Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Points to Ponder

1. “I love to sing, and I love to drink scotch.  Most people would rather hear me drink scotch.”  George Burns.

2. “A few decades ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, and Steve Jobs.  Now we have no cash, no hope, and no jobs.  Please don’t let Kevin Bacon die.”  Bill Murray.

3. “You have enemies?  Good.  That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  Winston Churchill.

4. “I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed.”  William Shakespeare.

5. “Always borrow money from a pessimist.  He won’t expect it back.”  Oscar Wilde.

6. “The New England Journal of Medicine reports that 9 out of 10 doctors agree that 1 out of 10 doctors is an idiot.”  Jay Leno.

7. “I spend a lot of time thinking of the Hereafter.  Each time I enter a room I wonder what I’m here after.”  Tim Conway.

8. “My doctor told me that jogging could add years to my life.  I think he was right.  I feel ten years older already.”  Milton Berle.

9. “It’s useless to hold a person to anything they say when they are in love, drunk, or running for office.”  Shirley McLaine.

10. “Two cannibals were eating a clown.  One said to the other: ’Does he taste funny to you?’”  Tommy Cooper.

11. “Radio is the theater of the mind; television is the theater of the mindless.”  Steve Allen.

12. “The closest a person ever comes to perfection is when he fills out a job application form.”  Stanley Randall.

13. “Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air.”  Jack Benny.

14. “I never said most of the things I said.”  Yogi Berra.

15. “People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”  Isaac Asimov.

16. “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”  Mark Twain.

17. “I knew a transsexual guy whose only ambition is to eat, drink and be Mary.”  George Carlin.

18. “Happiness is your dentist telling you it won’t hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill.”  Johnny Carson.

19. “Washington D.C. is twelve square miles bordered by reality.”  President Andrew Johnson.

20. “I once wore a peek-a-boo blouse.  People would peek and then they’d boo.”  Phyllis Diller.

21. “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”  Theodore Roosevelt.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Spaghetti Harvest

On April 1, 1957, the BBC’s popular TV program, Panorama, featured a three-minute report on the spaghetti harvesting season in southern Switzerland.  It is estimated that eight million people watched the show.  During the next few days hundreds of viewers contacted the station for information about purchasing their own spaghetti trees.

A cameraman for the show, Charles de Jaeger, came up with this April Fools’ Day joke.  He remembered that back in his school days teachers used to tease the students of being so na├»ve that they could be convinced that spaghetti grows on trees.  Evidently, the students weren’t the only folks who could be fooled.

After hanging moist, uncooked spaghetti from several trees, the “harvest” began, and de Jaeger and his staff were there to film it for posterity.

Here is the complete text, which was written by David Wheeler and narrated by Richard Dimbleby:

“It is not only in Britain that spring, this year, has taken everyone by surprise.  Here in the Ticino, on the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the slopes overlooking Lake Lugano have already burst into flower at least  a fortnight earlier than usual.

“But what, you may ask, has the early and welcome arrival of bees and blossom to do with food?  Well, it is simply that the past winter, one of the mildest in living memory, has had its effect in other ways as well.  Most important of all, it’s resulted in an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop.

“The last two weeks in March are an anxious time for the spaghetti farmer.  There is always the chance of a late frost which, while not entirely ruining the crop, generally impairs the flavor and makes it difficult for him to obtain top prices in world markets.  But now these dangers are over and the spaghetti harvest goes forward.

“Spaghetti cultivation here in Switzerland is not, of course, carried out on anything like the tremendous scale of the Italian industry.  Many of you, I am sure, will have seen pictures of the vast spaghetti plantations in the Po valley.  For the Swiss, however, it tends to be more of a family affair.

“Another reason why this may be a bumper year lies in the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil, the tiny creature whose depradations have caused much concern in the past.

“After picking, the spaghetti is laid out to dry in the warm Alpine air.  Many people are very puzzled by the fact that spaghetti is produced in such uniform lengths.  This is the result of many years of patient endeavor by plant breeders who succeeded in producing the perfect spaghetti.

