Monthly Archives: February 2010

Americana: Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America celebrate 100 years of instilling values such as individualism, patriotism, courtesy, and respect. uploaded by

I was a Cub Scout back in my hometown of Newport News, Va., and Mrs. Ranny Leake was my den mother. My memories of scouting are sketchy; we had that (what seemed then) cool uniform that we were allowed to wear to school one day a week…and we had to do things to earn merit badges. And I learned to be friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, and brave. More or less.

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The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated on this date exactly one hundred years ago – February 8, 1910. America’s large cities were filled with boys who’d never experienced the great outdoors, the first street kids the country had known. The values that the Boy Scouts stand for – individualism, patriotism, discipline, and respect for authority – were missing. Some concerned men chose to emulate what England’s Lord Robert Baden-Powell had just created, which came to be called the Scouting movement. Lord Powell said its goal “is to develop among boys a power of sympathizing with others, and a spirit of self-sacrifice and patriotism.”

For a century now, boys have come to internalize those values through the program of the Boy Scouts. Scouts share responsibilities and apply skills learned at meetings. From the littlest Cub Scout to the mature Eagle Scout, they learn positive values in a society in which values are somehow outdated.

But are the Scouts as relevant in today’s world as they were during more innocent times? Peter Applebome, and editor of the New York Times, participated in the Boy Scouts with his son. Of the experience he said, “Scouting’s core values … are wonderful building blocks for a movement and a life. Scouting’s genuinely egalitarian goals and instincts are more important now than they’ve ever been. It’s one of the only things that kids do that’s genuinely cooperative, not competitive.”

And the Boy Scouts are still relevant in the inner cities as well. Writer Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute visited a Scout meeting in New York City, and wrote: “At the conclusion of the Troop 409 meeting in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the boys thank me in unison for coming. Two fawn-like boys at a meeting on the Lower East Side politely introduce themselves, offering their hands. When I ask one of them, Ian, where he got his good manners, he clutches his handbook to his chest and says, ‘I’ve practically memorized my Boy Scout book.’ The handbook says nothing about introducing yourself to adults; apparently its civilizing influence is wider than its literal words.”

Americana: Mayo Clinic

Physicians at the Mayo Clinic are paid a salary, not by patient volume. It's one way the medical center stays focused on patients and their needs. Uploaded to Flickr by James Neeley.

Today, “Mayo Clinic” is synonymous with medical excellence. U.S. News and World Report ranks it the number two hospital in the United States, just behind Johns Hopkins. But the Mayo Clinic’s history and influence makes it unique in American medicine today.

The Clinic grew from the practice of family doctor William W. Mayo in the rural town of Rochester, Minnesota. It was Dr. Mayo’s two sons, Dr. William J. Mayo and Dr. Charles Mayo, who took their father’s practice and made it into the world-recognized center of medicine it has become. As their surgical skills increased, they invited other physicians with other specialties to join them. With the help of one of these physicians, Dr. Henry Plummer, they created one of the world’s first integrated group practices of medicine.

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Today, the Mayo Clinic employs more than 3,300 doctors, researchers, and scientists for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. In Rochester, there are buildings dedicated to patient examination and laboratory work, research, and education. Hospitals there include the 794-bed Rochester Methodist Hospital, the 1,157-bed Saint Marys Hospital, and the 85-bed Mayo Eugenio Litta Children’s Hospital (part of Saint Marys). Education of medical professionals takes place at the Mayo Medical School and Mayo Graduate School. Mayo also has facilities in Scottsdale/Phoenix and in Jacksonville.

But it isn’t the size of the facilities or the number of professionals that makes Mayo Clinic unique. It’s the treatment given to individuals, the time taken with them, the commitment to doing all that’s possible to improve their lives. That’s a legacy of the Mayo family, too, far more important than the bricks and mortar and machinery.

Back to those U.S. News rankings. Here’s where Mayo Clinic’s specialties rank nationally:
Number 1: Diabetes and Endocrine Disorders, Orthopedics, Digestive Disorders, Neurology and Neurosurgery
Number 2: Heart and Heart Surgery, Respiratory Disorders
Number 3: Gynecology, Kidney Disorders, Urology
Number 4: Cancer, Rheumatology
Number 5: Rehabilitation
Number 6: Geriatric Care
Number 7: Psychiatry, Ear, Nose, and Throat

Food: Fritos Corn Chips

Despite their connotation of Tex-Mex food (witness former mascot The Frito Bandito), Fritos were actually created by a man named Elmer. Uploaded by

Imagine going into a grocery store before the era of convenience foods. You’d see fresh produce, barrels of penny candy, some canned vegetables, probably some cigarettes and snuff. Dapper Dan pomade. What you wouldn’t see would be rows of brightly packaged chips, candy, soft drinks, snack cakes, and frozen foods. And you wouldn’t have found Fritos.

