Danger, danger, everywhere!


In Mark Twain’s essay The Danger of Lying in Bed, Twain took to task the people of his time who saw danger where relatively no danger existed. In his day, many people were afraid of traveling by train because of some train wrecks. Using extreme extrapolation, these people concluded that everyone who rode a train was putting themselves in grave danger. 

To combat this overactive imagine and logic, Twain simply pointed out that more people died in their beds than by any other method. Therefore, according to Twain, beds were putting more people in danger than anything else in the world, and if everyone wanted to avoid dying, simply stay out of beds. 

Naturally, that was a ridiculous prescription, but he made his point. 

We need to take his point today as well. 

Social media has had an abundance of well-meaning but rather ridiculous things posted regularly. People want to warn their friends and neighbors to avoid doing something commonplace because there is a dangerous dark side to that event. You might want to get up-to-date on the following:  

Don’t use file folders. Some unnamed man in Folemont, Pennsylvania, got a paper cut when using a file folder. He later got an infection and lost a hand. 

Beware of fruit-based juices. Everybody loves fruit juices, right? A woman in South Dakota poured orange juice in a glass. Apparently, there was a live venomous spider that had survived for months in the lid of the bottle of orange juice. She did not know she was drinking it, and it bit her. She nearly died. 

Never let your child jump rope. The repetitive action of jumping in a single place made a 6-year-old girl blow out both her knees. Do not let this happen to your child. 

Remember the hand sanitizer scare? Children will ingest it and become inebriated because it has a high alcohol content. Keep that stuff under lock and key. Supervise hand sanitizer use with children. 

The list goes on and on. You will probably see a warning on social media this week. A friend is looking out for you. 

Are people simply that gullible? Sadly, it appears so. 

In non-dangerous stuff, how many times have you read on social media that a famous person, such as Morgan Freeman, has died? 

How old are John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, and Adolf Hitler now that we have been told they are still living? You know, they have really been in hiding from the world. 

Miracle foods and drinks, magic hair restorers, all the products of overnight infomercials. The pitchmen guarantee they all work, and they do even better than what we were originally told. 

A television show of the 1970s titled Fernwood 2 Night had a segment once about the dangers of wearing leisure suits. On the show, a local college professor dressed hundreds of lab rats in leisure suits, and many or most of these rats developed cancer. Of course, this was farce, but poignant nonetheless. Nor was it mentioned that as part of the project the lab rats smoked multiple packs of cigarettes per day. But the leisure suit was the problem. 

What is on the cancer list today? Bacon again? Nearly all food not vegetable in content? Cellphones, wireless devices, wearing clothes that are too tightly fitting? 

The mine for coming up with new dangers has barely been explored. There will be something soon, though. Very soon. 

There are some things in life we should have a healthy fear of. We should pull our hands away from the hot stove. We should never play with a gun, even if we know “the safety is on and it’s not even loaded.” Things like this are common sense. 

Increasingly becoming more afraid to live our lives because of incessant (and often unverified and ridiculous) warnings is mindless. A worse consequence is that we become desensitized to actual, verifiable red flags. We stop heeding good advice. We increase our chances of becoming a victim of something we genuinely could have prevented. 

I think I will continue sleeping in bed, even though most people still die there. My father died in bed, as did his brothers, my grandmothers, a grandfather, and 3 aunts. 

Decision paralysis


An amazing phenomenon has transpired from the time I was a child in the 1960s to today. That phenomenon is, primarily due to the information age, people now have to make many more choices than say, 50 years ago.

Consider this. As a person growing up in the sixties where I lived, we had 4 choices of what to watch on television. In my household, in actuality, we had only 2 choices. We lived in an area that had an NBC station, a CBS station, an ABC station, and a PBS station. However, in our home, we only watched NBC and CBS. ABC was at that time on a lower tier. And no one in my house watched anything on PBS.

CBS was our first choice, and most programs we watched were on that channel. It was not until my teens that a new, independent station came on the air for part of the day. Sign-on was 3:00 p.m., and it went off the air sometime during or right after prime time.

If we did not like what was on those stations, we turned the set off and usually went outside and played. We could also choose to read. Either that, or we watched whatever was on even if we did not like it. At no time during a program did we change the channel.

