News of the Week: New Books, the Shopping Cart Theory, and How to Celebrate Emma Nutt Day

In the news for the week ending September 1, 2023, are Substacks, shopping carts, stand-out books, and sumptuous breakfast ideas.


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Read This!

I haven’t done one of these since the beginning of summer so this one is super-sized.

Ernie in Kovacsland by Josh Mills, Ben Model, and Pat Thomas. It’s time for an Ernie Kovacs renaissance, and this book might just help. It’s a collection of his writings, drawings, and photographs.

Whalefall: A Novel by Daniel Kraus. I’m very curious to see how an entire novel can be set around the premise of a 17-year-old scuba diver stuck inside a whale, with only an hour of oxygen left, but this is getting great reviews.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. The acclaimed writer’s new novel is set during the early days of COVID, as a mom hunkers down with her three daughters at their home in Michigan and tells them the story of her romance with a famous movie star years before.

Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator by Keith Houston. This is the history of the device many people used (and maybe still do?) before computers and smartphones. I’m always fascinated by entire books that focus on the history of one product, something I don’t think I’ll have an interest in, and then when I read it, I’m proven wrong.

Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller: The Man Who Created Nancy by Bill Griffith. The title says it all. By the way, Griffith is the man who created Zippy the Pinhead (also, Nancy is still going strong, done by an unknown artist under the pseudonym Olivia Jaimes).

The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen. The PBS series is one of the best cooking shows on television, and their annual cookbooks are always thorough and well done, with every recipe and product test from every season (including the upcoming 16th season).

The 2024 Old Farmer’s Almanac by Robert B. Thomas. Want to know if it’s going to snow in southern New Hampshire the second week of January, 2024? This will tell you!

Democracy Awakening by Heather Cox Richardson. The popular historian and writer of the Letters from an American newsletter explains how “a small group of wealthy people have made war on American ideals … by weaponizing language and promoting false history.”

Are You a Substacker?

Heather Cox Richardson is, but if you’re confused by that question, then you’re probably not.

“Subscribe to my newsletter!” is the new “Read my blog!” or “Listen to my podcast!” Everyone seems to have a newsletter these days, and many of those people are doing it on Substack. They do all the hosting and all the behind-the-scenes tech for you, and you just write the newsletters. When you publish a newsletter, it goes online in the archive and also gets sent as an email to subscribers. You can have a free newsletter if you want, or you can charge for it. Most people charge between $5-10 a month, and Substack takes 10 percent.

Of course, it’s really just old-school blogging with a payment system attached, something you’ve always been able to do, but it’s new and exciting and it’s where all the cool kids are now (and I have to admit it’s a great-looking platform and really easy to use).

This is the part where I ask you to please subscribe to mine. Though it’s not on Substack (and it’s not a newsletter).

Do You Return Your Shopping Cart to the Right Place?

There are a lot of dumb theories floating around out there, and I roll my eyes at most of them. But “The Shopping Cart Theory,” which says a person’s moral character can be determined by whether or not they return a shopping cart to its right place after they’re done with it, is one I believe in 100 percent.

Happy Emma Nutt Day!

It’s today, September 1, and honors the first female telephone operator, who started work at the Boston Telephone Dispatch Company in 1878. She was hired by Alexander Graham Bell from another telephone office and soon became so popular with customers that all of the male operators were replaced with women (customers liked the sound of a woman’s voice more). At her Substack, Ramona Grigg has a terrific piece about her time working as a telephone operator in the 1950s.

You can celebrate by getting a landline phone installed again.

Headline of the Week

“Burger King Lawsuit Alleges Whoppers Are Smaller Than Advertised”

RIP Bob Barker, Terry Funk, Bray Wyatt, Arleen Sorkin, Hersha Parady, Karol Bobko, Bernie Marsden, Nicholas Hitchon, and Samuel Wurzelbacher

Bob Barker hosted The Price is Right from 1972 to 2007. Before that he hosted The Bob Barker Show on radio and Truth or Consequences for 18 years. He died last week at the age of 99.

Terry Funk was a popular pro wrestler for over half a century. He died last week at the age of 79.

Bray Wyatt – real name Windham Rotunda – was a wrestler too and a World Wrestling Entertainment champion. He died last week at the age of 36.

Arleen Sorkin played Calliope Jones on Days of Our Lives and was the original voice of Harley Quinn on DC Comics animated shows. She died last week at the age of 67.

Hersha Parady played schoolteacher Alice Garvey on Little House on the Prairie. She died last week at the age of 78.

Karol Bobko was the pilot on the first flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger. He died last month at the age of 85.

Bernie Marsden was a guitarist for Whitesnake. He co-wrote the hits “Here I Go Again” and “Fool for Your Loving.” He died last week at the age of 72.

Nicholas Hitchon was one of the children featured in the Up films, documentaries directed by Michael Apted that revisited the same group of English school children every seven years. He died in July at the age of 65.

Samuel Wurzelbacher – a.k.a. Joe the Plumber – became a well-known political figure during the 2008 presidential election. He died Sunday at the age of 49.

This Week in History

“I Have a Dream” Speech (August 28, 1963)

Here are five things you might not know about that historic speech by Martin Luther King Jr.

David Letterman’s CBS Show Premieres (August 30, 1993)

HIs first guests were Bill Murray (who spray-painted Dave’s desk) and Billy Joel. Plus: special appearances by Paul Newman and Ed Sullivan’s ghost!

