News of the Week: X-Files, Q-Tips, and the ABCs of Sending a Telegram

The Return of The X-Files

The new X-Files has aired two episodes so far. The first episode was rather clunky (all that exposition!), but it set up the six-episode continuation rather nicely, and the second episode got things back on track in a big way. So far, the show is getting mixed reviews, but the ratings have been so good I bet we’ll see another season when these six episodes are over.

I’m more worried about the changes they’re making to the plot of the original show. I won’t give away any spoilers here, but it seems like they’re saying, “Hey, remember all the alien stuff that happened in those nine seasons? Well, it wasn’t what you think.” It’s been a while since I watched the old episodes, so maybe they’re not tweaking history as much as I think they might be, but if they are, it could drive X-Files purists crazy.

Q-Tips: The Weirdest Product?

Marie C Fields/Shutterstock

Orson Bean once said in a classic commercial for Q-Tips (video would go here but for some reason it’s one of the few things no one has yet uploaded to YouTube), “Never stick anything inside your ear. Except your elbow.”

I thought of that ad when reading this piece over at The Washington Post about the little sticks with cotton on the end of them. The angle of the piece is that Q-Tips are the most bizarre thing that we buy because we buy it to use in the exact way that the company tells us not to use it, to clean our ears.

I use them for my ears, but I don’t put them inside. They’re to clean the outside, and they’re perfectly shaped for that purpose. I don’t know what else I’d use them for. I don’t wear makeup or put models together, so they have one use for me. I guess they could be handy to clean the crumbs that fall in between the keys of your computer keyboard.

Abe Vigoda Is (Really) Dead

In 1982, People ran an article that called Abe Vigoda “the late Abe Vigoda”. It seems that ever since then, people have been wondering if the Barney Miller actor was really dead or not. It helped that he seemed to live forever and ever while other celebrities passed away. It even became a running joke on David Letterman’s show and later a Web meme.

But the site created to keep track of whether Vigoda was alive or dead took an unpleasant turn this week when Vigoda actually passed away at the age of 94. The site went from clever and whimsical to unfortunate, as it put two Xs over Vigoda’s eyes to show that he was gone (as if simply posting his birth and death dates ’wouldn’t have been enough).

Vigoda got his big success rather late in life, appearing in his first film, The Godfather, at the age of 50. But he had been a stage and TV actor for many, many years before that. Here, courtesy of MediaReborn, is a live commercial he did in 1951 with Jimmy Durante:

[via AdWeek]

Taste the Feeling

First question: Did you know Coke has a new slogan? It’s “Taste the Feeling”. Second question: Do you know what Coke’s old slogan was, the one they’ve been using since 2009? Apparently it was “Open Happiness,” though if you’re like me, you don’t even remember it. I guess when people don’t remember your slogan, it really is time to change it.

Coke has been facing declining sales the past few years. Maybe it’s time to go back to an older slogan:

Facebook “Friends” Aren’t Your Real Friends

People always say that one of the great things about Facebook is that you can keep in touch with friends you haven’t seen in a long time. But maybe there’s a reason you haven’t seen those people for so long. If you wanted to keep in touch, wouldn’t you keep in touch? We’ve had things like email and texting and phones for a number of years now, and even without Facebook, there are ways to see people’s photos online.

I thought of this while reading about a new study from Oxford University that says that for every 150 friends you have on Facebook, only 14 of them would really care about you in real life. And out of those 14, only 5 are truly close friends.

It’s like that old piece of wisdom I think I first heard on an episode of Stingray back in the mid-’80’s: Your real friends are the ones that will come over on a Sunday and help you clean out the garage.

Facebook has made it too easy to “Like” something, to click a button and be a “friend” to someone. Real friendship takes a little more effort.

Can You Still Send a Telegram in 2016?

I. Pilon/Shutterstock

Before Facebook and the Web, people sent telegrams. I never did, and I don’t think many of my friends or family did either, but it was once a quick way to send a message to someone many states away. They were usually short, choppy messages, with the word STOP scattered throughout to denote the end of a sentence or idea, and using a lot of abbreviations (no emojis though).

But Western Union got rid of that service in 2006 (though you can still send money via the company). Is it still possible to send a telegram in 2016? Adrienne LaFrance wanted to find out, so she tried a few companies that promise to send telegrams and wrote about it.

Yes, you can still send telegrams in 2016, but the results are mixed at best. And the whole process probably seems a bit antiquated in this age of quick emails and texting. But if you wanted to participate in a bit of nostalgia, you might want to try it (though be prepared to spend $20–$30 and wait a few days for it to get to its destination). You should read the comments, too, as one of the companies that LaFrance tried actually responded to her.

Miley Cyrus to Star in Woody Allen’s New Series, for Some Reason

Maybe it was her stunning work as Hannah Montana, or maybe it was the way she stuck out her tongue all those times at the MTV Music Video Awards, but Woody Allen saw something in Miley Cyrus that made him cast her as one of the stars of his new Amazon streaming series.

No word yet on what the series is titled or what it’s about, only that it’s set in the 1960s and will run for six half-hour episodes. Cyrus will costar in the show with Allen and Elaine May.

But that’s not the oddest casting news of the week. In what could be the worst timing of any casting-related news in quite some time, this week it was announced that white, British actor Joseph Fiennes will be playing Michael Jackson in a new comedy, “Elizabeth, Michael, and Marlon”. It’s about a cross-country road trip that Jackson (supposedly) took with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando after the 9/11 attacks. Stockard Channing will play Taylor and Brian Cox will play Brando.

Yes, a comedy about a 9/11 road trip starring Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson. It’s only January, but that might be the weirdest pop culture sentence of the year.

Today Is National Corn Chip Day

AS Food studio/Shutterstock

If you really, really want to make corn chips from scratch, you can follow this recipe from It looks pretty easy, but I think most of us just buy corn chips at the store, because it’s the meal we have them with that’s important, right?

Like chili. Food-wise, chili is “America’s Super Bowl.” Here are several chili recipes, three different versions from Emeril Lagasse and one from international chili champion Jason Goins.

Maybe you can make one of those versions of America’s Super Bowl while watching America’s Super Bowl, which is on CBS next Sunday.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

American Heart Month

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, responsible for one out of every four deaths.

Black History Month

The annual event started as Negro History Week in 1926 and became Black History Month in 1976.

Zane Grey born (January 31, 1872)

Zane Grey’s West Society was created to preserve and promote the works of the great American writer.

Norman Mailer born (January 31, 1923)

The controversial writer once said, “Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.”

By Closed circuit security camera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Patty Hearst kidnapped (February 4, 1974)

The granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Ronald Reagan born (February 6, 1911)

You can read more about the former actor and 40th President of the United States at the official site of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library.

Of Mice and Men published (February 6, 1937)

​John Steinbeck was one of the many great American authors to have written for The Saturday Evening Post.​

Aaron Burr: Did He Renounce Atheism on His Deathbed?

Aaron Burr was no stranger to scandal. We remember him principally as the man who, while still vice president, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton had arguably started the feud when he viciously insulted Burr in a letter, calling him, among other things, “a profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme.” In fact, according to some sources, it was comments like these that had caused then-president Jefferson to drop Burr as his running mate for the upcoming 1804 election. Burr was arrested and indicted for murder after the duel, but he was later acquitted of the charge. A few years later in 1807, Burr was arrested for treason and dragged to Washington in chains on charges that he attempted to set up his own, independent republic in the Texas territory, then under Spanish rule. He got off that time, too.

But, for all the other scandals, and there were plenty, the question that dogged Burr all his life was: Did he believe in God?

Burr was unusual in his day for being a freethinker willing to publicly question the existence of a higher power. But the following article “Aaron Burr — His Death Bed,” from the Post archives, dated January 18, 1868, is an eyewitness account by his friend, the minister Dr. Van Pelt, alleging that he changed his tune and accepted God in his very last moments.

But was this true or just an attempt by Burr’s friend to patch up his tattered reputation for posterity? In a 1937 book Aaron Burr: The Proud Pretender‎ (1937), writer Holmes Moss Alexander challenges Van Pelt’s story and claims Burr remained an atheist to the bitter end. In Alexander’s version of the story, when Van Pelt asked Burr, on his deathbed, if he had good hope the Lord would graciously pardon his sins Burr replied, “On that subject I am coy.”

That’s not the way this article tells it. On the occasion of the 260th anniversary of Burr’s birth in February 6, 1756, we’ll leave it to you to judge for yourself whether Van Pelt’s story is convincing.

