Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Road warriors

In the last century, ragamuffins and vagabonds had an easier time of it. Just make certain your big coat had all its buttons and hit the road.

Before we could get on the highway, I had to make 22 – count ‘em—22 phone calls for change-of-address routines. Yes. I made a number of on-line changes but I was not happy about it. The logic of geeks and the logic of geezers often clash. Half the time, I couldn’t find where they had hidden the on-line form. Little bastards.

The Mystery Woman, formerly the audio-visual lady in public schools, had no trouble negotiating the e-maze to change her address.

And 86-year-old Virginia completed her changes via a rotary dial telephone.

Uh-oh. The minute we got in the mini-van, my gout returned. And the Mystery Woman’s bad knee got cranky. Days later, Virginia discovered her hip-pointer was caused by sitting on the seat belt clip. Only Bella, the uber dachshund, voiced no complaints.

We were lame – but game.

Fortunately, we like each other and shared equal amounts of curiosity about the highway ahead. I did note, however, that we seemed to have more to talk about the first three days than on the fourth. Road weary. At our age, we are a rolling billboard for all things old. Our combined age is 244 years. Counting the dog, mebbe 250. Note: I never have appreciated the usefulness of that kind of stat. Still don’t.

When we left Texas, the temperature was in the 80s and people had been enjoying the swimming pools for days, if not weeks.

The weekend Minneapolis forecast includes the possibility of snow flurries.

We drove too fast!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jiggity jog

Suffice it to say: this afternoon, we rolled up to our Minneapolis home. The van is unpacked and we're trying to remember where we put the corkscrew.

More later.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Filling stations or battle stations?

The scene is a few days ago. We are getting ready to hit the road and the Mystery Woman has discovered she can use the computer to find the cheapest gasoline along our route. A nickel here and a dime there can make a difference over a trip of 1,300 miles. Plus, she loves the thrill of the hunt.

On Thursday, gas was selling at the Racetrack station in Dallas for $3.01. Helluva deal. But when we arrived three days later, the station was charging customers $3.52 – and that was still right at the cheapest in Dallas.

Here’s the question: what the hell happened during those three days to cause gasoline to jump fifty cents in price? Seriously, what the hell happened? Other than the oil companies made a few billion dollars more and the CEOs getting richer, too.

Surely, something else happened somewhere in the world to make gas prices jump this much. The atomic bomb? Al Gore announced? What was it?

Tell me.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Quick travel notes

OK. We wandered off course a tad. Tonight we are in Jefferson, TX, where it's Prom Night. More about that later. More, too, about trailing the big, jet airplane in front of us on the highway for 30 miles or so.

Best sign so far was out front of a day care center: crawl-ins welcome.
I think I saw the same sign at the bar across the street.

Best wildflowers around Cleburne. Imagine that.

Tomorrow: Caddo Lake and then the Ozarks. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Come see us

Today, we start the uphill trek to the tundra. We are leaving Texas for the better summer weather in Minnesota. If the storms across the mid-west will let us pass.

To my friends in Austin, I promise I’ll repay you when we come back next winter. To my friends in Minnesota, don’t lend me any money.

We had a fun Farewell Tour of dinner and drinks with old college friends. Lots of friends. Lots of drinks. Later, when I stop blushing, I’ll explain my side of the story about what caused me to fall out of my chair and tump onto the floor at the restaurant. Some say it was the cheap white wine. I say I was reaching for my senior discount card and gravity took control. Big laughs at my expense. Big tip for the waitress, you bet.

The Lunch with Cousins was one of my favorites. The food was heavenly. Cooked as only people from the Greatest Generation know how. Did I mention they are Old School? They tolerate me nicely but I can tell the jury is still out.

Leaving is always tough, whether in Minneapolis or Austin. The Mystery Woman has 30 years of history up north; I have a lifetime in Austin. We are fortunate to have found two cities that nourish each of us. Virginia, her 86-year-old mother, loves the road. She has been packed for a week.