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Quaker Puffed Cereals (September 1, 1986)

That looks good, but it needs more milk. Also: don’t try cutting out that coupon because it expired in May 1987 (and you don’t want to ruin your computer screen anyway).

September Is Better Breakfast Month

There’s nothing wrong with a nice bowl (or two) of cereal, but if you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, how about trying this Classic Omelette from A Couple Cooks? All Recipes has a recipe for Quick and Easy Home Fries, The Pioneer Woman has an Easy Eggs Benedict, and this Breakfast Fruit Pizza recipe comes from The Saturday Evening Post Antioxidant Cookbook.

And try this Breakfast Casserole. It’s supposedly for dinner but judging by the name you can have it for breakfast too.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Labor Day (September 4)

It marks the unofficial (yet somewhat official) end of summer. And make sure you don’t wear white when the day is over.

CBS Tribute to Bob Barker (September 4)

If you missed the network’s tribute on Thursday, CBS is going to repeat it on Labor Day morning at 11 a.m. ET.

NFL Season Begins (September 7)

The Detroit Lions take on the Kansas City Chiefs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET. Here’s the full schedule for 2023-24 season.

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  1. Voice communication technology is required to be downwardly compatable as a FCC standard. I know this having worked for 35 years in rural telecommunications. The only exemptions are wall phones where you had to wring the ringer for the operator, I too have a rotary dial phone and it works great in this digital world receiving and making most calls. When I run into isssues is the “Press 0 for Receptionist, etc”

  2. Ruth: I still have a landline phone. I assume that at some point the technology will no longer be supported and I’ll have to get rid of it, but I’ll be keeping it until that day!

  3. My grandfather, two of his sisters, his wife and daughter all did various jobs for “Ma Bell” when it first came to Oklahoma way back in the day. They all retired as pioneers (people who started with the phone company) and had stock, and who were there during the divestiture. I remember going with grandad to work and all the connectors in the building making such a racket! This was well before computerized anything. His sisters were executive secretaries for many, many years and his wife and daughter were operators. I should have worked there when I had the chance, lol, could have retired many years ago. Grandad was unhappy that he couldn’t enlist during WWII, but he was considered an essential worker, and was the oldest son of the family. It’s mind boggling to think about all the changes in using telephones from those days. From the clunky landline phones and party lines to the sleek piece of technology I carry around today and don’t leave the house without.

  4. Bob, don’t you realize that when a shopper returns a shopping cart to its proper den, he is threatening the job of a 17 year old who is earning minimum wage? ( Of course, I’m being serious. How could you doubt it? )

    Here’s the most exciting fact of all about the I Have a Dream Speech: the writer made an allusion to King’s having used the “dream” talk in previous speeches. Indeed, he had, but it appears not to have been that he saw these probes and forays as a possible foundation for the Washington speech.

    Whatever text he was using, it wasn’t going over. No one thought they were witnessing history. Mahalia Jackson, who had plenty of experience in sensing the moods of audiences, realized this quickly. She was standing right behind King, and knowing the brilliance he was capable of spontaneously, said at conversational volume, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin. Tell ’em about the dream.” King, hearing her and knowing she was right, started speaking from his soul, and soared into history.

    It occurs to me that while not all great public speaking is spontaneous, much of it probably is. It may be that the speaker is speaking from a text, but suddenly intuits at a given moment that he knows how to word the next line much more effectively, does it, carries it off, and emboldened, finishes the speech using the written text more as prompt than as script.

    Obviously, this is something which few are to the manor born. Just when was the last truly great speech made by an American public figure? I never had any particular affinity for him as an officeholder, and I can’t say I’d ever have voted for him to be President, but Mario Cuomo at the 1984 Democratic convention comes to my mind. In American political terms, “charisma” used to refer only to a speaker’s ability to electrify a crowd with his words, and Cuomo on that night in San Francisco, in the summer of 1984, certainly had the knack working flawlessly for him.

    You can see King is “winging it” in at least one part of the speech, in which he’s talking about the little white boys and the little black fraternizing as brothers. I forget exactly where he falters, but he does, for what must have been a scary moment, then, clearly, finds the slipstream again, and takes off into rhetorical glory.

  5. Someone once said to me, in a Costco parking lot, “There are two types of people in this world, those who return shopping carts and those who don’t”. I was just returning my cart to the rack.

  6. Definitely want to buy the book on Ernie Bushmiller that created the ‘Nancy’ comic strip, always a favorite of mine. It was one of the ones I’d cut out from the L.A. Times in the early ’70s during the comic strips Golden Age. I liked ‘Momma’ by Mel Lazarus a lot, and some of the ‘serious’ drama strips like ‘Friday Foster’, ‘Apartment 3-G’ and for 6 months (while it lasted) ‘Dark Shadows’. I’m going to check out ‘Nancy’ each day online. It looks like the current creator is shrewdly continuing the strip in the tradition of Bushmiller, keeping his original essence of it.

    I really love the opening picture of the switchboard operator. I’m pretty good at pinpointing photos from the 20th. and am figuring this is from about 1930-’31. Definitely early decade. The later section is much different. I usually return the shopping cart to its proper place. If not, I make sure at least it’s not in the way. That’s good, right?


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