Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"Barbara Ann, I've Come To Play"

For a number of years I've been staying in touch with my mom by calling home every Saturday at 8:00 a.m. During this year of isolation, it's been especially meaningful. Usually we just catch up on current events, but this past month I began asking her to tell me stories about her life, like the ones she told me when I was little such as her prize winning calf at the County Fair and the time her dog Bob got bit on the nose by copperheads. 

Mom grew up in rural West Virginia in a town called Highland, moving with the family up to Warren, Ohio when she turned 12. My grandmother, an avid reader and self-taught artist, wrote poetry much of her life, influenced by a great uncle who was known as "the blind poet of Ritchie County." 

One of the poems that my grandmother wrote was called "Barbara Ann, I've Come to Play." Here's the backstory, which I learned only this past weekend, and then the poem. It's a poem about a little girl named Libby. Ruth.

The story of Libby Ruth
At the time that my grandmother was pregnant with Mom, my grandmother's sister-in-law Alice (married to my grandfather's brother Harl) was pregnant at the same time. Aunt Blanche was trying to get pregnant at the same time as well, and the three were all hoping for girls. My grandparents already had two boys, so a little girl was on the wish list this time around.

As it turns out, Alice and my grandmother delivered girls, one being my mother Barbara Ann, and the other Libby Ruth. (Blanche eventually adopted a girl named Jane.) 

Libby Ruth and my mom used to play together when they were very little. When Libby Ruth came over she’d say, “Barbara Ann! I’ve come to play.”

When Libby Ruth was four a tragic accident occurred. She had gone to the bathroom and somehow her nightgown caught fire and she died. 

Grandma wrote a poem about this terrible tragedy titled “Barbara Ann I’ve Come to Play.”

The poem is about Libby after she died and she was now an angel. Heartbroken, Aunt Alice was never the same after that. She’d always been so happy up till then.

Here is the poem my grandmother wrote.

“Barbara Ann, I’ve Come to Play”

Little girl with eyes so brown

Always dancing all around

Here and there about the town

And when she came our way

She’d always call so gay,

“Barbara Ann, I’ve come to play.”

What a glorious time they had.

We were always very glad

From Joanne clear on up to Dad

When a car came out our way

And we’d hear a clear voice say,

“Barbara Ann, I’ve come to play.”

Dear little Libby, so very dear,

An angel in heaven without a peer

Your sweet voice ringing in my ear;

How very sweet would be the day

When you would cry in your own sweet way,

“Barbara Ann, I’ve come to play.”

* * * *

As many of you know, my interest in poetry was stimulated by my grandmother. I remember a big fat volume of Ogden Nash poems that I sometimes enjoyed reading when visiting her. Her diaries are full of verse. Late in life some of her poems were collected in a volume called Helping the Sun Grow. Others were contributed to other poetry collections. This one, untitled, sums up her attitude toward these personal scribblings.

If you read between the lines

That herein I indite,

You’ll find a picture of my life

At morning, noon, and night.

If you find a word ill-used

Or yet a clumsy phrase,

Remember, I only write for fun

And not for fulsome praise.

--Elizabeth Sandy

For more, visit:


Monday, November 23, 2020

The Butler Who Folds His Hands Spills No Tea

In 2018 I published an article in which I shared 9 Maxims Which Carried Me Through a Career in Corporate America. While preparing a speech this week about leadership (which I delivered Thursday evening) for our Toastmasters group, I drew upon several of those life lessons. I had so many things I wanted to say that I deleted this from the speech lest it take too much of my allotted time. 

I'd first heard the expression in one of advertising guru David Ogilvy's books. If I remember correctly he was discussing the manner in which we manage creatives. Creating fresh ideas day in and day out is a challenge, and hitting it out of the park doesn't happen with every swing of the bat. (Unless you're Joe Hardy.(1) There are risks involved in aiming for the exceptional. Risk means there's a possibility of failure. The best way to kill a creative team is to never allow a whiff. 

There's always risk involved in any creative venture. Not every idea works. The best way to eliminate risk-taking is to do nothing. If you do nothing, you will never make a mistake. This is a business in which the competition for eyeballs is fierce. Creating something memorable and effective is no easy task. 