“Now the harvest is marked by a traditional meal.  Toasts to the new crop are drunk in these boccalinos, then the waiters enter bearing the ceremonial dish.  This is, of course, spaghetti-picked early in the day, dried in the sun, and so brought fresh from garden to table at the very peak of condition.  For those who love this dish, there is nothing like home-grown spaghetti.”

As the calls continued to pour into the station, the BBC operators began giving the following standard response to anyone who wanted to know how to grow spaghetti: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Early Television

One day several years ago, in a moment of curiosity, my son Todd  began asking several questions about my childhood.  By the time we had finished our conversation he had concluded that his old man had grown up during the Neanderthal Period, for he was astonished that his grandparents’ house had been devoid of computers, cell phones, and even air-conditioning.  However, I countered that we did indeed have a television set.

According to my older brother, Dad bought our first “boob tube” in 1951.  It featured a small screen which was capable of showing grainy pictures from  four different stations in our area.  Of course, there was no remote control, so one actually had to get off his backside if he wished to change channels.

Television, at least in a primitive form, has been around for quite some time.  In 1926 Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave the first television demonstration.  In 1928 the world’s first TV station, WRGB (then W2XB), began broadcasting from the General Electric facility in Schenectady, New York.

However, both the Great Depression and World War II postponed the widespread sale of TV sets.  Therefore, the TV boom did not begin until the late 1940s.  By early 1948 102,000 sets had been sold (about 0.4% of the population), mostly in big-city areas, since that was where the first stations were established.

In 1954 almost 56% of households owned sets, and by 1958 that number had increased to 83%.  In 1948 there were only 16 TV stations in the United States, but by 1954 the number had swollen to 354. 

I don’t remember my family’s first TV set, but I do recall that the second one was built upon a swivel so that the screen could be turned in any direction.  I also remember hitting my head on the bottom of that set while I was playing around, resulting in a good-sized knot.

The first hit program was the “Texaco Star Theatre,” which began in 1948 and ran until 1956.  At first it featured different hosts, but soon Milton Berle  became the regular.  Dad often talked about this show, but I cannot remember it.

On June 20, 1948, “The Toast of the Town” premiered on CBS.  Eventually the name was changed to “The Ed Sullivan Show” in honor of the host.  Since this was a variety show it featured everything from opera to plate spinning to knife throwing.  Starting in the late 1950s with Elvis Presley,  Sullivan wisely began booking rock n’ rollers.  Young folks (like myself way back when) loved the rockers, the oldsters (like Dad), not so much.

In 1951 emerged one of TV’s all-time greatest hits, “I Love Lucy.” In those long-ago days when the viewer had no way to record programs, it was not unusual for a date to request that she not be picked up until the Lucy show was over.  There’s also a story about a bowling tournament in which the action was halted for a half hour so that the contestants could watch the show from the TV located in the dining area.

By the middle 1960s most of Dad’s friends had bought color sets, but he didn’t want to pay the extra money for one.  Instead, he paid a few bucks for a plastic sheet that was  taped to the screen.  The top level of the screen was blue, the middle part was red, and the bottom was green.  Dad used that screen for two days before tossing  it into the trash can.  It’s a wonder he didn’t smack me a good one, for I made fun of it every time he turned on the set.

We were able to get those four precious channels because Dad erected a tower that seemed to me at the time to rise to the heavens.  Being a perfectionist, every summer he gave that tower a coat of silver paint.  Luckily,  I was too young to scale it, for to this day I’m afraid of high places.  Thank goodness, today cable makes those tall towers obsolete, so my wife is spared all of that  climbing and painting.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Batman v. Superman - a Movie Review

For quite some time I’ve anxiously waited to see the new movie that stars my two favorite superheroes-Superman and Batman.  To say that I was disappointed is surely an understatement.

