[A summer repeat from January 26, 2012]

Each day when I tutor for the Chicago Lights Tutoring Program  (see posts of August 8 and 9, 2011), I try to give my student a 3″ x 5″ card with a quotation on it. Usually the quote relates to character, integrity, hard work and achievement. I’m partial to the wisdom of John Wooden (winningest coach in NCAA basketball) but I offer the words of others as well.

Character is doing what’s right – when no one is looking.” J.C. Watts

Character is higher than intellect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” James D. Miles

Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Character is much easier kept than recovered.” Thomas Paine

The measure of true character is what a man would do if he knew he would never be found out.” Thomas Babington Macaulay

Ability may get you to the top but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightengale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity.” Ambrose Bierce

Education” is not just reading and math. It’s learning about tenacity, grit, hard work, civility and character.


On August 9th, The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest findings. The report remains serious though it downgrades several points (there is “low confidence” that the Antarctic sea ice will melt; “low confidence” in all-category tropical cyclones; there remain questions on direct linkage of warming to catastrophic weather events; etc.).

Notwithstanding, it is imperative that we address water shortages, rising temperatures, wildfires, suffocating pollution, greenhouse gasses, deforestation, habitat destruction and storms that breach the barriers or break the power grid.  

And whatever your position on climate change, it is incumbent for each one of us to be diligent about recycling, conserving water and energy (“Just Turn it Off”®), limiting carbon emissions, being frugal about using and scrapping disposable products (like plastic water bottles), conscientious use of food products and being attentive to the fact that voices yet unheard will soon inherit our precious planet.  I’ve addressed environmental issues in the past (e.g. 11/29/18 – water; and 12/16/18 – energy; and the very first post- 7/23/11).

Each one of us has the capability to make a difference on protecting our planet.  Just think if everyone felt this way. 

The Chocolate Brain

[A repeat from September 14, 2017]

(AP Wilmette IL) Chicago lawyer Scott Petersen has a problem. His brain is slowly turning into chocolate.

After years of overindulging in Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, Hershey’s kisses, Hershey bars, Easter eggs, chocolate rabbits, frogs and sweets, Petersen’s brain is slowly but surely becoming a chocolate mass.  A routine physical exam turned up this unique phenomenon last Tuesday. His doctor said “Mister Petersen’s cerebral cortex has already developed a 1/4″ layer of chocolate. I believe that his cerebellum and occipital area are now crusted with a 60% cocoa.”

In a few years, Petersen’s head will be filled with a commercial grade of bittersweet chocolate.

Petersen was interviewed in a local restaurant where he was dining with his wife Donna. “I think it’s silly. I eat pizza too and you don’t hear that my brain is turning into Mozzarella cheese” he said testily. Petersen then ordered a double “Chocolate Decadence” – the menu’s signature dessert.  For his main course . . . . . 

Once Petersen’s brain has become solid chocolate, his wife is expected to put him on display at a local museum on weekends. “Hey – I might as well get something out of this too” she said.

Petersen is, however, expected to continue practicing law. A solid chocolate brain is not expected to interfere with his duties or knowledge as an attorney . . . . .


[A timely repeat from February 7, 2013] In Michener’s classic Iberia, he facetiously observes of Spaniards “Anyone who eats chocolate and churros for breakfast need not prove their courage in any other way.”  I love Michener’s writing, but courage is not a joke.  To me, courage is shown by many special people.  These days, it is defined in one word — Malala. 

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 in the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan.  She is 16 years old.  Malala and her family have lived under the Taliban boot for much of her short life.  As a girl, she was forbidden to attend school.  The Taliban is known for crushing any attempt for girls to learn.  They burn schools and kill teachers suspected of teaching girls.  In 2009, Malala – at the tender age of 11 or 12 began speaking out about the need for girls to learn.  And to attend school.  She published a blog under a pseudonym through the BBC detailing life under the Taliban. And she spoke out against them.  She then began writing under her own name — and giving interviews on television.  All directed toward the need for girls to go to school.  

