Monday, May 31, 2010

The Folly of War

I saw a video today on YouTube showing the reactions of children when one of their parents, serving in America's Armed Forces, surprised them with a visit home. (Click for link) You can see the joy on their faces dissolve into tears and back to joy again when they first spot Dad or Mom. There are so many sad things about sending young (and not so young) people off to war. It must be especially rough for those who are married with children. Not only does the soldier know he or she may be about to enter a combat zone to put their lives at risk, but those who are left behind must agonize not knowing if they will ever see their husband, wife or child again. And yet this insanity goes on every day in America.

I wonder how often this sad scene is repeated in other countries around the world. It's easy to empathize with American families in this situation because, after all, this is our country, and while we are sad that people must go to war, we also celebrate their bravery for defending democracy and freedom. Are not people from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and other places embroiled in conflicts going through the same sad scenes? Do their soldiers not love their families and pray they will live to see them again? It may be hard to ascribe these feelings and emotions to enemies like Third World Muslim terrorists; it's much easier to hate them. But somehow, no matter how despicable their methods, on some level they go through the same anguish as we do.

I remember as a kid hearing stories about how families would dread that fateful telegram informing them that their son had died in combat. Black crepe bows would be displayed on their doors to let the neighborhood know that their family had made the ultimate sacrifice. Imagine the pain when Tom and Alleta Sullivan of Waterloo, Iowa received their telegram with the sad news that their five sons, all serving in the United States Navy on the light cruiser USS Juneau, were all killed when the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 13,1942. A friend of mine, Jack Bilello, wrote a good book about the incident called "A Band of Brothers". The Sullivan brothers death ultimately resulted in a change in Navy policy, prohibiting siblings from serving on the same ship.

Every time a soldier dies in battle, no matter what country he or she may come from, a family is torn apart. Since the beginning of man's arrival on earth we have been fighting wars over religion, territory, ideologies, politics...and for what? Is anything ever permanently resolved? They gave that peanut farmer Jimmy Carter the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at negotiating peace between the Arabs and the Israelis. The ink wasn't even dry on the Camp David Accords before hostilities broke out again. I'm tired of seeing soldiers returning to their families in flag-draped coffins. I pray that somewhere in the world tomorrow's leaders are being born who understand that war accomplishes nothing. We must learn to use our wits and resources to help those less fortunate in the world, not kill them.

On this Memorial Day we remember those who have sacrificed all for our freedom. I find my thoughts are with the families of the brave soldiers who go into wars started by old men who never see or feel the horrors of the front lines. I like what Albert Einstein had to say about war: "We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war." Say a prayer today for those families with a loved one in harm's way that they may one day be reunited. Say a prayer too that the leaders of the world will stop squandering billions on armaments and go to war instead against hunger, poverty and ignorance.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS:Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, May 24, 2010

Stream of Consciousness

Have you heard that radio jingle: " 1-877-Kars for Kids?' I will donate one million dollars to that organization if they promise to take that annoying kid and the hick who sings with him and drop them off the Empire State Building. Is there a better dessert on the planet than Tartufo? My ranking of drivers from worst to best: Asian women; Asian men; all other women; all other men; and finally, me. What's with road signs in New Jersey? They will put up a sign saying the Garden State Parkway is 30 miles away, but no sign marking the Jersey Turnpike entrance 500 yards away. Somebody should recommend a good hair stylist for Mark Harmon, star of the CBS hit show, "NCIS". With that ten dollar haircut he looks like Boo Radley.

I am the only person left in the country who has never seen "American Idol". How cruelly ironic that I can't grow hair on top of my head, but I have these lovely flowing tufts growing out of my ears. One of the best shows on TV for my money is "24" with Kiefer Sutherland as super agent Jack Bauer. Saw a great "American Masters" last night on PBS about the life and career of classy lady Lena Horne...beautiful, talented, and principled. Illegal immigration is turning two of our most beautiful states, California and Arizona, into welfare havens for criminals. The quality of life for legal residents of these states is declining while the tax burden for all of us is burgeoning. Guess what the Federal Government is doing about, zero, nada. Americans, learn Spanish!

When did we start caring so much about the so-called rights of captured enemy combatants. How many Americans have to be killed before we stop treating these people like visiting tourists. There are so many things on the forbidden food list, how did our grandparents eat what they wanted and live to a ripe old age? If I wasn't able to record my favorite shows and had to watch TV with all the commercials, I'd kill myself. A drink at most bars today costs 10-15 bucks. A bottle of booze yields 22-23 drinks. How much money do they need to make on a $30 bottle of scotch? NYC cops are really busting chops with B.S. tickets...I guess the city is so desperate for revenue they feel the need to harass honest citizens.

