Thursday, September 29, 2016


Mary Roach has recently published a book titled 'Grunt.' It is not an exercise book, but the subjects in the book are often referred to as Grunts and surely grunt during basic training. The sub-title, because all books have sub-titles these days is: 'The Curious Science of Human At War.'

Ms. Roach would be classified as a science writer, but an entertaining science writer, who has wit and grit and shares it. Her dust jacket photo shows her laughing, which is how you usually find her. There is probably still available a YouTube clip of Ms. Roach on the John Stewart show, talking about her book 'Gulp', an entire book she wrote on swallowing. You've never chewed and thought so much about swallowing until you see this clip. The two of them are hysterical over gum and tongue movements.

At a book signing for 'Grunt' at a Barnes and Noble in Union Square, NYC, Ms. Roach navigated the subtleties of what really goes into equipping and treating the nation's military when wounded. Even when they are killed. Details do not escape her.

Most people in this country do not have any exposure to the military. There is no draft anymore, so service is not compulsory. We have elected presidents who have not served in the military, which frankly scares me. Either of the two candidates running now have no military experience. One was in a military school. Hardly the same thing. Even without the draft, the armed forces are staffed by those who volunteer for service, be it active duty, National Guard, or Federal Reserves. It is somewhat amazing that they do, but that's how it really is.

Ms. Roach has crafted chapters on the thought that goes into designing weaponry, vehicles, and particularly clothing. There are several chapters devoted to the medical care aspects of keeping personnel healthy. We are treated to a treatise and sweat, uncontrolled bowel movement, noise, and sleep.

Some parts of the book are so detailed you might get queasy. The part of using a used feminine hygiene product and casting it with a fishing pole to determine bear attraction to menstrual blood is clear evidence that those who try and take care of the military will do whatever takes. They are inventive people.

You encounter so many acronyms and military abbreviations that your head spins. But Ms. Roach patiently describes them all, so you never feel left out. A list of these acronyms is long, but somewhat colorful. Thus we have the following, culled from only the first three chapters of a 14 chapter book.


I got to the last chapter and wasn't aware I was near the end of the book. There are still many pages that follow for acknowledgements and an extensive bibliography.

Thus, you reach the end somewhat abruptly, but it figures, you are treated to what goes on when those who are killed are autopsied. Apparently, since 2001, every service member of the US military who dies, even dogs, is autopsied.

This is done in an autopsy room that can accommodate 22 autopsies at the same time. A room way bigger than anything depicted on the numerous crime shows and movies we see. All aspects of what killed the individual are reviewed, as well as what treatment that may have gotten when wounded and later died. How well did the medics do with the equipment they use to stop bleeding? All bodies are subjected to a CAT scan.  Every detail is used to determine if something else needs to be provided.

An example of this is that those soldiers who are heavily muscled in the chest area, 'jacked' as you would put it in the gym, have tissue that makes certain lung needles useless. Longer needles are now provided to get past the tissue that gets in the way of relieving air pressure on collapsed lungs. Now, just having six-pack abs doesn't contribute to a demise that might have occurred because the muscle tissue wasn't breached by a shorter needle.

The sub-title to the last chapter is, 'How the dead help the living stay that way.'  Sadly, the dead are all young. A pathologist knows all, but by then it is too late.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

West Virginia and the Penny

My wife takes the empties back. She recovers the deposit on the bottles that we paid the deposit on. In New York, this is a nickel. She's not a so called "land clammer" who scours the recycling bins and trash barrels for bottles to redeem. She did however bring the empty Poland Spring water bottles back from Maine for her to redeem here in New York. It was a nickel in Maine, It is a nickel in New York. Forty-one years of marriage teaches you what not to argue about.

As a kid in the 50s, there was a two cent deposit on soda and beer bottles. Large quart size Coke bottles were a nickel, and they were a premium catch if you found one in the trash. I will admit as kids we did look, but I never remember accumulating any real spending money from the "land clamming" efforts. People for some reason like to smash the bottles when they threw them out. There was no plastic then.

