Time to renew …

April 2, 2017

It has been an awful, awful several months.  It seems like everything is broken.  They can’t get the right movie announced at the Oscars … the US electoral system is seriously screwed up, the education systems are an absolute mess … and the Cub reigns as the World Series champions.

Eamus_Catuli_zeroes

Damn it!!

For those that don’t know, that is the sign located across from Cubs Park that keeps track of the years since the last division, league, and World Series titles … and for the first time ever it reads zeroes across the board.

The White Sox are in rebuilding mode.  On the good hand, the Sox are finally building a farm system for the first time since the 1950s.  However, this means that the Sox will not be threatening for much of anything.  All of the forecasts have the Sox finishing 4th or 5th in the division (of five teams).  Hopefully, this bodes well for the Sox a few years down the road … but that year will not be this year.

Perhaps the most sad White Sox news will be that this will be the first time in six years that a guy with a White Sox cap won’t be in office in Washington.  Instead, the current resident of 1600 Penn may become the first president since Jimmy Carter to not throw out a first pitch at a Washington Nationals or Baltimore Orioles game while president.  Given the close association with Cubs ownership and the Trump campaign, you figure he would throw out the first pitch for the Cub … but apparently he is staying under cover these days.  As a baseball fan, I am glad he is not sullying the national pastime with his presence.

That all said, it is a day of renewal and rebirth … glorious baseball is finally back!


Why the most defining film of our time … is from 1975

March 30, 2017

We live in a senseless time.  Our nation is ruled by no-talents who wallow with pride in their lack of knowledge and skill at what they do.  Anyone who might know what they are doing are counseled about how useless they are, and how much they must serve those who know jack shit, while yet more shit is piled on them to prevent them from getting too revolutionary.

This is why I think this is the defining film of our era, despite being 42 years early.

Jaws_poster

I’m a star!  They’ll let me!  I can do anything!

 

I would like to argue that Jaws is a story or parable of our times.  In keeping with our times, allow me to spout my bullshit theory.

 

The film has a very simple score … just a couple of repeated notes … indicative of a society where funding for the arts has been drained to pay for an already bloated military.

 

The film opens with the establishment of immediate, clear and present danger.  A woman is viciously slaughtered while out enjoying her God given right to swim nude, with a great white shark taking the place of a couple of gun toting FRWEASPs  (who of course oggled her the whole way through their sniper scope before shooting the sinner for her transgressions).

 

Enter Martin Brody, police chief of Amity Island.  The Chief is a good man who wants to do a good job, but is frankly scared (why would someone afraid of the water ever take a job on the island … as the chief puts it … “it’s only an island if you look at it from the water”).  Poor logic, but the man is honest in his convictions.  They find the poor girl’s remains, and the police immediately files a “person eaten by a shark report” and sets off to close the beaches.

Watkins_death_cert

This is supposed to be in late June, but the death certificate says poor Chrissy Watkins was eaten on December 4.  Just more alternative facts!

 

Then the real villains appear … the business owners and the politicians (unlike today, they are depicted as separate people, but if this film were made today, it would just be the mayor who owns the hotel, failing casino, and golf course on the island).  The poorly dressed mayor, gently reminds the newly hired chief that doing this will completely damage the economy which is based on suckers from the mainland coming to sunbathe and swim.  The chief gets the message from the politicians and business owners and changes the report to “run over by boat”.

Martin_meetss_mayor

Seriously, who else other than a failed land developer dresses in such poor taste.

The next day, as one might suspect, the shark returns and kills a boy.  The mother senses a false flag operation, and offers a reward for the shark’s body.  This attracts every cast member and fan of Duck Dynasty and Swamp People to show up (at one point, one of the fishermen actually asks how $8,000 splits four ways … so you know this isn’t the PBS crowd).  They go hunting for their terrorist shark, and instead bag an innocent shark that kind of looked like the other shark.

wrongshark

They all look alike, how can you tell?  Besides, if this shark was innocent, it wouldn’t have tried swimming away.

 

Needing a dose of sanity, the heroic elitist scientist is called in.  The scientist realizes it is the wrong shark, and he and the chief go hunting for the real beast at night on the scientist’s fully decked out yacht (probably bought from government grant money wasted on churning out global warming papers, despite admitting he just comes from a rich white privileged family).  They strike out, but the scientist does find a tooth indicative of a massive predator, but drops it after seeing the head of a local fisherman who somehow got eaten by the shark inside his boat without a shark sized hole in the boat (this shark must be far more flexible than any shark in history).When the scientist and chief try to build a case based on science, the mayor simply refuses to believe it.  There is money to be made by his friends in the business community … and goes ahead with the summer celebration plans …

Defaced_billboard

The damn college kids believe in freedom of speech until they disagree with it.  Then it is vandalism and riots.

 

… but not before building a wall …. of boats … armed with heavy weapons out in the bay to protect the swimmers and keep out illegal sharks.

boatpatrol

Who cares how many boats.  Send the bill to Mexico!

