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January 22 2014
It was just 100 years ago that Will Rogers first appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies. His droll but cogent remarks from that stage would earn him the sobriquet of “The Cowboy Philosopher.”
He probably looked comical enough without saying anything. His denim clothes, bandana, chaps, boots and Stetson looked entirely out-of-place amidst Ziegfeld’s “most beautiful girls in the world,” who were clad in glorious finery.
Will was no drugstore cowboy. Born in 1879, he was raised on an Oklahoma ranch. He could ride before he could walk (with someone holding him on the saddle). When he was a boy, ranch hands taught him how to throw a lariat.
Traveling when older, he studied Mexican vacqueros and Argentine gauchos. He developed a repertoire of difficult but amusing rope tricks. He competed for roping prizes at rodeos and fairs. He performed with Wild West circuses in South Africa and Australia.
In 1915 he started a vaudeville act. To explain the difficulty of the tricks, he gave brief talks. Will’s homespun appearance, his southwestern drawl, and his apparent humility, aroused laughter from the audience. A veteran showman told him he had natural talent and should talk more during his roping act.
So he was talking as much as roping when he went to work for Ziegfeld in 1915. His first exposure was not in the Follies but in the Midnight Frolics where he had a repeating audience.
Will knew these stock brokers and Wall Street lawyers were not coming back for his act. Each of them had a dolly in the chorus line. But Will felt he needed to use different jokes. He never used a joke writer. So where would the new jokes come from?
His wife Betty advised him to talk about what he read in the newspapers. “Goodness knows,” she said, “you’re always reading the papers.” So that’s what he did. And the next year when he was also in the Follies, he would read morning papers to prepare for the Follies and late editions to prepare for the Frolics.
Since World War One was going on at the time, the headlines were about that. And when America entered in 1917, Will’s jokes were about the nation’s lack of preparedness. And after the war, the Peace Conference at Versailles was the big news. Will made enough comments on stage to compile a small book in 1919.
It was titled “Will Rogerisms—The Cowboy Philosopher at the Peace Conference.” He criticized England and France for robbing Germany of its possessions. He predicted that there would be another war in about twenty years once Germany got on her feet again. Will’s prediction was accurate. World War Two began in 1939.
Will said that England and Japan (who had come in on the side of the Allies) had a secret treaty for the Pacific. England got all the German islands south of the equator and Japan got all those north. He said they left the equator for Ireland.
America was the only Ally who got nothing. Will said that the United States was never guilty of secret diplomacy. All our dealings were an open book—generally a check book.
January 22 2014
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They Call Me Spence
by Brad Spencer
Award winning journalist
September 25 2014
The power of song
Words and music, a delicious combination.
I would hear the music, sure, but I always figured it was the words that float down from a song that stayed with me the most. Then I began to ponder this notion and determined it must be a combination of the two, words and music, which make an everlasting impression on our souls. It also has to do with timing.
You have them, soundtracks of the different periods in your life. It’s not about when the songs came out. It’s when you heard them at a particular moment. They were there when you triumphed, when you failed, when you were perfect, when you made mistakes, when you loved, when you hurt, when everything seemed good, when everything seemed bad, and when everything seemed balanced. Certain songs were the markers for moments in your life.
Some of those songs gave you hope. Some inspired you. Some made you feel you weren’t the only one suffering. Some made you dance a little crazy. Some made you dance a little closer.
It’s usually a flood of nostalgia every time you hear an old song. Could be a tune from a band you never cared for, or the actual song was never particularly one of your favorites, but it has relevance to your life, makes you recall something endearing or, unfortunately, unpleasant.
Whether it was Elvis, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty, or U2, everyone can name at least a dozen artists that created songs that touched their lives in one way or another. When drums go “crash, boom, bang,” or guitar notes introduce a sing-along-song well before the chorus does, it’s enough to run chills down your spine.
But back to the words. I may be bias here, being a writer, but the words to a song are the central piece of the formula. The music is the butter, the milk, the eggs, the sugar, the flour. The words are the icing—the scrumptious frosting—on the cake, what makes the cake so delectable in the first place.
Here are random lyrics to seven songs that for some reason stand out in my mind today. If you listen real hard, you can hear the music in the background.
“Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone/Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone/The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang/the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang/Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock/Everybody in the whole cell block was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.”—Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock.
“Down in the shadows of the penitentiary/Out by the gas fires of the refinery/I’m ten years burning down the road/Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.”—Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA.
“I want to run/I want to hide/I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.”—U2, Where The Streets Have No Name.
“Sittin’ in the morning sun/I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes/Watching the ships roll in/Then I watch them roll away again/I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay.”—Ottis Redding, Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay.
“Standing in the sunlight laughin/Hiding behind a rainbow’s wall/Slipping and a-sliding/all along the waterfall/with you, my brown-eyed girl.”—Van Morrison, Brown Eyed Girl.