I’ll miss my kids and grandchildren. That’s the hardest part. With the Internet and cheap minutes, they are just clicks away. But it’s knowing that we could put hands on in a hurry if we wanted to. You understand.

And I’ll miss the robust foods in Texas. Not just Tex-Mex, everything has more flavor in Texas. Everything changes when we cross the border into Kansas. This time, I’m sneaking two jars of chow-chow in our luggage. Wonder what it will do for walleye?

This season, we have tenants for our Texas condos: an older couple from China in one and an old pal and his two teenagers in the other.

Blog postings may suffer while we travel the next four or five days. But somehow, comic adventure always seems to find us. I think we’re magnetized.

Cue the theme from Rawhide.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Statistics, growing numbers

Deed restrictions. Not long ago, deed restrictions were aimed at keeping neighborhoods lily white. No blacks. No Mexicans. No Jews. They would have snared me if they had written in “and no one-eyed white guys.”

Guess what the control freaks are trying to prohibit now? Hanging laundry out to dry in the back yard. Surely a clothesline is better for the environment. Consumers think so. The sale of clothespins has jumped 1,000 percent.



Speaking of hanging out dirty laundry, now that one in 10 adult Internet users in the U.S. have blogs. And the temptation is too strong for some divorcing couples. Many just cannot resist writing about the wrongs in their marriage. Some even go so far as to write prohibitions in their post-nup divorce decrees.

I checked myself. In writing nearly 250 posts to this blog, I’ve mentioned the Plaintiff only once. And that was a benign attempt at humor for the high school reunion. Fortunately, I think about other things these days. Hope you do, too. Healthier.



Otis Elevators estimates that it carries the equivalent of the world’s population every five days. If you’re counting, there are eleven billion elevator trips each year in NY City alone. Hurry, more rope! Big rope!



Americans used 410,000 paper cups every 15 minutes. More if your Great Aunt still dips.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A leading man worth following

Note: the author is a twenty-year Hollywood veteran actor, writer, film maker. He earned these insights.


By Lars Beckerman


While most of the country focuses on the mortgage foreclosure crisis, I’ve decided to look at a Hollywood crisis that is equally troubling and may actually be the root of the problem. A leading man shortage. Even the federal government can’t fix this; and it is not as simple as merely anointing George Clooney “The Last Great Movie Star.” Talk about sub prime.

After years of defending Tom Cruise, the embarrassingly preachy Lions for Lambs combined with his tabloid life have finally driven me away; and while I am seriously impressed by the career trajectory of Will Smith, I still maintain the discipline to wait until his titles hit the DVD shelf (rent The Pursuit of Happyness!).

Denzel Washington is excellent, but he rarely challenges himself and he is a bit too prolific for me.

So my box office dollars have been relegated to two leading men that I will pay to see: Russell Crowe and Daniel Day-Lewis. Crowe should probably stay away from romantic comedies (A Good Year) but he is the real deal out in front when the rubber hits the road. Day-Lewis is in a league of his own when it comes to character exploration and theatricality, but he is the opposite of prolific, choosing projects so selectively that he may as well be in the witness protection program.

But there is another leading man that you are all undoubtedly familiar with but have more than likely come to take for granted. I know I had.

A few months ago my mother turned me on to a wonderful series of films starring Tom Selleck. Selleck plays Jesse Stone, an exiled Los Angeles cop transplanted in the small New England town of Paradise, Massachusetts. Recently divorced and struggling with his sobriety, Sheriff Stone must now come to grips with the mundane routine of small town policing. And of course, a convenient string of murders and corruption to squash. The films are adapted from Robert B. Parker’s novels and the writing, casting, direction (Robert Harmon) and musical scoring are top notch. Not to mention not one but two loveable dogs.

The level of humanity and wisdom, calmness and compassion that Selleck brings to this role is sublime. I can’t think of another actor who could embody this character as effectively. Selleck was beloved as Thomas Magnum in Magnum P.I. over two decades ago and had a nice box office run with the Three Men and a Baby films. Funny though, because with so few leading men able to sustain box office clout in today’s fickle YouTube saturated climate, it’s curious to me why a genuine article like Selleck would fall off of the mainstream radar. Perhaps by design? Perhaps a man of integrity and class like Selleck gets more satisfaction out of making smaller films for the small screen and avoiding the youth obsessed, backstabbing headache of dealing with Hollywood’s power set. Their loss.

Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times Calendar section featured a piece written by Patrick Goldstein titled “How the Mighty Have Fallen” which chastises Al Pacino and Robert De Niro for taking cash grab roles over the past decade. Roles that not only have not challenged these two once-great actors, but are actually caricaturing their personas. I agree entirely with Goldstein who also singles out Jack Nicholson for escaping this train wreck and choosing material perfectly suited for his geriatric arrival. Selleck has not only escaped the train wreck, he is right on track with this character and these films.

The first in this series is titled Night Passage, but to the writers’ credit, each film stands on its own and could easily be enjoyed independently or out of sequence. But do yourself a favor and watch them all in a row: Night Passage, Stone Cold, Death in Paradise, and Sea Change – and coming soon, the fifth installment, titled Thin Ice.

I find myself putting them on late at night when my domestic worries keep me awake counting coyotes. Selleck’s character soothes me and reminds me of the human condition and how universal all of our woes and obstacles are. I think back to my teen years, after my parents’ divorce, and the films that helped me through adolescence. John Travolta’s dopey coming of age performance in Saturday Night Fever, Richard Gere’s brooding struggle to achieve discipline and focus in An Officer and a Gentleman, and the graceful Sidney Poitier’s high road decency in To Sir With Love. Now I’m a grown man, complete with mortgage, a beautiful wife and three wonderful children and Tom Selleck’s portrayal of the ultra-ethical Jesse Stone is helping me find virtue and solace in just being a good person. Warts and all.

Now for that top 20 (+5) list of all-time favorite films I promised. I glanced over AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time list and found a number of films I admire and enjoyed, but the criteria for my list focuses on films that inspired me and compelled me to watch them over and over again. So here ya go, guilty pleasures and all:

1 On the Waterfront
2 A Streetcar Named Desire
3 Magnolia
4 An Officer and a Gentleman
5 Fargo
6 Running on Empty
7 True Romance
8 Goodfellas
9 Memento
10 The Godfather
11 Ordinary People
12 Mulholland Drive
13 To Sir With Love
14 Moulin Rouge
15 Barton Fink
16 Cinema Paradiso
17 The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
18 The Usual Suspects
19 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
20 Citizen Kane
21 Angel Heart
22 Reds
23 Diner
24 Miller’s Crossing
25 Gangs of New York

Two films from this past year are going to get better with age. No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood are both so dense and layered that it may be years before their grapes are ripe. My gut tells me both will end up in my top twenty - eventually. Outstanding craftsmanship on display for certain.

One final note. My mother-in-law lives with my family and I make a practice of bringing her films to enjoy on her flat screen. She spends most of her time in her upstairs room, overlooking our cul de sac. I know her tastes so my goal is always to bring her uplifting, gentle films that make her day. Yesterday she returned a film to me with a post-it note reading: “Thank you, Lars, for giving me a world to experience outside of my room.”

It’s the little things, isn’t it?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Road kill, lobbyists

Quick: divide $2.79 billion by 535. Why? There are 535 members of congress (100 senators and 435 representatives). And lobby groups spent $2.79 billion last year putting the hustle on them. Biggest spenders were Wall Street, real estate and insurers.

Tell me again how much your vote counts.



Quote of the Day

"There is a dearth of talent on the business side of this industry that is shocking to me. No one goes to Wharton and says, 'I want to run circulation at Knight-Ridder.' The business side has let down the journalistic side of newspapers.... I've got some [unionized ad] salesmen who make $100,000 a year and have no interest in making $120,000" -- Brian Tierney, new owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, quoted by former New York Times editor Howell Raines at Portfolio.com.



Last week, we discussed media bias and pointed out McCain got a standing O when addressing the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Obama, speaking to the same group, didn’t.

