Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Name Game! Shirley!

People just keep on having babies, which is great, because we need more people all the time! And every few years, someone with a very large broom comes along and sweeps up the overused names and replaces them a couple dozen fresher selections, just like they get rid of the rotisserie chicken over at the deli of the BuySumMor after it's been there a few days.

And so, as a public service to all those planning on blessed events later this year, here are what the good people over at figure are going to wind up as the most popular new kid in town names for 2018:

GIRLS                          BOYS

1 Emma                       Liam

2 Olivia                       Noah

3 Ava                          Oliver

4 Isabella                     Logan

5 Sophia                      Mason

6 Mia                          Lucas

7 Amelia                     Elijah

8 Harper                    Ethan

9 Charlotte                 Carter

10 Mila                        James
11 Aria                       Aiden

12 Avery                    Alexander

13 Ella                         Sebastian

14 Abigail                    Jacob

15 Layla                      Michael

16 Riley                      William

17 Scarlett                   Jackson

18 Evelyn                     Jayden

19 Penelope                 Julian

20 Chloe                     Benjamin

21 Zoey                      Grayson

22 Luna                       Gabriel

23 Emily                      Daniel

24 Sofia                       Matthew

25 Elizabeth                 Jack

Some of these names were popular when your grandfather's father was running around in his Stutz-Bearcat and are on the way back up. "Emma" was the name of my high school vice principal in charge of attendance, so I'm already pretty much Emma'ed out. The last two Laylas that I asked if they were named for the song looked at me quizzically and asked,"What song??" so I guessed not. 

Image result for baby rattleAnd watch for Chloe to be in the top 10 next year, what with Chloe Kim doing so well at the Olympics.

As for the boys...I see that Noah is on an arc, landing right behind Liam, a name reserved for kids who have are a very particular set of skills, skills they will have acquired over a very long career.

A certain resident of Pennsylvania Av in Washington DC is insisting that "Donald" is the most popular name of all time, and that you have never seen a more popular name, believe him, but in fact, "Donald" checks in at #932 for 2018, having skidded down 145 places since 2017.

But don't get all insecure, POTUS.  "Oprah," a name I have expected to grow in popularity for decades now, is mired in 11,435th place.  Just ahead of "Olive Garden."

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

To protect and serve

We weren't raised like this.

Of course, my generation (Baby Boomer 1.0) was not raised with school resource officers in the schools, or even DARE officers. None of that. 

Now, schools have police on duty, and from all I hear, they do more that just mosey around the halls all day. They integrate themselves into the school community, with the desired outcome of being trusted by students and faculty alike.

So that when a student sees another student whose behavior would indicate an explosion of violence is imminent, or one who is carrying a weapon of some sort, that observant student should be able to tell the SRO, and count on action.

And, heaven forfend, should an act of violence occur at the school, the SRO can be the first responder, doing what he or she can to neutralize the situation while awaiting the arrival of more police.

We count on those things like we count on the Fire Department to respond to our homes or offices or highways in case of fire, illness or accidental injury, or like we count on getting help from the Emergency Room at the hospital, or one of dozens of other things we depend on.

And so the people in Parkland, Florida, the community around the 
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, expected action from their SRO, both when he and his department received tips that the shooter, whose name disgusts me, was a ticking bomb, and on Valentine's Day, when literal hell broke loose in that school building. 

But the video from outside that school building shows the SRO, Scot Peterson, outside, seeking cover.

Compare him to the New York firefighters who ran into the towers on September 11, 2001. 

Confronted with his cravenness, Peterson parried the suspension slapped on him by retiring right away, and he's now presumed to be at home, ironically guarded by armed police.

Image result for stoneman douglas shootingIt seems the school security fell tragically short in many ways. The video cameras that officers used that afternoon were showing them pictures twenty minutes old. Also, two other officers have been placed on a restricted assignment while an internal investigation looks into the fatal shootings.