 

That wall does as well as you might think … the shark goes right underneath it, and kills again.  This time the mayor decides to give in, and hire a professional.  This professional … a US navy vet with lots of experience (the moderate conservative of the story), joins forces with the scientist and the chief to hunt the shark.  You can tell he is conservative because he is grizzled and sexist … but he is a moderate, because the damn mayor is on his back about parking, and he wants his shack rezoned as part of the deal to kill the shark.

Quint

Moderate Republican c. 2017 (pictured)

The scientist and the fisherman don’t get along very well at first, and both largely ignore the moderate who is barely containing his terror.  Eventually, the scientist and fisherman learn to respect each other after comparing scars one drunken evening.  Showing that differences can be overcome … with the help of ethanol!

In the end, the professional fisherman is killed … because he allowed the mayor and business leaders to run things and not insist on doing things the right way in the first place.  The scientist damn near gets killed, but escapes to hide among some rocks at the ocean bottom.  the bravely heroic moderate Martin Brody (he’s a cop, but open minded) finally kills the shark using the tools of liberal science (a SCUBA air tank likely packed with semtex for reasons) and the moderate conservative’s rifle to kill the shark.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that, in the end, the educated and open minded will be the survivors … those that can communicate and understand where both sides of the debate come from. Of course, in the sequel, the mayor and business community get their revenge by firing Martin after he tries to save the island again while the teens try to run away to Europe … so there is that.

Maybe the moral is that until a decent man is elected president, we will all be chum!


This is why I really hate cell phones!

March 18, 2017

If a student asks me my opinion on time travel, I tell them that I don’t believe it will ever happen, though the only thing I can be sure of is that I never get involved in its invention.  When the student asks how I can be so sure, I ask them to pull their cell phone out.  After they produce it, I tell them that this is the evidence, because if I was ever involved in time travel, the first thing I would do is make sure these damned things were never invented.

Cell phones a frickin’ plague on education.  No one is sure how to handle them properly, and what generally happens is a lot of fighting (or no fighting, and cell phones everywhere).

Parents are the biggest pains in the posterior about this.  I would estimate that 60-70% of texts to students are parents … and sometimes those texts are “call me”, which is code for “go to the bathroom and call me”.  It is bad enough that students don’t know how to properly use this technology, something made worse by the fact that relatively few parents know how to use this technology.

Case in point.

This past week, one of my colleagues was walking down the hall and saw a kid sitting at a desk taking a test … and was on his cell phone.  She accosted him, but on a second look, saw that the kid had tears streaming down his face, and was on the verge of hysterics.  Why?

It turns out mom had just texted him that they were taking grandma off of life support.

If you are thinking “what monster would do this”, then I say congratulations, you have not been replaced by a facsimile grown in a large seed pod.  I am often the last person to tell parents how to parent, but if I were a parent, and the family dog was being put to sleep, I wouldn’t text that … let alone that grandma was about to pass after what must have been a deeply emotional decision.  That a parent thought that it was OK to do this shows not only a complete lack of empathy to their offspring, but a complete misuse of technology.

Needless to say we had to escort the kid down to his counselor and call in the team psychologist to help with this.

 

Parents, please, for the love of God, DO NOT TEXT OR CALL YOUR KIDS DURING THE SCHOOL DAY!  As much as you wouldn’t want a teacher breaking in to one of your meetings to give a mundane reminder, wait until the kid is out of school.  If your kid texts you during the day,don’t respond until the day is over, and then reprimand them for texting during school.  If there is an emergency, call the school, get a hold of the kid’s counselor and have the kid brought down where they can get the news directly, AND have some human support on hand in case things get emotional.

Clearly, mom was having a bad day, but these are the kinds of things, as an adult, you need to think about before you do them.


Are you against Trump and his billionaire supporters?

March 4, 2017

Here is one way to show your disdain for at least one of his billionaire supporter families!

I wholeheartedly approve!

And on sale for the low, low price of $19.08!


We are the stuff of stars

January 21, 2017

It has been an abhorrent weekend, but I am trying to stay positive (hard as that may be when the newly minted occupant of the White House quotes (or paraphrases) an honest-to-goodness Batman villain in his inaugural address – and not in any ironic way either!  I was working today, but one of my colleagues joined the over one million people who marched in protest against Trump and his ilk … marches that stretched from Washington across the globe … all the way to the Antarctic.  To give Trump credit, as much as he divides our society, he has helped bring parts of society closer together.

That said, I am going to stay positive by sharing something neat.  As a young man, I saw Cosmos, the PBS mini-series that introduced me to that generation’s great communicator of science, the soft-spoken, poetic, yet tough Carl Sagan.  It was one of the greatest science lessons ever presented, and it sent a message of hope.

One of my favorite Sagan quotes (and he wasn’t even the first to use it), is one that teaches us that we are true citizens of the universe, for that is where we all came from:

Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.

