Sesame Street-ish

Watching children grow up with Sesame Street on PBS left me with some good memories of songs and skits with various Muppets and such.

One lingering memory is of the “Three of these things belong together” song that helped kids select which one of four items “…doesn’t belong” with the others.

So, you might have three types of shoes and a cat.  The cat is the one that doesn’t fit, in case you were stumped.

Following are some groups of four headlines.  Three of the four are from the Huffington Post “Weird News” page.  One is made up.  See if you can guess

1.     Man in Destin, Florida eats entire pizza on death bed.

2.     Tortoise takes in baby bunny on cold night; begins beautiful friendship.

3.     Witches plan to cast mass spell on Donald Trump.

4.     Floridian tells police his dog shot his girlfriend.

 

1.     Video of giraffe about to give birth removed for nudity and sexual content.

2.     Accused drunk driver does cartwheels during sobriety test.

3.     Mother trips over crack on sidewalk and breaks back.

4.     Musician accused of getting on-stage enema during cancer benefit.

 

1.     Woman without arms sets world record for lighting candles with her feet.

2.     Iceland’s president wishes he could ban pineapple as a pizza topping.

3.     “Relieved” family writes scathing obituary about “evil” father.

4.     Hillary Clinton Pez dispensers included in Oscar after-party gift bag.

 

1.     Kid asks police for help with homework; gets wrong answer.

2.     Zen Buddhist children’s book says only, “It is what it is.”

3.     Man vows to eat Jason Segal’s picture every day until actor eats his.

4.     Two women try to sneak 13 pounds of horse genitals into U.S.

 

1.     Florida man steals seven billion dollars because Jesus wants him to be wealthy.

2.     Blowtorch barber is hottest thing in Gaza.

3.     Organizers of protest come to blows over spelling on signs.

4.     Man hammers 38 nails with his skull in pursuit of world record.

 

So, which of those headlines didn’t belong, because they weren’t real?  In

order, the fake headlines were numbers 1, 3, 4, 2, and 3.  I’ll bet your life feels pretty normal now…

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Words People Use

I like language.  I think it’s interesting how we can communicate what we want just by using the right words in just the right order.  Sometimes I feel like I do a pretty good job of communicating, but many not right words sometimes have not been unused badly too much.

From time to time words people use bother me because they are imprecise – sometimes, intentionally.

Speaking accurately about sensitive topics can be seen as politically incorrect, so more palatable and less accurate words are used. 

After September 11th, 2001, we started (or joined, already in progress) the “War on Terror.”  Right from the start, that struck me as incorrect.  Terror is a strategy, like embargoes, guerilla warfare, cyber-attacks, etc.

Whether it is a white supremacist group or a radical Islamic group, terror is the means by which they fight for their cause.  Terror isn’t the enemy.  The group using terror is the enemy.

Being against radical Islam isn’t the same as being against Islam, any more than being against white supremacists is the same as being against whites.  Being at war against terror means nothing, and yet, we are. 

Likewise, “illegal” and “undocumented” have very different levels of political correctness when speaking of uninvited guests in our country, but mean the same thing.   

Recently the terms “fake news” and “alternate facts” have become popular.  But what do they mean?

Fake news can be news that is false, and presented as true for nefarious reasons.  However, sometimes that term is assigned to news stories that contain information that is debatable, or just plain wrong, but not intentionally false.              

Alternate facts is a term that stems from a White House spokesperson’s comments.  It is ludicrous, of course, because a fact is a fact.  The capital of Wisconsin is Madison, for example.  There is no alternative fact to refute that.

However, if you look at the term differently, it is anything but ludicrous.  For example, if I told you that the car I’m selling is a 1999 blue Buick, those are facts.  The alternate set of facts might be that it has no gas tank, and hasn’t run since 2001.   A better term would have been “additional facts,” but either way, the facts someone chooses to share, or not share, can help them further their agenda.

I guess we all have to pay attention to the things we hear, and process them through the filter of who is saying them, and what they’re trying to achieve.  Surely, there are plenty of people of all political stripes ready to mislead us if they can. 

And Nigerian princes too.

                                                                                                 

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Yay.

(Written the week after the Superbowl)

Try to imagine being caught up in a crowd of tens of thousands of cheering people who have gathered to celebrate something about which you care not one bit.

That, my friends, happened to me last week.  I was in Boston for work, and had a lunch meeting scheduled just off the Boston Commons on Tuesday.  The afternoon before, my client let me know that his building was on the parade route for the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victory celebration.  Yay.

Now, to be clear, I don’t hate the Patriots, though I know some people do.  I just don’t much care one way or the other.  To say I was in the minority would be an understatement.

For starters, with heavy traffic and many streets blocked off for the parade, I ended up parking a half-mile further away than expected.  I wandered outside into the crowds and a heavy, wet, slushy snow.