When we focus on punishing mistakes rather than rewarding initiative, we turn motivated students and workers into demotivated sheep. This is what prompted me to develop an alternative method of grading writing assignments when we were homeschooling our children. You can read my ideas on grading here.


Those ideas came from painful experiences I had in school (even though I tended to be an A student) and also from a workshop I attended for soccer coaches back in the 1990s. In the workshop Buzz Lagos, head coach of the Minnesota Thunder pro soccer team, taught of various games that our kids could play, by which they would develop as players. Ball control, passing and teamwork would develop as they played these various competitive skirmishes. 

During the Q&A afterwards, one of my fellow coaches asked an important question. "Sir, what skill level should my ten-year-olds be at?" That is, what are the benchmarks or milestones they should be at for the various stages at their age levels? How deft should their ball handling be? How strong and accurate their kicking?

Coach Lagos replied, "Don't even think about it. Only one thing is important, that they enjoy the game." 

When we are kids we do what we love and we get better at it. I'm not sure that parents, teachers and coaches can create these passions, but I am absolutely persuaded that we can quench them. 

The same can be true in the workplace. I believe most people want to do a good job, until years of mismanagement and abuse have corrupted this motivation. How we manage people can foster or frustrate their desire to excel. Once ruined, employees spend more time thinking about how to avoid punishment instead of focusing on the mission.

Do our employees know what the mission of the company is and how they fit into it? Are they--like players on a football team--playing in the right positions? Have they been properly trained? Is the value of their contribution recognized? Do you praise publicly and criticize privately? 

It's often easier to know the right things to do than to do them. Unless we try, however, we'll end up being the same old rat stuck in the same old maze. If you're a teacher or leader, and you're not seeing a spark in your students' or employees' eyes, it may be time to re-assess, and learn some new tricks.


Related Links
How to Teach Writing: A Soccer Coach Handed Me the Key
9 Maxims That Carried Me Through Three Decades in Corporate America

Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash 

(1) Joe Hardy was hero for Washington in the musical Damn Yankees.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Orphanage Update: Christmas Is Coming to Samaritan's Way In Kampala, Uganda

When Susie and I worked for a year at an orphanage in Mexico (1981), we were surprised to learn that most of the kids had a parent (usually a mother) who was alive. I'd always assumed orphans had no family. Nevertheless, these were abandoned kids for one reason or another and the orphanage provided a safety net of sorts. 

According to the United Nations Children's Fund website, UNICEF and global partners define an orphan as a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death. By this definition, there were nearly 140 million orphans globally in 2015, including 61 million in Asia, 52 million in Africa, 10 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 7.3 million in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This large figure represents not only children who have lost both parents, but also those who have lost a father but have a surviving mother or have lost their mother but have a surviving father.

Of the nearly 140 million children classified as orphans, 15.1 million have lost both parents.

* * * 

A few years ago we learned about the work that Hon. Ida Mehangye has been doing ever since she first took in her orphaned niece and nephew after her sister and brother-in-law died from AIDS. The AIDS epidemic in Africa has caused immense and widespread suffering to a degree that Americans would find near impossible to comprehend. After these first two, other people began bringing her other orphaned Ugandan children in Kampala, true orphans with no parents. 

Before Covid-19, Samaritan's Way, the children's home she founded, was over capacity, with 45 kids in her care. All that changed, as did financial resources, and the facility had to be closed. The children were split amongst all the workers involved, 12 here, 11 there. 

Because of the impossible situation for one of the families, 15 of the children were returned to the home and the landlord extended mercy as well by allowing Ida and the children to remain. 

With Christmas approaching, I am making this appeal to any of you who wish to be generous in an unusual way right now. This is an orphanage that is not part of some massive fund-raising organization. They have no advertising committee, no offices somewhere. It is essentially a good will mission started by a couple who cares, who took a step to meet a need, and found there was much more need than even they realized. Any gifts supplied go directly to meeting needs.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES make it possible to send money straight to the orphanage. If you have an extra 50 or 100 dollars this year and wish to do something will make a real difference, I can help you get connected through Sendwave, a simple app for your phone. Even $10 will help... and will go much further than you can imagine. If you would like to help send an email to me at at this address: ennyman3 AT gmail DOT com.