 

What the good doctor was poetically saying is that the very elements that make up our bodies were born in the extreme and often violent throes of the universe:  hydrogen and helium were mostly born from the remnants of the big bang that marked the birth of the universe.  Others were made in the cores of stars as they lived their life. Others were born in the supernova deaths of stars or in the massive collisions of stars… one of the great cosmic truths … often times an act of destruction is simultaneously an act of creation.

Dr. Jennifer Johnson, an astronomer at THEE Ohio State University, has come up with her own version of the periodic table, highlighting where the elements tend to come from.

Just in case you were ever wondering where the phosphorus that helps hold your DNA together, or the nitrogen that makes up the folic acid that leads to healthy babies, or the sodium and chlorine that allows a thought to come into existence … all of what we are really did begin out there.  In at least one way, we are as extraterrestrial as any alien species we might one day hope to encounter.

Periodic_origin_elements.png


When poets attack (standardized tests)

January 8, 2017

There is a subset of the population out there that adores standardized tests.  It is hardly a homogeneous group.  Some like them because they did well on them as young kids, turned out successful, and think that standardized tests must be good at predicting future success.  While using one example doesn’t make a compelling argument, there is some degree of logic present.  People who endorse private or charter schools love standardized tests because they will consistently point to how poor a job public schools do … provided they never look at changes in test data from freshman to senior year.  Others simply see no better way to measure student accomplishment.

However, there is at least one point that this all hinges on:  can we trust these tests.  Clearly, if the answer is “no”, then the entire argument of supporting their use becomes a moot one.  Having delved into arguments with some of these people, I can tell that some of them have never looked in depth at standardized tests before.

I have.  There are lots of problems with them, and rather than seeing these problems get better, they seem to be, at the least, staying the same.  I was, thus, attracted to this Washington Times article (which originally appeared in the Huffington Post) that really says something about what goes in with standardized tests.

Sara Holbrook is an author who specializes in young adult poetry.  Two of Holbrook’s poems (“A Real Case” and “Midnight“) ended up being used as part of the reading assessment on the Texas STAAR test.  A teacher (who might be being investigated for revealing test questions) wrote to her and asked her about one of the poems and how she might answer a question asked on the test.

As you might guess, Holbrook was unable to answer questions analyzing her own poetry.  If you read the article, she gives great arguments as to why this happened, but what it comes down to is that the test writers simply do not understand what they are writing about.  Keep in mind, at least with testing giant Pearson, question writers need not even have a college degree to write.  And grading the test … according to that same article, a college degree is required, but the want ad was posted to Craig’s List.

In short:  the question writers of these all-important tests may not have a college degree or any meaningful experience in the subject they are writing questions in, and even if they do, may not understand the subjects they are writing on to the point where they can write questions that actually measure what they purport to measure.

 

Keep that in mind the next time these all-important scores come out and describe a school.


Trivia: Those we lost in 2016

December 31, 2016

I just go back from a pub trivia event centered around the theme of people who died in 2016.  As the host noted …. about the same number of famous people died in 2016 as any other year, but the summed notability of those who died in 2016 was a little higher than in most years.  Throw in the election of 2016, and the loss of family connected to friends and colleagues (my school district had three staff members die in the past year) and one might suppose democracy also can be added to this list.

Keeping with my trivia background:  facts about those who left us in 2016.  This is a long list.  Very long.  Hopefully you will find something curious here.