“Well, there’s people and more people/What do they know, know, know/Go to work in some high-rise/and vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico/Ooh, yeah.”—John Mellencamp, Pink Houses.
“Don’t worry about a thing/cause every little thing/gonna be all right.”—Bob Marley, Three Little Birds.
Yep, words and music, a tasty combination.
Brad Spencer can be reached at Brad.E.Spencer@gmail.com
January 22 2014“Mental Illness Unpredictable, Treatable”
THIS PANTAGRAPH HEADLINE earlier this month is accurate, but the “treatable” component is equivocal. The article itself was in part a response to the tragic, disturbing suicide by Jake Miller, a U-High senior who was popular with his classmates and a record-setting swimmer. The crushing moment came shortly after he had signed on with Louisville on full athletic scholarship.
I did not know the young man, but have spoken to some of his classmates who confessed utter surprise. If he had been taken by severe depression, the condition was not visible to them. Perhaps his closest friends and family were aware of his suffering; perhaps he had even received treatment somewhere along the way.
Perhaps, perhaps. But it is not uncommon for persons suffering from acute mental illness to hide it effectively, often without even trying.
LET’S START with the “unpredictable.” I know more about this than I care to. In fact I’ve known too much about it since January, 1974, when my life was unexpectedly—and without warning—changed forever.
I wrote in my 1983 book, A Quiet Desperation, “I woke up that morning filled with fear. Even before I got out of bed, I was overcome with terror and panic. I shook my head as if to clear it—something was terribly wrong! I had simply awakened as on any other day, but feelings of terror ripped at my stomach.”
I thought about my life to see if there was anything threatening on the horizon. There wasn’t. My wife and I had a beautiful new son, a month short of his first birthday. I had recently been promoted to associate professor and had a bright future at a first-class community college in upstate NY. I had a real career.
I was also having a complete mental breakdown, and for no reason. Or so I thought. In fact, acute anxiety/depressive disorder doesn’t need reasons, at least not the kind we can see. Although it is true life’s challenging moments can intensify the condition.
For weeks, months, and then years, the condition continued, robbing me of sleep and appetite. I lost 60 pounds during that spring semester. Somehow, for the most part, I muddled through classes, but not effectively. Sometimes I was so distraught and distracted I had to cancel classes.
I spent two weeks in the county mental health hospital in group therapy with very little chance to counsel with the one psychiatrist on staff. I was diagnosed with acute anxiety disorder, often referred to as “generalized anxiety” or “free-floating anxiety.” Nobody (including me) seemed to suspect that acute depression was also part of my condition.
Eventually, I had to resign my position. I was no longer a functional person, professionally or personally. Our family had to part with the beloved college/community in the Catskills. It was a crushing development.
AS FOR “treatable,” we have to cling to that word. I have dialogued with countless mental illness victims individually and in groups over a period of four decades. I have yet to find one who declared himself/herself “cured.”
A portion of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) mission statement is instructive at this point: “Mental illnesses are brain disorders that are biologically based medical problems. Untreated, they can cause severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, and relating. This results in substantially diminished capacity for dealing with the ordinary demands of life. Mental illness can affect persons of any age and occur in any family. They are not caused by bad parenting and not evidence of weakness of character.”
Like many people who are first struck by mental illness, I didn’t understand this basic premise; as a result, I was one of those many who avoided taking psychiatric medications because I didn’t want to become a “drug addict.”
Since I didn’t recognize my frustrating disorder as a somatic condition, over several years I tried to “heal myself” through prayer, meditation, counseling, reading self-help books and the like. None of those efforts alleviated my condition.
TO FIND an effective treatment plan, it’s first necessary to find an accurate diagnosis. In my case, this was a long and winding road. Working with 5 or 6 different psychiatrists over time, I had diagnoses of acute generalized anxiety, acute anxiety/depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and bipolar disorder type two.
I was diagnosed as obsessive/compulsive, and tested high on the ADHD (Attention deficit & hyperactive disorder) charts. One psychiatrist finally told me, “I can’t give you a single diagnosis; you have a cluster of symptoms.” Another one told me, “You have a flavor of a lot of things.”
The shrinks, who freely admitted they were simply working a trial-and-error exercise, put me on a lot of different drugs, dosages, and combinations over a period of 20 years or more. We just don’t know enough about brain chemistry yet. Someday, hopefully, we will.
Nothing we tried ever substantially alleviated the acuity of my symptoms. Have I ever had suicidal thoughts? You bet. But they always stopped there. Then in 2005, a psychiatrist in Florida put me on a new medication that has been helpful. Unfortunately it’s a very potent drug and very expensive.
I see a local psychiatrist regularly as well as a counselor. Medication is crucial, but talk therapy is not without value. Although still substantially compromised, I function better now than I have for many years. I guess you could say I’m being successfully treated. Cured? I don’t expect that to happen in this life.