The children in the photo at the top are (L to R) Grace, Shallot and Chris. Grace is five years old. She is an orphan who lives with her Aunt when not at the Orphanage. Shallot is a very active young girl of five years. She has been at the Orphanage since she was two years old. Chris, who is four, was brought to the Orphanage last year; by his Grandma. He is a very promising young boy.

Feel free to share this link with others. Together we can make a difference. As Idah would say: "Kind regards and God bless you."

Related Links

Would You Like to Help Paint an Orphanage?
Orphanage in Uganda Celebrates Christmas
About Schmidt: Even Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks & Make a Difference

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Bibliography of Criticism of Public Schools and Colleges

One of the books on my bookshelf is a little volume from 1922 called Free Thought and Official Propaganda by Bertrand Russell. It is an first printing of the Crowley Memorial Lecture that Mr. Russell gave on 24 March 1922 at the South Place Institute. 

I was prompted to review the book because of the widespread influence of "cancel culture" that has been occurring in public discourse. It's interesting that Mr. Russell recognized early on, more than two decades before Orwell's 1984 made waves, that there is a tendency to pressure people to conform to certain ideas. The pressure comes in a variety of forms, and it is unhealthy. 

That, however, is not the subject of this blog post. On the empty page that precedes the title page of this little book someone penned a list with the heading Bibliography of Criticism of Public Schools and Colleges. 

The other night I searched online to see if I could find any of these volumes. The answer is that most are quite hard to find or too expensive to consider purchasing in order to quench my curiosity. Nevertheless, I did take notes, did a little cut and paste work so that others, if interested, could get a feel for some of the attitudes toward public education about a century ago.

Here's what I found.

The Goose-Step
Upton Sinclair (1923)
It is an investigation into the consequences of plutocratic capitalist control of American colleges and universities. Sinclair writes, “Our educational system is not a public service, but an instrument of special privilege; its purpose is not to further the welfare of mankind, but merely to keep America capitalist."

"I talked with another professor at Chicago, who does not want his name used. I asked him what he thought about the status of his profession, and he gave the best description of academic freedom in America that I have yet come upon. He said, 'We are good cows; we stand quietly in our stanchions, and give down our milk at regular hours. We are free, because we have no desire to do anything but what we are told we ought to do. And we die of premature senility.'" (p. 247)

University Control
J.M. Cattell (1913)

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.


Cattell remains famous for his contributions in intelligence testing, as well as his work on individual differences in perception and reaction times.

Like many eminent scientists and scholars of the time, Cattell's thought was influenced by belief in eugenics, defined as the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population, usually referring to human populations."[6] Cattell's belief in eugenics was heavily influenced by the research of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution motivated Cattell's emphasis on studying “the psychology of individual differences”.

Free Thought and Official Propaganda
Bertrand Russell

Of this I plan to write at least one or two future blog posts on aspects of the book.

The Goslings
Upton Sinclair

Cicero Brian wrote: Socialist Upton Sinclair penned this withering critique of government (a.k.a. "public") schools in the early 1920s. He realized, as Hitler, the Jesuits, and any else interested in controlling or influencing a society does, that schools are where the young clay is molded. Perhaps the best review of it was written by the great the libertarian intellect H.L. Mencken in the April, 1924 issue of The American Mercury (url: [...]). He recommended the book heartily, noting that it "presents an engrossing, instructive, and, if allowance be made for the author's indignation, highly amusing record of chicanery and imbecility--a vast chronicle of wasted money, peanut politics and false pretenses," but pointing out a serious flaw, "an erroneous assumption" from which "springs... a great deal of false reasoning and vain indignation." (Read about that flaw from Mencken himself.)

Many people, including yours truly, have long researched and warned about the conspiracy that has long gripped the American education system; among them, John Taylor Gatto is arguably the single most valuable. Named NY City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and NY State Teacher of the Year in 1991, he gradually realized that our schools were doing more harm than good. Having the ear of the top education officials in the nation because he rubbed elbows with them, he initially assumed his ideas for improving the schools would be welcome. When he found out that they weren't, Gatto quickly realized that our schools were not, as he had naively assumed, broken; they were working as designed. He quit teaching in 1991 and has been waging guerrilla warfare on gov't schooling ever since. 