  • Vilmos Zsigmond won an Oscar for his amazing cinematography in 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  He had been Spielberg’s cinematographer on his first feature film, Sugarland Express, but shortly after coming to the US from Hungary, one of Zsigmond’s first film’s as cinematographer is the disaster  The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which you may have guessed routinely can be found on lists of the worst films ever made, proving it isn’t how you start …
  • Princess Ashraf Pahlavi was the twin sister of the late Shah of Iran, and according to some sources may have had a lot of pull with her brother.  On the one hand, she supported basic human rights for women, but on the other, she was supposedly the one who convinced her brother to allow the CIA and British Intelligence to overthrow the elected government of Iran.  In either case, the more conservative Islamic fundamentalists were not pleased, and it led to … you know where it led.
  • Fame” and “Let’s Dance” are the only two David Bowie singles to ever reach #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart.  I sat through The Prestige twice before I realized he was playing Nikola Tesla, though he is more recognizable as Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ.
  • In 2008, Post Office Telecoms combined various voices and had people rate them to see which was the most wonderful voice based on tone, speed and intonation.  According to their findings, John McLane should be petrified because the best male voice is a mixture of Jeremy Irons, and the now sadly late Alan Rickman, both of whom played villains in the Die Hard series.  A poll of Harry Potter fans ranked Rickman’s portrayal of Severus Snape as the single best performance of any of the characters in the Harry Potter films.
  • Glenn Frey was hired to play guitar as part of Linda Ronstadt’s back up band while she was on tour, and over time that backup band came to include Don Henley, Randy Meisner, and Bernie Leadon.  The first time these four founding members of The Eagles ever played together … backing up Linda Ronstadt on stage at Disneyland.  Frey also occasionally acted … he played the tightwad GM of the Arizona Cardinals who finally showed Rod Tidwell the money in Jerry Maguire.
  • If you are thinking of plunking down a lot of money to buy one of those new fangled virtual reality video game systems, you might not realize how not-so newfangled it is.  The head-mounted graphical video display was first invented in 1963 by computer pioneer Marvin Minsky who co-founded the Artificial Intelligence lab at THE Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • When Monte Irvin passed away in January, he was believed to be the oldest living man who had played in the Negro Leagues, simultaneously demonstrating that this era wasn’t that long ago, and that at the same time, we are losing touch with the last few men who played in the era of segregation.  Irvin was playing for the Newark Eagles when Branch Rickey approached Effa Manley, the Eagles’ owner (and only woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame) about getting Irvin to help integrate the Majors.  Manley wouldn’t let her star outfielder go without compensation, so Jackie Robinson had to go it alone.  When Irvin made his MLB debut for the Giants in 1951, not only was he a part of the first all-African-American outfield in MLB history, but he was joined there by a true rookie whome he would be mentoring … the immortal Willie Mays.  In 1968, Irvin was named the head of MJB’s public relations, becoming the first African-American executive in MLB history.  In 1973, he got the call to the Hall of Fame.
  • Since 1982, the joke has been that Abe Vigoda is dead, but in 2016 it happened for real.  In 1982, People Magazine accidentally referred to him as “the late Abe Vigoda”.  Proving he had a sense of humor about it, Vigoda appeared on the cover of Variety sitting up in a coffin, clutching the edition of People that declared him deceased.
  • Singe Toly Anderson and Paul Kantner both died on January 28, 2016, and they were both founding members of the band Jefferson Airplane.
  • The old saying is that you never want to be the guy who has to follow the guy.  Joe Alaskey was Mel Blanc’s understudy, and since the death of Blanc, Alaskey has taken on the job of giving voice to many of our favorite Looney Toons characters, including, for a time, Bugs Bunny himself.  His first professional voice work was as Yosemite Sam in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but after being put through nine auditions, for one film, he refused to come back and work with an indecisive director, meaning that he voiced no one in Space Jam.
  • Every family has a member who is a bit of the black sheep so to speak, and in the family of 12 men who have walked on the moon, Edgar Mitchell might have been that one.  Yes, he was the first ScD (aeronuatics and astronuatics from MIT) to walk on the lunar surface, but he also had a strong belief that most UFOs were likely visitors from another world, and he spent at least a little time on the moon conducting ESP experiments with people back on Earth. When he publicly claimed to have inside knowledge of alien visitation, NASA had to publicly slap him down because … do I need to explain why?
  • There is still a huge mess in the wake of the passing of Antonin Scalia.  Despite being fairly cross in their beliefs, one of Scalia’s closest friends on the Court was Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  The two shared a love of opera, and they even appeared on stage when in a production of the Washington Opera’s production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.  While Scalia’s death came as a shock when it occurred, after the fact, his doctors admitted that he was in declining health, and that his heart problems were so severe that it excluded him from undergoing a fairly routine rotator cuff surgery.
  • Only one United Nations Secretary General failed to get elected to a second term, and that was Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali.  Boutros-Ghali had four major headaches to deal with:  the Yugoslav civil war, Somalia, the Rwandan genocide, and the United States.  After Boutros-Ghali refused to support bombing efforts against Serb positions, and after numerous foulups in Somalia, the US exercised their veto power to prevent Boutros-Ghali from seeing a second term.  How much of this was Boutros-Ghali and how much was the fault of the US or others is still a matter for history to decide.
