Sunday, May 31, 2009

Alistair Cooke Solving Crossword Puzzles on his Death Bed

Susan Cooke Kittredge writes of her father’s last days:

Originally told he had between three and six months to live, it turned out that his demise was far more swift.

I overheard my mother speaking on the phone shortly after he died, “They gave him three months and he only used one.'” Ever frugal by nature and upbringing, this seemed to her an honourable course to have taken.

Though swift, his dying was rough. He reacted adversely to the medications given him and essentially lost two of his last four weeks to drug-induced confusion, nausea, and misery.

My routine in those last weeks was to spend most of the weekdays in Manhattan and then fly home to Vermont for services on the weekend, returning Sunday night. Every time I left him, I feared I would not see him again, and the partings were wrenching for us both.

Though it was a gruelling time, there were moments of grace as well. Listening in the kitchen via the baby monitor, I heard my parents, then aged ninety-five and ninety-one, working together on the New York Times crossword puzzle as he lay on his death bed. The hospice nurse observed with amazement that this was not standard entertainment in such circumstances.

Source: Alistair Cooke, Reporting America: The Life of the Nation 1946-2004 (London: Allen Lane, Penguin, 2008) 22.

This book is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

More from Cooke:
I am a Reporter not a Prophet says Alistair Cooke, Stories for Speakers.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Alistair Cooke.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Steve Spagnuolo: The Knack for Making Everybody Feel Important

Steve Spagnuolo, an assistant head coach in the American NFL for 27 years, was, until recently, one of the hottest prospects for a head coaching job in the NFL. In January he became the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Two of his close friends tell why Spagnuolo was such a hot prospect.

First friend: “Steve is a brilliant, brilliant man. He very easily could be at Mass General doing brain surgery instead of coaching football.” Wow! A brain surgeon on the sidelines!

Second friend: “He was one of those kids who had a special knack for making everybody feel like they were important.”

Making everybody feel important! What a knack!

Source: Walter ‘Buddy’ Shurden is Minister at Large at Mercer University. Each month he puts together a free installment of wonderful stories and quotes from his reading. Let me know if you’d like to be added to Walter’s mailing list.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “Spagnuolo…such a hot prospect.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

Abraham Lincoln the Storytelling President

In writing about Abraham Lincoln’s political genius, Doris Kearns Goodwin highlights the president’s great ability in storytelling and speechmaking. Here are some excerpts from her book, Team of Rivals:

“No one could equal his never-ending stream of stories, nor his ability to reproduce them with such contagious mirth.” (p8)

“Lincoln’s stirring oratory had earned the admiration of a far-flung audience who had either heard him speak or read his speeches in the papers.” (p9)

Thomas Lincoln
Of his father, Kearns says, he was “a born storyteller, he possessed a quick wit, a talent for mimicry, and an uncanny memory for exceptional stories. These qualities would prove his greatest bequest to his son.” (p50)

Chip Off the old Block
Kearns on Lincoln as a youngster:
“He would climb onto the tree stump or log that served as an impromptu stage and mesmerize his own circle of young listeners. He has discovered the pride and pleasure an attentive audience could bestow. This great storytelling talent and oratorical skill would eventually constitute his stock-in-trade throughout both his legal and political careers. The passion for rendering experience into powerful language remained with Lincoln throughout his life.” (p50)

Beauty of Words
“He possessed a vivid sensibility for the beauty of the English language….He was attracted to the sound of language.” (p52-53)

More than Entertainment
“But Lincoln’s stories provided more than mere amusement. Drawn from his own experiences and the curiosities reported by others, they frequently provided maxims and proverbs that usefully connected to the lives of his listeners. Lincoln possessed an extraordinary ability to convey practical wisdom in the form of humorous tales his listeners could remember and repeat. This process and repetition is central to the oral tradition; indeed Walter Benjamin in his essay on the storyteller’s art suggests that repetition ‘is the nature of the web in which the gift of storytelling is cradled.’” (p150)

Speaking the Thoughts of the People
“James Russell Lowell described Lincoln’s ability to speak ‘as if the people were listening to their own thinking out loud.’” (p233)

A review of Team of Rivals is posted on Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr Geoff Pound

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Life in Death Valley

Located along the California-Nevada border is a remote desert place called Death Valley. At 282 feet below sea level, it averages 1.96 inches of rain per year and boasts temperatures upwards of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It is one of the lowest, driest and hottest places on the face of the earth. Because it is a land of such extremes, it is a difficult environment for life to flourish.