Today, I have hundreds, possibly thousands, of choices to make concerning what to watch. Even though I have cut the cable cord, I subscribe to a non-cable or non-satellite service where I can still get those same channels. Plus, there are seemingly countless apps I can use to watch practically any type of entertainment or informative program I desire.

Yet, I find myself at times disappointed or dissatisfied about the myriad of choices I have. I have heard myself grumble in my mind, “There’s nothing on to watch.”

With that many choices, how can I be unhappy? Can I not simply find something and watch it? Why do I find myself constantly switching, looking for something a little more entertaining?

Graphic designer Chip Kidd provides us with words of wisdom that I believe can give us some insight. “You can be crippled by too many choices, especially if you don’t know what your goals are.”

So, the problem might be that we have too many choices? Couple that with not having something particular in mind before embarking on something? Can too many choices end up being a bad thing?

In the 1960s and 70s I generally listened to my favorite baseball team on the radio. Occasionally they were on the Saturday afternoon game of the week, and I actually got to watch them. That was a treat. The television dial never moved an inch while that baseball game was on. My viewing goal was fixed. I searched for nothing else, even if the game was out of hand early.

Switch to today. Just last night my wife and I were watching a DVD. While this was happening, I also watched a baseball game on my phone. A little later, I switched to my Kindle Fire because it had a larger screen. After our DVD finished, I switched between watching The Big Bang Theory and the baseball game on our high definition television.

I could also listen to the game over the air on my radio, but who listens to radio anymore? By the way, listening to a baseball game is still my favorite way to take in a game, other than in person. But my phone or my Kindle provides a much better sound than my radio. Actually, my Amazon Echo device or Amazon Show device gives even better sound. Or my Echo Dot connected by bluetooth to a Bose speaker gives an equally great sound.

I have too many choices, and our electronic and information revolution, I fear, has made us all impatient listeners and viewers, for I constantly switch from one thing to another. A commercial in a show means seeking something new to watch for 3-5 minutes.

Do we become crippled, as Kidd says, by too many choices? It can be frustrating for sure.

And this is not confined to watching TV or listening to something audibly. There are so many choices in life now for us that it can be mind-boggling. Which one of those 43 vacuum cleaners should I buy? How do I sift through the hundreds of options on 16 vehicles so that I can get the best automobile? Etc., etc.

Life is not going back to a simpler time. I guess we simply need to have a goal in mind what we want to do or buy or obtain.

One thing is for certain. No matter what choice we make, we will usually find something better out there at a later date.

I guess it takes a courageous person today to make choices.

21st Century High School Athletic Training

It is early summer, hot and very humid, and high school will be in session in three weeks locally. When I recently met a high school student participating in summer conditioning in preparation for the approaching school year, I realized that conditioning has changed dramatically since my time in high school.

My oldest son and I went blueberry picking at a wonderful farm about half an hour away from where we live. This place has been in existence a little over three decades, and my family has picked blueberries there almost since its inception. It was there that I encountered the sports trainee and her unusual method of conditioning.

After finding the absolute best row of blueberry bushes, my son and I proceeded to fill our individual containers, starting at the beginning of the row. About 10 feet from us were two women, one obviously the mother and the other her teen-aged daughter. As frequently happens when picking blueberries, people talk, and the daughter was going at it hammer and tong.

“So then Kim gets all mad, hangs up the phone and they haven’t talked since,” were the first words I heard emanating from the daughter’s mouth.

“Mmm,” replies the mother in standard “I heard you speak but I’m not listening to you” parent speak.

“Boy, what a jerk Jason is,” continued the daughter. “Hasn’t called, nothing. And it’s all his fault. How could anyone be so selfish and thoughtless? I’ve never met anyone as selfish as he is.”

I thought, “OK, so Kim has been jilted by Jason and this girl—obviously Kim’s friend—has taken up the burden of condemning him in her most acerbic manner.”

“It’s not right when a boy trashes a girl’s reputation, Mom. I mean, he’s started spreading around stories that first of all, aren’t even true, and secondly, even if they were true, he shouldn’t be repeating them. They’re real bad, something that will kill a girl’s reputation in a minute.”

The daughter was now crying, and I had begun to take poor Kim’s side, wanting something painful to happen to Jason.

The mother grunted something unintelligible to acknowledge her presence, knowing that the daughter needed only a vapid response to continue her story.

