Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The most trusted man in america


The late Walter Cronkite was an anchorman for CBS News for 19 years (1962-1981), and was often cited as “the most trusted man in America”. His signature closing line was, “and that’s the way it is”. Surprisingly, that famous closing line came about accidentally, and very nearly not at all, which he explains in the video below:

an interview with Walter

Unlike the broadcast industry that I grew up in (with just three major television networks and no FM radio stations), today’s news sources are highly fragmented. In addition to hundreds of cable TV channels, we also get our news from an endless variety of internet sources, as well as talk radio. The traditional large newspapers are still in operation, but have been forced to change dramatically in recent years in order to survive.

In December of 2008, the venerable Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune filed a month later. A month after the Star-Tribune filing, two major newspapers in Philadelphia threw in the towel.

In view of all the fragmentation and turbulence in the news industry, who IS “the most trusted man in America” today?

The answer to that question is the man pictured below:

That title was conferred on him in a number of polls, and he was also mentioned in The New York Times, which I would consider to be a very reputable news source.

The odd thing about Jon Stewart is that his show (the “Daily Show”) is broadcast on the Comedy Central channel, and isn’t even real news, which seems to underscore the degree of cynicism that a lot of folks in this country feel about the direction our country is heading.

If the decision to pick the most trusted man in America were left up to me, my choice would be one that would surprise a lot of people. His picture is shown below:

Thomas Friedman and I have a few things in common, because we were both born in Minnesota, and we both studied at the University of Minnesota. In addition, we've both spent far more time in China than most Americans have, even though our roles there were much different.

Thomas ultimately transferred from the University of Minnesota, and graduated from Brandeis University, summa cum laude. He earned his masters degree at the University of Oxford. After graduation, he went to work for UPI, but joined the staff of the New York Times in 1981, where he has been ever since. His work at the Times earned him three Pulitzer Prizes, and he was elected to the Pulitzer Prize board in 2005. Due to his expertise in the Middle East, he is one of the people that President Obama consults with when formulating policy positions in that part of the world.

In addition to his regular columns for the New York Times, he has also written SIX books. Although I have not read his first two, I HAVE read the four books after that, including the most recent, which I finished reading this afternoon. “That Used To Be Us” (co-authored with Michael Mandelbaum) is both frightening and inspirational.

The large print version (which I borrowed from the local library) is a daunting 685 pages in length. In spite of that, though, I would consider the book to be a “must read” for as many people as possible, ESPECIALLY the politicians who are running our country.

Even if you’re a slow reader, if you set aside 20 minutes a day to read it, you’d be finished in about a month’s time, and you’d have a much better grasp of where we are as a country, and where we need to be going.

Thomas Friedman may not be “the most admired man in America”, but that’s a distinction that may come his way eventually. For now, a number of sources have called him “the voice of reason”, and that’s a pretty good start. (The most admired man in America, by the way, is Barack Obama, followed closely by former President George W. Bush).

If the thought of reading a LONG book seems more than a little daunting to you, I’d recommend at least reading some of his thoughts on his blog or in his columns in The New York Times.

Tom Friedman may not have all the answers, but I can assure you that if gives you his opinion on pretty much anything, “that’s the way it is”.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Natural

On Wednesday of this week, Greece will still be on the verge of going broke, our leaders in Congress will still be bickering, wars will still be raging, and too many people will still be out of work.

However, the sun will rise in the East, and an important event in American history will begin again.

The very first professional baseball club in America, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed in 1869, a mere four years after the end of the Civil War. A few years later, the short lived National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed, but quickly died out. The National League came into being in 1876, and the American League was founded in 1901. Although the two leagues were initially bitter rivals, a “peace treaty” (called the National Agreement) was signed in 1903.

The very first World Series was played in 1903, and Boston beat Pittsburgh. Boston won four more World Series titles between 1912 and 1918, but then had a “drought” until 2004. Although that’s certainly a long period of time, it pales in comparison to the record of the Chicago Cubs, who won their last World Series title in 1907.

The 2011 World Series pits the Texas Rangers (who have never won a World Series) against the St. Louis Cardinals, who have won the title 10 times, the most recent being in 2006.

Even if you have no allegiance to either team, and even if you don’t have much interest in baseball, it’s important to watch at least part of the event, and I’ll let James Earl Jones tell you why. In the movie, “Field of Dreams“, he described to “Ray Kinsella” (Kevin Costner) the magic of baseball:

“.. the memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces .. the one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball ..Americans rolled by like an army of steamrollers .. they’ve been erased, rebuilt, and erased again .. but baseball has marked the time .. the field, the game .. It’s a part of our past .. It reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again .."

It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a professional baseball game, but I still remember the electricity that was in the air as play began on the carefully groomed field below me.

There have been countless movies made about baseball over the years, but very few of them capture the essence of the game as well as “The Natural”, which was released in 1984. To prove my point, watch the clip below:

there's magic in the air

If you’re like me, you were probably a little misty eyed by the time it ended, and that (by itself) proves a point.

Most of the movie was shot in a stadium that no longer exists (War Memorial Stadium), the main character (Roy Hobbs) never existed, and his team, the New York Knights, was a figment of a writer’s imagination. In spite of those details, though, “The Natural” reminds all of us that we, too, can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles with perseverance, luck, and a helping hand from forces beyond our grasp.

Roy Hobbs was no fluke. Throughout our history, we’ve borne witness to countless men who, in their own way, have provided their own brand of magic to make us forget life’s troubles, even if for only a while. Over nearly 150 years, there have been MANY moments that would be considered the "best plays in baseball", including Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Without question, though, the best play in the history of baseball was performed by a Chicago Cub in 1976:

who is Rick Monday?