Anyone paying attention to any campaign issues know that coal mining has been brought up as an issue. It is an industry made nearly kaput by administration policies. Coal states are suffering, and I would imagine the most coal dominated state, West Virginia is suffering the most.

The country singer-songwriter Kathy Mattea is from West Virginia and has an entire album titled simply 'Coal.' Times are always tough in coal country. Even tougher now.

Most people are familiar wit the lineup of states labeled on a bottle and what the deposit return is:
Looking at a 500 ml bottle of recently purchased Perrier shows:

Five cent refund: CT, VT, ME, MA, OR, IA, NY HI (10 cents MI)...

I understand there is a famous Seinfeld episode where I guess Kramer gets the bright idea to transport the New York nickel empties across state lines to Michigan and reap double the redemption value. This reminds me of the person who asked a financial column if investing in Forever stamps was a good gambit. Turns out it wasn't, considering even the tiny rate of inflation. Even worse when the temporary price of 49 cents was rolled back to 48 cents. Devalued stamps. Bolivia.

What now comes after the famous MI redemption value? Newly noted is WV 1 cent!

Huh? That's right, I had to keep looking at bottles to see if what I was seeing was on all of them. Ben Franklin's "a penny saved is a penny earned" is alive in West Virginia. The state considers a penny to be worth it to collect for unredeemed bottles, and purchasers value the penny enough to return the bottle.

A penny in West Virginia is a Godsend. Times are really tough in West Virginia.


This just in. The two men who found the bomb blocks from where the West 23rd Street bombing that took place on September 17 have been identified. Tourists. Egyptian tourists.

This is great sleuthing. It may also prove to be a bit of a problem for the two gentleman so identified. That Chelsea area of Manhattan is a popular gay haunt. The Hotel Chelsea nearby, and other businesses, bars, etc. are popular with the gay crowd. The fact that two fellows, Egyptian, have been identified may spoil a closet they might have been hiding in in Egypt. Maybe, maybe not. But it just goes to show you, it's hard to remain anonymous anywhere. Travel halfway around the world, pick up something that attracts your eye from the sidewalk, keep it, and viola!, you're known to numerous law enforcement agencies who consider you persons of interest.

Apparently the bag that attracted their attention showed up in a hotel's lobby with one of them carrying it. It is reported to be a Louis Vuitton knock off, just the kind of advertising the company was after. Making the 'Bomb Bag.' Reminds me of the Heaven's Gate/Hale-Bopp crowd that committed mass suicide many years ago. They found 39 of them dead in their compound bunk beds wearing their Adidas footwear. At least it wasn't Nike. Just did it.

Years and years ago I heard of the story of someone who planted a story in the company news magazine. I've come to know the fellow who did it, and I keep forgetting to ask him about it.

One of the features of the magazine was to put little items in about anniversaries, and travel destinations that employees just came back from. This individual dropped the names of two males in his department as having just come back from two weeks on Fire Island, a famous strip of sand on the Eastern edge of Long Island that is a popular gay vacation spot.

The story goes that when the magazine was distributed and people started reading it there was a bit of a howl from the area where these two guys (who I never knew) sat. The perpetrator of the prank was seen hiding behind his copy, obviously trying not to laugh too hard.

So, if you see something, and take something, and it turns out to become the object of entire law enforcement agencies, someone may eventually start talking about you. It is almost not fair.

The Double

It almost seems too easy. Have your pointed remarks placed in a book, 'Letters of Note, Volume 2' and you achieve status. Of course they have to be 'good' remarks that leave the reader wondering, "did he really write that?" In Mr. Edward Davis's case, he did.

Edward Davis, 'World's Grumpiest Boss' Dies at 85' goes the headline. An insert box of his more notable gems accompanies the obituary: "Anyone who lets their hair grow below their ears to where I I can't see their ears means they don't wash."

The bon mots aren't dated, but that one has to come from sometime in the 70s, when everyone, including myself, had hair below their ears. I did wash, and so did they. We didn't smell.

