Some people learn from mistakes, some don’t and repeat the errors over and over.

And some don’t survive mistakes long enough to learn.

Take the old story about “Boiling A Frog.”

We are told that if a frog is in a pan of cool water and the temperature is raised very slowly, the frog adjusts and bears the warmer water. Supposedly (the story goes), he will just keep tolerating hotter and hotter water until he boils to death.

Of course, if you know your frogs (and you DO know frogs, don’t you?), they will eventually jump out. After all, even a frog can only put up with so much.

The lesson is figuring out the point when the frog decides to jump out.

The philosophers will ask “What killed the frog?” Was it the boiling water or the frog’s decision

happy frog in hot water

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Why do we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday?

Because it took a century after the Civil War was over to finally officially address the lack of equality that was promised to the descendents of Africa slaves. Dr. King was a leader of the people and even while living became a symbol of all that was wrong with racial relations in America. His death became a rallying point for social and political change.

The turbulent decade of the 60s saw racial tensions boiling over. NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was shot by a Ku Klux Klan member. Another white supremacist killed four young black girls by bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

And a classically trained pianist named Nina Simone wrote and performed and recorded a song with a dirty word in the title and inflamatory lyrics.

Mississippi Goddam.

“Alabama’s gotten me so upset / Tennessee made me lose my rest / And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam…”

Was she cursing the state of Mississippi? Or was she just so exasperated with the events that she

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Norman Lear offered a terrific take on fake news in The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Among the points he made:

  • False stories were more likely than real news articles to go viral on social media
  • We’re more likely to pay attention to the final source of an article — the person who calls it to our attention — than to the original source.

The answer, Lear claims: “There is an urgent need for more and better civics education in our schools, and that must be joined by efforts to foster media literacy and critical thinking.”

There in lies the rub — to quote a source whose authenticity is still in doubt.

People are not all rational human beings like Mr. Lear is. Humans are selfish, greedy and needy. We believe what we want to believe, what makes us comfortable and what is believed by the

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I’ve been having fun on Facebook listing Christmas songs that are not overly-familiar and haven’t worn out their welcome.

For my final submission of alternative Christmas songs, I’d like to bend (my own) rules just a little.

Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin from The Wall Street Journal article.

Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin from The Wall Street Journal article.

You probably think it is unfair to introduce the best-known and most performed Christmas song in this list. However, many people have never heard the whole thing. In fact, not many know that there is more to the song than you hear in Walmart or on the radio.

“The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
I’ve never seen such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth
And I am longing to be up north”

The origins of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” are shrouded in legends. And if we can’t be sure of the facts from something this public less than a hundred years later, it makes one wonder how we can be so sure about legendary events of past millennia.

Back to topic — many versions were sung by Bing Crosby on radio, TV and in the movies and the recording in all versions is honored as the best-selling single of all time (spanning every recording format ever invented).

Estimated sales of Der Bingle’s versions exceed 100 million copies worldwide and add the many other versions recorded and you reach over 150 million copies.

The lack of certainty stems from the fact that the original recording was released before the first pop charts. However, counting includes royalty reports to ASCAP (the major songwriting rights accounting organization) of which Berlin was a founding member.

Where and how he wrote it is also lost in a swarm of legends. He may have worked on it as early as 1938. One story is that he wrote it in 1940 while warming his tootsies in La Quinta, a resort near Palm Springs, CA. However the Arizona Biltmore claims that he composed it while staying there.

Whatever the time and place, legend has it that Irving was excited by his new masterpiece. “Grab your pen and take down this song,” he reportedly told his secretary. “I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”

Berlin couldn’t write music. He hummed a tune or pecked it out on a piano and a musical copyist wrote the score.

Of course, the song was introduced by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941. The recording was copied onto a 78 RPM disc (they called it a transcription) and is reportedly held by Crosby’s estate to this day. He did not sing the verse then.

Nor did Crosby sing the verse when he debuted “White Christmas” in the movie Holiday Inn in 1942. And he also didn’t sing it in the 1954 film with the same name as the song.