During the winter of 2005 Death Valley received an unprecedented 8 inches of rain. Seeds that once lay dormant, now exposed to life nourishing moisture began to germinate causing an outbreak of foliage. The explosion plant life prompted throngs of reporters, photographers and others to witness in person the outbreak of life in a valley of Death.

Sometimes the young people we minister among come to us from harsh environments. Their worlds can be unforgiving, un-nurturing and unloving.

This is not always obvious. Kids don’t walk up and hand us their transcript from the school of hard knocks. They show up as suspicious, defensive and jaded young people who pretend to not want our involvement in their lives. They’ve formulated a veritable laundry list of well thought out reasons to not be a Christian and they dare us to prove them wrong.

In reality, they are thirsting for Truth. Their journey through the desert of doubt, neglect and abandonment has left them in dire thirst for meaning, purpose and love.

For years I would recognize those thirsty kids, grab them by the back of their hair and shove their heads into the truth trough in the hopes that they’d drink deeply. Looking back, I can see that many suffocated from my arrogance.

Those kids didn’t need a spiritual head slam. They needed the proper conditions wherein their souls could flourish. We are instrumental in creating those conditions. So how do we create such conditions? There are five things we can do to create optimal conditions for spiritual growth.

Observe them and their culture. I learn something new about kids everyday because I watch, I look and I seek to learn. Kids like to be watched and studied. It makes them feel special. Before we can be their teacher, we must first be their student.

Ask questions. Many people don’t ask questions because they fear appearing stupid or ignorant. When we take the time and energy to ask them questions they are flattered and usually enjoy talking about themselves and their world. If you’d like some effective opening questions and other tips for having conversations with kids email me at

Listen carefully. It’s natural while listening to be formulating what you want to say. Resist that temptation. Whatever you fail to mention as a result of your careful listening will be outweighed by your attentive presence.

Be accepting. This does not mean we condone immoral behavior or poor choices. It does mean that we consistently communicate love and acceptance for who they are regardless of what they do.

Appreciate them. Before getting into “fix it” mode ask “What’s good about this kid?” I’ve yet to meet a kid who’s not gifted in some way. We must take the initiative to find out how—and then repeatedly show it to them.

Even in the harshest of environments, given the right conditions, life can flourish. This is true in Death Valley. And it is true in the lives of our kids.

Thanks to Roy Petitfils for contributing this article. Roy is a syndicated columnist and counselor at St. Cecilia School in Broussard, LA.

For more of his writing or to contact him, go to

More Great Stories from Roy Petitfils on this site:
Albert Einstein Highlights the Need for Ongoing Education, SFS.
Smashing Down the Garage Doors, SFS.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Located along the California-Nevada border is a remote desert place called Death Valley.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Obama Tells US Naval Academy to Remember and Emulate Their Deeds

Giving the Commencement Address at the US Naval Academy at the beginning of the Memorial Weekend, President Obama said:

This chain of service calls to mind words that were spoken here in Annapolis on another spring day a century ago. The crowds assembled, the bands played, the cannons roared. As John Paul Jones' body was carried to the Yard, President Teddy Roosevelt spoke to the midshipmen gathered there that day.

"Remember," he said, "our words of admiration are but as sounding brass and tinkling symbols if we do not prepare to emulate their deeds."

Emulate their deeds. That is what you are called upon to do.

President Obama delivers Commencement address at US Naval Academy, Washington Post, 22 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: U.S. President Barack Obama congratulates John Sidney McCain IV, son of Arizona Senator John McCain, during the graduation and commissioning ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis May 22, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

Ellen DeGeneres Tells Tulane How Tragedy Started Stand-Up Career

Ellen DeGeneres gave the Commencement Speech at Tulane University on May 16, 2009 and in this address she spoke of the beginning of her career:

I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and the way I ended up on this path was from a very tragic event. I was maybe 19, and my girlfriend at the time was killed in a car accident. And I passed the accident, and I didn't know it was her and I kept going, and I found out shortly after that, it was her. And I was living in a basement apartment, I had no money, I had no heat, no air, I had a mattress on the floor and the apartment was infested with fleas. And I was soul-searching, I was like, why is she suddenly gone, and there are fleas here? I don't understand, there must be a purpose, and wouldn't it be so convenient if we could pick up the phone and call God, and ask these questions.