I know Tiger Woods sowed the seeds (no pun intended) of his own downfall, but he must feel like he's living his worst nightmare. I would trade my monthly social security check for the sum of one dollar for every moron I see doing something stupid behind the wheel of a car in a month. I can remember the lyrics to songs I first heard 50 years ago...Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers...too many modern songs consist of the same phrase repeated over and over, no imagination. Anyone else have problems holding on to those crescent-shaped cubes that come from the refrigerator ice maker? My friend just bought a car for $45,000 dollars. In 1971 we paid 45,000 for our house. Sarah Jessica I missing something?

Andrew Cuomo is running for Governor of New York on a reform platform. Given the disgrace that New York politics has become, this is welcome news for the people. Standing squarely in the way and ready to defend the status quo, as he is anytime reform is mentioned, is Democrat Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Guys like Silver are allowed to amass too much power which in turn allows them and their campaign-financing allies to kill worthwhile reform initiatives. Cuomo needs to get in touch with his father Mario's old cronies with the bent noses and put out a contract on Silver for the good of all New Yorkers. I'm sick of him.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS:Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Scams I Wish I'd Thought Of

Every once in a while you hear about a scam so outrageously phony that you wonder how anybody could fall for it. The commercials and infomercials come on at all hours of the day telling you how to make a fortune in real estate, how you could have the body of Adonis or Aphrodite just by working out with this glorified rubber band twice a week, or how this cream, when applied to your thunder thighs, will miraculously melt away the fat. Here are a few of my favorites:

A sure candidate for the Scam Hall of Fame is Rocky Moselle, the guy who dreamed up the 'International Star Registry'. For the sale price of $48.99 Rocky will name a star after the person of your choice. He'll even deliver a pseudo-authentic certificate attesting to the fact that he just scammed you for fifty bucks. The idea of selling naming rights to the stars in the sky is brilliant; all Rocky actually delivers is a piece of paper that's not worth the paper it's printed on. He has no more right to sell star names than I have to sell naming rights for the pebbles on the beach, yet with slick marketing and despite the lack of a real product, Rocky is a millionaire. Hmmm, the International Pebble could work. God bless America.

How about the little plastic gadget that is being sold to exercise away double chins. I fell out of my chair laughing when I first saw the infomercial, yet I'm sure thousands of units were purchased by multi-chinned suckers who sit there every blessed day raising and lowering their heads with this dopey thing stuck under their chins. Products that promise to make you slimmer, less wrinkled, or more youthful have a gigantic edge in the daydream sweepstakes. We've had this notion shoved down our throats about how beauty means thin and young, and the lengths to which people will go chasing this false idol are sad and pathetic.

If you think there's a limit to what people will spend their hard earned money on to improve their looks, here's a quote about a product that vacuums fat from your body: "The Hypoxi Vacunaut gives you a non-surgical tummy tuck. Along with an exercise program and diet plan, it's designed to take off inches rather than pounds. A neoprene body suit is attached by three small hoses to the Vacunaut machine. When it's switched on, it removes the air between the body and the suit to create a low-pressure atmosphere, providing a vacuum around the stomach area. The fat is metabolised and is then excreted through sweat, which is sucked out by a vacuum hose." Probably any commentary on my part is unnecessary. (Hint folks, the exercise and diet alone will do the trick).

Get-rich-quick schemes are also powerful lures for separating suckers from their money. There must be a dozen hucksters in slick infomercials telling us how to get rich selling real estate. Is there money to be made in the real estate market? Sure. Are you going to make any? Probably not. The question I'd love to put to these crooks is: If these sure-fire secrets for making millions are so foolproof, why are you sharing them with the public by selling cheesy DVDs at two in the morning for $29,99? Why would you invite all this competition into the market instead of just making the millions yourself using your system? Answer: The millions come from selling the DVDs to us fools, not from buying and selling foreclosed properties.

Some of the stuff being peddled around is not just quackery, but can be downright dangerous. Dr. Lorraine Day is a woman who claims that all diseases are caused by a combination of three factors: malnutrition, dehydration, and stress. She tells people that drugs never cure disease. She spouts long lists of health problems that she claims are caused by commonly used foods and drugs. She apparently believes that it is appropriate to tell people that medical treatment has never succeeded in curing cancer, and that her ten step program is a superior cure. The medical community condemns her advice as untrustworthy and particularly dangerous to people with cancer, but people who are frightened, possibly desperate, decide to follow her advice instead of getting proven care. Doctors may not always be right folks, but this woman is a loose cannon, and in my opinion should not be allowed on the airwaves to sell her snake oil.