Even without the verse, Crosby knew it was a keeper. He reportedly told the composer, “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.”

It didn’t sell all that well in 1941 (the world was rather occupied with Pearl Harbor that December and mobilization for war immediately afterward.) But by the next Christmas, “White Christmas” really took off. It stayed on the charts a long time (about 3 months) and became an annual best-seller (Billboard charts for record sales started in 1951).

“Holiday Inn” was a hit, and the song “White Christmas” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942. Crosby sang it as a duet with an actress whose voice was dubbed by a studio singer.

Another movie, the 1954 musical actually named “White Christmas,” became the highest-grossing film of 1954.

Yet Bing still never recorded the introductory verse, and he never sang it for the public until a TV show in the late 1960s.

Meanwhile, legends kept popping up that the song reflected “a satire on Hollywood types lolling around a pool, pretending to a nostalgia they didn’t really feel,” according to Wikipedia. That pool might have been at either the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Biltmore in Phoenix.

“The version most often heard today on radio during the Christmas season is the 1947 re-recording. The 1942 master was damaged due to frequent use,” Wikipedia reports, and it quotes a modest Crosby as saying, “a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully.”

This is the one where he whistles the second time through.

The version I want to share with you to wind up our alternative Christmas song series is a beautiful rendition by The Divine Miss Bette Midler from her tribute album to Rosemary Clooney (and included on her album “Cool Yule”.)

Merry Christmas music lovers. Enjoy the season with music and hope that William Congreve was correct when he wrote, “Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast,” because it is pretty savage out there. And peace on Earth for all.

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This story made me think again about all the things we were taught in school that are just plain absolutely wrong.

The government never takes initiative on its own. The official educational line is something like, “The government noticed that some citizens were not getting equal opportunities, so they passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The truth is, the government never takes action until either it is forced to (by threats such as rebellion and revolution) or there is sufficient lobbying and campaign donations.

In the above case, “The government” (i.e. both houses of congress) fought equal rights legislation tooth and nail — both parties. They only relented when it became inevitable — and there were riots in the streets, protest marches such as Rev. ML King’s to Selma, AL, and sufficient headlines and newscasts to make everyone opposed look like the lowest form of scoundrel.

THEN they finally jumped on board and signed legislation.

The major issues like ending Prohibition and legalized gambling were settled on a state-by-state level with the Federal Government declining to take a part in the issue until a sufficient number of states repealed laws against these “vices” and it was inevitable that soon all states would be breaking federal law.

You name it, and the government has dragged their feet on it.

The only people that never come around are the idealists who write and sell text books — and that is a whole ‘nother story about pressure and undue influence.

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If you are wondering why there hasn’t been a front page post recently, it is because I have been working on my history of The Bunkhouse Boys.

This is the way I honor the memory of my big brother, Craig Ward, who was taken away from us much too soon by cancer.

I believe that a huge part of his joy in life was his time with The Bunkhouse Boys, comprised of his two brothers and a great friend. To make this public is to show the world (or at least the world wide web) what he did and what he meant to us.

There will be more installments on this blog.  How many?  I don’t know.  I think there are a lot of stories to tell.  First I’ll set down the basic chronology and then get into anecdotes.

If you knew him and loved him, I hope you enjoy reading about Craig.

If you didn’t know him, you are welcome to get acquainted by reading these tales.

Happy Birthday Craig.

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What Is Inflation — and Will It Happen Again?

A hundred dollars in 1967 would have the purchasing power of $723.74 today (2016) according to the US Bureau of Labor. They have a handy calculator on the web.

This is technically how we measure inflation. In other words, we have had nearly 725% inflation since 1967.

To keep you from having a heart attack, the USBL decided to change their basis for inflation. The current standard reference base period was changed to the 36-month period encompassing 1982, 1983, and 1984.

By that measure, $100 in 1984 would have the purchasing power of $232.66 — and inflation rate of 232 2/3%

What is all this economic voodoo? It is called “monetizing the debt.”