A loose head count revealed publishers stood up. Editors didn’t. It’s labor versus management. Sort of.



Cars kill more amphibians than anything else. Even deer. In what has to be a bad job, biologists from Perdue found 65 animals in the roadkill along an 11-mile stretch of Indiana highway. Nearly 95 percent of the dead were frogs and other water and walking critters. During the 17-month study (17months!), the team collected 10,500 identifiable dead animals. They estimate five times that many died but were squshed beyond recognition. If you’re still with us, they found only four deer, 43 raccoons and 79 possums.

Don't let your kid read this. Poor Thumper. Poor Bambi. And all those Kermits.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sheep, credit cards, trees and elevators

In an elevator, people put up with a don’t-touch-me zone that is smaller than most human conveyors: about 1.8 square feet. The amount of space calibrated for people in subways and U.S. Army vehicles is 2.3 sq. ft. Normal touch zone is 3 sq. ft. and 10 sq. ft. is the personal comfort zone. Schizophrenic inmates require 15 times that amount. Move over.



Have you noticed fewer good deals on credit cards landing in your mail box? Thank the credit crunch for the cutbacks in direct mail solicitations. Few of us are willing to take on more debt as the economists wonder whether the recession is for real.



There’s a battle going on in the ground underneath Central Park. Tree roots are competing for space in that piece of prime real estate. The latest tree inventory used G.P.S. technology to count and locate trees. Final count: 24,132 mature trees with an additional 2,000 saplings on the way up. The tree census used to require 16 humans and an entire summer. The four-person team with electronics did the same job in six weeks. No word yet on if a tree falls during the curfew and there's no one to hear it...



Thinking of changing careers? A good sheep shearer can shave a sheep in two or three minutes, earning up to $70 or $80 bucks an hour. One instructor sheared one in 52 seconds. He had trouble staying awake but who's counting?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Quickies

Doctors say the strangest things. Mine, concerned about how close I live to diabetes, gave me this sage advice: eat like an Apache.

Pardon?

You know, lots of lean meats, nuts, and berries.

I’ll be back in a minute. Gotta chase down a rabbit for lunch.



Please direct your attention to the reader boards at the gas station where they post the price per gallon.

The sign I saw yesterday was shocking: Diesel $4.13.

But the “4” was smaller and from a different type face. Puzzling. Then it hit me. The folks who make numbers for reader boards never figured the cost of fuel would go that high so they never made any fours. While you’re at it, better make more 6, 7, 8s.

(No. There is no apostrophe in 8s.)



Back when I was a church mouse, I favored the little Episcopal church behind the Library of Congress in D.C. Perhaps because it had a bar in the basement and you could drink as much as you liked as long as you had drink tickets.

They sold drink tickets only on Sunday.



The latest Obama/Clinton TV debate drew 10.7 million TV viewers.

The same night, same time, American Idol drew 22.7 million.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Good foreign flicks

Actors go to movies all the time. They can deduct the price of admission but not the popcorn. Serious actors are serious about the movies. It’s part of their work experience. Their laboratory. Naturally, if you see lots of movies, you begin to form opinions. Informed opinions.

That’s my ramble to re-introduce you to Lars Beckerman, a buddy who has spent more than 20 years of his adult life working in Hollywood as actor, writer, producer, etc. Here is his take on foreign films worth seeing again. And more.
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DON’T FEAR SUBTITLES

By Lars Beckerman

I haven’t yet seen the new French film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but from what I hear from people whom I trust…it’s ‘brilliant!’ Last year it was Spain’s Pan’s Labrynth, a film I did see that proceeded to haunt my psyche for weeks. Not a film I would recommend to the faint of heart. So for those of you who pay no attention at all to foreign cinema, you are spared some creepy fare. However, some of the most memorable films of the past several years have been foreign and you are cheating yourself by not adding them to your menu. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve recommended a foreign film to a friend who replies “No thanks, I hate reading subtitles.” I get that. Nonetheless, you should not let this phobia rob you of a great cinematic treat.