MY REASON for this public soul-scraping? First and foremost, the stigma attached to mental illness is not something I allow to compromise my relationships. But I also think of Jake Miller and others like him, people who have succumbed to overwhelming desperation. Maybe his depression had been diagnosed accurately, maybe not. Maybe he had tried a medication treatment plan that didn’t work. Maybe, maybe.
And maybe this: perhaps you are suffering in silence with a psychiatric condition or know someone who is. The Pantagraph article included “warning signs of a person experiencing mental health problems.” Sleep patterns and appetite are at the top of the list. For one thing, they’re not hard to see.
On some occasions I have been asked by friends and acquaintances for advice with respect to troublesome mood disorders that seem to be plaguing them, often for the first time. My first question is always, “Can you eat and can you sleep?”
Next comes, “Get professional help.” My exposure to many mental health professionals in the community over time even allows me to make specific suggestions.
I have known people with mental illness who have been fortunate; their doctor was able to make a swift and accurate diagnosis that led to an immediate, successful therapy strategy.
But I don’t do snow jobs; I also share my own experience, urging them to accept, not avoid, a treatment plan that includes psychotropic drugs, even though the path to a clear diagnosis and effective treatment plan may be an equivocal, trial-and-error journey on a long and winding road.
January 22 2014Natural fertilizers are more beneficial than synthetic ones
Research has shown that the nutrient value in our food today has declined over the past 50 years, significantly. Wheat grown 100 years ago had twice as much protein as modern varieties. The nutrient value in our fruits and vegetables is also declining. Scientists believe that the high rates of synthetic fertilizers and irrigations bring higher yields, but they lower the nutrient value. Also the developing of “improved” varieties could also have inadvertently caused the lower nutrient value. Look at the newer varieties of roses, they don’t smell as good as the older varieties. Some people prefer the heirloom tomatoes for flavor but they are not as disease resistant. Therefore you need to plant a few extra plants.
Years ago, just about every farmer raised cows, pigs, chickens and horses. In the spring, they cleaned the manure out of the barn and spread it on the fields. The earthworms, bacteria, insects and fungi would break that down and return the nutrients to the soil. That was their fertilizer,
Today you can buy bags of cow manure and compost to spread on your lawn and garden. You can also have your own compost pile to continue adding to it. It does not contain the salts that synthetic fertilizers do, so it is better for the soil. It could also raise the nutrient and flavor value of the food
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The Rest is Still Unrwritten
by John Colclasure of Lexington
January 22 2014
Do You Ever Wonder?
There have been times when I have sat down at this computer on a Monday morning and had nothing. Nothing to write about, that is. This morning is one of those times. But as the deadline for publication nears, perhaps I shall rely on the words of Will Rogers, “I don’t pick subjects as much as they pick me.” With those words, a catch phrase of Andy Rooney’s comes to mind, “Do you ever wonder?” Yes, as a matter of fact I have wondered from time to time.
This past November, 2011 marked the third anniversary since the passing of Andy Rooney. He was witty and kind and his voice was gentle and his choice of words resonated with all of us. I think in retrospect he reminded us of many of the things we often wondered about and our response was a resounding “Yeah, that’s right!” It is in remembrance of him that we note a few of the things that I have wondered about.
Take for instance, the dining room table. We have an oak table that comfortably seats six people. Six chairs and thus six people. But if you put in two leaves, then you can seat eight comfortably and ten if you squeeze in a couple of kids. But where do you get the extra chairs? Well, you have to get the piano bench and a chair from the small bedroom and often times the executive ergo-nomically correct chair from my den. Perhaps we could honor a tradition of the Shakers of wall mounted furniture, by placing pegs along the walls of the dining room in order to hang chairs and other furniture pieces when they are not in use
Which begs the question, what about a kitchen table, that sits in a dining room, but has only four chairs? A room, by the way, that is rarely used except once or twice a year when company comes for the holidays.
And speaking of actual living space, “Do you ever wonder why an older home of more than 50 years of age has such low ceilings? Note: approx. 78 inches, less height would have been called a crawl space. Chances are the basements were not constructed as living space. Finishing it for use as a rec room, or even an extra bedroom for a family member, presents more than a few challenges. But the question still remains, why were the basements in these older homes so low?
Simple enough or so it would seem, our ancestors tended to be shorter than we are today, and also did not spend a lot of time in their basements, so ceilings below the actual living space were often much too low for our comfort.
And what about the small print in the phone book? “Do you ever wonder?” what genius thought that was still a good idea, when most of society uses cell phones and older people like me still have land-line phones, some even with a rotary dial.
Yes, we do wonder about such things, among others, and after 30 years of being a staple on 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney left us with many moments of agreement, if only reminding of us of what we already knew and something that is often left out by other commentators… the truth.
Till next time…john
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