Aaron Burr — His Death Bed

By William E. Barton Collection of Lincolniana. Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. Digital image from American Memory, Library of Congress. ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
January 18, 1868 There has been an impression that Aaron Burr refused to converse upon the subject of religion during his last illness. But this is an error. The writer has received from the daughter of the late venerable Doctor Van Pelt, the following account of Burr’s death, related by her father, who visited him when dying:—Colonel Burr died at the present Port Richmond Hotel, Staten Mend, where Dr. Van Pelt frequently visited him during his protracted illness. The time spent with him was chiefly employed in religious conversation, concluding with prayer. Asked as to his views of the Holy Scriptures, Colonel Burr replied — “They were the most perfect system of truth the world had ever seen.”Two hours before his death, Dr. Van Pelt informed him that he could not survive much longer, when he replied — “I am aware of it.” Dr. Van Pelt thus describes his last moments: “With his usual cordial concurrence and manifest desire, we kneeled in prayer before the throne of Heavenly Grace, imploring God’s mercy and blessing. He turned in his bed and put himself in an humble, devotional posture, and seemed deeply engaged in the religious service; thanking me, as usual, for the prayer made for him. Calm and composed, I recommended him to the mercy of God and to the Word of His Grace, with a last farewell. At about two o’clock, P. M., without a groan or struggle, he breathed his last. His death was easy and gentle as a taper in its socket, or a summer’s wave that dies upon the shore. Thus died Colonel Aaron Burr.His last years were spent in comparative obscurity; a few old friends, never deserting him, followed his body to its final resting place, in the cemetery at Princeton, N. J., where they deposited him alongside, or at the foot, of his reverend father’s remains. For years not a stone marked the silent spot; but a plain white marble monument has been placed there, by the same kind hands who ministered to his wants when in retirement, sick and dying.

What a strange history was Aaron Burr’s! At one time carried along on the wave of popular favor, the chief magistracy of the great republic seemed almost within his very grasp, but not securing it, he became the second officer of the Government, the Vice President of the United States. How rapid and lofty his rise, and his fall how sudden and entire! After the fatal duel with General Hamilton, he was indicted for murder by the Grand Jury of New Jersey; by flight sought a refuge in the South, living in obscurity there until the meeting of Congress, when again he appears as President of the United States Senate. His term of office expired, he goes West and becomes the master spirit of an ambitious scheme to invade Mexico. But he is brought hack a prisoner of State to Richmond, charged with high treason, was tried and acquitted. This happened in the year 1808; and only fifty-two years old, his locks were quite silvered, but his form still erect; his eye sparkled with undiminished radiance. His trial was one of the most remarkable in our nation’s history. John Randolph, of Roanoke, the illustrious orator, was the foreman of the Grand Jury, and the eminent John Marshall the presiding judge. Not less than five lawyers, with the prisoner himself, appeared in the defense.

The fifty witnesses were sworn, and their tedious cross-examination disclosed depths of perjury. Still, the Government, after every attempt, failed to obtain a conviction. Aaron Burr, a man of plots and conspiracies, was acquitted, but ruined. From the public indignation, however, he was compelled to leave his native land. Looked upon with suspicion in England, he retired to France, there living in reduced circumstances, and at times not able to procure a meal.

Thus an alien for several years, he obtained from Jeremy Bentham the means to return home, and landing at Boston without a cent, he found himself still an object of distrust to all. Since his departure to Europe he had received no tidings of his beautiful, accomplished, and devoted daughter Theodosia. She had married, in 1800, Governor Allston, of South Carolina, and the first news he now heard was that his grandchild, her only son, in whom his soul delighted, had died, while he was an outcast.

She had been married young, when her father had reached the zenith of his fame. She was not only a lady of rare endowments, but of the most refined feelings, an elegant writer, devoted as a wife and mother, and a most dutiful and affectionate daughter. As the clouds of sorrow and adversity gathered around him, and he was deserted by friends he had formerly cherished, she clung with redoubled affection to her father’s terrible fortunes, while the dark clouds of sorrow and adversity gathered around him.

Upon his arrival, Colonel Burr immediately informed Mrs. Allston of it, when she promised to meet him in New York in a few weeks. She had now become his all on earth — wife, grandchild and friends were all gone, and this precious daughter alone remained to welcome him from his exile and cheer the evening of his checkered and sorrowful life. Days and months passed away without any intelligence from his daughter, when he grew more and more impatient, almost doubting the sincerity of her affection. At last, however, he received a letter from Governor Allston, stating that she had sailed some weeks before for New York in a vessel expressly chartered by him for the purpose. But this vessel never arrived; undoubtedly all on board perished at sea, as no tidings have ever since been heard of her fate.

Now Burr’s last link of life was broken and his cup of sorrow full! The mysterious uncertainty of her death greatly increased the poignancy of his accumulated griefs, and hope; the last refuge of the afflicted and the bereaved, became extinct as years rolled on.

The Memory Secret

Guy sleeping
You snooze, you win! The brain works hard during sleep, searching for hidden links and deeper significance in the day’s events. (Shutterstock)

I was a grind.

That was the word for it back in the day: the kid who sweated the details, who made flashcards. A striver, a grade-hog, a worker bee — that kid — and I can see him clearly now, almost 40 years later, bent over a textbook, squinting in the glow of a cheap desk lamp.

I can see him early in the morning, too, up and studying at 5 o’clock: sophomore year, high school, his stomach on low boil because he can’t quite master — what? The quadratic formula? The terms of the Louisiana Purchase? The Lend-Lease policy, the mean value theorem, Eliot’s use of irony as a metaphor for … some damn thing?

Never mind.

It’s long gone, the entire curriculum. All that remains is the dread. Time’s running out, there’s too much to learn, and some of it is probably beyond reach. But there’s something else in there, too, a lower-frequency signal that takes a while to pick up, like a dripping faucet in a downstairs bathroom: doubt. The nagging sense of having strayed off the trail when the gifted students were arriving at the lodge without breaking a sweat. Like so many others, I grew up believing that learning was all self-discipline: a hard, lonely climb up the sheer rock face of knowledge to where the smart people lived. I was driven more by a fear of falling than by anything like curiosity or wonder.

That fear made for an odd species of student. To my siblings, I was Mr. Perfect, the serious older brother who got mostly As. To my classmates, I was the Invisible Man, too unsure of my grasp of the material to speak up. I don’t blame my young self, my parents, or my teachers for this split personality. How could I? The only strategy any of us knew for deepening learning — drive yourself like a sled dog — works, to some extent; effort is the single most important factor in academic success.

Yet that was the strategy I was already using. I needed something more, something different — and I felt it had to exist.

The first hint that it did, for me, came in the form of other students, those two or three kids in algebra or history who had — what was it? — a cool head, an ability to do their best without that hunted-animal look. It was as if they’d been told it was okay not to understand everything right away; that it would come in time; that their doubt was itself a valuable instrument. But the real conversion experience for me came later, when applying for college. College was the mission all along, of course. And it failed; I failed. I sent out a dozen applications and got shut down. All those years laboring before the mast and, in the end, I had nothing to show for it but a handful of thin envelopes.

What went wrong?

I had no idea. I aimed too high, I wasn’t perfect enough, I choked on the SATs. No matter. I was too busy feeling rejected to think about it. No, worse than rejected. I felt like a chump. Like I’d been scammed by some bogus self-improvement cult, paid dues to a guru who split with the money. So, after dropping out, I made an attitude adjustment. I loosened my grip. I stopped sprinting. Broadened the margins, to paraphrase Thoreau. It wasn’t so much a grand strategy — I was a teenager, I couldn’t see more than three feet in front of my face — as a simple instinct to pick my head up and look around.

I finally got into the University of Colorado, where I began to live more for the day. Hiked a lot, skied a little, consumed too much of everything. I’m not saying that I majored in gin and tonics; I never let go of my studies — just allowed them to become part of my life, rather than its central purpose. And somewhere in that tangle of good living and bad, I became a student.

The brain is not like a muscle. It is something else altogether, sensitive to mood, to timing, to circadian rhythms, as well as to location, environment.

The change wasn’t sudden or dramatic. No bells rang out, no angels sang. It happened by degrees, like these things do. For years afterward, I thought about college like I suspect many people do: I’d performed pretty well despite my scattered existence, my bad habits. I never stopped to ask whether those habits were, in fact, bad.

In the early 2000s, I began to follow the science of learning and memory as a reporter, first for the Los Angeles Times and then for The New York Times. This subject — specifically, how the brain learns most efficiently — was not central to my beat. But I kept coming back to it, because the story was such an improbable one. Here were legit scientists, investigating the effect of apparently trivial things on learning and memory. Background music. Study location, i.e., where you hit the books. Video game breaks. Honestly, did those things matter at test time, when it came time to perform?

If so, why?

After experimenting with many of the techniques described in the studies, I began to feel a creeping familiarity, and it didn’t take long to identify its source: college. My jumbled, ad hoc approach to learning in Colorado did not precisely embody the latest principles of cognitive science — nothing in the real world is that clean. The rhythm felt similar, though, in the way the studies and techniques seeped into my daily life, into conversation, idle thoughts, even dreams.

That connection was personal, and it got me thinking about the science of learning as a whole, rather than as a list of self-help ideas. The ideas — the techniques — are each sound on their own, that much was clear. The harder part was putting them together. They must fit together somehow, and in time I saw that the only way they could was as oddball features of the underlying system itself — the living brain in action. To say it another way, the collective findings of modern learning science provide much more than a recipe for how to learn more efficiently. They describe a way of life.