I’m not about to ask you to go sift through the numerous Fellini films that film historians insist are classics. Nor am I going to urge you to head to your local video store and ask the slack jawed clerk to recommend a “good foreign flick.” Who knows where that might lead you. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you and assembled a group of foreign films that you deserve to see.

Three can’t miss tear-jerkers that every film lover must see: Cinema Paradiso (1988), Life is Beautiful (1997), and Central Station (1998).

Three German films that rock: Run Lola Run (1998), The Lives of Others (2006), and The Edukators (2006).

Two Spanish films that sizzle: Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and Tie Me Up Tie Me Down (1990).

A French combo that will break your heart: Jean De Florette (1986) and Manon of the Spring (1987).

One Chinese film that set new standards for action: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

If, after watching some of these films, you still have no patience for subtitles...do not go to dubbed versions of any film. That would be like putting on your favorite album and then settling for a bad cover band.

Enjoy.

Most actors in Hollywood spend the first half of their careers paranoid and hyper neurotic; looking around with glazed eyes, always expecting someone to tap them on the shoulder and ask them to ‘please wait in the hall;’ and the second half convincing themselves that their opinions are somehow more important than yours and the platform your patronage has provided them commands them to glibly lecture or condescend to the public. So when John Cusack monologues his ‘activist’ script via satellite (Wow, he must be important!) it wreaks of delusional arrogance and ultimately cowardice. Acting like you are concerned and deeply troubled by the military industrial complex and evil profiteering contractors is so much less impressive than actually sacrificing something of yourself for the men and women and families that do the heavy lifting in our armed forces. Making flimsy, heavy handed films financed by the marketability of your image made possible by the free market capitalist system you supremely thrive in probably feels like a contribution to the American dialogue on this War - but is it? Compared to what people like Gary Sinise, Jon Voigt and Tom Selleck are doing? Quietly going out and generating events that directly impact the effectiveness and morale of our troops and their families. They don’t ‘act’ concerned, they make a difference.

In hopes of ending on a light, movie related note. I recently revisited an old Brando film called The Young Lions. Not one of Brando’s most notable or even memorable performances (although, as usual, he is exceptional). First and only time he starred opposite Montgomery Clift. A film that also showcases the legendary Dean Martin and the enigmatic Maximillian Schell. But those aren’t the real reasons for you to rent this 1958 two-and-one-half hour World War II epic.

Now I’m going to have to ask our female readers to leave the room.

Good. Thanks.

The women in The Young Lions are exquisite! Hope Lange, Barbara Rush and May Britt. I would put this collection of Hollywood hotties up against any recent studio film in terms of sizzle and sophistication. Let’s put it this way, if Maxim Magazine was around in the late 50s they would have run a cover story titled The Women of The Young Lions Uncaged!!! How’s that for multi-generational cross pollination?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gloom, despair, misery

Soon, we’ll be assaulted by visuals playing on napkins, ceilings, backs of airline seats, my balding head, anywhere there’s clear space -- television shows, music videos, YouTube drek. Just like the rude cell phone users, we’ll have electronic jerks playing their inane crap all around us via tiny digital projectors. The little machines are still in prototype, but 16 firms are racing to get the damned thing on the market. Probably around $300 to $350. Nothing funny here. Lamentations apply.



More impersonal intrusions. These new Internet companies will soon be part of your life: HourTown, BookingAngel, and GenBook. If you’re not familiar with these things, you soon will be. They are online calendar tools with a twist. You can use them for personal or business and they can download to the Web any blocks of time you might have that would fit into your dentists schedule. Or doctor, beautician, dog groomer, etc. Saves time? We'll see. Grumble, snarl, gripe, complain.



Gold recently hit the $1,000 an ounce mark. But you ride around every day with more precious metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium. If you’re lucky. And if thieves haven’t cut your catalytic converter from your vehicle’s underbelly. Crooks quickly pick up a couple of hundred bucks and you are stuck with replacement costs anywhere from $450 to $1,000 depending on the size of your automotive ego. Thieves are breaking into police auto pounds, school bus yards and park-n-ride lots. Sigh.