Getting to my destination was a challenge.  To cross the street near the parking ramp I needed to go down into a subway station and back up the other side.  Unfortunately, as I got closer, the parade route took a 90 degree turn, and I had to cross again.

This time, I had to actually take the subway itself one stop, and then walk back six blocks, feeling like a spawning salmon moving upstream through the expectant crowd.  Well, at least what I imagine a salmon feels like.

I said “excuse me” at least a thousand times, and even got poked in the head by a tine of a semi-broken umbrella.  There were so many people that each block took 15 minutes.

But, only about two hours later, I shoved my way through the crowd to my client’s office.  He isn’t a Patriots fan either, since he grew up in Pittsburgh, so we snuck out the back way.

We didn’t have to wait to be seated for lunch, and had a very nice meeting.  Afterwards, I walked back to the parking garage with the street nearly empty, since the crowd had moved to city hall to see a presentation.  All the posters and various paper litter had been turned into paper pulp by the snow – now turned to rain.

Once I got back in the car I turned up the heat, having been cold and wet for several hours.  I almost fainted when I had to pay $42 for 3 hours of parking.  But, all in all, things worked out okay. 

Yay. 

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Emotion and Reason

We humans are lucky.  We have great capacity for logic and rational thought, and we also have as much, or more capacity for deep feelings.

 Sometimes our rational abilities supersede our emotions, and vice-versa.  Optimally, we would all like to have the right mix of logic and compassion, or love and practicality, or worry and reason.  But, we often don’t get the blend of wisdom and emotion quite right.

So, we make mistakes in love, in parenting, in finances, and in our jobs.  We care too much or too little, or we over or under-think things.  We give-in to children’s tears when we should stay the course in discipline, or we are inflexible when some compassion is in order.

The people we elect to run things in our various governmental levels are put in the position of doing what makes practical sense while respecting the caring emotions of us citizens.  They need to fulfill their obligation to be prudent and diligent while honoring our values.

When Governor Thompson, and later President Clinton reformed welfare in Wisconsin and then nationwide, it seemed hard-hearted to many, and yet one result was many people learning skills that made them productive and self-sufficient.  In that way the changes were pragmatic and compassionate.

The trick is that it’s often difficult to do what is practical and rational when our feelings are engaged disproportionately.   And, likewise, sometimes the logical actions taken have unanticipated consequences that impact people.

It could be said that there is no such thing as too much kindness.  Some people give away everything they have to help others, and hope for the best for themselves.  They are the Mother Theresa’s of the world.

You could also say that there’s no such thing as too much rationality.  The world runs by the laws of nature and physics, after all, and while economics isn’t truly a science, there are causes and effects that can be predicted.

What I’d like to see less of is the assertion that people trying to solve practical problems are evil and unfeeling, and that people who react with worry and sympathy aren’t serious, intelligent people. 

If we start with the assumption that both positions come from a genuine concern to do what’s best, the inherent disagreements are more likely to be discussed in a constructive way, and less likely to result in punches in the nose.

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Goodbye Bob

(Written on the occasion of the unexpected death of a classmate)

I was starting third grade at a new school.  My family had moved to a new old house, and the neighborhood kids all went to a different school than the one I was attending.  So, I got to be the new kid at home and at school.

Before long, a few kids from school who lived fairly close to our new home became my best friends.  One of those kids was Bobby McGuire. 

Bobby lived only a few blocks away.  He wasn’t an only child, but his step-sister was older and not around.  He had a drawer full of sweaters and matching socks. 

His home was not like mine in some ways that are a big deal to a little kid.  For one thing, they had a fridge in the basement stocked with little bottles of Coke.  And, when Sprite was introduced, they had that too.  He could have it whenever he wanted.  At our house pop was a treat, and was always a store brand.

His family had a color TV, which was also a big deal in the early 60s.  And, he had a Columbia Record Club membership, giving him access to all the records he wanted.  We’d sit in their family room and watch color TV, or drink Coke while listening to the new Beach Boys or Four Seasons record. 

 We did outside kid stuff too, like throwing and kicking the football around – once breaking a window.  We played baseball, and ran around playing war or spy or whatever.

We spent a lot of time together, along with time spent with our other classmates.

I think it was in junior high school that his family moved to a nice house on the lake.  Thanks to my bike, we continued to spend some time together, but not as much.  He hosted several boy-girl parties at his house, featuring slow dancing to “Cherish” by The Association.  We were learning to be a little less awkward.

Once high school came around we were still friends, but going from a class of 25 to a class of 900 changed things.

I’m writing this because Bobby – Bob, in recent years – passed away over the weekend.  We had seen each other a few times over the past ten years.  He had a wonderful wife who was a high school classmate, and judging by photographs on Facebook, two wonderful adult kids.