The brain is not like a muscle. It is something else altogether, sensitive to mood, to timing, to circadian rhythms, as well as to location, environment. It registers far more than we’re conscious of and often adds previously unnoticed details when revisiting a memory or learned fact. It works hard at night, during sleep, searching for hidden links and deeper significance in the day’s events. It has a strong preference for meaning over randomness, and finds nonsense offensive. It doesn’t take orders so well, either, as we all know — forgetting precious facts needed for an exam while somehow remembering entire scenes from The Godfather or the lineup of the 1986 Boston Red Sox.

In the past few decades, researchers have uncovered and road-tested a host of techniques that deepen learning — techniques that remain largely unknown outside scientific circles. These approaches aren’t get-smarter schemes that require computer software, gadgets, or medication. Nor are they based on any grand teaching philosophy, intended to lift the performance of entire classrooms (which no one has done, reliably). On the contrary, they are all small alterations, alterations in how we study or practice that we can apply individually, in our own lives, right now.

In short, it is not that there is a right way and wrong way to learn. It’s that there are different strategies, each uniquely suited to capturing a particular type of information.

The Ways We Learn: Separating Myth from Fact in the Quest for Better Retention

College student studying
Divide and Conquer: Breaking up study or practice time — dividing it into two or three sessions, instead of one — is far more effective than concentrating it. (Shutterstock)

Some of what I’ve learned about how we learn can be found in the answers to a few essential questions.

Can “freeing the inner slacker” really be called a legitimate learning strategy?
If it means guzzling wine in front of the TV, then no. But to the extent that it means appreciating learning as a restless, piecemeal, subconscious, and somewhat sneaky process that occurs all the time — not just when you’re sitting at a desk, face pressed into a book — then it’s the best strategy there is.

How important is routine when it comes to learning?

Not at all. Most people do better over time by varying their study or practice locations. The more environments in which you rehearse, the sharper and more lasting the memory of that material becomes — and less strongly linked to one “comfort zone.” Altering the time of day you study also helps, as does changing how you engage the material, by reading or discussing, typing into a computer or writing by hand, reciting in front of a mirror or studying while listening to music: Each counts as a different learning “environment” in which you store the material in a different way.

How does sleep affect learning?

Studies show that “deep sleep,” which is concentrated in the first half of the night, is most valuable for retaining hard facts — names, dates, formulas, concepts. If you’re preparing for a test that’s heavy on retention (foreign vocabulary, names and dates, chemical structures), it’s better to hit the sack at your usual time, get that full dose of deep sleep, and roll out of bed early for a quick review. But the stages of sleep that help consolidate motor skills and creative thinking — whether in math, science, or writing — occur in the morning hours, before waking. If it’s a music recital or athletic competition you’re preparing for, or a test that demands creative thinking, you might consider staying up a little later than usual and sleeping in.

Is there an optimal amount of time to study or practice?

More important than how long you study is how you distribute the study time you have. Breaking up study or practice time — dividing it into two or three sessions, instead of one — is far more effective than concentrating it. That split forces you to reengage the material, dig up what you already know, and restore it — an active mental step that reliably improves memory.

How much does it help to review notes from a class or lesson?

The answer depends on how the reviewing is done. Verbatim copying adds very little to the depth of your learning, and the same goes for looking over highlighted text or formulas. Just because you’ve marked something or rewritten it, digitally or on paper, doesn’t mean your brain has engaged the material more deeply. Studying highlighted notes and trying to write them out — without looking — works memory harder and is a much more effective approach to review. There’s an added benefit as well: It also shows you immediately what you don’t know and need to circle back and review.

Is distraction always bad?

No. Distraction is a hazard if you need continuous focus, like when listening to a lecture. But a short study break — five, 10, 20 minutes to check in on Facebook, respond to a few emails, check sports scores — is the most effective technique learning scientists know of to help you solve a problem when you’re stuck. Distracting yourself from the task at hand allows you to let go of mistaken assumptions, reexamine the clues in a new way, and come back fresh.

Is it best to practice one skill at a time or many things at once?

Focusing on one skill at a time — a musical scale, free throws, the quadratic formula — leads quickly to noticeable, tangible improvement. But over time, such focused practice actually limits our development of each skill. Mixing or “interleaving” multiple skills in a practice session, by contrast, sharpens our grasp of all of them.

From the book How We Learn by Benedict Carey. Copyright © 2014 by Benedict Barey. Published by arrangement with Random House, a division of Random House LLC.

News of the Week: Glenn Frey, the Lost Art of Handwriting, and the Perfect Peanut Butter and Jelly


Glenn Frey
By Steve Alexander (originally posted to Flickr as Glenn Frey) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
January is turning out to be a bad month for classic rock. First we had the passing of David Bowie, and this week came the death of Glenn Frey of the Eagles.

Besides his work with that iconic band, Frey had a lot of solo success too, with songs like “Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong to the City,” both of which were used on a show Frey appeared on as an actor, Miami Vice (and yes, the city Sonny Crockett is walking in is New York City and not Miami).

Frey had been ill for the past year and a half, and passed away from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia. He was 67. Here’s Don Henley on the passing of his friend and band mate.

National Handwriting Day

How’s your handwriting these days? (Note to younger readers: Handwriting is what everyone did before iPads and clicking things.) When I started writing my monthly letter for readers, I found that my handwriting needed a lot of work. While I take a lot of notes by hand, those notes aren’t usually in cursive, so the only cursive I regularly have practice with is my signature. That’s not enough to keep your handwriting up to date. I actually had to learn again how to write certain letters, like q and the dreaded z.

There’s a lot of talk these days about schools no longer teaching handwriting because younger students are growing up in a digital world and that’s all they know. Maybe these kids won’t need handwriting by the time they’re adults. Everything will be done on tablets and even a signature can be done with the click of a button (I’ve noticed that even on some contracts I’ve signed online). But tomorrow is National Handwriting Day, and maybe we can help bring back this lost art. A lot of experts believe it could help with memory, and wouldn’t it be nice to write an actual letter to people once in a while instead of a quick email, text, or Facebook post?

Is Charles Osgood Leaving CBS Sunday Morning?

I certainly hope not. CBS Sunday Morning without Charles Osgood would be like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson without Johnny Carson. Of course, if he wants to make the decision to retire, while that’s sad, if he wants to then that’s his decision.

But The New York Daily News is reporting that it might not be his decision. Citing sources, the paper says that Osgood is undergoing contract negotiations with CBS and that the network might want to replace him later this year. That same source says the network wants to “kick him to the curb,” which is a rather nasty way of putting it. CBS hasn’t commented on the matter, so I think we have to take any talk of curb kicking with a grain of salt.

People who could take over as host include three who often guest host for Osgood (currently taking a few weeks off for knee surgery), Jane Pauley, Anthony Mason, and Lee Cowan. All three are fine fill-ins, but if the choice is one of those three I’d go with Pauley. It would be nice to see her regularly on morning TV again.

This Is Jeopardy!?

It’s not every day that all three Jeopardy! contestants get the Final Jeopardy! question wrong, but all three of them also bet all of their money. Usually when there’s a tie, both winners come back the next day. So who gets to come back the next day as the champion when all three have no money? Here’s the clip, and to be fair it’s not an easy question:

Read Jeanne Wolf’s interview with Alex Trebek from the Jan/Feb 2016 issue.

Playboy Mansion for Sale (but Hef Gets to Stay!)

Czar of the Bunny Empire, April 28, 1962

How would you like to own the Playboy Mansion? It’s five acres in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles, and if you have $200 million dollars, it’s yours! There’s one catch though: If you buy it, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner gets to stay! I don’t know how that would work out, but maybe you and Hef could be roommates. As a guy, something tells me Hef would be an excellent roommate to have.

If you have the money, it might be a great purchase. Also, if you indeed have that much money, I’d also spend a bunch on cleaning the place, including the grotto and hot tubs. Especially the grotto and hot tubs.

Click here to read 1962’s “Czar of the Bunny Empire” by Bill Davidson from the Post archive.

There’s a Cloverfield 2?!?

Did you know that producer J.J. Abrams made a sequel to his 2008 monster movie Cloverfield? I don’t think anyone did (well, except Abrams and the stars and probably the studio). The official title is 10 Cloverfield Lane. Here’s the trailer:

Looks like fun, and this trailer also looks a lot like the season two opener of another J.J. Abrams project, Lost, only with “I Think We’re Alone Now” instead of “Make Your Own Kind of Music”:

The Perfect Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

This Sunday is National Peanut Butter Day. Let’s talk about one of God’s perfect meals, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This is how you make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It starts with the bread. You can’t use a bread that rips and tears easily, like Wonder, because that just makes a mess. You need a hearty bread, like Canadian white. You put peanut butter (smooth or chunky, it’s your call) on one slice of bread and then you put the jelly on the other side of the bread. Don’t put too much jelly or it throws the peanut butter to jelly flavor ratio out of whack.

This is actually controversial, one of those age-old debates. A lot of people put the peanut butter and jelly on the same slice and then simply put the other slice on top. I don’t think this is as visually appealing and just makes the knife a sloppy mix of peanut butter and jelly remnants. I also don’t cut mine in half because I’m no longer 7 years old and can actually handle a whole sandwich.