What? JetBlue Airways is selling legroom – 38 inches more in rows 2 through 5 and Exit Rows 10 and 11 on their Airbus A320s. It will cost you and extra $10 or $20 depending on the length of your flight. I’m getting in a bad mood.

Bartender!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Politics, cows, cheerleaders

Media bias? Both John McCain and Barack Obama spoke to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. McCain got a standing ovation. Not Obama.



While we’re on the subject: they closed the stockyards in South St. Paul this week. Here it comes. If the 300 million cows since the opening in 1887 were placed head-to-tail, the guys behind would have to shovel ten times around the equator to clean up. (See above.)



At 93, The World’s Foremost Authority is still comedian Professor Irwin Corey. While being interviewed recently at the NYC Friars Club, he observed, “The median age of the Friars is: deceased.”



This just in. A team of cheerleaders from the Washington Redskins is in India to help that budding nation create India’s first cheerleading squad. The U.S. cheerleaders will conduct a national audition of Indian women who will pom pom around for a rich Indian cricket league. In Hindi, cheerleader translates: "woman who demonstrates enthusiasm." Sort of.



A guy has trained his computers to write books. And he’s now written more than 200,000. Subjects include: washable scatter rugs, acne rosacea, everything, anything. Some call him a compiler rather than a writer. If you’re good at the Internet, you probably can do without his books written via algorithms. Is he cheating?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stupid cell phone

Yesterday, we took a bold step. We got cell phones. Again.

I hate cell phones. Mine keeps signaling for a left turn. I can't make it stop.

(We are not alone. Click here.)

Discovery: AT&T phones are free if you order through customer service over the telephone. At least I think they are. All the options confuse me. I miss pay phones. Do they even make nickels anymore?

Repeatedly, we told the chirp on the other end of the line that we wanted the dumbest phone they make. No bells, no whistles. A child’s phone would do nicely, thank you. Oh yes, we want the ring tone to sound line a phone ringing. Let's not even talk about evenings and holidays. Anything after 9 p.m. is wasted on me.

Poppycock, said the chirp under her breath. You need the good phone. You might want to book a cruise and text the captain to wait up whilst you have one more Cuba Libre onshore. Note: the authentic Cuba Libre is made with Royal Crown. And -- is text now a verb?

I hate cruise ships, too. And she didn’t really say poppycock.

Back to yesterday. Of course, we caved and got the “really good deal.”

When the phones arrived the next day, we blurred through the User Guide. It was thick. Way too thick. I read the instructions twice before I discovered half the book was written in Spanish. I think I discovered the genesis of “Press One for English.”

What’s wrong with simplified eye-cons? A simple “ON” button would suffice. But noooo. We had to suffer the whims of adolescent designers who wouldn’t know a bifocal if their granny was wearing one. Tiny little buttons that make no sense to anyone who is old enough to know Truman’s daughter played a poor piano.

You can see where this is going.

Well, half a bottle of wine later, we did manage to light up the display screen, find the smart key, talk to the help desk, and turn the ****@####!!! machine on.

Warning: don’t leave a message on my cell. If you call me, be prepared to call twice. I rarely find the phone in time during your first call. Second warning: don't leave a message. I don’t know how to retrieve messages.

The Mystery Woman has a solution. She says we’re not giving anybody our cell phone number. Problem solved.

Friday, April 11, 2008

David Brooks, who knew?

Have you ever tried to write something funny? It’s not easy. Especially if you are trying to write humor without using humping, cussing, or body functions.

Clean laughs are difficult to write. Try it sometime.

Better still, read David Brooks take on The Great Forgetting in today's NY Times. He is one of the few conservative columnists I can read without high blood pressure risk. But I never knew he was so funny.

He forecasts the Bad Memory Century and its consequences. A must read.

Insert: the Mystery Woman says I should label this a Tip of the Hat to David Brooks, then sit down, and shut up.