Since the Columbine school massacre of 1999, policing experts have emphasized actively pursuing the attacker or attackers quickly, instead of taking up defensive positions outside the building.  Clearly, this did not take place at Stoneman Douglas High.

And the public has every right to expect both the local cops and the FBI NOT to drop the ball when they're given tips about some student about to flip his or her lid.

It's been my good fortune over the years to work with and know well a lot of police, and I really cannot envision any of them cowering outside during a situation like this. When they put on that badge and take up a gun, they swear to serve and protect, and this puts them in some damned harrowing situations.

How this Peterson will spend the rest of his life, hearing the gunshots and the certain keening of humanity from within that school building in his memory, I can't even imagine. I just hope that people will forget his treachery and reset their trust in the people who are sworn to do better than he did. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Down in Montgomery County, MD, the day after the heartripping massacre in the Florida high school, a young man attending Clarksburg High decided it would be a good idea to bring a loaded gun to school. 

Someone in one of this classes saw something and said something, so the student, Alwin Chen, was arrested. He told police he had a gun in his backpack and a knife in his shirt pocket. As well as a list of grievances against his fellow students, a red flag of violence about to occur if ever there was one.

A young man and part of his weaponry
So, the police went to Chen's home and found a cache of weapons including two rifles, a shotgun, a ballistic vest, inert grenades, two handguns and a replica electrical firing device and ammunition.

Chen is currently being held without bond. "Multiple people, including the crisis intervention team and the court diagnostic team that screened him before before the bond review, were all making recommendations that there be a psychiatric evaluation for dangerousness. They did in fact order that evaluation and there is no court date yet set in this matter," Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy told reporters.

At first, Chen claimed that he had the gun with him because he was going to take target practice after school, but that story fell apart like a cheap pair of pants, so he amended it to say that he felt the need to bring protection with him because he was being bullied. He even admitted that he had brought the gun to school on previous occasions.

"Mr. Chen was cooperative at all times. There were no allegations that he made any specific or even general threats to anyone. There was no statement that he showed the alleged weapon to anyone. There is no allegation that he presented a danger," Chen's defense attorney, David Felsen, said.

Once again, I have to hand it to another member of the legal profession for their steadfast determination to look at a hurricane coming down the street and calling it a pleasant spring sprinkle - or nothing at all.

Felsen told the Washington POST that Chen has received two college scholarship offers — from schools in Maryland and Florida — is on the honor roll, and “has never been in any trouble,” and what's more, that his client does not appear to suffer from mental illness.

Felsen would not discuss why Chen felt the need to backpack a piece, but suggested Chen didn’t intend to hurt anyone. “This is a young man who has desires of helping people, in terms of being a police officer or being in the military,” Felsen said.

And the lawyer said the young man's parents "are hard-working. They have a business. They work together. They’re very quiet, gentle people. They are very involved parents. They are worried for their son’s safety in the jail, as any parent would be.”

Dude, how about the other parents who have to worry about their sons and daughters being safe in school? There aren't any guns in jail, one supposes.

I think that attorney Felsen would serve society better by saying, "This is a kid who is being bullied, and we need to work that out, but he needs some reinforcement of the principle that threatening people with a gun, or shooting them with one, is not the way to react to being picked on in gym class."

But what do I know?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunday Rerun: He mighta been big league

Dillinger on a local ballclub
(he's the player top row, far right)

Today, let's talk about John Dillinger, and not for the reason you might have been thinking...

John Dillinger was a bad guy in the 1930's, when being a "bad guy" meant sticking up banks with guns and driving away really fast in a Ford V-8 car while shooting a gun. This was very tricky stuff, considering that all Fords in that era had manual transmissions.

Of course, to be a really bad guy nowadays, you need to be a global terrorist, or a banker. 

Which leads us back to Dillinger, who was also in the business of removing bank deposits and re-depositing them elsewhere. Like his pockets.

But he might have gone down another path - he might have played major league baseball, so talented was he at American's pastime!