How do you make yours? However you make it, make sure you wash it down with milk. One time I didn’t have any milk and had to wash it down with Diet Pepsi. I’ll never make that mistake again.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

Founding of the National Geographic Society (January 27, 1888)

The Society’s website is a lot of fun, and you can become a member just like young George Bailey.

J.D. Salinger dies (January 27, 2010)

Yup, the Catcher in the Rye author wrote several short stories for The Saturday Evening Post.

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes (January 28, 1986)

It’s the 30th anniversary of that horrible day. Here’s CNN’s live coverage of the event.

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven published (January 29, 1845)

Poe’s famous short story The Black Cat first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in August 1843, and we also printed several poems by him.

Jackie Robinson born (January 31, 1919)

Here’s SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson on the baseball player’s “grace under pressure”. Jackie Robinson’s groundbreaking interview with Branch Rickey is featured in our Baseball Special Collector’s Edition, now in its third printing.

3 Questions for Alex Trebek

In 2014, Alex Trebek eclipsed the Guinness record for hosting a game show with his 6,829th appearance. He’s been coming into our living rooms for over three decades. No wonder we think we know the handsome, debonair, and sometimes intimidating host of Jeopardy! The show brought him fame along with an impressive collection of awards, including four Emmys. Off screen, Trebek has found a different kind of enduring success in his marriage to his second wife, Jean, who is a trained spiritual counselor. Two kids and 25 years together seem to have provided the couple’s correct answers.

I’ve known Alex for a long time and while I love to watch him lead contestants through their paces, I’ve seen sides of him other than the persona he projects on TV. That’s probably because, as he told me, “the trick for success for shows like mine is don’t get in the way of the game or the contestants. The focus must never be on you, or the audience will turn against you.”

Jeanne Wolf: What should fans of Jeopardy! know about off-the-set Alex?

Alex Trebek: I’m not going to dispel the notion of viewers that I am this brilliant human being. But the truth is, if I were a contestant I could never get my hand on the button in time. Maybe fans should know I like to fix things around the house when they break and I shop at Home Depot. They should know I am highly competitive, but more with myself than others. I’m always trying to better myself. I try to read more. When I was a kid, I would read and get so excited I just couldn’t wait to get to the next page. Reading a book can provide a level of enjoyment that television can’t seem to do on a regular basis.

JW: On Jeopardy!, you literally hold the answers. Were there times bringing up your son and daughter when you wished you had a pack of cards with the answers to how to be a good parent?

pg31-jf2016-pullquoteAT: No, I didn’t run into that. My kids figured that dad would know the answer, and most of the time I did.

JW: You speak with great admiration about your wife, Jean. What makes you thrive as a couple?

AT: Viewers of the show have told me that over the past 20 years I have mellowed as a host. My wife has helped to soften me. I try to be more understanding when players make mistakes, to ease the blow for them. I think that’s the main change that my wife has brought about in me. She’s more in tune with the spiritual side of our personalities. I’m not. She says I am, but I deny it. People ask me what guides me. There’s an old saying, I think it’s by Goethe, “If you can dream it, do it, because there is power and glory in doing.” I think that’s it. Dream all you want, but get off your duff and make the effort. Otherwise you could wind up regretting, and no one likes regret. Take a chance and do it. What’s the worst that could happen to you?

Memories of Mark Twain

Mark Twain stands outside his boyhood home on Hill Street in Hannibal, Missouri. (Photo via Library of Congress)

In a way, Mark Twain never left Hannibal, Missouri. All his books reflect the voice and outlook of a man who grew up in a small antebellum river town. And his best-known books, Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, reflect his childhood adventures on and around the Mississippi River.

When a Post reporter visited Hannibal in 1900, when the famous author was 65, he found several of Twain’s boyhood friends still alive. They recalled young Samuel Clemens as a voracious reader who’d entertain his friends by reciting stories from the Arabian Nights. They also recalled his Tom Sawyer-like behavior as a youth: He was apparently a frequent fugitive from Sunday school, and the fearless explorer of the cave and a treasure island, both made famous in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

One of the boyhood friends named in the article below was Tom Blankenship. Late in life, Twain identified him as the model for Huckleberry Finn. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had. His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person — boy or man — in the community, and by consequence he was tranquilly and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy’s.”

The Friends of Mark Twain’s Boyhood

“The Friends of Mark Twain’s Boyhood ” by Homer Bassford, September 22, 1900

By Homer Bassford

Originally published on September 22, 1900

Most of the boys who went to school with Mark Twain are dead; but in the hills of northeast Missouri one may yet come across white-bearded, pleasant mannered old fellows who played the pranks and knew the hairbreadth ’scapes of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Only a few weeks ago The Saturday Evening Post’s Paris correspondent set forth the interesting fact that Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are on the friendliest of terms with the youth of France. These boys, along with thousands upon thousands of our own boys, will be happy to know that nearly all of the atmosphere that surrounded Huck and Tom is just about as it was fifty years ago, when the boys ranged the hills, the river, the islands and the Cave. Scores of other “Hucks” and “Toms” have come and gone, and many others are doing pretty much the same thing, right now, that the originals did.

If you were to go to Hannibal today and make inquiry for some of the “boys” who went to school with Sam Clemens you would probably be directed to Ed Pierce and Charley Curts. When you hear them spoken of as “Ed” and “Charley” you feel that they must be youngsters yet, and that some trick of time has kept them just as they were when they used to row up to the island and scratch for the Frenchman’s gold. Mr. Curts told me the other day that he was more than seventy years of age. He is over six feet in height, very straight, very carefully dressed and very classical in facial outline. We were standing near the little park of the town when Mr. Curts pointed to a spot in the centre of it.

Where Tom and Becky Were Lost

“Right here,” he said, “stood a one-story, frame schoolhouse. The teacher was Miss Newcomb. Sam Clemens and I learned to spell in that schoolhouse, and on Sundays we went there to church and Sunday-school — when we couldn’t sneak away. That was when we were round about ten and fifteen years old. In the period when we were older Sam and I ran off a good deal and went to the Cave, the same Cave that you read about, the Cave in which Tom and Becky were lost. We always took some fire with us, carefully guarding it from the wind. We managed to get candles somehow, and after we got lighted up we would climb the hill and crawl through the little hole that let light into the long, narrow passage leading to the main part of the mysterious place. We spent hours and hours there, day after day. Sam never tired of exploring the wonderful hallways, rooms and walks. To this day there are portions of it known only to Sam Clemens. Once in a while we hear that Mark Twain is lazy and that as a youngster he put all the work on the other fellow. This isn’t true. He not only did his share of all the work there was to do, but he lent another aid that was beyond the gifts of the others. He used to get a lot of the boys — Ed Pierce, Bill Nash, Ben Coontz, ’Gene Freeman, Ruel Gridley, Tom Blankenship and Joint Meredith — and tell the Arabian Nights stories to us. His father, John M. Clemens, owned the only copy of the book in town, and after Sam had digested it thoroughly he related the whole thing to us, decorated in his own way.”

“Did Mr. Clemens aspire to authorship at that time, or do you recall that he gave any indication of his future course?” I asked Mr. Curts.

“He was the best story-teller among the boys—the best boy story-teller I ever knew; but he wasn’t thinking much about authorship. One time some one patted him on the shoulder and asked, in the usual way:

“What are you going to be, Sammie, when you grow up?’

“‘Haven’t thought much, sir,’ said Sam, ‘but I suppose I’ll grow into a man.’”

One of Mark Twain’s Early Pastime

Mark Twain’s boyhood friends from left to right: standing, Norval L. Brady, Dr. B.Q. Stevens, J.L. Robards; sitting, Moses D. Bates and Elizabeth Frazer. (Photo by Jean Thomlinson Frazer via Library of Congress)

Edward Pierce is a bit younger than Mark Twain, but he always managed to be present when the Arabian Nights stories were going around, and many a time he helped to dig for gold on Treasure Island. When Ed Pierce, Sam Clemens, Bill Nash and Ruel Gridley were boys together there was a mill near which the youngsters loved to gather. This mill was in the centre of a narrow valley, and at the top of the long, steep inclines that ran away from it were great stones, tossed there in bygone ages by the wondrous hand of Nature.

“Sam Clemens and the others of us used to tear those stones loose,” said Ed Pierce on a recent Sunday, “sometimes working days and nights together to get a particularly big one free. Then we’d start her down the hill. One time we cut loose a whaler, and, when we saw the course it was taking, we began to in our boots. It would hit the mill. Once the stone struck a flat place on the slope and we held our breathing in the hope that it would stop. We grabbed each other by the shirt-sleeves and strained our eyes as the great rock paused, wobbled, struck a smaller rock and then, with a whirl to one side, set off to the bottom with a speed that would have filled our hearts with joy if the mill “ad not been there.

“Mebbe she’ll hit something an’ turn out,’ Sam suggested.