Humanizing Education
Samuel Schmalheusen


Summary of review: https://www.pep-web.org/document.php?id=ijp.008.0441a

The Law of the Jungle Chap IX ff
Coburn Allen


The Higher Learning in America
Thorsten Veblen (1926)

Probably the best-known fact about The Higher Learning in America by Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) is that the author’s original subtitle for it was “A Study in Total Depravity.” By the time the book finally appeared in print in 1918, the wording had been changed to “A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men,” which gives the reader a clearer sense of the contents, albeit at a considerable loss in piquancy.


What’s Wrong with American Education
David Snedden (1927)


Many of the battles in education today are the same ones faced a century ago. 

The Education of Henry Adams
Henry Adams


The Education of Henry Adams is an autobiography that records the struggle of Bostonian Henry Adams (1838–1918), in his later years, to come to terms with the dawning 20th century, so different from the world of his youth. It is also a sharp critique of 19th-century educational theory and practice. In 1907, Adams began privately circulating copies of a limited edition printed at his own expense. Commercial publication of the book had to await its author's 1918 death, whereupon it won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize. The Modern Library placed it first in a list of the top 100 English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century.

What Is and What Might Be
Edmond Holmes (1911)


The Standardization of Error
Vilhjalmur Stefansson

This thin tome is a seminal work on how we humans tend to cloud up topics of interest with utterly innane 'facts,' and how the folks who do so are like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, a behavior *never* observed in Nature.

Nonetheless, the allusion has progressed to an extremely useful rhetorical 'shorthand" of sorts, that far transcends its untruthful beginnings. A VERY good read, which will take you years to fully 'grok.'

Fads & Fallacies in Present Day Education
H. E. Bucholtz


Friday, November 20, 2020

Flashback Friday: Goofs

Last night I started watching A River Runs Through It, a film directed by Robert Redford based on a novella by Norman Maclean, who also co-wrote the screenplay. I've read the book several times, and seen the film a few times as well, albeit perhaps 10 or 20 years ago. 

Last night, though, I found myself questioning a couple details as they came up. For example, Norman, the storyteller, says he saw the great boxer John L. Sullivan fight while he was out East. For some reason I thought Sullivan fought around 1900, not 1920. A little after there was a reference Burma Shave, which I had thought took place much later. 

So I decided to check this out, and sure enough I was right and the film got it wrong. Sullivan died in 1918. And when Paul does a Bogart imitation at the speakeasy, well that is too much. I am watching a Bogart film tonight (In a Lonely Place) and though it was shot in 1950 I remember when I was in college we saw Bogart's first big screen film. (I just did a fact check, and yes he was in a small short film in 1928) but this scene in River Runs Through It was 1925, so I doubt he knew yer what Bogie sounded like since it was the silent film era..

All this is lead in to a blog post I wrote 10 years ago this month called Goofs. In that instance I detailed the goof in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Most films have them but I was surprised by the quantity of errata in this early Redford film. Here is a page itemizing what people have observed.

And here's my original blog post from Thanksgiving weekend 2010. 


While watching movies I often like to read about the films in greater detail at imdb.com. Internet Movie Data Base is a great resource for getting background information about a film, or other viewers' opinion before you check out a flick. In addition to reviews, you can select actors or actresses and review the span of their entire careers, including future projects they have signed on to. 
One section that is fun is the trivia about each film. Another page highlights good lines and dialogue fragments. And in the event you are not a regular user of the site, there is still another section which I find interesting, titled Goofs. 

While I was talking on the phone with my brother yesterday he said they were being attacked by a flock of birds while on the way to the theater. He was jesting, but said it felt like a scene from the movie by Alfred Hitchcock. Based on that trigger, I chose to use The Birds to give an example of the kinds of goofs for this film. 

Revealing mistakes: When Melanie is climbing upstairs we see her shadow on the wall, even though the only light source is the flashlight she is using. 

Continuity: Just before the gas station explosion, gas is shown running into the left rear tire of a red car. The next shot of that car, taken from a little farther back, shows gas running near the tail of the car but the area around the tire itself is completely dry. 

Revealing mistakes: When the children are running from the school while being attacked, the birds attacking them cast no shadows. 

Continuity: After the seagull attacks Melanie on the boat, her hair appears disarranged. The next shot shows her hair neatly arranged again. 

Crew or equipment visible: When Melanie was driving her car to deliver the lovebirds, there's a shot of the front of the car and the camera is reflected in the window.