And I started writing and what poured out of me was an imaginary conversation with God, which was one-sided, and I finished writing it and I looked at it and I said to myself, and I hadn't even been doing stand-up, ever, there was no club in town. I said, "I'm gonna do this on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson"- at the time he was the king - "and I'm gonna be the first woman in the history of the show to be called over to sit down." And several years later, I was the first woman in the history of the show, and only woman in the history of the show to sit down, because of that phone conversation with God that I wrote.

To read the entire script or see the video:

Ellen DeGeneres Commencement Speech at Tulane University, Entertonement, 16 May 2009. Or watch it on YouTube.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Ellen DeGeneres

Friday, May 22, 2009

President George W Bush and the Sign that Life is returning to Normal

This story came up when Former President George W. Bush addressed high school seniors who received the 2009 Chase Foundation Scholarship at Artesia (N.M.) High School:

It was a humbling moment for the former commander in chief: President George W. Bush was walking former first dog Barney in his new Dallas neighborhood when it stopped in a neighbor's yard for relief.

"And there I was, former president of the United States of America, with a plastic bag on my hand," he told a group of graduating high school students in New Mexico on Thursday. "Life is returning back to normal."

Source: Bush: It’s ‘Liberating’ to Be Out of Office, MSNBC, 22 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Former President George W Bush speaking to High School Seniors at Artesia High School. (Photo courtesy MSNBC)

Michelle Obama and the Importance of Knowing the Names of the Kitchen Staff

Knowing the Cleaners
At a leadership workshop CEOs and others in power were asked if they could tell the group the names of the cleaners in their workplace.

It was a way of testing to see whether the leaders were humble, approachable, among their people, and those who truly regarded the worth of every member to their organization.

Michelle Obama on Leadership
An article that accompanies an interview in Time Magazine (The Meaning of Michelle Obama) with the First Lady begins in this way:

“It was just two days after the Inauguration when an e-mail went around to Michelle Obama's staff, instructing everyone to be in the East Room of the White House at 3 that afternoon. The First Lady's advisers arrived to find the room filled with ushers and plumbers, electricians and maids and kitchen crew gathered in a huge circle, and Michelle in a T shirt and ponytail, very casual and very much in charge.”

“‘This is my team that came with me from Chicago,’” Michelle said, pointing to her communications staff and policy people. ‘This is my team who works here already,’ she went on, indicating the ring of veterans around the room. Many of the household staff had served for decades; some had postponed retirement because they wanted to serve an African-American President. And so the two groups formed concentric rings and spent the next hour or so making sure that everyone had a chance to meet everyone else. I want you to know that you won't be judged based on whether they know your name, Michelle had warned her advisers. You'll be judged based on whether you know theirs.”

Source: The Meaning of Michelle Obama, TIME, 21 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Michelle Obama (Photo courtesy of TIME)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Art of Evaluation

How do you get on at your annual evaluation and what are you like at giving feedback to others?

Here are some hints(?) or gems from employee evaluation reports:

“Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom and has started to dig.”

“Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.”

“This woman has delusions of adequacy.”

“He sets low personal standards and then constantly fails to achieve them.”

“He brings a lot of joy as soon as he leaves a room.”

“When his IQ reaches 100, he should sell.”

“He says he has a photographic memory, but I think the lens cap is still on.”

“If you gave him a penny for his thoughts, you should get change.”

“It’s hard to believe he beat out 1,000,000 other sperm.”

“It takes him two hours to watch 60 Minutes.”

“This employee should go far, and the sooner he starts, the better.”

And the ultimate reference:

“He came to us as he left us, fired with enthusiasm.”

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Evaluation session.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Larry King Meets Martin Luther King Jnr

In today’s (19 May 2009) show of Larry King Live, the host switched places while three other interviewers asked him about his life as described in his new book My Remarkable Life.

He yarned about getting his start as a radio presenter, the ups and downs of his family life and what it was like interviewing every US President since Richard Nixon.

