Intelligence Testing

[A repeat from September 10, 2015]  When I was in 6th grade, apart from being the local expert on creating and detonating bombs, launching rockets and making Molotov cocktails (see 10/10/12 and 10/15/12), I cut lawns to make a few bucks.  And kept my eyes glued to the ground for stray pennies (see 8/1/12).  And I sold Kool Aid on the local golf course for a dime (sprinting into the weeds when the Ranger came zooming toward me in his golf cart).   

Another occupation of mine involved the creation of nine different “Intelligence Tests” for classmates.  I would type (from scratch – one finger at a time) ten questions on a sheet of paper and give it to a classmate in exchange for a quarter. If they could answer the questions, I gave them their quarter plus another quarter (“you win“). If they didn’t, I kept their quarter.  No one ever won. . . . .

The questions included things like — how many gorillas were in the U.S. in 1919 (one); what King of France tinkered with locks (Louis XVI); how many Indians served in World War I (17,313); what was the parcel post rate on packages going to Manchuria in 1924 (12 cents/pound); and so on.  I earned a lot of quarters.  The reason for my success was that I had a book. It was the book Answers to Questions by Frederic J. Haskin (Grosset & Dunlap, 1926).  The book had all of these questions — and so many more.  Do you know many of the mules sent to France in World War I were killed?  If you can answer that one, I’ll give you a quarter.   

Sweet Dreams

When I was 8 years old, my parents both worked. I’d walk home from school, let myself in the house, call my mother and let her know I was alive.  I was – what was called – a “latchkey kid.”  And then – being instructed not to watch television “except for Cubs games” – I went down to the basement to play with toy soldiers, work on my stamp collection (my grandmother had bought me a small album and a bunch of foreign stamps) or read a book about rocks and fossils. And if the Cubs weren’t on (which was most of the time), I would put old records on the record player.

I listened mainly to big band music — Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and so many others (that’s all we had).  I would sit and sing – memorizing the songs I heard as I played.  Today – I sing some of those songs to my granddaughters – from a memory of sixty plus years ago. Three of the favorites are “If that phone ever rings and it’s you” “The Wiffenpoof Song” and “The Hut Sut Song.”  You want to hear what I listened to when I was 8 years old?
Give it a whirl:
If That Phone –
The Whiffenpoofs –
Hut Sut Ralston –

And then came “Oh Shenendoah” – which won the fraternity sing eleven years later at Augustana.   That song I sang to Lauren every night from that first night home from the hospital.  And which was played for the Daddy Daughter dance – at her wedding (see August 14, 2011).  Sweet memories.  Sweet dreams. . . . .  


In my prior post on “The Best Medicine,” I mentioned a favorite jokester — Aristophanes.  A few years ago, I was asked (for a biographical sketch) what famous figure I would most like to have dinner with.  My answer?  Aristophanes.   Nicknamed by his contemporaries “Old Baggy Pants.”  He was my kinda guy. . . . .

This Athenian satirist, was probably the world’s first stand-up comedian (I would love to be a stand-up comic but I don’t have the legs for it).  He was well-educated and began writing satire in his teens.  He wrote more than 40 plays of which only 11 have survived.  The first play penned under his own name was The Knights (424 B.C.).  It was a scathing satire about the Athenian politician and military leader Cleon – the arrogant demagogue who succeeded Pericles.  Cleon is aptly depicted in the play as a bloated and intoxicated lout – whose face and toga are always smeared with wine.  As mentioned in my prior post, Aristophanes sometimes played the part of Cleon – lurching onto stage, staggering around and mumbling – because he wanted to make sure the part was played “properly.” The spoof was wonderfully popular with everyone in Athens — except for Cleon who sent messengers to Aristophanes suggesting that he “cool it.” 

In the world of literature, the satiric works of Ben Jonson and Henry Fielding were influenced by Aristophanes.  Examine the comedies of Shakespeare and you will find the tongue-in-cheek humor of Aristophanes swimming beneath the surface. If we sat down to dinner, I’d order some Greek crab cakes, moussaka, spanakopita and pastitsio — with a bottle or two of agiorgitiko.    Then we’d start telling jokes . . . . .  

The Best Medicine

Joseph Addison – the 17th Century English writer – said “man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter.”  Sigmund Freud in his The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious states that “jokes” release us from traditional inhibitions which make up the veneer of our personalities.  

Historically, the earliest known “smile” is etched on the lips of a statue of Ebbeh – a Mesopotamian factotum who lived in 2400 B.C. (Ebbeh now resides in the Louvre).  Four centuries later, we enter Biblical times.  There were no Old Testament comedians, but the word “laugh” (or “laughter”) makes its debut in the Book of Genesis.  When Abraham and Sarah are told they will have a son, both fall on their faces – laughing.  Perhaps that is why their son was named “Isaac” which in Hebrew is “He [or God] laughs.” The word “laugh” or its derivations appear 43 times in the Bible (6 of those in the New Testament).  The Koran chronicles 16 uses of the word but most relate to the faithful laughing at the inglorious fate of unbelievers. 