These are just a few of the dozens of observations people have noted about this film.

If you go through the Hitchcock catalog you will see that the films are rife with goofs. But this is hardly a Hitchcock characteristic. Directors know that they must operate with seemingly countless variables while simultaneously making the story "work" and all within a fixed budget.

What prompted me to write about goofs today was, in part, seeing the quantity of goofs in Cameron Crowe's films. As I investigated further, I discovered his films have neither more nor fewer errors of continuity than his peers. And as numerous as they were, I never noticed one of them in the three films I watched last week. Viewers only care that whatever happens makes sense in the context of the dream. It's when characters themselves act out of character that we have real problems.

For what it's worth.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Throwback Thursday: An Early Formative Experience

“Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things… I am tempted to think there are no little things.” ~Bruce Barton 

I read once that Francis Ford Coppola had an illness when he was a teen that kept him in his bedroom for a year. To keep himself from going crazy at what he couldn’t do, he used to create puppets or characters and stage plays in his room. No doubt this staging and directing on a small scale contributed to his achievements in Hollywood, which included hits like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

On a smaller scale I had a bout with pneumonia in seventh grade which contributed in no small way to making me who I am. There were five weeks left in seventh grade when I learned that I had pneumonia and that I would have to stay home and rest. Frankly, I did not feel ill. It was a form of walking pneumonia, so I didn't have a strong incentive to stay housebound. When my mother came home from work she'd find me continually in the woods behind our house or doing things in the yard when I was supposed to be "at rest." The doctor explained that it appeared the only way to keep me inactive, short of shackles, was to hospitalize me. 

After five days in the Somerset Hospital I was released back to the custody of my parents, whereupon I was constantly reminded that if I did not rest and stay in the house I would be back in the hospital. 
Evidently my parents recognized that I needed something to keep me busy, and they bought me a paint-by-numbers set. The set had two paintings of a pair of Springer spaniels, along with all the appropriate paraphernalia to make them. A card table was set up in the family room and I allowed myself to become mesmerized by what was involved in creating these paintings, which ultimately hung on the wall of that room for several years. 

You may scoff at paint-by-numbers art, but the whole procedure is quite instructive. First off, you come to understand that what you see up close and from a suitable distance is different. You learn attention to detail, and you learn patience. If nothing else, you learn how to control a brush, how paint adheres to a surface, how appearances are deceiving, and maybe how long it takes to get bored with an activity that is tedious and time consuming. Some people may not have the patience, though frankly, the process of putting paint on a surface still fascinates me to this day and I can’t imagine ever getting bored with it. 

After my bout with pneumonia I did not immediately become an artist. Baseball was my passion at that time. Later in high school, while feeling introspective and somewhat alienated, I returned to my art, inspired by album covers and the works of Hieronymus Bosch. 

In college I continued my pursuit of an art major and this, combined with my habit of writing about anything and everything I was associated with, led to a career in advertising. It only follows that my blog would be representative of these same twin passions, writing and art. The B&W image at the top is that first paint by numbers picture from the weeks I rested and recovered from my pneumonia. The face below is an early drawing from high school.

Can you recall an early formative experience that contributed, in unexpected ways, to who you are today?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Baby Boomer Death Clock

One of my favorite Woody Allen lines is, "I'm not afraid of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens." 

Death is a subject that nearly every philosopher, playwright and author has touched on at one time or another. For some it is a grim subject. For others it carries a sense of hope and prospects of release from the wheel of suffering that is life. 

This afternoon as I reflected on the Covid stats that are continuously bombarding us, it made me wonder how many people are simply dying all the time anyways. That is, earlier this year I became aware that 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day. That is a lot of people. Naturally it made me wonder how many are making an exit from this mortal coil each day.

I asked Google, and guess what? There's a website that has an answer. 5,004 baby boomers will have died when this day is over.

The website, incendar.com, has stats for what percentage of boomers have already died, what percentage are alive, and what year the baby boomer generation will be officially extinct. (2086, if you wish to know.)

Here are a few quote about death, followed by a link to all the stats for our parents generation, Gen X and Millennials. But first, a few quotes.

* * * *

That last day does not bring extinction to us, but change of place.

