neck to enter the burgeoning fields of computer repair, forensic investigation at gooey crime scenes, and running for US president.  So, instead of trying to get mature individuals to stop watching "Judge Mablean" all afternoon and start driving truckloads of velour track suits to WalMarts so people could dress right for the casinos, the trucking industry is choosing to get the Senate to allow callow youths to drive 82 hours a week behind the wheel of a giant tractor-trailer. 

The hope here is that Congress will hear from the public and let teenagers drive their parents crazy in every state, instead of driving trucks along the interstate.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Boom boom

Unlike my friend from around the corner, A. Rory Borealis, who loves to see bright lights in the sky, I'm all meh about fireworks. Something about the loud kaboom! seems to enthrall a lot of people.  Big noise, big fun.  And these are often people who also enjoy a good mime performance, so go figure.

And the lights lighting up the sky with phosphorescent glory can never be one tenth as glorious as a sunrise or sunset, in my opinion.

Jason Pierre-Paul
So that makes it harder for me to figure why someone who has been gifted with the physique and the coordination to play football in the National Football League would jeopardize that career by playing with fireworks in their back yards, but Jason Pierre-Paul, the star player for the New York Giants, has lost a finger after a fireworks accident over Fourth of July weekend.

Pierre-Paul is currently unsigned, and the Giants had told him they'd pay him $60 million over a long term contract to keep playing for them.

Guess what they're saying now? “Given the timing of the event and the apparent judgment displayed, the Giants do not believe a long-term offer is in the best interest of those involved at this point.”

Also,  Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback C.J. Wilson lost two fingers in a fireworks accident that same weekend, per his father's account.  Curtis Wilson, Sr.,  told Charlotte TV station WBTV that the fireworks did not pop out of the canister when they exploded.

"We are aware that C.J. was involved in an accident that occurred over the July 4th holiday," the Buccaneers said in a statement. "It is our understanding that the injury occurred to one of his hands, and our primary concern at this moment is for his long-term health. We have been in contact with C.J. and are continuing to monitor the situation."

Wilson is in the final season of a two-year deal that carries a nonguaranteed base salary of $585,000 for the 2015 season.

Michael Strahan, former Giant defensive end like Pierre-Paul, said on "Good Morning America" that players know the risks in doing these things, but said "They're young; they don't think it will ever happen to them."

So, someone needs to figure out a way to tell them that it does. They call it "football," but you do need your hands to play it right.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Rerun: Musical Appreciation

In his later years,
Congreve was known as
"Billy Idol"
William Congreve (1670- 1729), an English playwright and poet who was also known as 'Will.I.Am' Congreve," once sat around philosophising and pointed out that “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

Well now.  Oak trees are rather tough to bend, and only volcanic fire can really soften rocks, and it's best not to discuss breasts in a nice family-style blog such as this.  I can tell you that more than half the time, people who misquote Congreve do so by saying "savage BEAST," because we can't think of breasts being savage. 

Savage.  The word comes to us from Middle English via the Anglo-French word salvage, which came from the Latin wordsilvaticus, meaning "of the woods."  Another word that came from that root is "sylvan," meaning an area with a lot of woods, and from that we called the large state with a lot of trees founded by William Penn "Penn's Sylvania," or Pennsylvania. 

Discuss:  Was Congreve telling us that the best breasts come from Pennsylvania? How could he have known, given the clothing styles of the early 1700s, and the fact that he never traveled to colonial America?

Once again, I took the long way around to the topic of the day, which is that science now knows that there are people who just do not enjoy music, or don't start their toes a-tapping when that fiddler starts sawing away on "Orange Blossom Special" or "Alla Turca."  They sit there at a wedding conception, toying with their green beans almondine or twice-baked potato when the band breaks out with "Double Shot Of My Baby's Love" or the DJ spins "Baby Got Back."  Or you're watching MTV a quarter of a century ago when Billy Idol's video for "Cradle of Love" comes on and no one even looks up from the newspaper to watch Molly Shattuck's sister play the part of Devon.

Yes, she did.

If you don't enjoy music, you're missing out on a lot, and you have to listen to nutty reactionary talk radio instead of music, and this is why you come home from work all bound up.  Slip in a little Mötley Crüe into your CD player and see if you don't feel better!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, July 11, 2015

They call them "bon fires," 'bon' being French for good, so they are fires meant not to destroy, but to illuminate and give warmth and background for evening fun.  By the way, firefighters never call them bonfires because that word can easily be confused for "barn fire," which is a whole 'nother thing altogether.
Just another church festival at a church in England, long ago, except that the "Quarry Men" skiffle group included a guitarist named John Lennon, and at this garden party, young Lennon met young Paul McCartney, and the whole world was changed for the better.
 It was always fun to go back to work after lunch to deal with coworkers and their "diet indiscretions."
 This is why we must be careful with our ice cream snacks!
You don't see deuces so much these days, but they are still around.
It's always worth noting that the more a person knows, the smarter he or she seems to be.  Isn't that something?
This week's classic album cover art features Rod Stewart from the days when he was really good. This 1972 record had "Angel," "True Blue," "You Wear It Well" and "Mama You Been On My Mind."  Several years later, Stewart inexplicably went disco, and there you have it.
We grew up learning that Abe Lincoln learned to read by the fireplace in his humble home.  The modern-day equivalent would be this homeless child in the Phillipines, doing his homework by the light of a McDonald's.  May he have a life like Abe's.