With that encouragement the daughter indeed continued nonstop for the next 30 minutes. I lost interest somewhere in the harangue against Jason, and her voice was little more than white noise to me most of the time. However, at a certain point it became irritating. I rose to a standing position and looked in her direction, wondering if she was ever going to take a breath. One sentence caught my attention.

“Mom, do you think I should stop dating Jason? I mean, for all his negative points he is amazingly cute.”

I had to re-position my assumptions. So Jason was her boyfriend and not Kim’s? There was really no connection between the sentence about Kim earlier in the conversation and anything else she had said about this Jason character?

Her verbosity about Jason continued without as much as a one-second pause. I stood there in amazement as she talked, and talked, and talked. There is no way she could have more than a dozen blueberries in her container, I thought. Also I had begun to sympathize with Jason, and was tempted to ask the girl for his number so I could call him and tell him that his best move would be to drop any relationship he might have with her immediately. Then again, listening to her empty chatter and the mother’s nonchalance, there may not actually be a relationship there, but merely something the girl had conjured out of air.

She stood up and I saw that she was wearing clothing that an athlete might wear when conditioning, someone who might run cross country. Then the light came on and I understood everything more clearly. She was not out here to pick blueberries—she was actively engaged in conditioning for her sport. Most likely she was working on her breathing, a vital part of a runner’s success. Here she had talked for at least half an hour without a break (although I would wager that in school she could not stand in front of a class and give a three-minute speech because ‘I can’t think of anything to say’.) Her breaths, if she ever took any, were so slight that they did not interrupt her. I also conjectured that she was indeed making up everything she said on the spot to accommodate her exercise. This girl was intense in preparing for the upcoming season.

My son and I finished our task, speaking a sum of 15 words between us the hour we were there. The athlete was still in conditioning mode when we left.

It is truly amazing the novel ways in which coaches get their athletes to condition in this day. I would much rather have preferred this girl’s method to the one my basketball coach used, one which found us running three to five miles each day after school on hot and humid August and September afternoons.

The Mystery About Mysteries


So many people love a good mystery, and the more complex it is, and the bigger “Gotcha” moment that one brings makes them all the more lovely. Why is this? What is the attraction with a whodunit that has us stepping up to the mystery bar and ordering another tall one?

What is the mystery about a mystery?

Why did the Perry Mason series last nine years on television? Or Murder, She Wrote crank out new episodes for a dozen years? Or Diagnosis Murder continue for eight seasons?

Masterpiece Mystery began its long run in 1980, and although it took a few years’ hiatus, it still produces wonderful programs today, including the most recent one, titled Endeavour, which premiered in the United States on Sunday, July 7.  Recently Inspector Lewis finished its run, and later this year Foyle’s War should do the same. These are delicious mysteries.

Forget about television, what about the cinema? Countless mysteries fill the shelves of producing companies since nearly the inception of film. What makes Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, and Witness for the Prosecution captivating, must-see drama (along with a plethora of other titles?)

How about books? There are too many authors to list. I love Agatha Christie—as can be attested by the three movie titles above—and apparently so did literally the entire world for over half a century, as attested by the fact that she is number three all-time in publication, behind the Bible and Shakespeare.

Here is what earns the highest marks for me when it comes to a mystery. I crave the complex, and a story with numerous subplots that require unraveling is an ideal one. Of course I want to solve the mystery prior to the end of the book, but I also love being legitimately fooled. Legitimately fooled is when the author presents the clues in the context of the story and does not conjure up an obscure killer with an otherwise undiscovered motive. Being unfairly fooled is a reason not to read anything else by the author

The complex does not need confine itself to mysteries, as they can exist in any drama. An example is from the movie The Sting. After watching and enjoying the movie a number of times I finally realized that the “sting” in the movie is directed more towards the audience than against Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). The writer fooled us as well as the character in the story, and that made my admiration for the work abound.

Charles Dickens also mastered the complex, weaving an intricate story with multiple subplots and connecting them together late in the story. Reading one of his stories, especially A Tale of Two Cities, is similar to admiring a piece of art hanging on a wall and not really seeing the subtle touches until a later examination.

So what makes a good mystery? In my opinion it has to be complexity. We demand resolution, but we demand a satisfactory resolution as well, meaning one that is logical and ties up the loose ends for us, even though some things may be open-ended.