On October 9, 2012, the school bus in which she was riding was stopped and boarded by Taliban assassins.  They approached Malala and shot her in the head and neck.  Malala clung to life and was sent to the UK for surgeries.  On October 12th, 50 Pakistani clerics – to their credit – issued a fatwa (religious ruling) condemning the attack.  Malala is now up and around.  And she is speaking out.  Against the cowards who are the Taliban.  She is now under consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize [awarded 2014].   She deserves it.  And the Taliban?  They deserve what they gave Malala.  Let’s deputize Mitch Rapp and Jack Reacher. . . . .  

Time Out

[A summer repeat from March 12, 2016] Every year or so I’ve been taking a “time out” from my blog.  A few weeks of “duhhhhh.”    The last four weeks I have been silent.  Donna and I were in Florida (North Palm Beach) for a week and then to the west coast — Santa Monica — for a wedding. Then a drive to Palm Springs for some R&R.

Neither of us had been to Palm Springs so this was a new experience.  We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage (3 nights for the price of 2).   While we thought about golf, hitting local restaurants and sightseeing,  — we didn’t do much.  We stayed cocooned in our hotel.  Dining.  Pools.  Spa.  Fitness Center.  Sleep.  Reading.  Relaxing.  It was verrry nice.  

Our only real excursion consisted of two visits to “Sunnylands” — the 200 acre estate of the late Walter and Leonore Annenberg.  The property is considered the “Western White House” which has served Presidents and dignitaries since 1966.   Tours of the Annenberg home are limited to 7 guests at a time.  We arrived – ticketless – only to learn that tickets are sold out weeks in advance.  As we stood there, mildly forlorn, a woman stepped up to the counter with two tickets to return (she couldn’t use them).  Guess who bought them?  Just call me “Mister Lucky” (though it’s not quite like 8/2/13).  

The Secret Weapon

I enjoy playing golf.  I normally tee it up at a course where there are caddies to carry bags or serve as “runners” for those in carts.  A fair number of caddies are in school (grade, high, college) who take the job for the summer. Some stay on for weekends during the school year. It’s a great chance to get some exercise, be in the great outdoors, make a few bucks, learn the game of golf and socialize with a wide variety of people.  There are “B” caddies (newbies). “A” caddies (some experience). And “Honor” caddies who may have many years of experience. First year caddies are trained carefully. And they wear orange hats. The caddies come from many states, countries, backgrounds, neighborhoods and schools. Those in high school may apply for an Evans Scholarship for college. The Evans Scholars Foundation is a wonderful non-profit that provides college scholarships for caddies. Members of most golf clubs contribute generously to the Evans Scholar program. Those recipients of the scholarship (we have many) are easily visible on course as they wear distinctive red bibs.  

When playing in a competition or just for fun, a good caddie (by the way “caddie” is never spelled “caddy”) can be a secret weapon.   They don’t just carry the bag, rake the trap, give yardage and polish your Pro V-1.  They also read the greens, talk strategy, help with club selection, and give wise counsel on golf course management. 

I can see why Bubba, Jordan, Justin, Phil, Rory and all the others lean heavily on their caddies for second opinions and sage advice.  There are times when I was sure the green would break left to right.  And the caddie would shake his or her head — “right to left cup and a half” — and they were usually right.  That’s a good reason to trust your caddie.  Especially the ones who have been around the block.  They can really be a secret weapon.  

A Car Guy

Donna and I toodle around in a silver Lexus of recent vintage. Nice machine. All the bells and whistles, maps, guidance and extras. It’s what we drive hither and yon. We enjoy it together. When Donna needs to go somewhere, she drives the Lexus. However . . . .

We have a second car that normally only I drive. It is. . . my favorite car. It is a 1999 Ford Explorer with 91,600 miles on the odometer. We bought it new – 22 years ago. We’ve discussed the prospects of a new(er) car. But “we” really have no need for one. Donna drives the Lexus and I drive the Ford. I would prefer to drive the Ford in heavy snows and icy streets. It is like an aging gorilla (much like the driver) who knows the ropes. And roads.