At one point Anderson Cooper (the third interviewer for the hour) asked him about meeting Martin Luther King Jnr. Listen to their conversation:

COOPER: You wrote in the book about seeing Miami water fountains that said "colored" on it. And, actually, you knew Martin Luther King, Jr.

LARRY KING: Yes, I did. I interviewed him. And the first thing I did when I arrived in Miami was drink out of the "colored" water fountain. I had never seen that in New York -- I had read about it but couldn't believe it.

COOPER: And you were with Martin Luther King, Jr. One day when he wasn't admitted to a -- a hotel, is that true?

LARRY KING: Yes, a motel. They wouldn't let him in. He had a reservation. They wouldn't take the reservation. And he came out and sat on the porch. It was in Tallahassee.

And the owner of the motel -- the owner or manager came out and looked down. A lot of crowd gathered around.

And the owner said to him, what do you want, Dr. King? What do you want?

And he looked up and said, “My dignity.”

You never forget that.

Source: Larry King Live, Transcript, CNN, 19 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The two Kings and the cover of Larry’s new autobiography.

Don’t Worry About the Credit

Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said her grandfather [Motilal Nehru] once told her that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit.

He told her to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.

Source: Marian Wright Edelman, The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small (New York: Hyperion, 2008), 55.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Indira Gandhi

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rosa Parks and The Power of a Committed Person

Marian Wright Edelman tells her grandaughter this story:
One of the proudest moments in my life was waiting with you, Ellika, [her grandchild] when you were four years old on the steps of our nation’s Capitol for Mrs. Rosa Parks to arrive.

In the beautiful twilight of a perfect day, a bus draped in black symbolizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott arrived followed by a hearse carrying Mrs. Parks moving very slowly past very long lines of people circling the Capitol waiting to say thanks and farewell to her. As the integrated military honor guard lifted Mrs. Parks up the Capitol steps in precise cadences towards the rotunda where the President of the United States, leaders of Congress, and other dignitaries awaited her—an unassuming black seamstress who had the courage to sit down for justice and make all American stand up—I squeezed you tight and whispered through tears of gratitude: “Never ever forget what one committed black woman—one single person—can do.”

Source: Marian Wright Edelman, The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small (New York: Hyperion, 2008), 68-69.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Rosa Parks on a bus.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Elie Wiesel Speaks about Losing all His Money and Starting Again

High on the list of people taken by Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme was Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and holocaust survivor.

On Saturday (16 May 2009), Wiesel talked about his loss, and about starting over, in an interview with CBS News correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

Link: Elie Wiesel on Loss, Starting Over, CBS News, 16 May 2009.

More on Wiesel:
Elie Wiesel on Indifference, SFS, 4 March 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Elie Wiesel.

Obama Tells Notre Dame about Finding Common Ground, Fishing and Changing History

Toward the end of his Commencement Address at Notre Dame University President Obama speaks about the importance of fishing:

After all, I stand here today, as President and as an African-American, on the 55th anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. Brown was of course the first major step in dismantling the "separate but equal" doctrine, but it would take a number of years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God's children. There were freedom rides and lunch counters and Billy clubs, and there was also a Civil Rights Commission appointed by President Eisenhower. It was the twelve resolutions recommended by this commission that would ultimately become law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There were six members of the commission. It included five whites and one African-American; Democrats and Republicans; two Southern governors, the dean of a Southern law school, a Midwestern university president, and your own Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame. They worked for two years, and at times, President Eisenhower had to intervene personally since no hotel or restaurant in the South would serve the black and white members of the commission together. Finally, when they reached an impasse in Louisiana, Father Ted flew them all to Notre Dame's retreat in Land O'Lakes, Wisconsin, where they eventually overcame their differences and hammered out a final deal.

Years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered that they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away. Life is not that simple. It never has been.

But as you leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family and the same fulfillment of a life well-lived. Remember that in the end, we are all fishermen.

Obama Speaks to Notre Dame about Fair-Mindedness, SFS, 17 May 2009.
Obama Tells Notre Dame of Cooperation and Touching the Hearts of People, SFS, 17 May 2009.

To read the entire script:
Obama Notre Dame, Full Script, Huffington Post, 17 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: President Obama at Notre Dame Commencement.