The term applies to the process of the Federal Reserve buying debt, which increases the money supply, which usually leads to inflation.

For an explanation of how this works, you can read a good, lucid description.

Why did we start counting inflation at 1967? According to one economist’s blog:

“In the 60’s and 70’s the Fed increased the money supply to help finance the Viet Nam War and to pay for the “Great Society” programs of Lyndon Johnson. The money created went directly into spending. Spending increased in both the defense sector and as welfare given directly to the poor. The money was then immediately spent on goods and services which led to an inflationary spiral that took inflation from about 2% to over 14% at its peak. All prices rose, including wages.”

Why was it reset at 1982-1984?  This was peacetime in the USA.

Of course, that officially ended in 1990-91 with Gulf War I.

Please note that “peace-time” is a relative concept.  Unofficially, after we evacuated the last marines and civilians from Viet Nam in 1975 there were still some clean-up operations in SE Asia.

And in the 80s there was Lebanon and Libya and Grenada and Nicaragua and ….

Well, I can see your eyes glazing over. Just to summarize this concept of “peacetime” you can read this article.

America Has Been At War 93% of the Time – 222 Out of 239 Years – Since 1776

Wars are expensive. And debt must be paid — so it is usually “monetized.”

The profiteers are happy to see this happen — even if it causes inflation. So the profiteers profit and the public suffers. As the economy declines, we get fewer services at home — schools, libraries, parks, recreational facilities, law enforcement and fire-fighting services are all cut or curtailed.

Our infrastructure can’t be maintained — highways and streets, water systems and supplies, and the country decays and declines.

All of this is very complicated and the explanation here is quite simplified. In fact, the reason we have so much of this war and inflation and such is that people are overwhelmed by the complexities.

However, we must do something. Without the wars, our economy would be strong enough to give people medical care and pay for education (including college) and to make our cities livable and clean and safe.

Politics is not the answer. Politics is a game and a means to the end (which is power).

We need to find answers and provide a channel for solutions.

Anyone who can provide these will be a national hero.

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The two people most responsible for bringing jazz music into the mainstream got together 60 years ago this month and cut a record that is now an historical touchstone. I’m speaking of “Ella and Louis” the first duet album by jazz titans Fitzgerald and Armstrong.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded their first duet album 60 years ago.

But the unsung hero of this project — and of popularizing jazz music as well as integrating audiences and venues — was Norman Granz.

“Ella and Louis” fueled a revival of that body of work we call The Great American Songbook — a treasure trove of music mostly created by white Jewish men — and spread it to a multi-cultural audience. And there it sits today, with most major artists giving their take on the various songs in the (informal) Songbook. In fact, Michael Feinstein gets a laugh out of telling audiences his name for it — “the Rod Stewart songbook.”

Norman Granz was a music promoter, concert impresario, talent agent and founder of several record labels — the best-known and most successful of which is Verve. His name is synonymous with jazz music to those in the know.

Most of the big-name jazz stars you’ve heard of were on a Granz record label and a Granz-produced concert. He was white and Jewish and was determined to integrate jazz music through music.

His biggest accomplishment was probably JATP –“Jazz at the Philharmonic” — which became a catalog of firsts.

In 1944 the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles had never featured jazz music before, and it didn’t intend to until Granz started working on them. The first concert was so successful that several more followed. JATP became international concert tours and popular live albums.

Using an integrated bill of performers, Granz refused to book the show at segregated theaters and halls. The tour ran for over ten years, until about 1957.

But as well as getting the music out to integrated audiences in integrated music halls, Granz got the musicians higher pay and acceptance at formerly segregated lodging while on tour.

He later tackled the task of integrating the hotels and casinos in Las Vegas.

In other words, the Norman Granz legacy is monumental. And along the path, his career was marked by remarkable accomplishments. And that was perfectly exemplified by the album he produced 60 years ago — “Ella and Louis.”

“It was perhaps more of a cultural leap, in the middle of that tumultuous century, that two black performers could be considered the best interpreters of white show tunes, and that the extemporaneous heart of jazz could elevate the whole to iconic status, desegregating American popular culture in just eleven songs.”