Somehow it’s a bit of a letdown to know that Fritos, which have always had a bit of Tex-Mex vibe (witness banned mascot The Frito Bandito), was actually created by a man named Elmer. Elmer Doolin bought a recipe for fried corn chips for $100 back in 1932 and, according to his daughter, became obsessed with making them right. His kids were his taste testers as he tried variations of recipes and flavors.

One of the highest uses a Frito can aspire to is to be in a Frito Pie. Uploaded by

Elmer started the Frito Corporation that year. It’s said he envisioned Fritos as a side dish, to be served with soup or a sandwich. He never anticipated that people would just sit down with a bag and munch on them.

The Frito Corporation granted H.W. Lay & Company the rights to market Fritos in the Southeast. The two companies developed a close working relationship, and finally merged in 1961. PepsiCo bought the new company in 1965.

There are lots of flavors of Fritos these days, but the best innovation in Fritechnology was the creation of Scoops. As I, and no doubt millions of other Americans, appreciate each February during that snack food holiday called the Super Bowl. Football fans should especially appreciate Fritos; if they had never been invented, people would have to eat – the horror! – healthful food while watching the big game.

The Arts: Jasper Johns

Map, 1961 by Jasper Johns. His works have been sold for huge sums, making him one of the wealthiest artists ever. Uploaded by

Abstract expressionism dominated the American art scene in the early fifties, a style Jasper Johns never identified with. He went in another direction, becoming an influence in the movement commonly called Pop Art. He took ordinary flat, two-dimensional objects – flags, targets, numbers – and painted them in vibrant colors.

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Photos don’t do justice to Johns’s work, however. He used what’s called an encaustic technique, in which pigments are mixed with hot liquid wax. And his surfaces are intentionally distressed to remove some of the emotional impact from the commonplace objects portrayed. The American Masters series on PBS said this about Johns: “It was a new experience for gallery goers to find paintings solely of such things as flags and numbers. The simplicity and familiarity of the subject matter piqued viewer interest in both Johns’ motivation and his process. Johns explains, ‘There may or may not be an idea, and the meaning may just be that the painting exists.’”

His work has sold for astronomical sums, making Johns one of the wealthiest authors ever. Don’t expect to find his originals at the Starving Artists show the next time it comes to your town.

Since in this case a picture is worth a thousand words, or at least several paragraphs, here are representations of some of Jasper Johns’s famous works.

Flag. Uploaded by

Figura 8. Uploaded by

Target. Uploaded by

Numbers in Color. Uploaded by

Racing Thougts. Uploaded by

TV Show: Candid Camera

Even Superman had to worry about being caught by Allen Funt on Candid Camera. Uploaded by

Of course you know the premise of the show – catching ordinary people “in the act of being themselves.” Long before Punk’d and America’s Funniest Home Videos, and way before YouTube, Candid Camera recognized the potential of reality video.

Pittsburgh's Dancing Traffic Cop, Vic Cianca, was one of the earliest hits on Candid Camera. Uploaded by

The show actually started on radio, which is a little hard to imagine now, given its association with visual gags. It debuted in 1947 as “Candid Microphone.” For the next decade, it surfaced here and there before becoming a regular television segment, first on the Tonight Show in 1958 and the Garry Moore Show in 1959. It finally emerged as a stand-alone show in 1960. It had its longest run on Sunday nights until 1967 when it was a top 10 program several of those years.

Allen Funt not only created and produced the show, but introduced the segments. His affection for the people featured on the show was both obvious and contagious. For most of his run on network television, he was assisted by Durward Kirby, a droll but likable guy. Allen’s son Peter Funt became the co-host when the show appeared as occasional specials, then took over for the syndicated series. Unfortunately, he lacked his father’s ebullient personality, and Candid Camera isn’t on the air today.