Obama Tells Notre Dame of Cooperation and Touching the Hearts of People

In his Commencement Speech at Notre Dame University President Obama speaks of how he learned about service, cooperating with those who are different from you and touching the hearts and minds of people:

This tradition of cooperation and understanding is one that I learned in my own life many years ago - also with the help of the Catholic Church.

I was not raised in a particularly religious household, but my mother instilled in me a sense of service and empathy that eventually led me to become a community organizer after I graduated college. A group of Catholic churches in Chicago helped fund an organization known as the Developing Communities Project, and we worked to lift up South Side neighborhoods that had been devastated when the local steel plant closed.

It was quite an eclectic crew. Catholic and Protestant churches. Jewish and African-American organizers. Working-class black and white and Hispanic residents. All of us with different experiences. All of us with different beliefs. But all of us learned to work side by side because all of us saw in these neighborhoods other human beings who needed our help - to find jobs and improve schools. We were bound together in the service of others.

And something else happened during the time I spent in those neighborhoods. Perhaps because the church folks I worked with were so welcoming and understanding; perhaps because they invited me to their services and sang with me from their hymnals; perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to perform, I found myself drawn - not just to work with the church, but to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.

At the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Archbishop of Chicago. For those of you too young to have known him, he was a kind and good and wise man. A saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads - unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty, AIDS, and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together; always trying to find common ground. Just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched minds and hearts."

My heart and mind were touched by the words and deeds of the men and women I worked alongside with in Chicago. And I'd like to think that we touched the hearts and minds of the neighborhood families whose lives we helped change. For this, I believe, is our highest calling.

Obama Speaks to Notre Dame about Fair-Mindedness, SFS, 17 May 2009.

To read the entire script:
Obama Notre Dame, Full Script, Huffington Post, 17 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: President Obama with President Jenkins of Notre Dame at the ND Commencement.

Obama Speaks to Notre Dame about Fair-Mindedness

In his Commencement Speech at Notre Dame University President Obama tackles head-on the controversy that surrounded his visit and offers some words for fighting for one’s principles:

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website - an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

Fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

To read the entire script:
Obama Notre Dame, Full Script, Huffington Post, 17 May 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: President Obama at Notre Dame Commencement.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

President Obama Tells ASU Graduates There’s More to Do, to Learn, to Achieve

In his Commencement Speech to the Arizona State University graduates President Obama spoke of the need to keep on learning and achieving.

Here are some excerpts:

In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven't yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one's title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one's life has been led - and that no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there's always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve.

And I want to say to you today, graduates, that despite having achieved a remarkable milestone, one that you and your families are rightfully proud of, you too cannot rest on your laurels. Your body of work is yet to come….

Just look to history. Thomas Paine was a failed corset maker, a failed teacher, and a failed tax collector before he made his mark on history with a little book called Common Sense that helped ignite a revolution.

Julia Child didn't publish her first cookbook until she was almost fifty, and Colonel Sanders didn't open up his first Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was in his sixties.

Winston Churchill was dismissed as little more than a has-been, who enjoyed scotch just a bit too much, before he took over as Prime Minister and saw Great Britain through its finest hour.

And no one thought a former football player stocking shelves at the local supermarket would return to the game he loved, become a Super Bowl MVP, and then come here to Arizona and lead your Cardinals to their first Super Bowl.

Each of them, at one point in their life, didn't have any title or much status to speak of. But they had a passion, a commitment to following that passion wherever it would lead, and to working hard every step along the way.

And that's not just how you'll ensure that your own life is well-lived. It's how you'll make a difference in the life of this nation.

To read the full script:
Obama ASU Speech, Huffington Post, 13 May 2009.

To listen and see Obama’s address:
Huffington Post, 13 May 2009.

More on Barack Obama
Story for the US President about Gatekeepers, SFS.
Barack Obama and the Empathetic Person, SFS.
Ben Okri on Obama the Speechmaker, SFS.
Obama Tells Story of Anne Nixon Cooper, SFS.
Obama’s Speech on Election Night, SFS.
Obama’s Tribute to His Grandmother, SFS.
Obama on the Cost and Struggle of Change, SFS.
Obama’s Tribute to His Grandmother (from book), SFS.
Obama Expresses Debt to Mother and His Humble Beginnings, SFS.
Al Gore on Obama’s Youthfulness, SFS.
Why We in the UAE and Arab World Like President Obama, ETE.

