Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gunther Gebel-Williams Died 10 Years Ago

Gunther Gebel-Williams died ten years ago now, on July 19, 2001. I had forgotten about him, to be honest, until I took my young daughter to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last week. It was much smaller than the version I remember seeing as a kid in the late 1970s in Washington, D.C. Back then, animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams was the star attraction.

His brief obituary in the New York Times HERE began as follows, "Gunther Gebel-Williams, who taught lions to ride on the backs of skittish horses, leopards to jump through flaming hoops held by the gleaming teeth of tigers, and elephants to take calm, leisurely walks through roaring traffic in the nation's busiest cities, died yesterday at his home in Venice, Fla. He was 66... Mr. Gebel-Williams, who for many years was the unrivaled star of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, had surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor in July 2000."

As a child in the 1970s, Gunther Gebel-Williams seemed almost like a super-hero, perhaps partly because he was so heavily promoted on television commercials when the circus came to town.  As I was watching the circus last week, I was struck by the total absence of any star power. In contrast, Gunther Gebel-Williams once featured in an American Express commercial that you can watch HERE.  Even better (but longer) is THIS 6 minute clip from his appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman.  It really gives you a feel for how the German-born performer was part Arnold Schwarzenegger and part Evel Knievel.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Five Worst Chain Restaurant Meals

I never seem to tire of stories like THIS three minute segment from the Today Show this morning, 'naming and shaming' a handful of particularly high calorie menu items at some big-name chain restaurants.

These stories are usually good for an unintentionally funny line like, "Cheese is the new condiment" in this one.

But they can also be educational. This clip features a sandwich where fried mozzarella sticks (with slices of cheddar cheese on top) are placed (side by side, like logs) between two slices of grilled sourdough bread. Let this be a lesson to all of us: it's never going to be healthy to make a happy hour appetizer into a sandwich. 

That means you, jalapeno poppers. (Resist the urge to gentrify, for all our sakes.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New Le Carre Interview: MI6 In The 1960s

A new interview with John Le Carre has been published in the Daily Mail HERE, in which he discusses his own background as a real-life spy.  Le Carre was in the Secret Intelligence Service as a young man and only quit to write full time in the mid-1960s, after the worldwide success of his third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.   Discussing his time in MI6 in this interview, and how it influenced the plot of his classic 1974 novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (about the search for a mole in MI6), Le Carre says in part:

"I worked for MI6 in the Sixties, during the great witch-hunts, when the shared paranoia of the Cold War gripped the services. Kim Philby and George Blake had already been unmasked... Everyone was looking over everybody else’s shoulder. Character defects that might make someone vulnerable to a blackmailer were scrutinised. Was he a homosexual? Did he keep a mistress? Was he financially reckless? Was there a whiff of communism about him? You had nobody to trust but your colleagues. You didn’t tell your wife what you were doing – or very few did. You didn’t tell your girlfriends, your boyfriends or whatever you had. So you were thrown upon one another and then you didn’t trust one another; a secret world within a secret world."

"In my day, MI6 – which I called the Circus in the books – stank of wartime nostalgia... We didn’t even show passes to go in and out of the building. Our faces were known and I don’t remember ever being stopped. The janitors at the entrance would merely say, ‘Good morning.’... I’d go out to shop at lunchtime, bring parcels back, shove them beside my desk and take them out in the evening. That was part of the comedy with Kim Philby, who was exposed in 1963. He came into the building on a Friday morning carrying a suitcase, as did half the people there. They were going off to the country for the weekend with their dinner jackets. But Philby had other plans. He piled bunches of documents into his suitcase and took them out, spending the weekend photographing the papers with his Soviet controller and coming back on the Monday looking as though he’d been away. It was a riot."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cornerning The Market For "He-Man" Dolls

When you think of the term "cornering the market," what do you think of? My first thought is probably of the attempt by the Hunt Brothers to corner the silver market in 1979.

My friend Jeff brought THIS article to my attention this morning.  It concerns the current attempt by a British performance artist named Jamie Moakes to corner the market in vintage 1980s "Ram Man" action figures. (Ram Man being a supporting character from the old He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon.)  Moakes is documenting his every purchase (and the prices) on You Tube.  (This article has a link to his You Tube channel.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Flags Still On The Moon?

I thought that THIS 4-minute segment on the CBS Evening News tonight was interesting.  It examines whether any of the six American flags planted on the Moon by various Apollo missions still survive there intact. 

The fate of the first two surprised me.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Oh, 1776... Of Course!

According to THIS ABC News article today, among young Americans aged 18-29 surveyed in a new Marist poll, 68% did not know that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. (41% were "unsure," while 27% gave an incorrect year.)

Maybe you had to be alive for the Bicentennial in 1976 for that date to be indelible.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

History of July 4th

Presumably everyone who is affected the July 4th holiday in the United States knows of the historical events it commemorates.  But I thought it interesting that Independence Day wasn't made a federal holiday until 1870 (after the Civil War) and even then it was an unpaid holiday.  (Is that really a holiday at all, then?) It wasn't declared a paid federal holiday until 1938.

I also thought it was interesting trivia that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, each a Founding Father and later a U.S. President, died on July 4, 1826.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The End of the Space Age

I thought that THIS article in The Economist today, titled, "The end of the Space Age," was very interesting because it didn't just focus on the prohibitive cost going forward.  Written in anticipation of the last launch of the space shuttle next week, it reads in part:

"But the shuttle is now over. The ISS [International Space Station] is due to be de-orbited, in the inelegant jargon of the field, in 2020. Once that happens, the game will be up. There is no appetite to return to the moon, let alone push on to Mars, El Dorado of space exploration. The technology could be there, but the passion has gone—at least in the traditional spacefaring powers, America and Russia... The space cadets’ other hope, China, might pick up the baton... But the date for doing so seems elastic... Moreover, even if China succeeds in matching America’s distant triumph, it still faces the question, 'what next?'... With luck, robotic exploration of the solar system will continue. But even there, the risk is of diminishing returns. Every planet has now been visited, and every planet with a solid surface bar Mercury has been landed on."

Scorpions On A Plane

I thought THIS 1 minute clip from CBS's Early Show this morning, detailing how a passenger on a recent Alaska Airlines flight was stung by a scorpion, was notable. Even if the specifics of the incident are surprisingly mundane.

Specifics Of DSK Maid's "Credibility Issues"

You've probably already seen the news that the rape case against IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn may, shockingly, be falling apart because of extreme issues with the victim/maid's credibility.

I found this news, as reported by  CNN and other prominent news organizations, to be maddeningly vague about the details.  (What revelations could possibly turn her from victim to villain so abruptly and completely?) Well, the tabloid press in New York has answers.  You can read the litany of problems and issues with her believability and truthfulness (even her allegedly ongoing criminal and fraudulent behavior) in the New York Post this morning HERE.

There's one detail in that article about her health that I would suspect is of significant interest to DSK.