Literal and Figurative

Some people have great difficulty understanding figurative language. The reason behind this is not terribly difficult to discern—while the vast majority of people can easily distinguish between something literal and something figurative, there are a small group who think almost entirely literally. Life can sometimes be challenging to literal thinkers, through no fault of their own. Indeed it is rather those who can differentiate the two who appear to be more obtuse in their lack of understanding of literal thinkers.

A couple personal examples immediately pop into mind. I have a son who is very much a literal thinker, although as he has grown older he has learned to tell the difference better. A long time ago when he was a toddler he sat on my lap one evening and I read a book to him. It was a Disney book involving Donald and Daisy Duck. The main conflict in the story was that Donald and Daisy experienced an argument. On one page in particular Donald became saddened because of Daisy’s angry words towards him. The text read literally, “Donald’s eyes dropped.” A simple phrase which would be generally understood by most people. However, after I turned the page to continue reading my son flipped the page backwards and pointed towards the bottom. “Where’s his eyes?” he asked. “It said Donald’s eyes dropped.”

One year I had a 6th-grade class read Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, a play which happens to be my favorite by The Bard. I had one particular student in class who was nearly completely literal, much like my son in his younger days. At the point in the play right after Caesar had been assassinated, a character named Cinna yells, “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!” I continued on with the play, but this young man blurted out, “Mr. Burton, was Caesar’s first name Tyranny? It said Tyranny is dead.” The rest of the class got it correctly, and they helped me explain kindly that Julius Caesar’s first name was not Tyranny.

Most of us have misunderstood something at one time or another, such as an idiom like “It’s raining cats and dogs.” We are usually easily persuaded of our errors, but I wonder at times about the constant challenges literal people face every day. I think and speak figuratively often, and I have often caught myself explaining to a student or sometimes the entire class what exactly I meant.


Fortunately the vast majority of individuals are not binary in their composition; that is, they are not either completely literal or completely figurative, but possess both qualities. I suppose the completely literal person has to be satisfied reading non-fiction or informational texts throughout life. Most literals I have taught struggle with fiction, especially in making inferences and discovering a theme. Wouldn’t it be tough going through life not being able to understand phrases most people implicitly understand, such as “Break a leg” or “That’s water under the bridge?” Living like that would be literal torture.

The Fascination of a Starry Night

Nearly everyone is familiar with Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night, a painting which can leave a person staring at the celestial scene for long periods of time. People my age are also quite familiar with the song of nearly the same title by Don McLean, the lesser-known of his two biggest hits, a song which attempts to immortalize van Gogh in haunting and unforgettable musical phrases.

It is rather easy to understand the master’s fascination with the stellar display, something which captivates me on clear nights as well. During the late spring, summer, and early autumn months I frequently pull my Adirondack chair from my front porch out into my yard and simply gaze at the stars. My first recollection of the night sky derives from two experiences: a visit to a planetarium in Cincinnati, Ohio, when I was very young, and nearly weekly visits to the drive-in theater as a child during warm weather. Even at a young age I attempted to comprehend the vastness of space without success, but firing unquenchable inquisitiveness.

Something happens to many people when they reach the “responsible” age when work takes paramount importance in their lives, and many people likewise compound the seriousness of work with raising a family. Sadly, something as simple as walking outdoors on a clear night and looking up at the night sky and the majesty it displays falls away from a regular routine. Our generation likewise has in great manner abandoned a tradition of our parents of sitting in the front yard in lawn chairs and wiling away the evening talking with each other or the neighbors and observing the world around us.

A few minutes ago I walked out the front door to see if the night was clear 15 or 20 minutes after sundown. The familiar friends were there: Venus shining brightly over the northwestern horizon, just a few minutes from setting; Saturn making its recent nightly trek close to Spica; the Big Dipper directly aligned with the driveway, its traditional spot; Polaris in a line from the cup of the dipper; Arcturus in another line from the handle of the dipper; Vega, another bright star nearly overhead but to the east; and Altair. To the south there was Antares, the defining star for me in the constellation Scorpio.

In a short while I shall return outdoors and watch the actors of the night move to their marks on the sky’s stage and perform their celestial play, and as I have always been from my youth, I shall watch in amazement. I shall attempt once again to comprehend the vastness of the universe and I shall fail, simply leaving me in a state of awe and wonderment.