In those days, the path to the big leagues ran through each of the little town across the nation, all of whom had a town baseball team that would play the team from the next town over on a Sunday afternoon. From those games, scouts would pick the best prospects and sign them to play in Kankakee, Ashtabula or Terre Haute, with a chance to get to the majors someday.

In 1924, 21-year-old Dillinger finished playing for his local nine and fell in with splendid companions named “Pete” Pierpoint and Edgar Singleton, who was actually JD's cousin, although twice his age, and an umpire in the baseball league. In September of that year, Singleton and Dillinger robbed a grocery store in Mooresville, Indiana.  During the robbery, Dillinger conked the grocer with an iron bolt. The man was not seriously hurt, but the two crooks were "nabbed" and sent to the Big House.  Singleton had a prior record but only received a sentence of 2-14 years, while the younger Dillinger, a stranger to the justice system theretofore, was sent up for 10-20 years.

At Pendleton State Reformatory, Dillinger worked in the shirt factory (but that isn't where the Pendleton shirt was invented) and played on the baseball team, getting known around the Indiana State Prison Baseball league as a pretty good ballplayer.

By 1929, Dillinger was eligible for parole, and the day before his hearing he played very well in a game that was watched by the governor of Indiana, Harry Leslie, who is said to have commented that JD should have been playing major league ball. Parole was denied, and Dillinger became embittered about the notion that he was kept in prison because of his baseball talent - and a certain credibility was given to this thought because, the next year, he was transferred to the largest prison in the state, Michigan City - which was similar to making the big leagues in baseball.  They even wore stripes, but not pinstripes like the Yankees.

Prison humor is a sideline I enjoy. I often call people on their cell phones to share it.

At a trial, handcuffed to a deputy
In a turn of events that was bad for baseball and bad for his own longevity, John Dillinger refused to play ball for the new prison, spending his time instead consulting with older, more experienced crooks and bandits, taking the Master's Degree in Advanced Hooliganism.

So it was that Dillinger finally obtained his release in 1933. Right away, instead of grabbing a bat and glove and getting out there on the diamond, he a) helped ten prisoners escape from Michigan City (one of them was a former baseball teammate)  b) began robbing banks all around the midwest and c) attending as many Chicago Cubs games as he could.  

 The Cubs finished 3rd in the National League that summer of '33, and were on their way to another bronze finish in '34 when they lost their #1 fan. John Dillinger, who was so angered by being kept in prison that he quit playing baseball, should have gone to the ballpark on July 22, 1934, instead of going to see a crummy Clark Gable movie called "Manhattan Melodrama," because the FBI gunned him down as he left the Biograph theater in Chicago.

It might have been nice had the Indiana prison system been as interested in Dillinger's rehabilitation and re-entry into polite society as they had been in his athletic ability. But then again, it would have been nice if he had confined his stealing to second or third base, so there you go.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Saturday Picture Show, February 24, 2018

I have watched this movie 143 times and I'm always ready for another evening of "Grease." This is my favorite scene, when Travolta comes sliding in at the dance-off. I always mean to start wearing pink socks, and I always forget to buy some.
Something else I still love from the late 70s is the music of Cheap Trick. Remember how Mike Damone sold their concert tickets in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? His pitch was, "How 'bout the tunes? I want you to want me.  The dream police Da-na-na-na-na-na. Your mama's all right, Your daddy's all right,  They just seem a little bit weird."  Yes, Cheap Trick, big fan, big fan.
I thought this was a very pretty mixture of flowers. 
I tell you, if you want a really COLD beer, rest the can in a snowdrift. I used to do this while grilling outside, and it's very chill.
I was disappointed the other night. This was supposed to be on the old movie channel the other night, but when I tuned in, they said, "'The Invisible Woman' will not be seen tonight."
The story on the news said that someone is developing a preventive medicine for peanut allergies, but after a year of exposure to escalating levels of peanut dust, the allergic person would be able to eat two peanuts without risk. I wonder if that's enough payoff.
Guilty. But at least I don't move my lips.
I will never again wear flip flops on the way to KFC or Popeyes.