* * * *

Life's race well run,
Life's work well done,
Life's crown well won,
Now comes rest.
--Epitaph, President James Garfield

* * * *

"Do not go gentle into that good night."
--Dylan Thomas

* * * *

"Our soul’s perfection is our life’s purpose; any other purpose, keeping death in mind, has no substance."
--Leo Tolstoy

* * * * 

OK, here are some stats:

U.S.Baby Boomer Generation
Population Death Clock

US Baby Boomers Dead
26.0878252 %

Total 85,358,000
Alive 63,089,954
Dead 22,268,046

Death every 17.3 Seconds
5,004 Deaths Today
or 1.8 million this year.

Extinction: 2086

"Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell. Naked I was sent back - for a brief time, until my task is done."
--Gandalf, in Lord of the Rings, Book 2

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Spielberg's The Terminal Pushes All the Right Buttons

This week I watched The Terminal again for the first time in perhaps 10 or 12 years. Funny thing is, although I remembered the story line I could not recall the reason our hapless hero Viktor Navorski came to the U.S. in the first place. Nor did I recall that this was a Steven Spielberg film, one of several that the masterful director has made with Tom Hanks.

The storyline is this. Viktor Navorski (Hanks) has flown into the United States from his homeland Krakozhia, a small country in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, there has been a coup during his flight and the new regime has not yet been recognized by our State Department so that his temporary visa is rejected. On the other hand, he is not able to fly home because his return is similarly blocked. In short, he's stuck between a rock and a hard place. He has nowhere to go. 

Adding to his problems is Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci, The Devil Wears Prada) who refuses to bend any rules to help resolve Navorski's complicated tangled mess. A bureaucrat gatekeeper more concerned with appearances than realities. 

The film has all the elements of good entertainment. Conflict, comedy, characters with definite aims, all thrown into a series of stalemate situations. 

Hanks began his career with a number of humorous roles, and after films like Castaway, Apollo 13, Captain Philips, Saving Private Ryan, Sully and Philadelphia one could forget that he's pretty good as a comic. The film opens with Navorski being unable to communicate effectively with Dixon who is clearly clueless about the degree of their communication gap. Hanks plays it a little over-the-top, which is probably just the right touch, letting us know up front it's not a serious drama. 

Audiences may not realize how familiar Hanks is with the heavy accent he struggles to express himself with. In real life, Hanks' father-in-law is Bulgarian, and in one scene late in the film he's talking Bulgatian and not just babbling,

I remember wondering if this were based on a true story and was both surprised and not surprised to learn that an incident like this has happened in real life. The film was purportedly inspired by the story of an Iranian refugee who arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport near Paris but was unable to gain entry to France after his papers were stolen. What's a fellow to do?

So Navorski makes the airport his home. (I was curious if the name Viktor Navorski was inspired by Bronko Nagurski, the football star, a name that always struck me a cool.)

I remember bringing my dad to JFK Airport when I was younger. What I remember most was being struck by how tall those international passenger jets were.  

For the film, Spielberg & company built an entire airport set, including all the restaurants in the food court. The Hudson Books would be recognizable to any frequent business flyer over the past 30 years.  I'm curious what they do with these massive sets after they're filmed? One would imagine they're recycled somehow. Any ideas?

Some of the humor is subtle. Navorski is unable to leave the airport, but in one scene he's in the Borders Book Store reading Dr. Seuss' Oh the Places You'll Go.

Right from the opening scene there's that unusual attention to detail in the camera angles, titles and method of conveying information. It's part of the Spielberg DNA.  

One of the features of the story is how many character storylines are developed. Each is well defined, each has more to his or her story than what we see initially. Like Hanks, each has a personal quest.

Another feature of the film which I either hadn't picked up on before or forgot was this notion of waiting. Everyone is waiting for something. I think of the Kinks' "So tired, tired of waiting..." Patience is a virtue, and waiting is the test that tries our patience more than anything.

The romance elements bring another layer into the film. Catherine Zeta-Jones is a stewardess who flies all over the world, and at first she doesn't realize that Hanks actually "lives" at the airport. You know how it is when you run into people you know at airports. If you travel a lot it happens and they are always on their way to somewhere else. And yes, it is another kind of waiting that Hanks must do, ever waiting to see her again.