I hate to brag, but if the truth be told, I’m more than a little knowledgeable when it comes to these two formidable crime fighters.  From about the age of seven until well into the high school years much of my money was invested in Superman or Batman comics. 

Pulling my wagon along the sidewalks, I gathered pop bottles that slobs had hastily tossed onto people’s yards and driveways.  Back in those days one had to put a deposit on  bottles, so by collecting the “strays” I could come up with enough money to buy comic books.  The only ones that I had an interest in were those featuring Superman, Batman, or best of all, both.

My first rule in life is: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.”  Lately my wife has been watching Sherlock Holmes episodes in which Sherlock’s sidekick is a lady.  Sorry, but the bumbling Dr. Watson fit the bill perfectly.  Before anyone accuses me of sexism, I must state that neither do I want Miss Marple to be replaced by her brother, nor do I want Wonder Woman to be replaced by her uncle.  The latest Superman-Batman flick has kept the characters’ names, but these are certainly not the superheroes with whom I admired so many years ago.

In the movie I couldn’t help but think that the Batman needed psychiatric help.  It is true, as was shown in the movie, that Bruce Wayne dedicated himself to a life of crime-fighting after watching his parents being murdered, but back in my day that double tragedy didn’t turn him into a madman.  Early in the movie the viewer sees a bad guy who has been chained to a hot water heater by Batman.  The crime fighter  had engraved a bat symbol onto the guy’s body.  Sorry, but the Batman that I grew up with was in no way that sadistic.

Moreover, I couldn’t help but think that Dirty Harry was hiding behind that bat mask.  Surprisingly, he didn’t taunt a bad guy with: “So, you think it’s your lucky day, punk?  Well, do you?”

In the movie one of Superman’s arch enemies set up the caped crusader  so that in saving Lois Lane he inadvertently caused the deaths of many others.  At that point a lady senator declared that whenever Superman can act unilaterally, we are all in danger.  Actually, I’m more afraid when the government acts without restraints, but that’s another story.

Somehow, someway, the half-crazy Batman decided that for the good of the world he must destroy Superman.  However, if one goes back to read the comic books of earlier times, he or she will learn that these two superheroes were longtime friends and co-workers against crime. 

The Batman that I grew up with knew and respected Superman, and vise-versa.  Batman realized that Superman would never knowingly hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it.  In other words, there would be as about as much chance of Batman trying to kill his pal as there is of the president becoming a conservative.

For his part, Superman was forced to fight the Batman because his arch-enemy, Luther, held captive his earth-mother, Ma Kent.  If Superman refused to  destroy Batman then Mrs. Kent would die.  I believe the Superman with whom I grew up with would have rightfully roughed up Mr. Luther, and then proclaimed that if the bad guy didn’t have his underlings release her, the bad guy would be toast.  Superman would not purposely kill an innocent person, especially when that person is a hero and a friend.

Batman, for his part, used kryptonite to weaken the Man of Steel into submission, but Superman would have been too smart for that.  If indeed Superman had wanted to dispatch the Batman, he would have simply completed the task from about thirty miles away by using his heat vision to turn his opponent into a pile of smoldering bat guano.  Batman’s only chance would be to sneak up behind Superman and drop some kryptonite down his shorts, and a fat chance that would be.

No doubt anyone who had anything to do with this film would proclaim that in changing the very personalities of the crime-fighters, they were simply modernizing the characters.  “These are not your fathers’ superheroes,” they would state, and I would wholly concur.  That’s the problem; they’ve created two characters that are far inferior to the old ones in almost every conceivable way. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Ultimate Cow Quiz

1. What is the average  life span of a cow-that is, if it is not sent prematurely to the butcher?  A. 15 years  B. 20 years.  C. 22 years  D. 25 years. 