Bob was a truly nice and generous guy.  He was congenitally positive and had an explosive sense of humor.  Being happy seemed to come naturally to him.

I am very sad that he has died, and saddest for his family.  I’m also glad for the memories of Bob, and for the reminder of what a positive influence he was on the younger me.  I wish I had told him so.

              

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People of Note Who Departed in 2016

(Three posts written the first three weeks of the new year, and combined as one)

A cast of actors and comedians died in 2016, and I’d like to say a word or two about some of them, not because they were more important than others, but because they were some of my life’s influences.

First, the Garrys:  Garry Shandling was one of my favorite stand-up comedians, though he did much more than that.  To paraphrase one of his routines, “I went out with this girl, and everything had to be all about her.  The candle lit her hair on fire, and she was all ‘I’M on fire, put ME out!’”  Garry Marshall, in addition to being Penny Marshall’s brother, created “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Mork and Mindy,” “The Odd Couple” TV show, as well as directing “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride,” and much more.

Zsa Zsa Gabor was an icon my whole life, darling.  Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds shocked us all twice, dying only a few hours apart.  Debbie was an old-time star, and Carrie was a space-age star.

George Kennedy was in more than 200 films and TV shows, including “Cool Hand Luke,” and “Airport.”  George Gaines was in “Airport,” but most known as Punky Brewster’s dad. 

After years of rumors of his death, Abe Vigoda actually died last year.  He was most famous for playing Fish on “Barney Miller,” but had many other roles, including in “The Godfather.”  Ron Glass of Barney Miller also died in 2016.  Grizzly Adams, or Dan Haggerty, went into permanent hibernation. 

Alan Rickman appeared in “Die Hard,” “Harry Potter,” and many other roles.  My favorite was his portrayal of a man who gave in to temptation in “Love Actually.”

Alexis Arquette was part of a show-biz family, along with brothers David and Richmond, and sisters Rosanna (yes, the one from the song), and Patricia.  She had a great nickname: Eva Destruction.  She was born a he named Robert Arquette.

Doris Roberts will always be Raymond’s mom, Marie.  But she was lots of people’s moms over the years, along with other roles.  I remember her in the series “Angie” (created by Garry Marshall) with Donna Pescow, and “Remington Steele.”

Alan Thicke was one of the last actors to die in 2016.  He starred in “Growing Pains,” hosted beauty pageants, and did commercials.  A TV mom, Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady) seemed ageless, but wasn’t.  Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert), Rob and Laura Petrie’s nosy next-door neighbor died, as did James Noble, who played the sincere but goofy governor on “Benson” and “The Governor and J.J.”

Noreen Corcoran was John Forsythe’s niece in “Bachelor Father” in the late 50’s.  Patty Duke played a niece and a daughter on “The Patty Duke Show” after winning an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.”  Her TV dad, William Schallert, also died last year, as did Richard Harrison, who played a school buddy in the show.

Frank Sinatra Jr. played a son in real life, but was a good performer in his own right.  Some of his last sightings were playing himself on “Family Guy.”

We saw Mash’s William Christopher (Father Mulcahey) on stage in Madison as a minister in “The Church Basement Ladies.”  He turns up now and then in re-runs of “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” and others.

Pat Harrington Jr. was Schneider on “One Day At a time,” among many other roles.  Hugh O’Brien was Wyatt Earp on TV.  Noel Neill played Clark Kent’s colleague Lois Lane on the TV version of “Superman.”

Stephen Hill was a cranky D.A. on “Law and order.”  Larry Drake portrayed a developmentally disabled mail-room worker on “L.A. Law.”  John Santos played Jim’s cop friend on “The Rockford Files.”

Bob Elliott was half of the legendary radio comedy team of Bob and Ray, but also the father of weird, but funny Chris Elliot.

Remember Miss Paulifficate from “Mr. Rogers?”  She was Audrey Roth, a Pittsburgh philanthropist.  Nancy Davis was a movie star, and later became First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Here are some music industry folks I forgot to include earlier.  Lennie Baker was in “Sha Na Na,” Pete Fountain was a star on the clarinet, which isn’t easy to do. Toots (Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor) Thielemans was the greatest jazz harmonica player ever.  Oh, and he wrote and performed the theme for “Sesame Street.”

Rod Temperton wrote lots of songs for pop artists, including Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “Rock With Me,” and “Off The Wall.”  Glenn Yarbrough was a folk star.  One of his hits was “Baby, The Rain Must Fall.”

Less known, but important music figures who died included Rudy Van Gelder, a wonderful recording engineer, and Klaus Ogermann — a prolific producer and arranger who won a Grammy for his work with singer Diana Krall. 

George Martin?  Oh, he produced for “The Beatles,” among other things.