  • Probably the most famous college professor in the entire nation of San Marino, Umberto Eco may have been the predecessor to Dan Brown, mixing Catholicism, medieval philosophy, and mystery into a unique literary form.  One of his more famous works, Foucault’s Pendulum, deals with a group of publishers inventing their own conspiracy to stave off boredom.
  • While not as well known internationally as Eco, Harper Lee died on the same day he did.  Lee’s second major novel, Go Set a Watchman,  was released by the publisher as the sequel to the immortal To Kill a Mockingbird … but Go Set a Watchman was actually the first draft of Mockingbird.
  • Douglas Slocombe was the cinematographer for the first three films in the Indiana Jones franchise, but those were hardly the most important things he ever filmed.  As a young photojournalist, he was in Danzig in 1939 where he filmed the torching of a synagogue among other acts of anti-Semitic violence that he was among the first to film.  On 1 September 1939, he was in Warsaw when World War II broke out in front of him.  He escaped on a train that was machine gunned by advancing Nazi troops, witnessing a girl dying in front of him.
  • Donald E. Williams was the commander of the space shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-34.  On that mission one of NASA’s great success stories was launched – the space probe Galileo which was the first probe to orbit and study Jupiter and its many moons.
  • Only two actors have appeared in every one of the films of the Rocky franchise from the original film in 1976 through Creed in 2015.  Sylvester Stallone is, of course, one.  The other is the late Tony Burton, who played Duke, one of Apollo Creed’s trainers who later joins the corner crew for the Italian Stallion.  Burton earned his high school diploma and Bachelors degree from Cal while doing time at Chino for robbery.  While doing a bit role in The Shining, Stanley Kubrick learned that he was a capable chess player, and extended his contract from one to six weeks so that he would have a chess partner while on the set.
  • Martin Landau is not only still alive, but he can claim to be the oldest surviving winner of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor … since George Kennedy died on of all days … the day of 2016’s Oscar ceremony.  Kennedy won his Oscar for playing opposite Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, but he was also known for having appeared in all four films in the Airport franchise … and as the hapless police captain Ed Hocken, boss to Frank Dreben, in The Naked Gun franchise.
  • Nobody knows what the first e-mail message ever sent was, because Ray Tomlinson, the man who invented modern e-mail and who sent the first e-mail was adamant that he didn’t think to save these historic messages, and really did forget what he sent.  Tomlinson invented e-mail as a side project, and it was his idea to separate the username and machine identifier with the “@”, which we still use today.
  • Hellcats of the Navy might be a fairly forgettable film in the annals of Hollywood history, but it is the only film to feature Ronald Reagan and future first lady Nancy Reagan (then, Nancy Davis).  Nancy is not fondly remembered for spending a lot on new White House china and dresses during a recession, and for her consultation with psychics, however, she can be credited with helping to ease Cold War tensions.  Nancy was personally responsible for putting together the state dinner which hosted Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachov, and she invited Van Clyburn to play the popular “Moscow Nights“, which reportedly had the Gorbachovs singing along by the end.
  • George Martin is one of a select number of people who can claim the title “The Fifth Beatle” … he did a lot of work for the Fab Four including production of their studio albums, and helping them arrange their work (given the lack of formal music education that the band had).  “Yesterday” is one of the Beatles’ best songs, but it was Martin who added the string quartet that gave it that real soulful feel.  Would “Penny Lane” quite be as playful without the quirky piccolo trumpet in the background?  Martin added that too.  Martin has been busy up to the end, working with all kinds of musicians … but, how do you top what he did for the Beatles?!
  • When the legendary Bill Veeck ended up selling the White Sox in 1980, the Vice-Chairman of the Board under new ownership leader Jerry Reinsdorf was Eddie Einhorn, and while Reinsdorf has emerged in the subsequent decades as the more well known name, early on, Einhorn was the bigger name of the two leaders.  Einhorn was a pioneer in televising collegiate basketball, and created the first network dedicated to covering the sport before becoming head of CBS Sports.  In addition to heading up the negotiating committee for Major League Baseball on TV deals in the early 1990s, he also was put in charge of the Olympic TV coverage.  While unlikely to make it to Cooperstown, Einhorn was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
  • Ken Howard, in addition to being a long time head of the major actor’s union in Hollywood, starred as a former Chicago Bull who went on to coach basketball at an inner city LA high school on the series The White Shadow.  Prior to playing a hoopster from Chicago, he was most famous for playing a farmer from Virginia … he created the role of Thomas Jefferson on stage in the musical 1776, and then reprised the role on film.
  • When Garry Shandling arrived in Hollywood, he started with writing before getting in front of the camera.  The first script he sold was to Sanford and Son (he ended up writing four episodes of the landmark comedy).  When he started on the LA comedy circuit, he made friends with another up and coming comic named Jerry Seinfeld, and supposedly the Seinfeld episode “The Bookstore” is based on a Shandling story.
  • Patty Duke, like Ken Howard, spent time running the Screen Actors Guild.  When Duke won the Oscar for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, she was the youngest person to win a competitive Oscar, and even today only Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin have won the trophy at a younger age.  What a lot of people have forgotten was that, at age 15, she was called before the Congressional committee investigating the rigging of quiz shows (Duke had won $32,000 on The $64,000 Question when she was 12).  She broke down in tears, admitting the producers had coached her on answers before the show.  The investigation of The $64,000 Question eventually led to the more famous investigation of the show Twenty-One.