Enjoy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oprah's hand-me-downs

Next time you are in Chicago, check out Oprah’s next-to-new shop. The thrift store is not exactly thrifty. But her lightly-worn Prada heels cost about half retail. It’s Oprah’s Corner tucked away in Oprah’s Store. Can’t miss it. Just across the street from her TV studio on Chicago. That woman is smart.



Recycled stuff never looks this good when I’m shopping. Rich people in Manhattan (is that redundant?) are donating old kitchen stuff to charities. By old, that includes a $25,000 custom-made glazed cream-colored set of kitchen cabinets and a $5,000 four-burner Viking range. Check out Green Demolitions.



Be careful how you choose your friends. Writing in the New Yorker, Michael Kinsley offers this slice of life:

If a hundred Americans start the voyage of life together, on average one of them will have died by the time the group turns sixteen. At forty, their lives are half over, further life expectancy at age forty is 39.9. And at age sixty-three the group starts losing an average of one person every year. Then it accelerates. By age seventy-five, sixty-seven of the original hundred are left. By age one hundred, three remain.



On that cheery note, I’m nearing the due date on getting a new battery for my pacemaker/defibrillator. The technicians had guessed the battery would run down a couple of months ago. But like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps on going.

And we’re going, too. Back to Minneapolis in a few weeks. To keep track of my ohms, the docs are giving me a gizmo which allows me to dial in from MN, place the device over my heart and download a reading to the Austin surgeons. Pretty slick.

A news wag said it was like knowing the Six Million Dollar Man – at least the Costco version.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What's in a word?

My first big speech writing gig was in a Texas gubernatorial campaign. Heady, yes. But my main job was to find a seat in the front row – so I could lead the spontaneous standing ovation.



My two favorite writers: L. M. Boyd, author and syndicated trivia columnist, and Verlyn Klinkenborg, author and NY Times editorial board member. Boyd was best at twisting words into a funny sentence. Klinkenborg excels at stringing words together for fun and feeling.

Lately, Mr. K. says, he has been thinking about the word "vang." It’s a sailing term. And a delightful romp from his keyboard to the editorial page.

He wraps it up: “I look back and wonder what it is I’ve been doing innately since childhood and I can think only of this. I’ve been picking up words one by one, feeling their heft, wondering who’s used them before, and slowly adding them to my permanent collection.”



More good words. In reviewing the documentary “Young@Heart,” writer Stephen Holden describes a chorus of about two dozen singers whose average age is 80. To them, Holden says, the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive” is a blunt survival anthem. And music is oxygen.



And in conclusion…

Three years from now, more or less, the digital universe of ones and zeros will be ten times the size it was in 2006. That’s huge. But digital data degrades over time.

And technology is changing daily. Do you remember what’s in those old floppies or the old tape drive? Can you still open these relics?

Books will still be books 100 years from now. Electronic data may be merely whiffs.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Push Meets Shove.

Push finally meets Shove in this eco-parable: “one Prius-driving couple takes pride in their eight redwoods, the first of them planted over a decade ago. Their electric-car-driving neighbors take pride in their rooftop solar panels, installed five years after the first trees were planted.” Can you spell lawsuit? Read the entire story.



You gets what you pay for – unless it’s end-of-life treatment at two of the nation’s top academic medical centers. Research reveals Medicare spending averaged $93,842 at UCLA Medical Center but only $53,432 at Mayo Clinic.

Here comes the quote: “How can the best medical care in the world cost twice as much as the best medical care in the world?” asked a Congressional investigator. That’s rich irony. How the hell would Congress know anything about saving money?



The average NY Times reader spends 48 minutes with the daily newspaper and 72 minutes with the Sunday paper. Doubtful? Set the egg-timer.



New high-top lace-ups can cost as much as $700 in fashion-forward NYC. Just in time for the Final Four. Want some?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Watch your step

Today we go where few dare to read. With reason.

First comes the news that scientists have found evidence that mankind wandered around North America thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Big woop, you say. But aren’t you the least bit curious how researchers made this discovery? Of course you are.

Human coprolites. There you have it. Fossilized feces. Found ‘em scattered in an Oregon cave. I won’t go into further detail except to wonder out loud if the team entered the cave with that finding as their objective. There are better jobs.