Let’s play ball!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Marlboro Man

Philip Morris & Company used the Marlboro Man in ads from 1954 until 1999. Although a number of different people portrayed the Marlboro Man during that time period, an ex-rancher named Darrell Winfield had the longest run, at 20 years. He was originally selected by the creative director of the Leo Burnett advertising agency because “he scared the hell out of him.”

In view of the tough image of the Marlboro Man, you would probably be surprised at the fact that Marlboro was originally introduced (in 1926) as a woman’s cigarette. The advertising theme for the cigarette was the less than inspiring “mild as May”campaign, and the brand faltered repeatedly for the next 30 years.

What saved the brand, ironically enough, was lung cancer.

During the early 1950’s, the first studies linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer were released. As a result, smokers started to switch from the favored brands of Camels, Lucky Strikes, and Chesterfields to the “safer” filtered cigarettes, like Marlboro.

Logic would tell you that an advertising agency would focus on these new-found health concerns, but the Leo Burnett agency took an entirely different approach, focusing instead on the Masculine Image of the New Marlboro.

When the campaign started, Marlboro sales were $5 billion a year. Two years later, Marlboro sales were an astonishing $20 billion a year, an increase of 300%. As a result, the Marlboro Man advertising campaign is considered to be one of the most brilliant advertising campaigns of all time.

Three of the men who portrayed the Marlboro Man (Wayne McLaren, David McLean, and Dick Hammer) all died from lung cancer. Strangely enough, their passing hasn’t put much of a dent in the popularity of smoking overseas. The Marlboro Man ads were used up until recently in both Germany and the Czech Republic, but cigarette sales in Asia have EXPLODED.

China is now the world’s largest cigarette market, with over 2 TRILLION cigarettes sold every year. The number of smokers in China exceeds the entire population of the United States, where 25% of the population smokes cigarettes. Amazingly, nearly 60% of the DOCTORS in China are cigarette smokers!

Who is the modern day Marlboro Man? One example is pictured below:

Although President Obama began an earnest attempt in 2007 to quit smoking Marlboro cigarettes, it’s rumored that the pressures of his job have caused a few relapses since that time.

By now, you’re aware of the fact that I’m a fan, but even his most ardent supporters will concede that he should have pushed a little harder, on occasion, to get what he wants. You’re never going to see him walking into a joint session of Congress with a cowboy hat on his head, a bullwhip in one hand, and a cigarette dangling from his lips, but he needs to somehow get tougher with the obstructionists in Congress for the good of our country.

By the way, if you’re still under the impression that all you need to herd cattle is a tough old cowboy on a horse (or a Harley) the video below will open your eyes:

the new cowboy

Enjoy the day!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Happy anniversary!

On this day in 1996, country superstars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill got married.

Both of them were established musical performers before they teamed up for their “Spontaneous Combustion” tour in early 1996. At the start of the tour, Faith was engaged to another man, but she had a new fiancé (McGraw) when the tour ended., and they got married at a small family ceremony in his native Louisiana on October 6. They owe part of their marital longevity to the fact that they haven’t spent more than 3 consecutive days apart since that time.

Another well known performer ALSO got married on October 6, but five years earlier.

Elizabeth Taylor married her SEVENTH husband on October 6. 1991, a construction worker named Larry Fortensky. Due to the fact that the pair met at the Betty Ford Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center, and he was two decades younger than she was, the pundits predicted that the union wouldn’t last, and they were right.

Elizabeth and Larry divorced in 1996.

Coincidentally, I married my first wife on October 6, 1972. Thirty nine years later, she is STILL my first wife, even though we are both older and grayer.

An organization called The Americans for Divorce Reform has estimated that close to 50% of all marriages in America will end in divorce. Interestingly, the divorce rate goes up for every subsequent marriage, which means that if you didn’t get it right the first time, you’re less likely to do so the next time around.

With the odds of a successful marriage being roughly equivalent to flipping a coin, what can ANY of us do to nurture our relationships through “for better or worse”?

One of my favorite books about relationships is “Why Men Don’t Listen, and Women Can’t Read Maps”. You can read the entire book on line by clicking on the appropriate link of my post of June 23

In view of the fact that men and women really DO think differently, it’s fairly amazing that we can live together at all. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for counseling services (including marriage counselors) will exceed supply for the foreseeable future. As a result, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to spend your money on professional help if your fairy tale wedding starts to tarnish a bit.

However, if you’d rather spend your money on a nice vacation (or a new fishing boat) there are THREE things that you can do to nurture your relationship in a much more cost efficient manner:

1) forgive and forget - holding grudges isn’t healthy for ANYONE

2) keep a stiff upper lip

3) laugh often, and laugh heartily

For further details on the last item, I’ll refer you to a comic strip that has become increasingly familiar to Sharon and me as we’ve gotten older (see below), and there’s a reason that I selected the strip from 9/11/11:

Pickles comic strip

A few years ago, Sharon joined the squirrel lovers club. Until she found out that it was illegal, she would feed the squirrels from the front porch of our place in Evanston every morning. Although she no longer “feeds the critters”, we still have squirrel statues scattered throughout our home. Since we both can be a little nuts at times, I guess that somehow seems appropriate.

Through the years, we’ve been through a lot of “thicks and thins”, and we’ve even been mad at each other on occasion (usually not for long). In the final analysis, though, we’d both have to admit that we’re still probably each other’s best friend, and this is what Tim McGraw would have to say about THAT:

my best friend

Happy anniversary, Sharon!