  • Joan Marie Laurer was fluent in French, German, and Spanish, had a degree in Spanish Literature from the University of Tampa, spent time in Guatemala with the Peace Corps … all things more or less forgotten about when she adopted the name Chyna, and became one of the biggest female stars in professional wrestling.
  • If you happened to catch any of Rick James’ 1980 Fire It Up Tour, the best part was the warm up act.  Warming up for the Super Freak was the unknown Prince Rogers Nelson.  Keep in mind:  the single “Purple Rain” never made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 … but somehow, this number, did.  On a side note, according to a 2015 interview, Prince was the only artist who refused to give Weird Al Yankovic his blessing to parody his songs, and Al has honored this.
  • One of my favorite old science fiction films is George Pal’s 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine starring Alan Young as the Traveler.  Older fans know him as the human star of the TV series Mr. Ed, but to a younger generation, he spent most of the past 20 years as the voice of Scrooge McDuck.
  • Larry Holmes and Treveor Berbick, the last two fighters Muhammad Ali ever fought, are the only two fighters to beat Ali, whom Ali never defeated later on.
  • Gordie Howe was nicknamed “Mr. Hockey”.  He took his final professional shift on the ice for the IHL Detroit Vipers in 1997 at the age of 69.  He made his first NHL All-Star Team in 1948, and made his last one in 1980.  The Gordie Howe Hat Trick is accomplished whenever a player scores a goal, assists on a goal, and gets into a fight in the same game.  I think this means he was very good, and very tough.
  • In 2012, the Newberry Medal was awarded to the book Breaking Stalin’s Nose, which was written by Eugene Yelchin, the uncle of the tragically late portrayer of Checkov (Pavel, not Anton), Anton Yelchin.  Yelchin’s parents were figure skating coaches, and his father was the first coach of 2006 US Champion Sasha Cohen.
  • In 1976, the IOC decided to add women’s basketball to the Olympic program, and the US team won the first silver medal in the event.  More than a little ticked about not winning gold was the co-captain of that first women’s national team for the US, Trish Head.  Patricia (aka Trish, aka Pat) Head would marry Ross Summitt in 1980, and turned her career into one where losing was only an occasional thing.  In fact, Summitt was already named the new head coach at Tennessee when she took to the court in 1976 in the Olympics.  Her coaching salary was $250/month and she washed the one year old uniforms at home … they had been purchased with doughnut sales money.  Needless to say, thanks to people like Pat Summitt … female athletes don’t need to sell doughnuts to buy new uniforms.  Her career record was 1098-208; the most wins of any man or woman to coach collegiate basketball.  She led the US women’s team to Olympic gold in 1984 in Los Angeles, and in 38 seasons as had coach, her Lady Vols never had a losing season.
  • Michael Cimino will be known for two diametrically opposite films that he directed.  Heaven’s Gate, when filmed in 1980, was an unmitigated disaster.  It cost nearly $50 million to make, one of the most expensive films to that time, but the story of land disputes in 19th century Wyoming only grossed a little over $3 million.  The disaster was so bad, that the era of directors controlling their films came to an end in Hollywood (and United Artists, the studio Charlie Chaplin founded, went under as a result), and in came the modern era of suits and bean counters controlling films.  Before that, Cimino created his masterpiece: The Deer Hunter.  One of the first films to explore in depth the ravages of Vietnam on individuals, The Deer Hunter was the film that proved Robert DeNiro was no fluke actor.  It won Christopher Walken his Oscar, and served as the springboard to his entire career.  Little know actress Meryl Streep was told to write her own lines, since the role wasn’t that big (she did a good enough job to get nominated for the first of her umteen Oscars).  I choose to remember Cimino for this film (that, and he wrote Silent Running, which is also good).
  • What author would turn down Orson Welles to turn their book into a film?  Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel did.  He was convinced that turning Night into a movie would cost it its real meaning.  Wiesel dedicated his life to justice.  First, in doing what he could to make sure the horror and inhumanity that he had personally witnessed and lived in concentration camps would never be forgotten, and then fighting the very forces which seemed to continually nip and bite at humanity, trying to unleash the terror all over again … South Africa … Central America …. Asia.  He correctly saw that attacks against minorities were slippery slopes towards something far more sinister.
  • Once, he was a sports writer at Northwestern University, but later he moved to TV and gave us an adaptation of The Odd Couple.  He introduced the world to Ron Howard and Henry Winkler on his show Happy Days.  He introduced the wider world to a great standup comic named Robin Williams on the unlikely success of his Mork & Mindy.  He introduced the world to Julia Roberts when he directed Pretty Woman, and I will be eternally grateful for him introducing the world to Anne Hathway in The Princess Diaries.  He helped get Ron Howard started as a director, and even helped his own kid sister Penny get started as a director.  Garry Marshall was just really good at introducing people.  Hector Elizondo, whom Marshall put in almost all of his films, met and became friends while playing pickup basketball.
  • There have been many great film musicals … who can forget Marylin Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or Deborah Kerr in The King and I … Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno in West Side Story … all classics, but gifted actresses can’t always sing as well as directors want.  Sometimes an overdub is necessary, and in these cases, opera singer Marni Nixon was brought in to give the actresses a little help.  Nixon helped cover for more than a few actresses over the decades when hitting high notes was something too difficult.  She finally got to appear on screen in a substantive roll in The Sound of Music, playing Sister Sophia.