But, to Mr. Davis, owner of Tiger Oil Company, appearances meant a great deal. As for the picture of him above, it was taken in 1965 when he was the owner of Tiger Oil. Obviously his hair couldn't grow below his ears, but his resemblance to the actor Stanley Tucci is astounding.

In the book 'Fluke, The Math and Myth of Coinidence' the author Joseph Mazur posits that it is possible to have identical DNAs, albeit, incredibly unlikely. The joke goes that you're one-in-a million, which means there are 2,000 of you in China, considering a population there of 2 billion plus. Hey, I guess it can happen.

It is almost a shame that Mr. Davis's life couldn't be portrayed by Mr. Tucci in a movie, or a cable biopic.

But then again, we have all encountered grumpy bosses, and sometimes 'Crazy Bosses', as Stanley Bing has written about.

But I never had one who looked like an actor.

Pulling Ahead

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a commanding lead over Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in the contest for world's most photographer woman with clothes on.

Angela, as seen today on the front page of today's 'Money and Investing' page in the WSJ dominates a story on the problem Deutsche Bank is having. It seems the immigration crisis has been replaced by the concern over the bank's falling stock price and what this means in the global economy.

It seems the U.S. Justice Department is proposing a $14 billion legal settlement to close out mortgage-securities investigations. Oh boy, can't sue Saudia Arabia for funding terrorists connected with 9/11, but we can go after Germany for the housing mess of 2008.

Stay tuned. Debate Two issue?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Hypothetical Premise

It is not often you get to actually take a hypothetical premise and make it a real one. One of my hypotheticals has been to quip would an owner of a jewelry store buzz Patriots football coach Bill Belichick in if he presented himself at he front door wearing what he is usually seen in: a hooded Patriots sweatshirt and an equally rumpled look on his face.. I've seen a sign at the local jewelry store that they will not admit admit anyone wearing a hoodie.

We were in Cap Cod recently seeing my wife's cousin. The cousin lives in Craigville, and we were staying in Hyannis. We've done this on several occasions and on this one we mentioned the stores along Main Street in Hyannis, and some pieces of simple jewelry my wife bought for Christmas presents.

At the mention of jewelry shopping, my wife's cousin told of her childhood friend who owns one of the stores we had somehow managed not to go into. Smelling discount we purposely went back to Main Street the next day and flouted the relationship. Without even asking, a discount was offered that allowed us to buy two pieces that were going to serve as presents. The owner even seemed to remember my wife attending the same baby shower for the cousin's daughter, and being at my wife's cousin's 25th wedding anniversary party.

We had got around to talking about the Thursday night football game win for the Patriots over the Houston Texans, 27-0, with the Patriots guided by a third string quarterback, due to injuries to the second string quarterback, and Tom Brady's four game suspension in the Deflagate episode. Turns out Mary Ellen, the owner, is a huge Patriots football fan.

Transactions completed and Mary Ellen is headed to unlock the front door to allow us out. What better time time than now to ask: "Would you buzz Bill Belichick through your front door if he showed up wearing what he's always seen in?"


Monday, September 26, 2016

If You See Something...

" the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air..." are great lyrics to our nation's national anthem. But bombs exploding on city streets are not lyrical, or funny. But writing about them can be.

We were away in Maine when I turned on the television Sunday morning, September 18 after breakfast and heard of the bomb that went off in the Flatiron District in New York City the prior evening. Home turf. Was just on that block the prior Tuesday.

Never mind all the word parsing over what it was, I truly get a kick out of the emphasis that it was described as "intentional." This of course means Con Edison didn't cause it with a gas leak. So basically, we're left with bomb. Not good.

Then there were reports of unexploded "devices" being found nearby. Then a report of a bomb at a road race in Seaside Park, New Jersey prior to the one that went off in NYC. Then unexploded devices in a train station in Elizabeth that eventually blew up the robot that was trying to defuse it. Hey man, it really was a bomb.