“Sure enough, at that instant the rolling stone struck a small boulder and shot twenty feet down a side course, but our relief was of short life, for there was yet another boulder in just the right position to restore the course of our big one. While we were watching, the head miller appeared at one of the doors. He grasped the situation in an instant and, calling his helpers out, he and the others ran for their lives. Sam and I waited for the stone to strike. It went through the wall and landed far inside the mill. Then we got away. Many times we sent rocks down that hill. As I look back at it, I wonder that we didn’t kill some one.”

Mark Twain’s Broad Range of Studies

Not many years ago – less than fifteen perhaps —Mr. Clemens went to Hannibal for the purpose of spending a short time amid the scenes of his boyhood. In the course of his visit he was much in the company of his lifelong friend, Colonel RoBards, who is one of the pillars of the community. With Colonel RoBards he made a tour of the churches one bright Sunday morning, taking particular interest in the children. At the place of his first visit the host told the Sunday-school Superintendent that the distinguished visitor would be glad to address the little folks. Mr. Clemens at once grew reminiscent. He was glad to be home again, back among the hills of his early youth, where he knew every rock and gully. It was good to be in the old home Sunday school again. Here Colonel Robards and the Superintendent exchanged glances of doubt.

“Yes,” continued the speaker, “ and you must know how it delights me to be in this Sunday-school where every bench is to me as an old friend. I sat right over there where the stove used to be—right in that seat where the little girl with the red dress is now. Ah, how it all comes back to me!”

Then Colonel Robards pulled at the famous man’s coat-tails and indicated that it was time to hurry on. At the next Sunday school Mr. Clemens was soon on his feet.

“My dear friends,” he said, “ I’m so happy to be here again, close to scenes I once knew so well, for right there, within twenty feet of where I stand, is the seat in which I used to sit with Charley Curts “ (or some one equally well known). “ How well I remember it all!”

Colonel Robards blushed for his guest and begged a pressure of time as an excuse for leaving. When the two were safely out of The church, Colonel Robards turned on him.

“See here, Sam,” he said, “you never went to Sunday-school in that church. It wasn’t there when you lived in Hannibal, or the other one, either, for that matter.”

“Goodness me! Can that be so?” Mr. Clemens exclaimed. “ How time does fly!”

Then the two visited a third church, a spic and span new one of which the congregation was very proud. Mr. Clemens, as soon as his presence became known, was duly pressed for a few remarks.

“I can only say,” he said, “ that I am very happy to be here this morning. The sight of this magnificent edifice recalls to my mind other days than this. It brings to my thoughts another group of youngsters, hardly as well dressed as these bright-faced boys and girls, but all quite as anxious to become good men and women. I was one of them. My seat was over there near where the boy with a red necktie is sitting. Indeed, I think it must be the same seat.”

Then, walking closer, as if to scrutinize the place more carefully, he said, “ Yes, it’s the same.”

“Come on,” said Colonel Robards. “ It’s time to go to dinner.”

Ads You’ll Never See Again: The Way We Ate

Continuing our tribute to vintage ads, we look this week at food advertising.

To judge from this sampling, food ads often focused less on the products themselves and more on happy family members. Advertisers appealed to the consumer — a (presumably) female homemaker — through images of well-fed kids and gratified husbands.

And some of these ads … well, we can’t even imagine what the advertiser was thinking.



Baby asleep at highchair after eating Kellogg's cereal
Kellogg’s advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
July 18, 1914

Judging from this ad, mothers of 1914 didn’t worry too much about childhood obesity.


Orange Juice

Boy smiling at glass of orange juice
Florida Citrus Commission advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
March 29, 1952

Drink even more orange juice, advised the Florida Citrus Commission. “Turn those small old-fashioned juice glasses out to pasture.”


Fully Nutritious

Mother and child smiling in Nucoa advertisement
Nucoa Margarine advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
January 17, 1953

Americans began using margarine during World War II, when rationing reduced the availability of butter. However, margarine in its natural state had a white, lard-like color. Dairy farmers succeeded in getting laws passed that prohibited margarine makers from dyeing their product an appetizing, buttery yellow. Eventually, these laws were set aside, and margarine makers could promote their product in a natural “sunny color.”


My Feet

Baby wincing in hot dog advertisement
Visking Corp. Skinless Franks advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
May 16, 1953

Cute baby photos were popular among advertisers in the 1950s. They appeared in ads for all sorts of products, including cigarettes. While the photo in this ad was the work of “the one and only Constance Bannister, America’s foremost baby photographer,” it’s hard to see how it sold “skinless” hot dogs.


Wife Beaters

Woman bringing Campbell Soup to men at table
Campbell Soup Company advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
February 22, 1936

“Women everywhere are cheerfully admitting that Campbell’s beat them at soup making.” Why? What did you think they meant?


“Got a good man? Keep him happy.”

Woman smiling and holding post and cup of coffee
Acme Coffee advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
February 2, 1963

The small print in the upper corner explained that the very ’60s-looking “wife pleasing” cup and saucer were sold at Acme, back in the days when supermarkets competed by selling place settings, cookware, and encyclopedias.


No Time To Be Frail

Woman in military on motorcycle
Fleishmann’s Yeast advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
December 5, 1942

Lastly, we offer this wartime bulletin to homemakers: “The dainty days are done for the duration.” Whether you were a housewife or a riveter, World War II was “no time to go easy on such basic food as bread,” according to the makers of Fleischmann’s Yeast. Just three slices would give you enough energy to do an hour’s housework. Four slices would power 30 minutes of wood chopping. Bread would help us win the war.

Coming Soon from The Saturday Evening Post: Ads You’ll Never See Again

A special collector’s edition of The Saturday Evening Post filled with ads from the past that will delight, entertain — and sometimes shock — with images and concepts that are thoroughly inappropriate today. You’ll cringe when you see babies wrapped in then-brand-new cellophane. You’ll laugh out loud at Santa promoting a cigarette brand. You’ll wince at an ad that threatens housewives with a spanking for failing to complete their domestic chores. More than just an entertainment, the special issue offers a snapshot of attitudes about gender, childrearing, and marketing in an era that most readers will remember all too well.

It’s too early to order, but if you might be interested in purchasing this product, please click here and we’ll send you a notice when the special issue is available.

Dashed Dream

Three high school cheerleaders left dumb-struck after their basketball team loses a close game.
Losing the Game — which appeared on the cover of the Post on February 16, 1952 — recently sold at Sotherby’s for $4.5 million. (© SEPS) Get it framed at

For Norman Rockwell, nothing was more exciting than the drama of everyday events. In “Losing the Game,” he captures a scene that could have taken place in any town USA. The home team lost by one point. Seats are empty. Even the janitor is walking off court. The only ones left are the three stunned, disappointed cheerleaders. In this simple setting, Rockwell demonstrates his mastery of technique and composition. Note how the parallel lines created by the gymnasium’s floor direct attention to the trio of cheerleaders who appear in triangular composition — all drawing viewers into the central scene so everyone can experience the moment. Rockwell once wondered, “How will I be remembered? As a technician or artist? As a humorist or a visionary?” Safe to say all of the above.

Vintage Advertising: Chew on This!

Vintage ad for Wrigley's Gum
Gum guy: One of Wrigley’s first advertising icons was “Spearman,” introduced in 1915.

Mention Wrigley and you think gum, right? William Wrigley Jr. counted on just that. Son of a soap manufacturer, Wrigley was born in 1862 Philadelphia. A prankster who was expelled from school, Wrigley, at 13, began selling Wrigley’s Scouring Soap on the streets. Later he traveled from town to town, convincing merchants to stock his father’s soap. At 29, he struck out on his own heading to Chicago with $32 and a dream of running his own business. First, he sold soap, offering a free can of baking powder with every sale. Trouble was, baking powder outstripped demand for soap, so Wrigley went into the baking powder business. To spur sales, he again offered an incentive — chewing gum. The strategy worked. But again chewing gum proved more popular than the product he was selling. Wrigley saw an opportunity. In 1893, he introduced two now-iconic brands — Wrigley’s Spearmint® and Juicy Fruit®. What set him apart from other gum makers at the time was his use of advertising. Through newspaper and magazine ads, highway billboards, and other venues, he built public acceptance and awareness of the Wrigley’s brand. More and more consumers began asking for Wrigley’s gums. By 1908, sales of Wrigley’s Spearmint topped $1 million a year. In 1915, he organized the first-ever national direct-marketing campaign, shipping sticks of gum to every address listed in U.S. phone books. When he retired in 1925, Wrigley had transformed a small business selling soap into the top chewing gum manufacturer in the world. “Anyone can make gum,” he once said. “The trick is to sell it.”

News of the Week: Farewells, Phone Numbers, and Fig Newtons

RIP David Bowie

David Bowie
By AVRO (Beeld En Geluid Wiki – Gallerie: Toppop 1974) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There aren’t many musicians who reinvented themselves for every generation, were admired for their acting as well as their music, were fashion icons for both men and women, and were also their own Internet service provider, but David Bowie did all of that and more. Many people are honoring the British rock icon, including director Cameron Crowe, Ricky Gervais, and Iggy Pop. Wesley Morris at The New York Times has an interesting piece on how Bowie challenged MTV when they weren’t airing videos by black artists, Politico‘s Jack Shafer writes about the art of dying in public, and the cover of next week’s Time will feature Bowie.