2. True-False:  Some scientists have placed cows among the world’s ten smartest critters.

3. Ayrshire cattle can weigh up to  A. 1000 pounds  B. 1200 pounds  C. 1500 pounds  D. 2000 pounds.

4. Which breed of cow generally produces the most milk?  A. Holstein.  B. Ayrshire.  C. Abigar.  D. Texas Longhorn.

5. Cows are distantly related to  A. dolphins  B. deer  C. donkeys  D. bears.

6. How many gallons of milk does the average cow produce daily?  A. Two  B. three-four  C. six-seven  D. eight-nine.

7. A cow has how many stomachs?  A. one  B. two  C. three  D. four.

8. Which state has the most milk cows?  A. Wisconsin  B. California  C. Pennsylvania  D. Ohio.

9. All cattle are descended from about 80 animals that were domesticated from  A. very large chickens  B. wild oxen  C. deer  D. dinosaurs.

10.  Cattle were domesticated about how long ago?  A. 1000 years  B. 5500 years.  C. 10500 years  D.15000 years.

11. How may cows exist in the world today?  A. 1.3 billion  B. 2 billion.  C. 3.5 billion  D. 5 billion.

12. What is a cow’s gestation period?  A. 19 months  B. 12 months  C. 274 days  D. 180 days.

13. Which country has the most cattle?  A. India  B. United States  C. Brazil  D. China. 

14. How many teeth does an adult cow have?  A. 32  B. 24  C. 21  D. 40  E. None-cows wear false teeth.

15. How many cattle live in the United States?  A. 20.5 million  B. 40.4 million  C. 60.3 million  D. 98.4 million. 

16. True-False:  Cows are red-green color blind. 

17. True-False: Relaxing music played in the barn during milking often will lead to more milk production.

18. True-False:  Cows kill more than five times the number of people than sharks do.

19.  Cows can A. outrun most horses  B. are smarter than pigs  C. seem to be more intelligent than are some of the current presidential candidates.  D. will eat meat if it is available.

20. Why is a cow’s tongue so long?  A. So the cow can give the farmer the raspberries as he walks past  B. so it can more easily clean its calf  C. so  the cow can wrap it around its food  D. so it can swish away flies.

ANSWERS: 1. A.   2. True.   3. D.   4. A.   5. B.   6.C.   7. A.  (one stomach, but with four distinct compartments).   8.B.   9. B.   10. D.   11. A.   12. C.   13. A.   14. A.   15. D.   16. True.  17. True.  18. True.   19. C.   20. C.

*If you missed 0-1, you are a cow expert!  2-4= great job!  5-6 Not bad.   7-9= improvement needed.  If you missed ten or more, you need to take a cow refresher course ( I would have needed the refresher course!)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Home Remedies

Home Remedies
Mom had a simple response to any of her children’s physical ailments.  For such problems she kept on hand a certain kind of salve that could be bought at about any supermarket.

If one had a cold, this salve was applied to the chest, and then a big goop of it was held in the mouth until it melted and drained down one’s throat.  Stuffed up nose?  Stick salve up your nostrils.  Sore back?  Rub on the salve.  Hemorrhoids?  Just… well, you get the picture.

Unfortunately, this salve had a rather strong smell about it.  As a result, friends knew you were coming long before they could even see you. 

It’s understandable that Mom looked for simple and inexpensive ways to treat afflictions.  She grew up on a farm during the Great Depression, a time when many folks wondered from where their next meals were coming.  She was the oldest of seven children.

Mom once told me that when they butchered a hog, out of necessity they used everything but the oink, and that part was discarded simply because they couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

Dad had a few treatments of his own.  Whenever one of my siblings or I had an earache, he would blow cigarette smoke into the offending orifice.  Probably in my case the smoke came out through the other ear!  Eventually the problem would go away on its own, but Dad was convinced that his smoke treatment had produced the cure.

For many years he was the proud owner of a box full of swabs.  Before applying the medicine one had to crush the plastic outer-coating. Then a reddish substance could be rubbed onto any wound.  Unfortunately, the stuff would sting like crazy.