All this overloaded the abilities of any weekend broadcast reporting to put a simple timeline forward and describe what has happened. By Monday morning there was a photo of the suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, hitting the computers and mobile devices of anyone who had the Emergency Alert App, that is usually sending messages about bad weather and missing children.

I was frustrated by not having a clear picture of the sequence of events. So I broke my rule of maintaining a home newspaper moratorium while away, and caved in and bought Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. And glad I did.

Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words, but a thousand words or less, from good newspaper reporting, is better than anything.

Thus, I was treated to the story line of the unexploded bomb that was found four blocks blocks from the one that did go off on 23rd Street. It didn't go off probably because the now identified two fellows who spotted the lump on the street probably loosened a wire when they emptied the duffel bag and placed the device on the street.

These weren't bomb disposal people. They were two guys who became interested in seeing something, then, taking something. The duffel bag. As anyone who lives in a large enough city knows by now, the post 9/11 urging is: "If you see something, say something."

These two fellows followed a new post-9/11 personal urging of" "If you see something, take something." And they did.

There are clear video surveillance images of the two gentleman. They are wanted as witnesses, not as suspects. That I know, they haven't yet come forward. This is understandable. After learning that they in effect disarmed a bomb in the want of a duffel bag, they have probably sought refuge amongst an abbey of monks. After changing their underwear.

Then we have the unexploded pipe bombs that were found in an Elizabeth, NJ train station on Sunday evening. Here, someone saw something, and said something. But apparently until two men noticed an unattended fetching knapsack that apparently was just the one they needed.  They walked away with the knapsack, contents and all, coining a new safety slogan in the process: "If you see something, steal something."  It's almost like that Abbie Hoffman book of decades ago titled: 'Steal This Book.' But as they walked away with the knapsack of their dreams they opened it, saw wires, and called the police.

Apparently their handling of the knapsack didn't disarm the bomb. A robotic device sent in to neutralize it was blown up trying. Hey man, it really was a bomb. Not known if the two gentleman are seeking admission to a religious order.

But the best part is yet to come. The bomber is apprehended on Monday morning at 11 A.M. when two officers subdue Ahmad Khan Rahami with bullets as he attempts to get some more zzzzzs in the doorway of a bar in Elizabeth, NJ. It is understandable that he night be tired at this point, and also understandable that he might think it is not a good idea to go home, where the Feds have already crashed the place.

Apparently, two men, one of whom believed the fellow sleeping in the doorway resembled the picture in the alert that has been broadcast everywhere, try to wake the guy up. He curses at them and goes back to sleep. We have a cat that will do that. They really do sleep 18 hours a day.

The two guys who have now identified Admad and been cursed at have called the police, who are met with gunfire from Admad who is just trying, for God's sake (or whomever) to get back to sleep. Ahmad shoots at the officers, but only manages to mostly hit passing cars, likely because he's terribly sleep deprived at the point. The officers apparently are not sleep deprived, because only one suffers a slight wound from broken glass, while the other's vest stopped a shot that Mr. Rahami managed to aim more accurately. Ahmad gets shot several times, surviving to be cuffed and taken to the hospital, where he remains.

Is there any moral to all this? Yes, of course. If you see something, take something, or steal something, say something to someone. Even the police.

Friday, September 16, 2016


The dates on the stones let you measure the time
Of the lives that lived in between.
The bracketed years reveal to the current
The joys and the troubles they've seen.

On any given day a person is born
You can record the date of their birth.
And on any given day a person can die
And you can record that they've left this earth.

And the morning we made our dusty descent,
An accomplishment undiminished,
We learned of the others and their bracketed date,
And our own, that remained unfinished.

So it is incredible to believe the end can be met
At the hands of someone we knew.
He put an end to life, he put an end to himself,
But he didn't put an end to you.

Fourteen years. Still true.
No one ever dies
Who lives in hearts
Left behind.