  • Before he became the man behind everyone’s favorite little droid, Kenny Baker was a stand up comic and performed in ice shows, two things his character, R2-D2, could not do.
  • Roger Tsien came from a family of scientists, and he hardly let them down!  He won the Nobel Prize for his work in developing green fluorescent protein, which allows scientists to tag material in biological systems and more easily track where it goes.  It is so common in science, even our high school students work with this now.  His father’s cousin, Tsien Hsue-Shen helped found the Jet Propulsion Lab, and then went to China and started their missile, nuclear, and space programs.
  • In 1963, the young Gene Wilder was starring on Broadway in the decidedly unfunny Mother Courage and Her Children where he starred opposite actress Anne Bancroft.  Bancroft, in turn, introduced Wilder to her boyfriend, Mel Brooks.  Thus a very un-funny anti-war play by a German dramatist led to some of the greatest comedy ever put to film.
  • Hugh O’Brian was an actor who starred in the successful 1950s TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and starred along side John Wayne in the film The Shootist, but he will likely not be remembered for that.  Back during a hiatus on the TV series, O’Brian traveled to Africa, and spent nine days working with Albert Schweitzer.  Motivated by that visit, O’Brian started the Hugh O’Brian Young Leadership  Foundation, which is a still operating non-profit that tries to instill in young people leadership qualities and a sense of need to improve the world around them.  One of his last film roles was playing one of the men who helped to father the title twosome played by Danny deVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins.
  • Arnold Palmer won a lot of golf (but never the PGA Championship), but was also a shrewd businessman.  In addition to selling a lot of cans of iced tea and lemonade, Palmer helped to design golf courses … over 300 of them on every populated continent except Africa, including the first golf course in the People’s Republic of China.
  • Shimon Peres was an early leader in the Israeli defense sector.  He negotiated the first deals to get Israel advanced fighters from France and advanced missiles from the US (he also established the Dimona nuclear plant, which has totally not been used to develop non-existent nuclear weapons which Israel totally doesn’t have).  In addition to helping plan the Suez War, he gave the go ahead to send Israeli troops into Uganda to end the Entebbe hijacking. However, as Prime Minster, Peres managed to sign the Oslo Accords with Palestinian leadership, and formally concluded an ongoing cold war with Jordan, and that is why a guy who spent a lot of his time hip deep in weapons won a Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Leonard Cohen dedicated his 1992 album, The Future, to his then girlfriend who helped produce the album for him.  That girlfriend was actress Rebecca De Mornay, likely best known for playing the prostitute whom Tom Cruise works with in Risky Business.
  • Robert Vaughn, likely best known for playing the lead Napoleon Solo in the 1960s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E, earned a legit PhD, earning it in communications from UCLA based on a thesis about the blacklisting of communists in Hollywood during the Cold War.  I think the most amazing thing  about Vaughn is that his filmography includes his first role, two uncredited appearances in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, as well as the 2001 film Pootie Tang.
  • Back in the 1950s while representing Wisconsin’s 7th District in the House of Representatives, Melvin Laird‘s name ended up on a list written by Dwight Eisenhower as one of the ten men in the country who would make the best president.  His first legacy was in Congress as he pushed for more and more money geared toward the public health service to not simply go toward aide, but toward research, and thus generations of US health research owes him a huge debt.  He left Congress to spend four years as Richard Nixon’s first Secretary of Defense … which as you might note was at the height of that little unpleasantness in Southeast Asia.  Laird was often at odds with Nixon, as Laird wanted to get US troops out as soon as possible, and it was Lard who coined the term “Vietnamization” as a way to push this point.  He wasn’t asked back because Nixon needed to drag the war out until after he was re-elected, but that also meant Laird was clear of the White House when Watergate took down most of the administration.
  • Even in fiction, if you are mother to six kids in 1960s suburban LA, chances are you are Catholic, and while the Brady’s faith never came up, Florence Henderson was pretty Catholic.  Her last interview was with the St. Anthony Messenger, and throughout her professional career, the Benedictine nuns of rural Indiana who were her first teachers were one of her primary charities whom she went out to fundraise for.
  • When the attacks of 9/11 took place, and the Untied States was in the midst of shutting down air travel in and out and through the country, one of the first world leaders to offer help on this matter … el Comandante himself, Fidel Castro, who offered to allow US jets to land in Cuba without interference.  Love him or hate him, the man outlived every American president who tried to stop him, and when communism collapsed in Europe, he still kept things rolling along in Cuba.  To Castro’s credit, in keeping with his wishes, the Cuban government now has a law banning the erecting of any statues, art works or the naming of any places for Castro.  In the end, unlike a lot of dictators, he opposed the cult of personality.
  • Abe Vigoda wasn’t the only cast member from Barney Miller who died this year. Ron Glass, who played Detective Ron Harris also died.  To science fiction fans, Glass will be remembered for playing the Christian Shepherd Derrial Book on the short lived cult series Firefly.  This role as a preacher might have been the role he was most prepared for … he attended St. Francis Seminary in Cincinnati before studying drama at the University of Evansville.