When my older brother was just a little tyke  he came down with a severe case of ringworm.  Dr. Dad decided that this was much too serious to be treated with Mom’s salve or even with his own smoke treatment.  So he gathered a few capsules and began applying the liquid medicine to the diseased area.  This was probably as close as my brother will ever come to understanding  the pain associated with childbirth.  By the way, in a few days the ringworm vanished!

According to Dad, sports were a waste of time, but I couldn’t get enough of football, basketball, and baseball.  I wasn’t the best athlete around, but few if any kids played with more enthusiasm.

Up the road a piece was an old field that had over the years sprouted Savannah-length grass.  Several of us neighborhood boys went to work to convert the empty field into a baseball diamond.  One kid cut four bases from thick rubber.  To make certain that they would stay in place he fastened them into the ground with long nails.

One summer afternoon, after hitting a line drive into left field, I scurried past first base and headed for second. Unfortunately, one of the long, rusty nails was sticking upward.  When I stepped on the plate the nail went deeply into my foot.

One of the boys helped me pull the nail out of my foot so that I could wobble home.  Upon arriving, I showed Mom my horrible-looking wound.  I was hoping she would take me to the hospital’s emergency room or at least to the doctor.  Instead, she got out her trusty jar of salve.  I went to bed that night wondering if the next morning my foot would be green and numb from gangrene.

For the next few days she kept applying her magic elixir, and lo and behold, the wound healed!  Maybe I haven’t given Mom’s salve enough credit!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Potato Chips

Today we take potato chips for granted.  Long before most of us were even born a shopper could easily purchase a bag of chips at almost any grocery store.  Of course, there was a time when potato chips didn’t exist.
Who invented potato chips?  The most popular version of the story took place in  Saratoga Springs, New York.  On August 24, 1853, a customer at Moon’s Lake House kept sending his fried potatoes back to the chef, George Crum.  The complaint was that the potatoes were too thick.  Eventually, a ticked-off Crum sliced the potatoes as thinly as possible, fried them in grease, and then added lots of salt.  To the chef’s surprise, the customer loved them!  As a result, for years another name for potato chips would be “Saratoga Chips.”

This is a great story, but there is strong evidence to indicate that potato chips were invented somewhere else at an earlier time.

In 1822 an English food writer named William Kitchiner published a cookbook entitled, The Cook’s Oracle, in which is listed a recipe for making what certainly sounds like potato chips: “…peel large potatoes, slice them about a  quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping.”  (Wikipedia).

* In 1890 William Tappendon of Cleveland, Ohio, began loading his horse-drawn wagon with homemade potato chips and delivering them to local stores.  In 1895, as sales continued to increase, he began using his barn to manufacture the product.

*At first potato chips were usually stored in cracker barrels or in glass-topped display cases, but in 1926 Laura Scudder of Montgomery, California, invented the potato chip bag, made by ironing together sheets of wax paper.

*In 1946 Dorthea Fagnano of Yonkers, New York, was crowned the first “Potato Chip Queen.”  Her winning dish was a casserole that included, of course, potato chips.

*The average American eats about 110 pounds of potatoes each year, four pounds of which come from potato chips.  Americans consume a total of about 1.2 billion pounds of potato chips annually.

*It takes about 10,000 pounds of potatoes to make 2,500 pounds of chips.

*Many historians believe Mikesell’s of Dayton, Ohio, to be the oldest continuously active potato chip company.  Originally,  D. W. Mikesell and his wife sold dried beef and sausages.  Later they bought  potato chip equipment and the company has been making chips since 1910.

*Potato chips are the best-selling snack food in the world, followed by tortilla chips and crackers.

*There are numerous potato chip flavors, including: bacon, ranch, cheese and onion, honey mustard, sour cream, dill pickle, lime, crab, salt and pepper, salt and vinegar, cheddar and sour cream, jalapeno, sweet onion, and barbeque.  I prefer the “regular” ones.

*March 14th is National Potato Chip Day, so mark it on your calendar and buy a few extra bags of chips for the occasion!