These people left many things well begun.
He didn't put an end to you.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Brexit, This Way

The saucy figure of Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May was captured by an alert photographer, Toby Melville, for Reuters. Caught leaving 10 Downing Street, unaccompanied and apparently without even a handbag, Ms. May was photographed in mid-step, leaning left.

According to her press releases, the left-leaning Prime Minister is still headed toward the Brexit signs, even though she has said she doesn't want to start the withdrawal clock until the first quarter of 2017, otherwise known as next year.

Photos of Ms. May have not been seen in number ever since she was elected prime minister, leaving her significantly behind Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel in the balloting for world's most photographed woman with clothes on.

This is true even though Ms. Merkel herself seems to have dropped off the media pages as she tries to regain favor with the German people, favor greatly damaged by her refugee immigration policy. Ms. Merkel still holds a sizable lead.

Ladies, it is still a race.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dos Equis

The Mexican beer Dos Equis has a new advertising campaign, introducing the latest "most interesting man in the world," a bearded, hairy hunk who is younger than the previous bearded, hairy hunk: 41 vs. 77 to be exact. The new guy additionally speaks Spanish.

The commercials are everywhere, in print and on TV. Dos Equis means two Xs in Spanish, which makes the beer one X shy of a porno rating, or one X ahead of a standard porno rating if you're having two beers and line the bottles up to display four Xs. Could also signify flour.

But don't be fooled. The world's most interesting man just passed away, so it is understandable why he didn't get the nod for the advertising campaign. He wasn't going to be able to go the distance until he was replaced by another "most interesting man in the world." A Madison Avenue concoction. Mr. Coleman was the real thing.

The real title, deceased or living, truly belongs to John R. Coleman, a college president who tried blue-collar jobs and who just passed at 95.

My first reaction to the headline on the NYT obit page was typical of the New York wiseguy: well, at least he didn't pass away quickly from manual labor. And indeed he didn't.

Mr. Coleman earned a full three column obituary, each column nearly the length of the page, accompanied by three pictures, the executive photo to the right, and my favorite, in one of Mr. Coleman's jobs as a street cleaner, the vintage version seen below. For some reason, these street cleaners, who I remember in New York. were called White Wings. They wore a white uniform and pushed that stiff broom along the curb, picking up the refuse and putting it into the wheeled barrel.

Years and years ago I remember reading about Wisconsin's U.S. Senator William Proxmire imbedding himself with a NYC sanitation crew where his best takeaway was that you never hold the garbage bag close to your body; you hold it out from your bofy and fling it into the back of the track. That way, anything that might pop out of the bag won't stab you. And that's how I've observed all sanitation workers to this day handle the bags as they fling them into the back of the truck.

There's always something to learn. And we certainly do learn about Mr. Coleman's vast number of pursuits in Mr. Grime's incredibly detailed narrative of Mr. Coleman's life.

He wasn't just the president of Haverford College for a ten year period. In his pursuit of analyzing what he saw as the gulf between academic life and manual labor, he took jobs as a street cleaner, a prison guard, a prison inmate (if that in itself can be called a job), a sewer line ditch digger, a farm laborer and a cook.

Mr. Grimes deftly avoids the word 'polymath,' as he also steers around calling Mr. Coleman a Walter Mitty-type character. He was also no George Plimpton, taking a job for a fancy turn and then walking away to write about it. He worked at these jobs, even if his term of employment was once cut short because he had to attend to his duties as chairman of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank. There were meetings to attend, and he couldn't be in two places at once. Mr. Coleman had a doctorate in labor economics.

A timeline narrative of Mr. Coleman's life sees him earning an undergraduate degree in economics, serving in the Canadian Navy, pursuing graduate studies in labor economics on leaving the Navy, teaching economics at MIT, writing several books, one with George Schultz, later President Reagan's secretary of state, serving as chairman of the economics department at Carnegie Institute of Technology, being the dean of the division of humanities and social sciences, appearing as a lecturer on 'Money Talks,' a CBS series in 1962 in which he explained basic economic principles to the viewers.