Travel: Rockefeller Center

For architecture, for entertainment, for panoramic views, for the best people watching in the world, nothing beats Rockefeller Center. Uploaded by

On your first visit to New York City, it’s a must. Rockefeller Center is the very heart of midtown Manhattan, encompassing 19 buildings between 51st and 48th Streets (north-south), and Sixth and Fifth Avenues (east-west). Here you’ll find great art deco architecture, incredible views at Top of the Rock, and world-class entertainment at Radio City Music Hall. Plus, some of the most fascinating people watching on the planet.

Rockefeller Center is actually two building complexes – 14 original art deco buildings completed during the 1930s, and four towers built during the 1960s and 70s. Because construction occurred during the depression, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. financed the entire project by himself. The land on which the project was built belonged to Columbia University until 1985, when it was sold for $400 million.

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What’s now called the GE Building was originally the RCA Building. You know that famous photograph of workers sitting on a skyscraper under construction, eating lunch? That was the RCA Building. The NBC Radio Studios were in the building from the start, so the whole Center had the nickname “Radio City” at first, and that’s how the theater came to be called Radio City Music Hall.

Now you can tour all of Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and NBC Studios. You can go to the top of the GE Building and get a panoramic view of the city from the Top of the Rock observation deck. You can be on television in the crowd at the Today Show. At the right time of year, you can ice skate or view the gigantic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. You can shop at more than 100 stores, and dine at any of 40 restaurants. And you can see the statue of Atlas, along with the remarkable architecture all around you.

Rockefeller Center is something every visitor to New York should see. Chances are you’ll find yourself coming back on every visit to the Big Apple.

Film: Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a brilliant movie. Once you get past its quirky premise, that a man has to live one day – Groundhog Day – over and over and over again, you begin to see a film that’s not only funny, but smart, and romantic, and redemptive.

Bill Murray (Great American Things, April 25, 2009) does an exceptional job as weatherman Phil Connors. This role is the bridge between his broader comedies and the more sophisticated parts he played in Rushmore and Lost in Translation. Andie MacDowell does a serviceable job as the female lead, but this is Murray’s movie.

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Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed Groundhog Day, but nothing he did before or has done since would hint that he had this movie in him. I consider it the It’s a Wonderful Life (Great American Things, December 1, 2009) of our generation. Consider: both fantasy stories, both with a protagonist who’s frustrated by his life, both of whom end up doing what’s right despite the personal cost to them. And both of whom are rewarded with joy and satisfaction as a result. In It’s a Wonderful Life, it starts to snow when Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009) says he wants to live again; in Groundhog Day, it starts to snow when Murray realizes that whatever happens in the future, he’s happy now.

The American Film Institute named the movie its number eight fantasy movie of all time, and number 34 comedy. But perhaps the film’s greatest tribute is how the phrase “Groundhog Day” is now a part of the language, indicating any experience that’s repeated time and again.

Actor: Henry Fonda

Perhaps Fonda's greatest role was in 12 Angry Men, which he also produced and which was nominated for Best Picture. Uploaded by

The one word that comes to mind when I think of Henry Fonda is “unflappable.” I can’t remember a scene in any of his films, though I’m sure there must have been some, where he was anxious or distraught. Maybe that’s why he was often cast as an authority figure.

He was President in Young Mr. Lincoln and Fail-Safe… a marshal in My Darling Clementine… a college professor in The Male Animal… a nominee for Secretary of State in Advise and Consent… a police commissioner in Madigan… and a military officer in Fort Apache, Mister Roberts, The Longest Day, and Midway.

Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath, the role that made him a star. Uploaded by

Fonda won acclaim for his roles in other films, including The Ox-Bow Incident and 12 Angry Men (probably his finest role). He received an Academy Award nomination for The Grapes of Wrath and finally won for his final major role in On Golden Pond. He also received the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1980. In addition to film, he also acted in sixteen Broadway productions, and was recognized for Lifetime Achievement by the Tony Awards in 1979.

Of course, he became the paterfamilias of a prominent acting family that includes son Peter Fonda, daughter Jane Fonda, and granddaughter Bridget Fonda. Sadly, he wasn’t particularly close to his children. Yet both Peter and Jane were at his bedside when he died from heart disease in 1982.

He couldn’t describe his acting style, and his natural greatness frustrated Jane, who worked hard on what’s called Method acting. But it’s that effortless, smooth, natural grace that we remember when we think of Henry Fonda. President, Professor, Admiral, Marshal, Commissioner Fonda.