Friday, February 23, 2018

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine" - Proverbs 17:22-24

Is it any surprise that people with a positive, cheery mien and attitude do better in life?  People who have time to look into such matters say that folks with positive emotions have more stability in their marriages, better social skills, and more happiness in general, compared to the Gloomy Gusses out there.

And did you know there is a way of studying "Smile intensity"? You see, there are real true happy smiles, and there are fake, mirthless smiles. Man oh man, is that ever true!

But over at Wayne State University, some researchers looked through the pictures of 230 big-league baseball players from 1952 to see a) who looked happy then and b) how things worked out for all those guys, happy or otherwise.

They categorized the players' countenances as “no smile,” “partial smile” and the real true “Duchenne smile,” or the authentic, unfaked happy face named for a 19th century French neurologist. And, these 230 people and their lives bore out the calculation that the happier smilers lived longer, happier lives.
Image result for baseball card 1952
Gus Zernial of the 1952
Philadelphia A's lived to be
88, even though he had
major problems under-
standing how the game
was played.

Here are the stats: the unsmiling ballplayers averaged lives of 72.9 years, semi-smilers hung around for 75 years on the average, and the big real happy smilers made it for around 79.9 years.   

The researchers also took into account that, maybe, some of the big-leaguers smiled because they were told to.  But anyone who has ever tried to take pictures at any family gathering can tell you that even when you ask people to smile, you don't get a true grin from a crotchety old choleric uncle.
Image result for baseball card 1952
Bobby Doerr's dour
countenance belies
the fact that he beat the
odds and lived to just
short of 100 years!

So the conclusion is, if you want to see 80, put a smile on that mug and be happy to be here! 

Unless you're Bobby Doerr.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Clear Skies

Over the years, I have seen people give up a lot of things they really love for Lent.  I once gave up my one nightly can of beer for those 40 days, and that didn't hurt. I also gave up McDonald's for Lent back in the days when I was a McRegular, and those 40 days felt like 400.

SO this year, I decided to come at the Lenten sacrifice a little differently, and took the notion to do an extra positive thing every day. I'm always looking for a way to pass along a compliment or do a surprise favor for someone. Being the tightwad that I am, I'm not about to go about passing out C-notes to bewildered passersby, but I will take your grocery cart back to the Cart Corral at the Giant, and isn't that worth a hundred bucks to you right there? And I have also learned that it's best to wait until the other person has emptied the cart before marching off with it...

And then the other day, along came a chance to do something good for myself. 

I had a person who became a Facebook friend through a mutual friend.  But this person made it their business every day to dog me with snark, commenting in the negative about things I said, and expressing views contrary to those of myself and my friends.

I rolled it off for a few years, since everyone has the right to express themselves, but then I saw that the person and his/her friends were speaking ill of me on their pages and coming out with some really, really twisted things, conflating history with their own FOX-y notions, and questioning the levels of my intelligence and integrity. I don't think that being a liberal is a dirty thing to be.
Image result for clear view pretty sky
To improve your view, clear out the unfriendly clouds, or, as someone said, "If you can't change the people around you, change the people around you."
Without ceremony or commotion, I hit the unfriend button and I feel good about it. When you think about it, if you think about your social media contacts as your neighbors in the big electronic town we inhabit, you are not going to invite people into your e-house to insult or debase you.

Many was the time that others asked me why I allowed this torrent on my page. For years, I said I did so because I believed in free speech. Now I say that respectful dissenting opinions are welcomed, but if you're coming in here without respect, I will respectfully show you the exit. 

Be nice, or be somewhere else.  A good pruning now and then gets rid of clutter.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Time for new heroes

In high school, I had a gym teacher who made a very big deal of stressing healthful living to a room full of randy young men. On rainy days, he had to take us into an empty classroom and teach us some tricks to maintain mens sana in corpore sano, such as eating well, getting plenty of sleep, brushing our teeth and showering daily, avoiding the vices of narcotics, tobacco and alcohol, and shunning the company of women of easy virtue.