  • The first Asian-American to win Olympic Gold for the US was a diver named Sammy Lee.  Lee won two golds in diving at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, and was good enough to win the 1953 Sullivan Award given to the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States … he was the first diver to win that award.  After diving, Lee dodged a lot of anti-Asian prejudice in the 1940s and 50s but earned his medical degree, but also went into coaching.  His best student, who even lived with his family for a while – Greg Louganis!
  • The Distinguished Flying Cross is one of the highest honors given to military pilots for heroism and extraordinary achievement while in flight.  John Glenn earned six of them.  When the film The Right Stuff came out in 1983, Glenn, who was running for the 1984 Democratic nomination for president was nervous because Tom Wolfe had painted him in a poor light in the book, but Ed Harris’ portrayal was much more positive, and his campaign started playing that up after the movie came out.  Glenn went over $3 million in debt from that unsuccessful campaign, but he eventually paid back that debt over the next 20 years.
  • Thomas Schelling was a Nobel Laureate in Economics for his work on competition and game theory.  Like a lot of mathematicians, Schelling started applying his work to other fields, particularly the arms race of the Cold War.  Director Stanley Kubrick read an interview with Schelling in which the mathematician mentioned the novel Red Alert.  Kubrick was intrigued, and between conversation with Schelling, and reading the book, Dr. Strangelove was born!  Later, in 1961, Schelling invented the term “collateral damage”, a term that has entered the common lexicon.
  • TV shows get measured by audience rating, and one of the lowest rated shoes in history was one of the first attempts to go nose-to-nose with Johnny Carson.  That was the syndicated Thicke of the Night talk show hosted by Canadian Alan Thicke.  Thicke did not dethrone Carson, but a year later, Growing Pains premiered, so all was well.  And yes, Thicke also composed theme songs like this one, this one, and even this one.  Like any great Canadian, he died with family nearby while playing hockey, so he has that going for him!
  • Marching band drum majors occasionally go on to do great things, and one former drum major for Cornell’s marching band saved a lot of lives.  Yeah, he invented a portable oxygen system and a new valve to drain the chest cavity of blood, but none of those saved lives like some sharp thrusts to the gut.  Dr. Henry Heimlich may have ended up saving countless lives by popularizing his abdominal thrust technique to save choking victims.  In fact, the first person who may have been saved by the Heimlich Maneuver came about one week after Heimlich’s paper was published and quickly popularized in the press by a restaurant owner in Bellevue, Washington.
  • Officer Paul Kramer became famous in 1989 when he pulled over Zsa Zsa Gabor and she ended up slapping him.  In addition to the assault, she had an open bottle of Jack Daniels in the car, and despite the judge trying to let her off with community service, she would have none of that, and ended up spending three days in jail as a result.  If you ever wonder where Paris Hilton and her ilk get it from, keep in mind that Zsa Zsa had a public affair with her own step son, Conrad Hilton, Junior, (Conrad Hilton, Sr. was the second of Zsa Zsa’s nine husbands), and Conrad, Jr left his step mother for a more stable relationship … he became the first of Elizabeth Taylor’s seven husbands.
  • Back in the 1950’s literature was becoming more and more modernized as the world took notice of the explosion in technology, but in the 1960s there was a turn back toward nature, and one of the books that did that was written by an Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.  The book was about a bunch of rabbits named Watership Down, and its writer was Richard Adams.  Adams took his role with animals seriously – he worked closely on anti-fur campaigns with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and a later book, The Plague Dogs, attacked cruelty in animal testing.
  • I am not a fan (nor hater) of George Michael, but was shocked to see that between his solo career and his career with Deadpool’s favorite band, Wham!, he had 11 #1 hits on the Billboard hot 100.  The only single that earned George a Grammy was “I Knew You Were Waiting”, a duet he did with Arethra Franklin.
  • No one should out live their children, and yet the year ended with a daughter nad mother dying so close together: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.  They both had rough lives, but a lot of triumphs too.  In the 1970s when the golden age studios were going under and were selling off everything, Debbie Reynolds invested heavily in film memorabilia, and ended up saving a lot of classic Hollywood history.  Among other things, she had a set of tuxedos worn by the Rat Pack, a pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, that white dress that gets blown upwards on Marylin Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, one of Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hats, and one of Elizabeth Taylor’s dresses from Cleopatra.  She ended up buying a hotel in Vegas to display one of the largest collections of film artifacts (and to give herself a place to sing and make money).  She eventually sold the collection, but not before preserving it, and making a tidy profit.  Oddly missing from that collection was anything from Star Wars.  Carrie inherited her mother’s bipolar condition, and drug use didn’t help.  She did manage to get sober, but a binge in 1985 got her into the hospital.  That episode in her life  became the basis for her first autobiographical book, Postcards form the Edge.  When turned into a movie, Meryl Streep played Carrie and got an Oscar nod for the role.  To her credit, she, like her mom, became one of the biggest voices in speaking about mental health, and that’s far from a bad legacy.
  • When the TV series M*A*S*H ended, the warmhearted Fr. Mulcahy, who had recently lost most of his hearing, said he would spend his post-war time ministering to the deaf.  The real William Christopher who played the boxing padre from Chicago’s Loyola University followed a similar vein … one of his sons is autistic, and long before autism was being spoken about, Christopher was an advocate for more research and more compassion for a lot of people who were grossly misunderstood by medicine and society in general.