For the full story behind this album, you can check out this link:
The Story of ‘Ella and Louis,’ 60 Years Later

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I carried a daily newspaper delivery route from about 2nd grade through 6th and had to quit when I started going out for after-school sports in 7th grade.  I walked — didn’t ride a bike or have a car (of course).

The trip from the newspaper office where I picked up my papers to the first house for delivery took me through the business district, and almost every day I stopped and bought a comic book to read while I walked the route.  It was 10cents for the comics until those $#%& raised it to 12cents!

Vintage Marvel Comics Dr. Strange comic book cover

Vintage Marvel Comics Dr. Strange

My main fodder was DC comics (Superman and Batman, League of Superheroes and various spin-offs). I really wasn’t into Marvel, except I like Spiderman.  But the art was not as good as DC.  I thought Steve Ditko art was “blocky.”

I eventually lost contact with those comics — although I never outgrew my love for comic art (I never really had the talent to draw, although loved to doodle and cartoon).

I left Superman behind while Clark Kent was still a newspaper reporter, before he married Lois and back when Batman still had Robin … and all the other crazy alternate Earth stories with various lives and deaths and resurrections.  I don’t know what the heck is going on in the DC universe and Marvel universe today.

However, comic books are a minor form of entertainment now.  It’s all about the movies.  Especially when they make a billion dollars apiece!

They go through all the super heroes trying to find the ones the public will embrace so they can make a franchise with ever-more popular and lucrative sequels and spin-offs.

Or they just make the same darn movie over and over again.  (How many times can Peter Parker get bitten? How many times must young Bruce Wayne see his parents murdered?)

Now they are reaching down into the well to draw up a fresh bucket of superhero to quench the fires of rabid fan demand.

The Hollywood Reporter reports that the newest is Marvel’s Doctor Strange.

Benedict Cumberbatch (with an American accent) in the title role leading a British cast, as a neurosurgeon whose hands are destroyed in an accident, so he trains with a Far Eastern mystic guru (Tilda Swinton) to learn secrets of bending time and space and whatever else he wants to bend.

Marvel's Newest Superhero Movie Features Dr. Strange

Marvel’s Newest Superhero Movie Features Dr. Strange

As movies go, audiences generally want an action movie, rather than a thinking movie.  They generally want flying and bullets-bouncing off the chest and X-ray vision and a colorful costume. Instead, Marvel is offering Eastern mysticism and an opera tuxedo.

Will it work?

The HR review complimented the casting, but the intended audience might not know Cumberbatch or Swinton — much less Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The review also compliments the witty script — but these types of movies are more noted for lines like — “Over there!  Look!” and “Hulk Smash!”

But as the review says, “they unquestionably class up the joint.”

Of note — the villain is Mads Mikkelsen who was also a James Bond villain and TV’s Hannibal Lecter.  Typecast?  I imagine Mikkelsen is cackling all the way to the bank.

Supporting cast members Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt are all well-known (at least their faces are) and sturdy actors that should put in a reliable performance.

I’m looking forward to the movies.  I’m not a snob about intellectual content, but I enjoy a good mental treat as well as some good ole “Hulk Smash!”

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Today is the International Day of Peace.
I grew up in the Beatles generation, and I thought the world was coming to an end in 1969 — not because of the Viet Nam War, but because the Beatles announced they were breaking up!
Fortunately, the music didn’t stop. Especially John Lennon (and — yes, you have to include Yoko) who tirelessly campaigned for Peace and Love. “Give Peace A Chance” and “Imagine” and “War is Over If You Want It (And So This Is Christmas”), the “Bed-In” in Toronto.
Teddy R-bigstick-cartoon 
But reality is not kind — there has never been a cessation of war.
I learned a Christmas song when very young — “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” and the last verse is so melancholy.
And in despair I bowed my head,
There is no peace on Earth, I said
For Hate is strong and Mocks the song
Of Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men.
Happy International Day of Peace.
Let’s all try to get along.

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