In 1965 he worked at the Ford Foundation as director of economic development and administration, and later as a program officer for social development. The presidency of Haverford College was from 1967 to 1977, and it was from the sabbaticals there that he took manual labor jobs, to eventually write about the experience.

After leaving Haverford, as if he hadn't already done enough, he became president of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, seeking prison reform, and the cure for a tropical parasitic disease, schistosomiasis.  He opened his own bed-and-breakfast in Chester, Vermont, serving as host and cook, and later ran a small weekly publication, 'The Black River Tribune.'

He seems to have capped all this off when he served as a justice of the peace, presiding over one of the first same-sex civil unions in Vermont in 2000. Doing the math, this puts him near 80 when he did this.

Mr. Coleman is reported to have have married twice, and been divorced twice. Divorced no doubt because at times in his life he was so busy he probably didn't even remember he was married.

It can happen.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hugh O'Brian

Live to be 91, and more than half a century beyond your most famous role as TV's Marshall Wyatt Earp in 'The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp,' airing in the golden age of the TV western from 1955 to 1961, and it is no wonder that when you finally, officially move on there are those who react to your obituary with: "Hugh O'Brian was alive yesterday?"

Well, maybe not yesterday, since I'm a little behind, as usual, with the newspapers, but he was alive this past Monday, at least until he passed away some time during the day.

In the golden age of TV westerns I was pinned to the TV, when of course it wasn't being hauled out the front door and down the steps to the repair shop to be worked on for an interminable period of time, all because it couldn't be fixed while it sat in our living room.

I have a permanent image of the repairman squatting behind the set, holding a mirror out in front of the screen, while at the same time trying to determine what the set was doing as he fiddled with knobs in the back, from spots that were inaccessible to us mere mortals because removing the perforated Masonite back of the set was not advised, protected by a serious looking warning label. No one in my family wanted to risk electrocution. That's what the death penalty was about, and it happened further upstate at Sing Sing.

But Hugh O'Brain's Wyatt Earp was on for six years, and the set was not always on the blink. Thus, I got to see Hugh in one of my favorite TV shows.

I also got to see him in his musical acting side, which was alluded to in the NYT obituary. The show I saw him in was not mentioned, but that might be understandable. It was a long time ago.

A revival of the musical 'Guy and Dolls' was performed at New York's City Center, on 55th Street. It was perhaps 1965, and I was still in high school, but left alone, I was adventurous.

I convinced my friend Georgie from the Chinese laundry down the block from the flower shop to come with me. I have no idea what the tickets cost, but even by 1960s standards, it wasn't much. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to go.

Hugh O'Brian played Sky Masterson, and Jan Murray played Nathan Detroit. It was the first time I ever saw a musical live, and it left me smitten. Vivian Blaine, from the original cast of course played Adelaide, the long-suffering fiance of Nathan Detroit, who in 14 years of courtship, only ever got as far as Saratoga on the train headed to matrimonial Niagara Falls. She needed a train with less stops. Perhaps an express.

Stubby Kaye played his show-stopping role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, who shared his dream with a revival meeting audience. B. S. played Big Julie, the man with the dice that had no spots, but who just so happened to have a handy memory of where they were once they were rolled. Always in his favor, of course. And if you complained, Big Julie showed you his heavy iron piece.

It was only recently I was sharing the story of who was in the cast with someone who themselves sang in musicals, of a sort, when they appeared in the children's chorus in operas, with a few solo parts in 'The Magic Flute.' We were discussing the woman who had just passed away, Elena Doria, who was a longtime director of these childrens' choruses.

In Margalit Fox's lively obituary of Ms. Doria, she mentions that several alumni from her choruses give her credit for preparing them for high-level professional careers, not only in the performing arts, but also in other areas.

It is in one of these 'other areas' that Kris, the Canali menswear sales associate at Saks Fifth Avenue can be found, who will, given the right prompts, tell you all about his youthful singing career and Ms. Doria.

Something always reminds me of something else.