There were some mixed reviews of the film on imdb.com. Because it was Spielberg and Hanks, one reviewer said, "I've come to expect more." Well, it worked for me. Even Graham Greene wrote some novels that called "entertainments." Not everything has to strive to change the world. If you haven't see it, it's fun.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Kim Ng Becomes First Female General Manager of a Major League Sports Team

What does a GM do in Major League Baseball? To find out, watch Brad Pitt in Moneyball. Or, if you prefer, read the book. It's a good book and I've read it twice. (And if you listen to audiobooks, I'll loan you mine.) Essentially, the General Manager handles the business of negotiating player contracts, the dollars and sense.

This past week the Miami Marlins announced that they were hiring Kim Ng as their new general manager, thereby making her MLB's first female GM.  

When I saw the story trending on Twitter I had several immediate thoughts. First, when did the Florida Marlins become the Miami Marlins? I guess I'd not been paying attention as much as I should. Second, this is an interesting breakthrough. When will women be accepted as umpires?

I raise this latter question because my cousin Theresa was mentioned in a 2011 ESPN story titled Women Umpires Are Striking Out In MLB and again in this 2012 story in Women's Voices for Change.

In 2016 I addressed this umpire issue in a blog post titled Major League Baseball: Some Things Have Changed and Some Haven't in the Umpire Business. In that story I noted that women have served on the Supreme Court. Women have served as heads of state (e.g. Margaret Thatcher) and women are CEOs of major corporations. But there are no female Major League umpires. Why is this? Are baseball's rules more complicated than the U.S. legal system?

* * * *
The Kim Ng has many interesting features, one of them being that four years ago the Marlins became the first Major League team to have a black CEO, none other that the highly respected Derek Jeter. 

Ng comes into the role with a strong resume, 30+ years in the business. On Twitter the show of support has been massive, not only for breaking the gender barrier but also being a minority. Even Michelle Obama Tweeted her enthused response to the move.

"I entered Major League Baseball as an intern and, after decades of determination, it is the honor of my career to lead the Miami Marlins as their next General Manager," Ng said in a statement. "We are building for the long term in South Florida, developing a forward-thinking, collaborative, creative baseball operation made up of incredibly talented and dedicated staff who have, over the last few years, laid a great foundation for success.

You can read ESPN's account here: 

Congrats, Kim.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

A New Thought Regarding Agatha Christie's Crime Stories

Many years ago I had a friend who was going through an Agatha Christie binge. Actually, both he and his wife were thoroughly absorbed in reading her crime novels, ever trying to solve the crimes before Miss Marple or the little grey cells of Hercule Poirot could. 

At the time, I was involved in other pursuits, reading “serious literature” in preparation for a writing career. I can’t lay all the blame on Covid, but my reading in 2020 has included a long list of books from the John Sanford and Agatha Christie catalogs. In reading the latter, something dawned on me that I hadn’t noticed before.

“Ah, my friend, one may live in a big house and yet have no comfort.” — Hercule Poirot

How many of you grew up in a home with maids and butlers? As I reflect on the numerous Christie stories I’ve read, I can’t seem to recall any involving a family like my own. In addition to murders taking place in exotic places, such as the Nile or on the Orient Express, we have countless stories of people with wealth, whose servants are under suspicion, or who have both city and country homes. 

I can only guess that part of the appeal of her work may have been the voyeuristic aspect of peeking in on the lifestyles of the rich and, sometimes, famous. It was easy for her to write accurately about this lifestyle, for it was the lifestyle she was acquainted with. She didn’t have to make it up. In her autobiography she states that she herself grew up with three servants in her household.

“Servants, of course, were not a particular luxury–it was not a case of only the rich having them; the only difference was that the rich had more,” she wrote in her autobiography. 

This is a very different set of life circumstances than my father’s grandparents were experiencing in Eastern Kentucky at the time. (Agatha Christie was born in 1890.) They were illiterate and poor, but resourceful, scratching out a livelihood halfway up the side of a mountain, and even being generous.

Yet, even growing up with a nurse and nanny, Ms. Christie claims that her family was not rich. Rich people had cars. Her family did not. 

Two other areas of expertise show up in her stories. When it comes to poisons, her knowledge is vast. That is, the more stories you read, it’s surprising how many ways to poison people there are. She gained this knowledge first hand. No, not first hand by poisoning people, but by working in a dispensary during the two world wars. 