Robert Vaughn was Napoleon Solo in “Man From U.N.C.L.E,” which I never missed.  Gene Wilder was a comic genius, and star of one of my favorite movies, “Young Frankenstein.”  Mr. Ed’s friend Wilbur, known as Alan Young, also passed away. 

In 2016 we lost UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  Fun name to say.  Rob Ford was Toronto mayor who struggled with drugs and being ridiculous.

Janet Reno and Wisconsin’s own Melvin Laird both served presidents who faced impeachment.  She was attorney general and he secretary of defense.

Antonin Scalia was a constitutionalist on the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, most justices aren’t.  John Glenn was an astronaut and a senator, and during one trip to space he was both.

Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator and killer who became a folk hero to people who don’t read history.

Four true giants of sport died last year.  Mohammad Ali was the greatest, Arnold Palmer had his own army, Gordie Howe was a hockey icon, and Pat Summitt was the greatest women’s basketball coach.

Nate Thurmond was a great basketball player who once got 42 rebounds in a game.  Joe Garagiola was a baseball catcher, but best known as a sports and Today Show announcer. 

Robert A. Hoover was an incredible pilot.  I saw him do amazing acrobatics in the 1970s.  He had been a combat pilot, prisoner of war, test pilot, and aviation teacher. 

Some musicians not noted earlier: Julius La Rosa was fired on-the-air by host Arthur Godfrey for being too popular.  Bobby Vee was a 50s pop heartthrob.  Robert Stigwood was a music producer and director.  “Saturday Night Fever” was his.

Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote a best seller called “Future Shock,” about the difficulty in dealing with a lot of change in a short amount of time.  That was before the internet.

W. P. Kinsella wrote “Field of Dreams” which made a lot of men cry a little.  So did Elie Wiesel, who survived and wrote about the holocaust.  He won a Nobel Prize. 

Peter Shaffer wrote plays.  Some made into movies – most notably the story of Mozart called “Amadeus.”  “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe” belonged to Edward Albee, who also died in 2016.

Nelle Harper Lee wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and helped friend Truman Capote in his research for “In Cold Blood.

Morley Safer joined “60 Minutes” in 1970, and only retired the week before he died.    Gwen Ifill wasn’t with PBS News for that long, but was much valued.

John McLaughlin and Phillis Schlafly were conservative writers, and Tom Hayden was a liberal congressperson and once husband of Jane Fonda.

As always, these New Year columns only scratch the surface on the notable people who died last year.  And, if anyone close to you died in 2016, none of these folks I’ve noted matter much. 

            Now, as our state slogan proclaims, “Forward!”

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Under Consideration

(A look back at what I wrote before New Years, 2017)

When I was a little kid, soft drinks, (pop) in machines cost ten cents, then 15 cents, and then a quarter.  The bottles were 10 ounces or so, and made of glass.  Back then, my dad would tell me that when he was young pop was a nickel.  Since I was a kid, I mentally rolled my eyes at his old-ness.  Now,

I am generally quite resolute in my policy of not making New Year’s resolutions.  This year, though, I may change my strategy and take some steps towards self-improvement.

The New Year’s resolution first started in the year 1943 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Actually, I just made that up.  In reality, the origins were religious.  We know that Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year, as did the Romans.

Even though January first is an arbitrary “beginning,” it is nice to have a clean slate on which to inscribe our year to come.  Most resolutions aren’t kept, but that doesn’t mean they are a bad idea.  It means we’re not very good at changing our habits.

Here are a few areas of my life where some resolutions might be in order.  Don’t hold me to these, though.  I haven’t committed yet.

1.      Earlier to bed and earlier to rise.

2.      Remove some joy from my life by eating less.

3.      Remove even more joy by drinking less pop.

4.      Treat my phone like a tool and not a companion.

5.      Spend more time with nice people.

6.      New rule: Make more than two hurtful or stupid Facebook posts, and you are unfollowed.

7.      Write notes to people on paper and mail them in envelopes with stamps.  At least I think that’s how it’s done.

8.      Set some goals and make some objectives.  Plan my days.  I know: it does sound crazy.

9.      Regain my lost youth through exercise.

10.   Always get my columns in on time.

So, those are some candidates.  Maybe some of them ring true with you as well.  There are others, like volunteering more and spending more time in nature, but those aren’t really resolutions as much as they are things to be aware of as the opportunities arise.

I’m grateful that I’m not someone who has truly difficult changes to make, like quitting drugs, drinking, or smoking.  If it’s so hard for me to drink less Pepsi, I’d have no chance at quitting cocaine.

On the other hand, people are capable of amazing changes when they put their hearts and minds into it.  Maybe listing the things we want to change on December 31st is mostly important for bringing our thoughts and feelings into clearer focus.  Even if we aren’t perfect humans one year later, maybe we’ll be better than we were.

So, for now, good luck to you in whatever you undertake in the New Year.

              

 

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