The Veda in Hindu text records the word “laugh” 8 times.   In Buddhist tradition, he “Laughing Buddha” was supposedly a real person – a wandering happy Zen monk named Pu-Tai who lived around 1000 A.D.  The world’s first stand-up comedian was Aristophanes (see post of 8/28/11).  He would lurch out on stage smeared with wine playing the Emperor – Cleon.  It didn’t go over well with Cleon. . . . . The first joke book was The Philogelos (“Laughter Lover“) “published” in the 4th Century A.D.  It was a collection of 264 jokes.  One depicts a chatty barber.  “How shall I cut your hair” he says to his customer.  “In silence” the man responds.   

On March 14, 2005, I delivered a paper to The Chicago Literary Club entitled “The Best Medicine The paper delved into this history of humor.  But it also discussed the healing power of humor.  It worksAnd can help.  A great deal. . . . . 

Uptown Funk

I enjoy some music videos.  My post of January 5, 2014, links to a few favorites including Lady Gaga’s classic debut – “Pokerface” – in 2008.  But “Uptown Funk” is one of the best music videos on the planet.  It was released on November 17, 2014, featuring Bruno Mars (the American singer and songwriter), Mark Ronson (the British record producer) and Mars’s backup group – The Hooligans.   As of February 2019, the video has had nearly 3.5 billion views on YouTube making it the fifth most viewed video of all time.  In October 2014, Mike Mullaney (Music Director at CBS Radio/WBMX) called it “the greatest song of all time.”   

Why do I like it?  Spend 4 minutes and 30 seconds – to watch it – and see for yourself – /  Ronson won two Grammy Awards in February 2016, including the big one — “Record of the Year” — for “Uptown Funk.”

But there is a second – fun – reason why Baby Boomers especially (and everyone else) will want to watch the video.  After you watch Bruno and Mark do their thing – please spend 4 minutes and 52 seconds and join the 44 million other folks who have watched  Then try to guess the characters.  And try practicing the final routine. . . . .

Malcolm Gladwell

One of the most meaningful (not just “the best”) non-fiction authors I have read is Malcolm Gladwell (born 1963). 

Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker and was named by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the 100 most influential people.  He is the author of five books but – oh my – what spectacular books!  All are internationally-acclaimed bestsellers and have sold millions of copies.  They are:  The Tipping PointHow Little Things can make a Big Difference (2000) – The story of that special moment when an idea, trend or social idea suddenly “tips” and begins spreading like a wildfire;  BlinkThe Power of Thinking without Thinking (2005) – Why decisions made on gut reaction happen and why some decision-makers are usually right and others hopelessly inept.  Outliers – The Story of Success (2008) – A story of what makes high achievers different.  Answer?  Usually long hours and hard work – and being in the right place at the right time.  What the Dog Saw & Other Adventures (2009) – A pot pourri of fascinating knowledge.  What is the difference between panicking and choking?  What do football players teach us about hiring teachers?  David & Goliath:  Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (2013) – Why and how underdogs succeed.  

These five works should be on everyone’s “to read” shelf.  I’d start with Outliers simply because it’s easy – and nourishing – to read about how ordinary people achieve tremendous levels of success.   They’re all worth a read.  And for me, a re-read. . . .   

My Hero

[A repeat from March 20, 2016] In my post of October 9, 2014 (“I Need to Invent Something“), I discussed the public’s irritation at people who yabber loudly on their cell phones while sitting on the train.  Some conversations are so loud they can be heard in Dubuque.  That’s why each train now has “quiet cars” (cell phones and conversation are verboten).  In my post, I suggested someone should invent a device that would deliver an ear-piercing screech to these inconsiderate boors. 

Well America, we have a new hero.  Dennis Nicholl – a 63 year old CPA from Chicago – was armed with a “black box” while riding on a CTA train.  Some around him were talking loudly on their cell phones — heedless of their neighbors’ auditory space.  Mr. Nicholl flipped the switch and – POOF – all the cell phones around him went dead.  Instead of cueing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” or giving the man a standing “O” –  an undercover police officer arrested Mr. Nicholl.  And charged him with a felony — a violation of an FCC regulation.  I was pleased to read that the charges have now been reduced to a misdemeanor.  But still Mr. Nicholl remains under the shroud of this case.  

My only disappointment with Mr. Nicholl is that his black box did not cause cell phones to emit an ear-piercing screech. . . . .