Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The King

Long ago, a small child was born in humble surroundings to a young and impoverished couple. Although his childhood wasn’t much different than most, there were signs of greatness, even at an early age.

Although he died too young, he is known by almost everyone in the world, and he continues to influence people everywhere, even today.

If your mind is starting to think of images of a manger and Wise Men and a star in the heavens, let me set the record straight.

The subject of this article wasn’t born in Bethlehem. He was born about 1000 miles south of there, and he wasn’t born on December 25th. He was actually born on January 8th, which would officially be the 14th Day of Christmas, if we counted that high.

The humble surroundings that he was born in look like this:

The house he was born in (known as a “shotgun house”) was built by his father in preparation for his birth, and the birth of his twin brother (who was born stillborn). His father had difficulty keeping jobs, and the family frequently relied on neighbors and the government for assistance. When the young child was 3, his father was found guilty of altering a check written by a landowner, which caused the family to lose their home after the father was jailed for eight months. To survive, the young man and his mother moved in with relatives.

The young man eventually found his calling, and when he made his first public appearance, he looked like this:

Over time, he did very well financially, which gave him an opportunity to buy a home that was MUCH larger than the home he was born in:

After his death, his home was declared a National Historic Landmark, and it is one of the most visited private homes in America.

Elvis Aaron Presley died on August 16, 1977, in the home that he had purchased in 1957. In spite of the fact that he has now been dead for nearly 40 years, his estate earned $55,000,000 in 2012.

To put that number in perspective, you need to be aware of the fact that the median household income in America is $50,500. In the entire country, there were exactly 81 people who made more than $50,000,000 a year in 2010, which makes his humble beginning all the more remarkable.

At some point in his career, he was dubbed “the King of Rock and Roll”. Even today, he remains the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music.

The King is dead.

Long live the King.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A good old American beer

If you had to name the largest American brewing company, you’d probably name either Anheuser-Busch or Miller, and you’d also probably acknowledge the fact that Coors is a pretty sizable brewery as well.

The truth is, though, the largest American-owned brewery is Yuengling, a brewing company that was founded in 1829, and it’s actually the oldest brewing company in the United States. In addition to that, Yuengling is also the favorite beer of President Obama, who sent a case of Yuengling to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to cover a friendly wager on the outcome of the 2010 Winter Olympics ice hockey finals.

To be perfectly honest, though, I’d have to admit to the fact that Yuengling is actually TIED with the Boston Beer Company (the brewer of Samuel Adams beer) as the largest American-owned brewery. Although the Boston Beer Company didn’t start business until 1984, its Boston Lager was named “Best Beer in America” at the Great American Beer Festival in 1985.

Anheauser-Busch was purchased by InBev in 2008, and the new corporation, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is now the largest brewer in the world. The company is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. Truth be told, Budweiser is actually a pretty decent beer, but I usually buy “Bud” due to the fact that the company makes some great commercials.

Miller is part of SAB Miller, a multinational brewing and beverage company with headquarters in London.

Coors still brews beer in Colorado, but it’s part of the Canadian Molson Coors Brewing Company, even though its headquarters is still in Golden, Colorado. The brewery in Golden is still the largest single brewery facility in the entire world.

At one time, Schlitz was the largest producer of beer in the entire world, but a disastrous ad campaign in the 1970’s, coupled with an ill advised change in the beer recipe in a quest for greater profits, put the company out of business. You can still be Schlitz today, in the original formula, but it is now a part of the Pabst Brewing Company of Milwaukee.

Yeungling doesn’t produce snappy commercials, nor does the company have any plans to be the world’s biggest brewer. It’s still a family operation, and it relies on producing decent beers for moderate prices for a large and growing loyal audience as the key to success.

If you’d really like to taste a good old American brew, you’d have to travel to the East Coast, because Yeungling is only distributed in 14 Eastern states and the District of Columbia, which makes its status as America’s largest brewer even more remarkable, since Samuel Adams is now available in all 50 states.