Bowie died of cancer last Sunday after struggling with the disease for the past year and a half. He was 69 and leaves his wife Iman and two children. His death came just two days after the release of his latest album, Blackstar.

Alan Rickman also passed away this week. The actor, best known for his roles in Die Hard and the Harry Potter films, died yesterday. He was also 69 and had also battled cancer.

Oscar Nominations

Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre
By Greg in Hollywood (Greg Hernandez) (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Every year when the Oscar nomination are announced, one thought goes screaming through my head: “Wow, I don’t go to the movies enough.”

Same thing with this year’s nominees, which were announced yesterday. Here’s the complete list. Looks like The Revenant leads the way with 12 nominations, followed by Mad Max: Fury Road with 10. It’s good to see an action movie with a Best Picture nomination. Other films getting a lot of nominations include Spotlight, Room, and The Martian.

Bridge of Spies got several nominations, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance), and Adapted Screenplay, though surprisingly no noms for Tom Hanks or director Steven Spielberg. Nice to see Charlotte Rampling get a Best Actress nomination for 45 Years. And Sylvester Stallone! Who would have thought that 40 years after first playing Rocky Balboa he’d get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the same role in the sequel Creed?

“Writing’s on the Wall,” the theme song to the James Bond movie SPECTRE, was nominated for Best Song. It won in the same category at last week’s Golden Globes. If it keeps winning all these awards, that must mean that all the other film songs this past year were really, really terrible.

Surprising the Ridley Scott didn’t get a nomination for directing The Martian, since many think it’s his best film in years.


I knew I wasn’t going to win the lottery on Wednesday. I was so sure that I wasn’t going to win that I wrote that first sentence three hours before the Powerball numbers were even drawn. That’s either cynicism or just being realistic. If you haven’t checked your tickets yet for some reason, the winning numbers were 4-8-19-27-34 and (10).

There were three winning tickets though, sold in California, Tennessee, and Florida. So now we can all go back to not playing  Powerball because the next jackpot is only going to be  a measly $40 million or so.

You can do whatever you want with the money, but it would be great if your first move would be to, I don’t know, buy a subscription to a great magazine?

Facebook vs. Phone Numbers

Facebook on a phone
dolphfyn /

Question: Do you remember the phone numbers of other people, like your siblings and your friends? This used to be something you had to remember. Even when you could program someone’s number into your landline so you could just press one button and speed dial, you still memorized important phone numbers of people you knew. I still remember the phone number I had 45 years ago, and I still remember my sister’s phone number (in fact, she has the same number she had decades ago).

But now we live in the age of smartphones and texting and you don’t have to remember anything. With this technology and things like Google, where you can look things up instantly, we never have to “know” anything again. It’s a lost skill.

Facebook doesn’t think we need phone numbers anymore, even if we have our phones next to us 24/7/365. David Marcus, Vice President of Messaging Products at the social network, has written a post at the company’s blog that explains how phone numbers are yesterday’s technology — like the flip phone — and in 2016 they will be replaced by … Facebook Messenger! Not only will we be able to call each other, we will also be able to send each other GIFs and money! Because we all want to send money to people via a Facebook app. And because “we’re all social beings now,” we’ll be able to customize the icons we send to each other. You know, so you don’t send a pornographic emoji to your mom by accident.

I’ll give up my phone number when Verizon comes to my front door and orders me to give it up. Oh, and I still have a flip phone too, Mr. Marcus.

Can a Monkey Own a Selfie?

Macaca's self-portrait
By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Can a giraffe apply for a trademark? Can a dog buy insurance? These are some of the questions courts have to settle these days.

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that Naruto, an Indonesian monkey that somehow took a picture of himself using a camera that a photographer had left unattended, doesn’t have any rights to that picture. The case came about after the photographer published a book that included the image. The image was then posted various places online, including on Wikipedia, without permission. The photographer asked Wikipedia to take it down, but Wikipedia argued that since it was the monkey that pressed the button to take the picture and not the photographer, it cannot be copyrighted and he (the photographer) has no control over it. The judge agreed but said that he has no legal authority to give copyright to animals; copyright law was updated last year to specify that only humans can hold a copyright.

PETA represented Naruto and wanted all proceeds from a victory to go to the monkey and others that live on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. But if the monkey doesn’t own the photo and the photographer doesn’t, then who does?

The judge said that maybe this is a case for the President and Congress, so stay tuned.

Here’s the Tricky Part

Tomorrow is National Fig Newton Day. I don’t know if you’ve bought any in the past few years, but they’re just called Newtons now. Maybe Nabisco thought that the word “fig” would drive away the younger demographic. They come in many flavors now. You could buy them at the store, or if you’re feeling ambitious you can make your own at home with this recipe from Serious Eats.

Here’s a 1977 commercial for Fig Newtons. In the ’70s, people dressed and danced like figs.

David Bowie’s Shrimp Tempura Recipe

Since David Bowie passed away this week, I thought I’d share his recipe for Shrimp Tempura. I wouldn’t eat shrimp even if they were covered in chocolate — actually, especially if they were covered in chocolate — so you’ll have to make it and let me know how it is. It’s from the terrific Dinner Is Served 1972 site.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

The Brinks Robbery (January 17, 1950)

Over $2.7 million in cash, checks, and money orders was stolen in the Boston robbery, which was the biggest cash grab in history at the time.

Northridge earthquake (January 17, 1994)

The 6.7 quake, which struck at 4:31 a.m., killed more than 60 people and caused widespread damage.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 18)

Here’s SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson on “The Dangerous Doctor King“.

A.A. Milne born (January 18, 1882)

The British writer was best known for his Winnie-The-Pooh stories, but he also did a lot more.

Iran hostages released (January 20, 1981)

​The news this week that 10 U.S. sailors were detained in Iran and then released comes just a week before the anniversary of the 1981 release of the U.S. hostages in Iran after 444 days in captivity.​

The Fight for Women Doctors

1905 portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.
1905 portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.

In May of 1849, a New York paper The National Era reported that Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from medical school. “Some of our male readers may be astonished to see an M. D. attached to the name of one of the gentler sex,” the editors wrote, “but we hope the time will come when an American woman, at least, can follow any honorable professional occupation … without exciting the surprise of any one.”

The editors might have been surprised to see how long it took for that time to arrive. Elizabeth Blackwell might have been the first woman in the U.S. to graduate from medical school, but her achievement barely opened the doors of the medical profession to women.

Dr. Blackwell found herself blocked from practicing at any hospital or clinic in New York City. In order to apply her medical education, she opened her own clinic for impoverished women. Later, she joined with two other women doctors to expand the clinic, creating the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857.

Despite the resistance of many male doctors to female physicians, several cities began building medical schools for women. Women who’d become interested in the medicine from tending the wounded during the Civil War began applying to these schools in the 1870s. Over the next 10 years, the number of women doctors in America rose 347 percent. By 1880, over 2,400 women were practicing medicine in America

But women doctors still faced the same lack of cooperation from male colleagues that Blackwell had known. Male doctors would refuse to allow a doctor to attend their clinical trainings in hospital wards or to join their medical societies. Some refused to even work with nurses trained by women doctors.

In 1910, Maude Warren wrote an article for the Post on women’s progress in the professions. In general, she thought women’s prospects in the new century looked promising. Over 13,000 women were working as doctors in America. But this was still only 5 percent of all the doctors in America and, Warren wrote, “their numbers are not increasing.”

Link to PDF
Petticoat Professions, by Maude Radford Warren. November 5, 1910

She offered several explanations for the decline. There was less need for doctors, male or female, in the healthy new decade. “The world is not so sick as it was. School hygiene, public baths and parks, and other preventive measures and social betterments are making doctors less necessary. Typhoid diphtheria, and malaria are rarer than they were; yellow fever and smallpox have had their day; and improved surgery has decreased the number of chronic invalids.”

She believed there would continue to be a demand for women doctors. “Women and children have grown to want them. And they will always succeed because of their infinite capacity for taking pains, their talent for endless detail, and their sympathy.

Perhaps America was becoming a healthier place to live, but that still didn’t explain the token percentage of women allowed to practice medicine. Whatever factors limited the number of women in medicine, it appeared to be highly consistent. In 1950 — a century after Elizabeth Blackwell received her medical degree— the percentage of female doctors still hovered at 6 percent. Boston had fewer women doctors in 1950 than it did in 1890.

Student doctors hovering over child
1959 photo of students of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, which opened in 1850. (Photo by Gus Pasquarella, © SEPS)

In 1948, a Post article, “Do Women Make Good Doctors?” noted the continuing rejection of female doctors by their male colleagues. The article reported the “amusingly transparent” tricks used by some male doctors to keep women out of their specialties. “The New York Obstetrical Society … in spite of the nature of its specialty, does not admit women physicians to membership … because the society holds its meetings in the Yale Club, through whose sacred portals no women may enter.” Boston’s Obstetrical Society didn’t have this limitation to its meetings; it simply didn’t elect women into its organization. “Even a great many maternity hospitals do not have women doctors on their staffs.”