I’ve never thought of myself as a “car guy” like some chaps who enjoy fixing and tuning their own cars. Or who like fancy cars, speed or state-of-the-art vehicles. Truth be told, our ’99 Ford does not have functioning air conditioning (which can be an issue when it’s blazing hot). And the radio imaging doesn’t work so apart from the channel selection buttons (or the “Scan” button that still works), I’d have no idea where I am on the dial. On the flip side, I do keep this machine well-oiled and souped up. New tires. New transmission. Brakes. Power steering. Yadda yadda. And every time I bring it in for servicing, one or two of the chaps there will sidle up and ask if I want to sell it.

I never really thought of myself as a car guy. But maybe – just maybe – I am. . . . .


[A summer repeat from 7/5/13] For those Americans who know a foreign language like French, being able to speak with the accent of a Frenchman is probably a crowning glory.  To sound more French than you do American.  As an American visiting Paris, to speak French with a Parisian accent would likely raise a less arrogant eyebrow and invite a less rude response than might be normally expected from a Frenchman.  When I am in Mexico, I try to conform my Spanish to the local accent.  I can clumsily mimic an Argentine accent with the “shha shha” sounds.   Or the faster clip of a Puerto Rican accent.  I try not to “speak American” (Bway-nohss deee-ahss seen-yor).

So it crossed my mind that when one visits London or Scotland or Ireland, why is it that Americans don’t adopt a British accent in London (“howw dooo yoooo dooooo?”) or an Irish lilt in Ireland or a Scottish brogue in Scotland?  I mean it would seem natural for a linguist to try and “fit in” but it also seems a little quirky that an American would “put on” an Irish or English accent and adopt the jargon (“That tosser’s a bit wonky.  Probably a scouser“).  As you might imagine, I’ve tried it.  While in a London taxi — with Donna.  We were chummy with the cabbie.  So I asked him if I could try talking with an English accent — and have his opinion.  “Bee’s knees, Governor” he said.  Well, I put on my best Prince Charles accent, yabbered on for a minute or so and then asked the driver what he thought.  “You sound like a bloody snoot.”    Maybe it was the Prince Charles impersonation . . . . .         

So This Guy. . . .

[A smile from October 16, 2014] So this guy sticks his head into a barbershop and asks “how long before I can get a haircut?”

The barber looked around the shop full of customers and says “about two hours.”  The guy left.

A few days later, the same guy stuck his head in the door and asked “how long before I can get a haircut?”   The barber looked around the shop and said “about three hours.”   The guy left.

A week later, the same guy stuck his head in the shop and asked “how long before I can get a haircut?” The barber looked around the shop and said “about an hour and a half.”  The guy left.

The barber turned to his friend and said “hey, Bob, do me a favor, follow that guy and see where he goes.    He keeps asking how long he has to wait for a haircut but he never comes back.”

A little while later, Bob returned to the shop laughing hysterically.   The barber asked “so, where does he go when he leaves?”

Bob looked up and wiped tears from his eyes and said . . . .

Your house!”


[A very timely repeat from May 6, 2018] I get up in the morning.  Exercise.  Go to work.  I pay my mortgage.  Pay my bills.  Donate to charities.  I take care of the house. Take the dog out.  Put dirty laundry down the chute and put the garbage on the curb. I drive carefully and obey the law.  I pay my taxes and I (usually) don’t grouse. I love my wife and family. I go to Church on Sunday.  I try to eat right.  And I try to be nice to and respectful of all people – those I know and those I don’t.

So – big question – why on earth do I do this?  Why do you?  The answer – to me – is the single most important word in the English language. INCENTIVE.  I have incentive to do all of these things.  To earn a few bucks.  Keep a nice house.  Eat right.  Be respectful to everybody.  To drive carefully.  Yadda yadda. . . .

I’m concerned that we are losing that sense of motivation.  It is being replaced with a sense of entitlement.  A sense of expectation.  Something for. . . nothing.  Incentive is waning.  Maybe it’s a bit old-fashioned.  On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy admonished “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”   There was loud applause.   Nods of approval.  Media approbation.  Today though, more and more people are asking what their country can do for them.  Gimme gimme gimme.  With no strings attached.   Some politicians encourage it.  According to the Tax Policy Center, in 2013 40.4% of all Americans paid no income tax.  In 2017, that number rose to 43.9%.  A continued rise in that number could reach a tipping point.  And become unsustainable.   

What’s your take?  More importantly – what’s the answer?