Another area of specialized knowledge came from marrying an archaeologist in 1930. While her second husband was actively exploring digs in the Middle East, she was no doubt picking his brain and digging for details that would give veracity to her murders in Egypt and elsewhere. 

She’s to be commended for her tenacity. Her first six books were rejected by publishers. Nevertheless, she persisted despite the lack of interest from editors, until a door opened in 1920 and “the rest is history.” She became a master of the craft. One title alone, And Then There Were None, sold 100 million copies worldwide.

If these are not new thoughts for you, then I suppose I'm just late to the parade. One of the first bits of advice that young writers are frequently given is this: Write about what you know. This may be why you don't find butlers and housemaids in my stories. More often than not it's just a character trying to figure out the meaning of his life.

* * * 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Mistakes -- A Handful of Observations

The mistakes of the Iraq war are not only tactical and strategic, but historical. It is essentially a war of colonialism, attempted in the post-colonial age.

Zbigniew Brzezinski
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (January 11, 2007)

* * *

The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.
    Elbert Hubbard

    * * * 

    After it is all over, as stupid a fellow as I am can see that mistakes were made. I notice, however, that my mistakes are never told me until it is too late.
    General Robert E Lee

    * * * 

    The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.
      John Powell

      * * * 

      In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.
      John Ruskin, Modern Painters (1856)

      * * * 

      Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
      Oscar Wilde, Lad Windemere's Fan

      * * *

      The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.
      Frank Lloyd Wright

      * * *

      To err is human.

      * * *

      The butler who folds his hands spills no tea.

      Friday, November 13, 2020

      Blair Treuer's "Identity" on Display at the DAI

      There was a time when serious art primarily meant painting, drawing and sculpture. Even photography wasn't considered a serious art form, nor print making and graphic design. But things change, and as more artists work in a medium, its possibilities begin to flourish, as do the boundary lines as regards what is and isn't art. If the 20th century served any purpose in terms of art history, it can be said that it was a period of time in which definitions were challenged and boundaries came down.

      The current shows at the Duluth Art Institute reflect some of the adventurous forms artists have explored. Blair Treuer's current exhibit in the John Steffl Gallery on the fourth floor of the Historic Depot is another example of the the possibilities of textile or fiber art, which features art that is produced using natural or synthetic fiber and other components, such as fabric or yarn. Here is a website that will introduce you to a variety of artists who work in various ways using textiles as their medium: Top Ten Famous Textile Artists You Should Know About.

      The title of Treuer's show is Identity. Treuer, who studied History, Philosophy and Psychology in college went on to work with disadvantaged populations through various organizations including foster homes, treatment centers and more. While working on her Masters in Special Ed she married Anton Treuer and abandoned her own career goals to focus on supporting her husband's career as Educator and Activist, and to raise their 9 children. 

      Each of the pieces in this show has a story behind it.  Here's more from the DAI website regarding the work:

      Textile artist Blair Treuer’s portraits of herself, husband and nine children move off the walls with emotional energy. Textures and patterns blend and contrast, creating form; fabric mimicking paint while luring viewers to lean in, to observe, to examine detail. Relationships of the materials emerge, as do the relationships between the artist, herself and her family. Treuer explains, “The portraits are an intimate conversation about my life and the lives of my husband and children. My son’s inability to fit in at school; my daughters struggles with drug abuse, incarceration and the loss of her children; the loss I feel about my severed connection to my ancestors as a Scandinavian transplant with nothing left of my heritage to hold onto.” Treuer continues, “This exhibit is about my life as an outsider, the only non-Native American in my immediate family. My work is about my reflections of standing fixed on the outside, but privileged enough to look in.” 

      In Identity, Treuer becomes a storyteller delivering a message, “magic can be created when two people from different cultures love each other and build a life together.”

      In looking at the manner in which her "textile paintings" are assembled, there's a stylistic resemblance (for me) to Adam Swanson's loose edges and vivid colors. Go see the show and tell me what you think about that.

      Like Susanna Gaunt's creations in the George Morrison Gallery, the atypical materials open new directions as regard art's possibilities. Both shows will be on display through the end of January 2021.

      Related Links

      Karen McTavish: Pushing the Boundaries of Quilting

      A Visit with Susanna Gaunt on Her DAI Show Integument