This marginalizing of women might have continued indefinitely, but a number of forces combined to break down the professional barriers in 1970s. First, a group called the Women’s Equity Action League brought a class action suit against every medical school in America receiving federal aid. It claimed the schools had discriminated against women in the recruiting and admissions process. Two years later, the federal government passed an amendment to the Higher Education Act. Title IX prohibits any education program from discriminating against any person on the basis of gender.

The combination of the two actions finally knocked down the obstacles that had persisted for over a century. By 1976, the number of women in medical school had risen 300 percent above the 1960 figure.

Today, about half of all medical students are female, and more than 30 percent of American doctors are women. These percentages are expected to rise. But it would be naive to think that all opposition to women in medicine has disappeared.

Ads You’ll Never See Again: 19th Century Snake Oil

Prior to the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, entrepreneurs could make any claim they wanted for their special medicines, herb tonics, electric belts, and hair restorers. Not only did these remedies usually not work, they sometimes caused more harm than good.

Many of these elixirs, remedies, and “vegetable restoratives” were heavily laced with alcohol, codeine, or opium. While the ads for patent medicines made all sort of promises, none was more fantastic than the promise of “satisfaction guaranteed.”

The makers of patent medicine might have actually believed in their product’s ability to cure, but they definitely believed in the power of advertising. Periodicals of the 19th century were filled with ads for patent medicines. The Post and of the 19th century seems to have avoided some of the more outrageous patent-medicine ads. Even so, we’ve found a few interesting examples.

Craddock & Co. advertisement
Craddock & Co. advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
February 15, 1873

Medical marijuana: A doctor cures his only child of tuberculosis with cannabis.

Botanic Medicine Co. advertisement
Botanic Medicine Co. advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
July 6, 1878

How many people jumped at the chance to lose “from two to five pounds per week”?

Dr. M.W. Case Consumption Cure advertisement
Dr. M.W. Case Consumption Cure advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
October 4, 1879

Dr. Case warned that catarrh (a buildup of phlegm or mucus) could lead to tuberculosis (then the leading cause of death in America) but could be remedied by breathing fumes of wood tar.

Lanman & Kemp Florida Water advertisement
Lanman & Kemp Florida Water advertisement
The Country Gentleman
September 11, 1879

Florida Water was a cologne using orange scent. The fountain in the ad refers to the Fountain of Youth, which Ponce de Leon presumably found in Florida. Florida Water is still being sold ( but without claims of health benefits.

Perry Davis & Son Painkiller advertisement
Perry Davis & Son advertisement
The Country Gentleman
March 25, 1880

Today, we might wonder how a painkiller could be “always perfectly safe in the hands of even the most inexperienced persons.”

Magneto-Galvanic Batteries advertisement
Magneto-Galvanic Batteries advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
January 29, 1881

This illustration appeared above a full-page ad for A.M. Richardson’s Wonderful Magneto-Galvanic Battery, which was claimed to revitalize and strengthen organs—without actually specifying which ones. The company recommended it for 56 different ailments, including meningitis, diabetes, heartburn, and “hysteria or fits.”

Voltaic Belt Company advertisement
Voltaic Belt Company advertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
January 30, 1883

“Speedy relief and complete restoration of Health, Vigor and Manhood guaranteed.” How could anyone not be satisfied with a promise like that?

World's Dispensary Medical Associationadvertisement
World’s Dispensary Medical Associationadvertisement
The Saturday Evening Post
January 13, 2016

It’s only after you’ve read most of the ad for “Golden Medical Discovery” that you realize the grisly cartoon has nothing to do with the product.

Coming Soon from The Saturday Evening Post: Ads You’ll Never See Again

A special collector’s edition of The Saturday Evening Post filled with ads from the past that will delight, entertain — and sometimes shock — with images and concepts that are thoroughly inappropriate today. You’ll cringe when you see babies wrapped in then-brand-new cellophane. You’ll laugh out loud at Santa promoting a cigarette brand. You’ll wince at an ad that threatens housewives with a spanking for failing to complete their domestic chores. More than just an entertainment, the special issue offers a snapshot of attitudes about gender, childrearing, and marketing in an era that most readers will remember all too well.

It’s too early to order, but if you might be interested in purchasing this product, please click here and we’ll send you a notice when the special issue is available.

Making the Case for AA

AA had its beginnings in 1935 when a doctor and a layman, both alcoholics, helped each other recover and then developed, with a third recovering alcoholic, the organization’s guiding principles. By 1941, the group had demonstrated greater success in helping alcoholics than any previous methods and had grown to about 2,000 members. But for most of North America, AA was still unknown. Following the March 1, 1941, publication of an article written by Jack Alexander in The Saturday Evening Post (see “Alcoholics Anonymous,” below) describing AA’s extraordinary success, inquiries began to flood in, leaving the small staff of what was then a makeshift headquarters overwhelmed. Alcoholics Anonymous tripled in size in the next year and continued to grow exponentially. Today, 75 years later, AA claims 2 million members worldwide, 1.2 million of them in the U.S. Following are links to the original Post article that many credit for AA’s success and two of Jack Alexander’s follow-up articles.

Read Jack Alexander’s articles on Alcoholics Anonymous:

Man using a towel to pull a glass of alcohol to his mouth

“Alcoholics Anonymous”
by Jack Alexander

Jack Alexander

“A Skeptical Journalist”
by Jack Alexander

A drunk man sitting on his hotel bed

“The Drunkard’s Best Friend”
by Jack Alexander

News of the Week: So, Star Trek, and the Smushing of Bread into Your Face

So, the Reason Why I’m Manspreading Is Because I Need to Vape

I know we’re a week into 2016 (break your resolutions yet?), but how about one more list from 2015?

Every year Lake Superior State University picks several words and phrases that we should banish because they’re overused, hated, or just plain wrong. Past words have included “bae,” “hack,” “free gift,” “live audience,” and “my bad.” Unfortunately I still see a lot of people using these words and phrases so apparently the banishment hasn’t been made law yet.

This year’s list includes “manspreading” and “vape.” The former is when a man spreads his legs out really far — for example, taking up two seats on a subway — while the latter comes from the word “vapor” and refers to the smoking of e-cigarettes. I really hope the word “manspreading” goes away as quickly as it arrives, though I don’t see “vape” going away anytime soon.

LSSU also wants us to stop using the word “so.” Now, “so” is a perfectly fine word when used correctly. But people have been using it in odd ways for several years now, either as an exclamation in the middle of a sentence (picture Chandler on Friends saying “that is SO not true”) or even worse at the start of sentences, even if they’re just answering a question.

I actually wrote a piece about the word “so” a few years ago where I go into more detail about why it’s such a weird way to use the word, so I’m really happy to see it on the list. See, now that’s a normal way to use the word.

Space, the Final Frontier … These Are the Stamps of the Starship Enterprise

Star Trek stampsI know, I know, everyone is talking about Star Wars these days, but let’s not forget the show that came long before Han Solo and company. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek series (we’ll also see the release of a new Star Trek film this summer, Star Trek Beyond), and the USPS will release a series of stamps to commemorate the milestone, along with two other space-related stamps for NASA’s New Horizons space mission.

The four Star Trek stamps include different shots of the Enterprise, a crew member on the transporter, and Spock’s Live Long and Prosper salute. What, no tribbles?

Samsung Wants to Control Your Home with Their TVs

Samsung Smart TVs
By The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA (CES 2012 – Samsung Smart TV) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I don’t own a smartphone. I’m already online too much and I don’t need to access the Web or my e-mail on my phone while I’m out of the house. But there are days I think that soon I won’t be able to do anything unless I get one.

Samsung wants to control your home with their TV sets. Starting this year, the company’s Smart TVs will be able to connect to other Web-enabled Samsung products, like light bulbs and coffee makers and your home security system. You probably think that your TV is just, well, a TV, but if you don’t have your TV controlling other products in your home, then you’re obviously living in the Stone Age.

This “Internet of things” won’t mean a thing to me until I can post my Saturday Evening Post columns from my toaster.

Have You Smushed Bread into Your Face Today?

You mean you haven’t? Boy, are you out of touch.

Every month we get a new Internet meme whether we want it or not. We’ve had “planking,” where you spread your body over an area like a plank and post the picture online, and “Rickrolling,” which involves surprising people with the song “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. There was even a short-lived meme a year or so ago which involved people eating spoonfuls of cinnamon (note: do not try this). There’s even a whole website that keeps track of memes.

But all of those are old-hat now. The latest meme is where you take some bread — it can be white bread or raisin bread or garlic bread or even corn bread — and you smush your face into it. Then you post the photo or video online. The woman who created the trend — and I don’t know how many people are doing it besides her — started the BreadFaceBlog last year, and she already has over 33,000 followers. She hasn’t made any money off of it yet, but if she eventually does, it’s proof I’ve obviously chosen the wrong career path.