Well, five or so years later, late one night or early one morning, I, along with some hellcats with whom I was roistering about, popped into the now-torn-down (and soon-to-be-a Starbucks) Bel Loc Diner for a hearty carb load. And there, perched on a stool at 2:30 in the yawning, draped around a tootsie who kept running her slinky fingers through his hair and chirping, "Oh,______, yer wonderful!" sat that teacher.

That was not the first time I found that someone for whom I had respect had feet of clay. Nor would it be the last.

For years I enjoyed the newspaper columns of Bob Greene, a Chicago guy who went for the human angle behind the glaring headlines. A typical Greene story was writing about an airline that allowed underserved children and their parents to board a jetliner at the airport, be served a dinner, and go on a pretend "flight" to somewhere without even taxiing down the runway. And he always wrote about how he made time in his schedule to take fledgling newspaper reporters in as interns and work with them on their writing.

This went on for many years, until it was revealed that for years, he had made it a practice to meet young women he was mentoring in the bar of a hotel, ply them with booze, and arrange to meet them upstairs in a room he had already taken. One of the young women came forward to his employers, and several others said "Me Too," and soon Greene, a married man with two children, was unemployed and disgraced. That was 2002, and he is still foundering. And he's 70, so we might assume that he has run pretty much permanently aground, but within sight of the success he once enjoyed. 

And then of course, last autumn brought us the terrific investigative journalism of Ronan Farrow, turning over the rock under which dwelled Harvey Weinstein, and then all sorts of men came running out, accused of improper sexual advances or worse. Ben Affleck. Dustin Hoffman. James Toback. David Blaine. Mark Halperin. Kevin Spacey. Jeffrey Tambor. Al Franken. Garrison Keillor.

That last one hit me awfully hard. I know Keillor had his professional detractors, but I enjoyed his wheezy breezy stories and songs on the Prairie Home Companion radio show and his daily radio almanac and his books and newspaper columns. I did not know that he had trouble keeping his hands to himself, that he scribbled an obscene limerick on the whiteboard at the bookstore he owned, the subject of which verse was a young employee he found attractive, or that he made lechery a theme among his female employees.

As Keillor sputtered and demanded to be heard, those who found him to be a pervy creep were spelling out stories that found their way to the hometown paper that once had lionized Keillor's every move. The headline said it all for me: "For some who lived in it, Keillor's world wasn't funny."

It's been a tough fall and winter for me to see men I once respected fall into the soup of men who have been exposed as roués and despoilers of women. I choose the side of respect and honor for all decent people, and most certainly wish to have nothing further to do with the writing or acting or opinions of the men and dozens more listed above. 

Image result for emma gonzalezBut I'm coming to realize that just like throwing out some old shoes or coffee mugs or worn yard tools, it doesn't hurt to get some new heroes every now and then. And I don't need old men as heroes when there's Emma González for all of us to exalt.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No Pepsi. Coke!

Ever drive through one of those little out-of-the-way villages and wonder just what it is that people do there?  I mean, some towns just seem run down at the heels, and some have that brand-new shoe look, and sometimes it's something that people did a long time ago that makes their burg so nice.

Bankers, as you know, have a way with money (some of them get away with a lot of it!) and back in the depths of the Great Depression in America, down in Quincy, Florida, Pat Munroe was the banker who noticed that even when people were down to their last nickel, they would spend that five cents on an ice-cold bottle of Coca-Cola.