The saying: 'There Is No Free Lunch' may be trite, but that doesn't make it less true. We know in the common sense part of our brain that if something looks too good to be true, we are headed for a fall if we take the bait. Sadly, we are all susceptible to the come-ons that push our buttons, drop ten pounds in a week, get the six-pack abs you always dreamed of, lose those unsightly wrinkles and look younger in we call the 800 number and whip out our credit cards. There are no magic bullets, yet every day we prove how right P.T. Barnum was to observe cynically that there's a sucker born every minute. The next time you feel tempted to send away for that "Learn Spanish While You Sleep" tape, write a check instead to the Children's Craniofacial Association at the link shown below.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS:Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Braindrops Number 100

This is a milestone for Braindrops... blog number 100. I tried to come up with something momentous to mark the occasion, but all I got for the effort was a headache. So on we go...we spent some time this morning at the Richmondtown Flea Market here on Staten Island. They hold these events a few times a year to help raise money for the restoration of historic Richmondtown. The main village is located in the heart of Richmond County and occupies almost 50 acres featuring over 30 original historic structures, including homes and commercial and civic buildings, as well as an historical museum. Three additional sites include one of the oldest homes in the country, still standing on its original location for almost 350 years, and an 11 acre organic farm.

Flea markets are great fun if you like walking around sorting through other people's junk. Everybody's looking for that miracle find, you know, like the ceramic pot that the lady on Antiques Roadshow says she bought for two dollars and the breathless appraiser gushes that today it's worth fifty grand. We used to go to flea markets more often, but even with a ten-room house, we just ran out of space. Today I picked up some artist's brushes, a painted dish, and a book published in 1921 called "The Latch Key", a collection of writings selected and edited for children by Olive Beaupre Miller. The book was part of a series of six published by Bookhouse, containing writings by renowned authors like Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Anderson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joel Chandler Harris and dozens of others. The hand-drawn illustrations were as charming as the stories.

One of the fun things about flea markets is that you meet some interesting people more than willing to talk about the stuff they sell or collect. While strolling around with the book under my arm, a man noticed the title and ran around from behind his table, nearly tackling me. "I hope you don't mind, but I grew up reading the Bookhouse series, and seeing that book title really brought me back." He went on to say that his aunt and uncle had the books in their library, and as a reward for doing chores for them, they would let him read the stories. He flipped open the book to a random page with no title, read a few sentences, and correctly identified the piece as "A Wizard of the Twilight" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Amazed, I asked him how come he remembered the book so well.

He explained that as a kid he was a voracious reader, and that his parents had few books in the house. He went to his aunt and uncle's as often as he could, and having few books themselves, he wound up reading the same ones over and over. He explained further that the six books in the series were graduated in complexity, with the selections growing more mature, intending to challenge young readers as they moved up through grade school. He reached down to his table and showed me a modern children's book he was selling. "Look at the sentence structure and the vocabulary in The Latch Key" he said "and compare it to what kids get to read today. Modern writing is so dumbed down, and even with these watered down standards, the kids can't write worth a damn".

He was on a roll and I didn't slow him down because I agree completely about the decline of literacy in our society. He was also annoyed that the legions of the politically correct prevailed the last time Bookhouse published this series in 1971, and removed what they considered to be "inappropriate material that did not reflect modern American values". One of the stories was "Little Black Sambo", a children's book by Helen Bannerman. In the tale, an Indian boy named Sambo outwits a group of hungry tigers. The little boy has to give his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella to four tigers so they will not eat him. I remember loving this story as a child and never thought of it as racially charged. Other deleted works included some of the "Uncle Remus" tales by Joel Chandler Harris. His "Song of the South" with Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit was turned into a children's classic by Disney. Instead of maybe footnoting these charming writings to explain how the times in which they were written were different, the book Nazis just threw out the baby with the bathwater.

The decline of reading among children is very sad. Do you know any kids who would do chores for the reward of reading time? How many kids will have had their imaginations fired by stories they read growing up? Will any of them be able to open a book they read fifty or sixty years ago to a random page and name the story and the author the way my flea market friend did? We all know the answer to that question. Buy your children books and read with them.


Children's Craniofacial Association