Speaking of that, though, it’s almost time for that first beer of the day.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The richest man in the world

I’m a Minnesota native, and have somehow managed to retain a bit of my Minnesota “accent” more than 30 years after I’ve moved out of the “North Star State”.

If you’re not familiar with the Minnesota accent, the clip below will give you an idea what it sounds like:

let’s watch Fargo again

As I’ve done research on my native state over the years, I learned that the early fortunes in Minnesota were made from three industries - lumbering, mining, and farming.

Later, fortunes were created in the new industries of grain milling and railroads. The fortune that James J. Hill amassed from his railroad business (estimated to be $2.5 billion in today’s dollars) eventually was used for numerous charitable causes, and he was a major contributor to the St. Paul Seminary, Macalester College, Hamline University, the University of St. Thomas, Carleton College, and the high school that I graduated from, Mary T. Hill High School, which was named after his wife.

Most people would consider Mr. Hill to be the richest person from Minnesota (he was born in Ontario, but died in St. Paul) but the richest Minnesota native is a man who was born on this date in Minneapolis in 1892, and he looked like this:

If you think that he looks like Ebeneezer Scrooge, you’re right, because the picture that you see above IS a picture of a man who portrayed Ebeneezer Scrooge in a movie long ago.

However, the man in question looks like the picture below, and I think that you’ll agree that he bears a striking resemblance to Ebeneezer Scrooge. In addition, his charitable instincts were on a par with the miser featured in the Dickens tale, “A Christmas Carol”, so he probably wasn’t much fun to be around.

Young Jean Paul followed his father into the fledgling oil business, and he made his first million in the summer of 1916, when he was 24 years old. Due to his reputation as a playboy (he was married and divorced five times) his father left him only a small portion of his sizable estate, but the young oil man eventually buckled down, and became VERY successful. In 1949, he bought land near the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where oil had never been discovered, and spent 4 years and $30,000,000 exploring the site. Ultimately, his gamble paid off. He was the first person in the world to achieve a net worth of $1 billion, and the Guinness Book of Records named him the richest man in the world in 1966. At the time of his death, in 1976, he was worth approximately $2 billion ($8.2 billion in 2012 dollars).

His reputation as a miser was cemented by the fact that he installed a coin box telephone in his London mansion (pictured below),

and was further confirmed when he initially refused to pay any ransom when his grandson was kidnapped in Rome in 1973. Although he eventually DID pay a ransom, it was less than his grandson’s captors wanted, and he only gave them $2.2 million - the maximum amount that would be tax deductible.

In spite of his reputation as a miser, his vast fortune eventually came to benefit the rest of us, which includes me.

He became a collector of art and antiquities, which became the basis for the museum that was named after him. At the time of his death, the museum received $661,000 from his estate ($2.7 billion in 2012 dollars). The museum is governed by a trust that he established in 1953, and it is now the richest art institution in the world. The trust also governs his research institute and his conservation institute.

It’s now been more than a year since my family and I visited his museum in California, but until yesterday, I was totally unaware of the fact that J. Paul Getty and I were born in the same state.

And that’s the rest of the story.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Politically correct Santa

“A Visit from St. Nicholas”, also known as “The Night Before Christmas” and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published anonymously in 1823. It was later attributed to Clement Clark Moore, who finally acknowledged his authorship about 15 years later.

Due to the fact that it is one of the most popular Christmas poems ever published, it has been subject to constant parodies over the years, including a few that I’ve written myself. If you’d like to view a few of them, just click on the click below:

Santa parodies

My favorite of the bunch, though, is one that the author titled “Politically Correct Santa”, which you can read below:

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...

How to live in a world that's politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to "Elves",

"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labor conditions at the north pole

Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,

Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear

That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,

Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners had been removed from his sleigh;

The ruts were termed dangerous by the E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops

When they heard sled noises on their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.

His fur trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,

Rudolf was suing over unauthorized use of his nose

And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,

Demanding millions in over-due compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,

Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,

Joined a self-help group, packed, and left in a whiz,

Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion

That making a choice could cause so much commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,

Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.

Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.

Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.

Nothing that's warlike or non-pacific.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth.

Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet forbidden,

Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological

Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football...someone could get hurt;

Besides, playing sports exposed kids to dirt.

Dolls were said to be sexist, and should be passe;

And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;

He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,

But you've got to be careful with that word today.

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;

Nothing fully acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift that he might

Give to all without angering the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,

Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,

Everyone, everywhere...even you.

So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth...

"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth."

Notice: This poem is copyright 1992 by Harvey Ehrlich. It is free to distribute, without changes, as long as this notice remains intact. All follow-ups, requests, comments, questions, distribution rights, etc should be made to mduhan@husc.harvard.edu . Happy Holidays!

(Editors note: even “Happy Holidays” is a source of controversy today. No matter what you do, you’re bound to insult somebody, which means that you just can’t win)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Suicide is painless

M*A*S*H*, the television show, was one of the most popular shows on television for at least 10 years. It premiered on September 17, 1972, and concluded on February 28, 1983. The final show was the most watched television show in history at the time, with a record-breaking 125 million viewers for the final episode. Like many people, my wife and I attended a M*A*S*H* party with some of our close friends in Wisconsin. Like many people, we also were hoping for a happy ending for the series, but the writers had other ideas.

In view of the fact that the title theme for the show was “suicide is painless”, my thoughts for a happy ending were hopelessly optimistic, but it’s still an enjoyable song to listen to:

M*A*S*H* theme song

Oddly enough, the show came to mind again a few days before Thanksgiving, due to the fact that Flagstaff got another dusting of snow, even though we live in “sunny Arizona”. Fortunately, Flagstaff also gets a fairly high percentage of available sunlight, which generally melts the white stuff off fairly quickly, and keeps everybody’s spirits in an elevated state. As a matter of fact, Flagstaff actually gets more sunshine than either Los Angeles or San Diego.

In contrast, Washington State has 15 cities that receive the LEAST amount of available sunlight, which has led to the popular belief that Washington State has the highest suicide rate.

It’s a logical conclusion, but it’s simply not true.

The state that has the highest suicide rate in America is Alaska, and Washington State isn’t even the top 10. Almost without exception, the states that have the highest suicide rates also have the least restrictive gun laws.

By far, the group that is most as risk for suicide is white males older than 65 years old, and the “method of choice” for suicide is firearms, which is the cause of nearly 60% of all suicides. Logically, you’d think that it would make sense to limit gun licenses to 4 years, and require a mental health check be performed before they could be renewed. Since the NRA and the Citizens Defense League are no longer capable of logical thought, it’s unlikely that a mental health check every 4 years would every get through the legislative process.

It’s also common knowledge that there are more suicides during the wintertime due to the fact that there are a lot more days without sunshine during that time period. Again, though, it’s a conclusion that simply isn’t valid. The majority of suicides actually occur during the springtime, which psychologists have termed “the suicide season”.

Admittedly, the holiday season is a stressful time for most of us. If you’re intelligent enough to avoid the Black Friday (and Gray Thursday) sales, December is a time of the year when we all have higher expenses (utility bills and Christmas shopping) and less income (due to unpaid days off). We’re all familiar with the Hallmark character named Maxine, and her summary of the holiday season happens to be right on the mark.

This is also the time of the year when the phrase “happy holidays” gets some people all tied up in knots, and one example (which is being sold by the Republican Party) is shown below:

The phrase “Merry Christmas” doesn’t offend me, but neither does the phrase “happy holidays”. In addition to the Christian holiday of Christmas (which is patterned after the pagan holiday of Saturnalia), followers of the Jewish religion celebrate Hanukkah, African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Hindus celebrate Diwali, and pagans celebrate Yule.

For now, let’s set aside thoughts about suicide, since it’s hardly a topic that’s going to bring holiday cheer. Instead, I’d like to close with a phrase that Charles Dickens wrote in 1843:

“God bless us,everyone”.