And even though they were selling millions of bottles of nickel Cokes, they weren't taking in millions of dollars, and Coca-Cola stock was priced rather low - around $19 a share.  Munroe wanted in, and bought himself a pile of shares, and encouraged friends and customers to do the same. 
Quincy is a farm town, but because dividends from those stock purchases kept coming in even when farm income didn't, the town was prosperous.
Even when crops failed, stock payoffs didn't, over the years.
Here's the part where we get to say "if only!" just like those who turned down the chance to buy oceanfront acreage just before everybody and his brother bought a condo down there...
The townspeople, the descendants of those who bought those Coke stocks, own 7.5 million shares valued at $375 million. Adjusted for splits, the stock cost them 2 cents a share.
The stock went public, and has split 10 times. $40 worth, purchased in 1919, is now 4,608 shares worth about $220,000.
As a result, the town is well off, with a fancied-up downtown, a restored theatre and church, and the ability to raise $150,000 to restore that theatre by making just a couple of phone calls to some of the 25 "Coke millionaires" who are so happy that their parents and grandparents invested wisely way back when.
Image result for quincy floridaIt's said that when the tobacco business started to decline because people aren't smoking so much, the town saw unemployment soar to 38% for a time, and still, the locals took care of the college tuition and kiddie Christmas gifts for those out of work until they got back up.
Some locals were guilty of making bad deals. There were those who traded a few shares of stock for new Cadillacs, only to realize later they essentially paid half a million bucks for a new ride.
SunTrust Banks Inc., an Atlanta firm, took $110,000 worth of the stock in lieu of cash as payment for services rendered in taking the company public. Now, that stake comes to 48,266,496 shares. That's 2 percent of all Coke's stock, and it's valued at more than $2.4 billion.
What's even harder than finding an honest man on a golf course? Finding a Pepsi machine in Quincy, Florida.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Rerun: An acute triangle

One day, it's Liv Tyler, and then it's Paris Hilton, or Ariana Grande, and who knows who the current "It Girl" is in American pop culture? It changes almost every day, and it's always the same: a young woman, blessed with looks and sometimes a certain amount of talent, is suddenly all over the place, famous for being famous.

Imagine how it was when the mass media consisted of daily newspapers, and no "Entertainment Tonight" or E! channel or Instagram to make the unfamous famous overnight.

Evelyn Nesbit was the It Girl of the early 20th Century, a young lady from Philadelphia blessed with a gorgeous face.  She became a model in the very early days of mass advertising, and performed in Broadway musicals, where she caught the eyes of Harry K. Thaw and Stanford White.  White was a very well-known architect, a man who designed many famous buildings of the day (including the Lovely Lane Methodist Church in downtown Baltimore.) White both created beauty and appreciated beauty, and he took up with young Evelyn, becoming both her lover and her generous benefactor. They never made it to the altar, though.

Harry K. Thaw sounds more like a man of these by inheriting a ton of moolah, leader of a dissolute lifestyle, an avid drug abuser, and severely mentally deranged.  Thaw liked the ladies too, and to his voracious sexual appetite, he added the fillip of being into bondage and whips and so forth. So when he fell for Evelyn, she refused his hand in marriage for four years, since she knew that he valued chastity in the women he sought to debauch and defile.

But they later married, when his ardor overcame his puritanical weirdness.  That was in 1905.  The top of Thaw's head probably would have come off had he known that his dream girl had done the hibbidy-dibbidy with others besides White, most notably John Barrymore, the greatest actor of the time, and Drew Barrymore's grandfather, to connect this sordid tale with today.                   

Thaw's obsession with the man who had "ruined" (his term) the lovely Evelyn overtook his life, and at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906, during a performance of a musical called "Mam'zelle Champagne" (as the cast sang "I Could Love A Million Girls") Thaw approached White, brandished a pistol, and fired three shots at White, killing him instantly, while Thaw hollered  "You've ruined my wife!"

The trial that followed was that century's Trial Of The Century, and Thaw was found to be insane.  He wound up in a mental institution, until he escaped in 1915 and paid off enough people to get a new trial, at which he was adjudged no longer insane. In the 1920s, he moved to Clearbrook, Virginia, lived on a farm and  joined the local volunteer fire company, dying in 1947 of a coronary thrombosis.

He was insane, all right.  He was crazy about old Evelyn.