All was going well until the Main Stream Media got their hands on the story. Specifically, the New York Times. Oh, the story was written as tastefully as could be. It’s the graphics ‘twere the culprit.

Ever faithful to “newspaper of record” the photo editor ran a picture of the fossilized feces. The "why" will forever be a mystery. Then they compounded the grievous error with a click-through and these damnable words: “Enlarge this image” adjacent to an icon of a magnifying glass. Enlarge this image? Are you nuts?

Wipe your shoes before you come in.*



OK. Last mention herewith.

Austin, TX, is urging grocers to quit using plastic bags. The city cites clogged landfills, choked wildlife, and such. Instead, they tout reusable bags or recycled paper bags. But phase out the plastic.

Good idea, but there will be consequences. How will pet owners pick up dog poop in the future? Those plastic bags were the working symbol of good pet-owner hygiene. Human, dog, plastic bags equal good citizenship on our block.

Ibid.*

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Old people do crazy things

Before you can come in the house, you have to sign a waiver. Plus, no children allowed. You can understand why.

It’s the Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa) in the Hamptons. The floor undulates. Has bumps. The house was designed by a 71-year-old artist/architect to throw you off balance. On purpose. The architect calls it reversible destiny which, in theory, outlaws aging. Great concept.

“It’s immoral that people have to die,” says the 66-year-old partner. Well said.

Hold that thought while you try to walk across the room with a glass of wine.



Polls indicate Americans are more likely to vote for an African-American or a woman before they would vote for an old white guy.

But here’s the kicker:

It's not the young people who feel the strongest. It's the geezers. Only 24 percent of people under 35 think John McCain is too old while 40 percent of those over 65 believe it.

We know things.

...

The World Natural Sports Organization fielded 44 body-builder competitors older than 60. That's up two from the previous year. Geezer hunks.

“Age is just a statistic, not a burden and there is no reason a man or woman can’t get into and maintain the best shape of their lives at any age,” said Scot Hults, 64,who has competed in 26 shows since 2005. Geezer Up!

The ripped old weight-lifters claim they are drug-free. Do prunes count?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Mommy, what's a newspaper?

Several major newspapers have decided not to send reporters jetting around the country to cover the Clinton/Obama smackdown. The list is growing: USA Today, The Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, The Atlanta Journal, The Baltimore Sun, The Miami Herald...

Some day. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.
Some day, we’ll all be sorry.



Add to the endangered species list, the movie critic in print. Across the nation, there’s a drumbeat to the unemployment office as weeklies and dailies lay off their film critics, and travel writers, and business writers. The TV guide is long gone.

Some day. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.
Some day, we’ll all be sorry.



Newspapers better get it together. I have this nagging feeling that it’s too late. The way people want to get the news has changed. Oh, I suppose we’ll always have newspapers of some sort. But it won’t be near as much fun.

Some day. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.
Some day, we’ll all be sorry.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Do not fold, spindle ...

The most-quoted writers are anonymous. Proof? Who wrote: "This side up." Or ...
"Use no hooks."
"Garbage in, garbage out."
"Do not fold, mutilate or spindle."
"Make that a vente."

The defense rests.

...

In 1954, guess what was the hot button in U. S. Senate investigations? Comic books. The inquisition was even televised. Before the scare, more than twenty publishers were cranking out close to six hundred and fifty titles each month. Bam. After the hammer fell, censors made Betty and Veronica switch from such form-fitting blouses. The number of titles dropped from 650 to around 250. Read more in “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America” by David Hajdu.



Wired Magazine offers new views of the money you carry around:
--you may have enough traces of cocaine in your wallet to attract a drug-sniffing dog because traces of the drug are found on the majority of greenbacks in the U.S.
--the dollar bill is usually retired after about 21 months of circulation but coins knock around for 30 years.
-- there's not enough of it. Personal observation.



Speaking of money, the value of the dollar has dropped so much that cab drivers won’t accept U.S. currency in Cuba. In Cuba!

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