Obama Books
Reviewing The Audacity of Hope, RBM.
Reviewing Dreams of My Father, RBM.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: President Obama at ASU Commencement.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Celebrating Fawlty Towers: If at First You Don’t Succeed

As the cast of the popular sitcom were reunited for the 30th anniversary of the show, John Cleese said that the BBC originally dismissed Fawlty Towers as dire and that the producers did not think that the programme would appeal to viewers.

The first episode, written with his then wife Connie Booth, was rejected by the BBC.

He said: “There is a famous note which I have a copy of, I think it’s framed. Connie and I wrote that first episode and we sent it in to Jimmy Gilbert.

“The fellow whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, and I can quote it fairly accurately, ‘This is full of clich├ęd situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster’.

“And Jimmy himself said ‘You’re going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can’t do the whole thing in the hotel’. Whereas, of course, it’s in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up.”

Source: John Cleese: BBC rejected First Episode of Fawlty Towers, Times Online, 6 May 2009. Check on this link to read the full story and a video of Fawlty Towers.

Another great story about Fawlty Towers is posted at this link:
Turning Frustrations into Fortunes, SFS, 8 May 2007.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Fawlty Towers reunion: Prunella Scales, John Cleese, Connie Booth and Andrew Sachs. Photograph courtesy of Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features and the Guardian.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

You Never Know

Barrie Hibbert from Adelaide, Australia wrote to me about a letter to his local paper and how this stimulated a rich vein of insights:

Whoever You Are
I found in yesterday's paper [The Advertiser], among the Letters to the Editor, the following letter:

I am writing this to a man, still unknown to me, who jumped into the duck pond at the Botanical Gardens in mid-October 1983 to rescue a four-year-old boy who had fallen in while feeding the ducks during an outing with his grandmother.

That little boy graduated last week with his PhD, and I would like to say thank you, who ever you are, for that day.
J. Short, Rosslyn Park.

Well done the unknown jumper… and well done the grown-up four-year-old with his doctorate… and specially well done J. Short (who ever you are!) for sharing your joy, pride and gratitude with the rest of us.

You Never Know
Somehow this reminded me of the old school teacher in the German mining village.

Every morning he stood at the school gate and doffed his hat to each student as he or she arrived. Then in the afternoon, he would take up his position at the gate and doff his hat to each departing student.

One day one of the leading citizens of the village asked the old teacher why he went through this rather ridiculous little ritual. The old man responded: “You never know … among that group of children there may be one who will one day do great things for the world.”

Among those children was a village miner’s son, the young Martin Luther.

Miss Finlay
One day in the early 1940’s an Australian teacher, Miss Finlay, decided it was too cold and wet to send the children out into the playground. So she settled them down and read them a story. It was the story told by the Greek writer Homer in the final book of The Iliad.

Miss Finlay must have been a good reader, as she held the attention of the youngsters until the tale was told. One little boy in particular, David, was rapt in the story. Nearly seventy years later, David Malouf, now one of Australia’s most distinguished writers, published his novel Ransom – inspired by his lifelong fascination with that story from The Iliad.

Malouf’s novel is a powerful fictional elaboration of the story of the attempt by Priam, the aged King of Troy to secure the release of his slain son Hector’s body from his killer, the Greek warrior, Achilles.

Malouf uses the original legend to reflect on the nature of human relationships (especially father-son relationships), and also how we establish and define our own individual identity. In the end, Ransom is about what it means to be a human being.

The actual writing is quite superb. Some critics are already suggesting that in the years ahead, Ransom may come to be regarded as one of the truly great Australian novels.

At the time the book was published, David Malouf told the story of his childhood encounter with Homer’s Iliad. Shortly afterwards, at one of the book signings, a little old lady joined the line of those seeking the author’s signature. When she reached the table where he was seated, she pressed an envelope into his hand. She did not attempt to engage him in conversation, but subsequently he made contact with her and they met.

Yes, it was Miss Finlay, now in her nineties and so thrilled that as a young teacher she had imparted something so memorable and precious to that little boy on that rainy afternoon.

As the old German schoolmaster said, you just never know.

Source: Thanks to Barrie Hibbert for these stories.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Martin Luther, David Malouf, The Iliad, Ransom.