They said that social media was going to change the world, and they were right.

Dogs: How Should They Wear Their Pants?

A Dog wearing shorts on a beach

Pants on dogs. It’s probably not a topic you’ve thought about before, even if you’re the type of person who puts clothing on your dog, like a sweater. But it’s a thing now!

A Facebook user wanted to know whether a dog, if he were to wear pants, would he wear the pants on just his two back legs or all four legs? And we have an answer! According to a company that actually makes pants for dogs, it’s all four.

This answer is wrong. The pants should just go on his two back legs. Yes, a dog technically has four “legs,” but in this case I think we have to consider his two front legs as also “arms,” and you don’t put pants on your arms. At least until the next wild Internet meme called “pant-ing,” where you wear your pants on the upper part of your body and post the pics to Facebook and Twitter.

Oh no, I hope I just didn’t start something.

It’s National Oatmeal Month

Norman Rockwell's Oatmeal Cookies
Norman Rockwell’s Oatmeal Cookies

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to eat more healthy and filling foods like oatmeal. I’ve been making this same resolution every year since 1992.

But January is National Oatmeal Month, and the cold days and nights seem like a great time to start eating it more. Here’s a recipe from Ina Garten for Sunday Morning Oatmeal, and here’s one from Real Simple that includes cheddar cheese and scallions. I have to admit I never thought of putting cheese and scallions in my oatmeal before.

And nobody said the oatmeal has to be in cereal form inside of a bowl, so how about these Norman Rockwell Oatmeal Cookies, which I’m going to make right away because they look great and the phrase “Norman Rockwell Oatmeal Cookies” might just be the most American recipe name I’ve ever heard. He sent the recipe to the editors of The Saturday Evening Post just before he passed away in 1978. They were his favorite.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

Napoleon Bonaparte born (January 13, 1807)

If the French leader was still alive, maybe he would have liked this Sole, Zucchini and Tomato Napoleon from Melissa d’Arabian.

Wyatt Earp dies (January 13, 1929)

Wyatt Earp
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Believe it or not, The Saturday Evening Post printed an interview with the gunman in 1930!

Albert Schweitzer born (January 14, 1875)

You can read more about the talented doctor/writer/pastor/musician/philosopher at the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship site.

First Super Bowl (January 15, 1967)

The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super Bowl 1.

Hello, Dolly opens on Broadway (January 16, 1964)

Mary Martin and Ethel Merman both turned down the lead role (which Nancy Walker auditioned for). Carol Channing was hired and the show went on to win a record 10 Tony Awards.

A Century’s Search for Great American Authors

O. Henry’s “Ransom of Red Chief,” illustrated by Gustavus Widney, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, July 6, 1907
O. Henry’s “Ransom of Red Chief,” illustrated by Gustavus Widney, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, July 6, 1907

With the publication of the Best Short Stories of the Great American Fiction Contest 2016, featuring winner Celeste McMaster’s “Zelda, Burning”, the Post continues a century-long tradition of discovering new literary talent.

Ever since its earliest years, when it published works by Hawthorne, Irving, and Poe, the magazine was associated with great American fiction. But starting in 1899, it developed a reputation as the most prestigious magazine for writers to publish their stories in. Any struggling author whose story appeared in its pages, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, could feel that he or she had arrived.

Rudyard Kipling’s “Steam Tactics,” illustrated by George Gibbs, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, December 6, 1902
Rudyard Kipling’s “Steam Tactics,” illustrated by George Gibbs, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, December 6, 1902

The man who built this reputation for the Post was George Horace Lorimer, an editor with a strong sense of what American readers wanted. In the 1900s, he paid top dollar for stories by the best authors of his time: Stephen Crane, O. Henry, and Joseph Conrad. And he turned down work by famous writers that he felt didn’t come up to the Post standards. He rejected 12 stories by Rudyard Kipling (who was living in America while writing The Jungle Book) before finding one he liked.

But Lorimer’s genius extended beyond recognizing quality from the big names in fiction. He purposely sought stories from promising unknowns. He scoured newspapers, looking for their work. He advertised in the Post, assuring writers that “good short stories bring good prices. The Post will pay well for cleverly written, unpublished stories from 3,000 to 5,000 words.”

Lorimer also regularly dug into the pile of unsolicited stories sent to the Post. Each year, the magazine received more than 175,000 manuscripts from authors hoping to hit the big time. Among Lorimer’s discoveries was a then-unknown author named Sinclair Lewis. In 1915, his “Nature, Inc.” — a satire about a pseudo-religious health farm — landed in the Post’s slush pile. Lorimer found the manuscript, read it, and immediately wrote to Sinclair: “‘Nature, Inc.’ is an exceedingly entertaining short story, and we are very glad to have it for The Saturday Evening Post. Now that you have made a start with us, I hope that you will … become a household word.”

Sinclair Lewis’ “Nature, Inc.” illustrated by Clarence F. Underwood, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, October 10, 1915
Sinclair Lewis’ “Nature, Inc.” illustrated by Clarence F. Underwood, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, October 10, 1915

Over the next five years, Lewis published 28 stories and articles in the Post. His last piece in the magazine was published five years after Lewis became the first American author to receive the Nobel Prize in literature.

Another Lorimer discovery was F. Scott Fitzgerald whose short stories were selected for publication before his first book, This Side of Paradise, hit bookstores. Years later, Fitzgerald recalled his excitement when he got the news the Post had accepted his work: “I’d like to get a thrill like that again, but I suppose it’s only once in a lifetime.”

In the 1950s, the Post published several stories written by a young publicist at General Electric named Kurt Vonnegut. Of the 11 stories that appeared in the Post, most were written before Vonnegut developed his signature style. But if you read his seventh story, “Miss Temptation,” you’ll definitely recognize notes of his distinctive literary voice.

The Post also played a role in boosting the career of Ray Bradbury. When the Post published “The World the Children Made” in 1950, it was the first time Bradbury’s fantasy writing appeared in anything other than a pulp magazine. The Post published 16 of Bradbury’s stories over the next 62 years, the last appearing in 2012.

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Custom-Made Bride,” illustrated by Robert Meyers, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, March 27, 1954
Kurt Vonnegut’s “Custom-Made Bride,” illustrated by Robert Meyers, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, March 27, 1954

In the 1940s, a Jerome David Salinger submitted several stories to the Post. By the time his first story appeared in the magazine, Salinger had been drafted, sent overseas, and participated in the D-Day invasion. He was thrilled to hear that “The Varioni Brothers” would appear in the Post. “My God,” he wrote one of his old writing teachers, “the millions of people who’ll read them. Can you imagine?”

Shortly after his fifth story appeared in the Post — “The Last Day of the Last Furlough”— he was among the first American troops to enter liberated Paris. When he bumped into Ernest Hemingway, then serving as a war correspondent, Salinger hunted up a copy of the Post and took it to Hemingway, asking him for his opinion. After reading the story, Hemingway declared Salinger “a helluva talent.”

The name Ernest Hemingway reminds us that the Post didn’t publish every great American writer of the 20th century. We might have published Jack London, Edith Wharton, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, Thomas Pynchon, Zora Neale Hurston, Carson McCullers, Pearl Buck, James M. Cain, Shirley Jackson, Tom Wolfe, John Cheever, and John Updike — but we never published any Hemingway.

Though we can’t be certain that he ever submitted anything to the Post.

Don’t miss your chance to join this group of great American authors. Make sure the Post receives your entry to the Great American Fiction Contest before the July 1, 2016, deadline.

Artist Jack Murray: The Call of the Wild

The Saturday Evening Post
August 29, 1931

Murray was a city kid who, very early in life, developed an interest in wildlife. Born in 1889, he grew up in Boston, where he began drawing animals while still in grade school. Murray would later graduate from the renowned Massachusetts School of Art, where he met his future wife, fellow artist Helena Feeny. The couple married in 1921 and, in lieu of a honeymoon, moved to New York that very day.

In New York, Murray found work as a commercial artist, which soon afforded the two of them the opportunity to buy a farm outside the city. There, he fixed up a studio where, in his spare time, he pursued his true passion, painting wildlife. Murray’s career reached a turning point when one of the paintings he had made purely for love — a majestic leopard (top) — was bought by The Saturday Evening Post.

His discovery by the Post led to assignments for the American Museum of Natural History as well as books and magazines, including The Country Gentleman and Boy’s Life. In 1947, his image of a pair of snow geese mid-flight was selected for the Federal Duck Stamp Program.

All told, Murray would paint 12 covers for the Post. His final one depicting two white wolves closing in on prey appeared on the March 8, 1941, issue — and once again on the January/February 2016 cover.

The Saturday Evening Post
June 25, 1932
Polar Bear
The Saturday Evening Post
February 1, 1936
Albino Deer
The Saturday Evening Post
January 8, 1938
Bear and Cubs in River
The Saturday Evening Post
August 25, 1934
Soaring Bald Eagle
The Saturday Evening Post
October 28, 1933

Covers by Jack Murray

View full gallery »

Purchase prints of Jack Murray’s work at