Announcing: The Next Innovation in Blogging!

Let’s face it. The only consistent characteristic of this blog is its inconsistency. The last post was over two months ago. I estimate the average time between posts for the past few years has been over a month. There are two primary reasons for this lag:

  1. When I write a post, no matter how trivial or how brief, I tend to overthink and overwrite. That takes time, time I can’t always spare. As a result, I don’t even try to start a post until I have a solid topic and adequate time to devote to it. I hate to shortchange my deepest reflections… or (more often) goofy scribblings.
  2. I’m kinda busy. In addition to life, which takes up a lot of my time, including weekends, I’m trying to finish my documentary (details to come) and publish my next book before April. Chances of achieving both goals are slim. Still, I need to give it my best shot, which means there’s precious little time to give this blog the attention it deserves.

To solve this dilemma, today I’m announcing a new concept in blogs:

Blog Snax©

These are short blog posts suitable for a quick bite (and a quick write) so that I can be more consistent while not putting in more effort than I can spare. The concept comes from the world of exercise, a field near and dear to my central nervous system. For people who need to exercise but lack the time and/or energy, “exercise snacks” are recommended. (q.v.) For writers who want to devote most of their time to their highest priority projects while not completely ignoring their blogs (e.g. me) Blog Snax© are the way to go.

This post was supposed to be an example but I’ve already spent almost an hour on it. 😦

Maybe next time. Stay tuned…

How Charles Saved Christmas

There’s a school of thought that credits Charles Dickens, more than any other, with creating the Western version of Christmas as we know it today. (Read more about it in this post from seven years past.) There’s truth to that, but another Charles has done an even greater service to the season. And he used yet another Charles (actually, a Charlie) to do it.

Imagine the 4th of July where no one mentions the Declaration of Independence, the revolution, or even the USA. Or Memorial Day without a reference to veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Arbor Day without trees or Thanksgiving with no gratitude. Even worse, your birthday without mentioning you!

Unthinkable, right? Think again.

No matter your religious affiliation, it’s hard to argue that removing the birth of Christ from the celebration of Christmas isn’t blatantly unfair and patently illogical. It’s also impossible to deny the truth of it.

I went Christmas shopping yesterday. In one store, there was a display of (supposedly) Christmas ornaments. Among their number were included:

  • A Dallas Cowboys football player
  • Grogu, the baby Yoda from The Mandalorian
  • A nutcracker wielding a candy cane as a weapon
  • the Stay Puft Marshmallow man
  • Harry Potter memorabilia
  • Spiderman
  • vehicles of all shapes and sizes and colors
  • Mario and Luigi
  • a lamp made from a shapely leg in fishnet stockings

…and a whole host of other cultural icons, many of which didn’t exist ten years ago and will be forgotten ten years from now.

I don’t question the cultural appropriateness or whimsy or profitability of any of those. They have their place. However, am I a Scrooge or, worse, a right-wing ideologue to ask why there wasn’t one single reference to the events that got this whole snowball rolling in the first place? To put things in perspective, I searched the online list of the 1,126 “Christmas” ornaments sold by Hallmark, purveyor of those insipid Christmas “romance” films, that I confess to watching. It turned up exactly four that had an explicit reference to the Nativity. Sure, there were snowman angels and Precious Moments cuties but only four that referenced Jesus, and then only barely.

That brings me to Charles and Charlie. For over 70 years, “Peanuts”, the comic strip and characters created by Charles (Schulz), has been a staple of American culture and Charlie (Brown) has been its greatest symbol. Back in 1965, those two put a stake in the snow that has since been the sole standard bearer for the cause of “keeping Christ in Christmas.” They didn’t do it by whacking us over the head with a Bible or a Yule log, nor by scolding or judging the culture. They did it with a little boy clutching a security blanket and telling a simple story that has changed the world more than any other event in human history.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I shudder to think what Christmas in America would be like without Charles and Charlie.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Science (which we all know is Real) has in recent years discovered what Judeo-Christian adherents have known for millennia: Gratitude is good for us. In that vein, I wish you a Grateful Thanksgiving and share with you this cartoon, which will hopefully give you a smile to start your celebration.

(As you can see, this is a Golden Oldie, but still timely. Profound thanks to my multi-talented friend Scott for his wonderful illustration here and accompanying other works of mine.)

An Amazing Post!

Tears for Fears once sang “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. A great song and an audacious claim. I believe there’s some truth in it, though. Few would admit it but I believe there’s a little part of everyone that wants to control everything. Maybe it’s the frustration of knowing we actually have very little control over anything in our lives. Controlling something would be a step in the right direction. Or so we think.

I’ll confess that more than a little part of me wants to control more than just a little part of the world. I’ll start right now with my first decree:

The word “amazing” is banished from use forthwith!

Yes, “amazing” is the latest in a long line of words that have been so misused and overused that they’ve ceased to have any meaning. Thus, it must be removed from the lexicon. It has joined the rogues’ gallery of words and phrases that are mutilating our discourse. Others, such as “awesome”, “like”, “literally”, “actually”, “just”, “really”, as well as beginning sentences with “so” for no apparent reason, will be dealt with over time. They must all go and they will when I’m in control.* (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m guilty of leaning heavily on all those verbal crutches.)

Back to “amazing”…

Listen. You hear it everywhere. This movie is amazing. That restaurant is amazing. Some team, book, or blog (!!) is amazing.

Worst of all is when someone calls you amazing. After all, what is being said about you? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Assuming (and this is a huge stretch) the speaker is truly amazed, it says one of two things. Either they have a low level of amazement (I vote for that one) or something about you is truly amazing, for better or worse. And that’s the key point. There is no value judgment in the word. It’s not saying anything positive about you. Kind of like the doctor in the Seinfeld episode who calls both Elaine and an ugly baby “breathtaking”.

The subprime mortgage debacle was amazing.

“New Coke” was amazing.

Hitler was amazing.

Donald Trump is amazing in his own way. (And it’s not a good way.)

So, I literally think we should just… Ignore that. Let’s dispense with the word altogether.

While we’re at it, how about the current addiction to swearing? When I was in high school, there was a poster on the wall in the guidance counselor’s office. It read, “Profanity is the attempt of a weak mind to express itself forcefully.” That’s the only thing I remember from any guidance counselor, but it’s a maxim worth thinking about. Because they’re so ubiquitous, those words have little or no shock value remaining. There was a time when dropping just one of them in a routine guaranteed a favorable reception for a comedian. (Just ask Albert Brooks about his experience in San Antonio.) Not anymore. They fall with the frequency of snowflakes in a blizzard and with the same effect. One alone simply dissolves into nothingness. Pile on enough and conversation comes to a standstill, buried in inanity.

Rather than be heavy-handed about this whole thing, I propose making it into a game. Everyone in the US will be issued a buzzer from the game Taboo. Just like in that game, anyone will be allowed to buzz anyone else who utters one of those verbal pariahs. Speakers will stammer and struggle to avoid the rejected phrases as they do in the game, beginning every sentence saying, “Um, this is a thing that you might, um, literally…” BZZZZZZ!! How much fun will that be?

No more meaningless words, lots of buzzing. Win, win!

Vote for me.


* The alert reader will note that my list doesn’t include the verbal tics we hear and use constantly: I mean, kind of/sort of, really, y’know, um, uh. Stamping those out would cripple most people conversationally, including me. There’s no need to do that.

Yet.

Quick opportunity announcements!

There are two opportunities coming up imminently that I want to share:

100th Anniversary Celebration!

My paternal grandparents, whose story inspired my novel “A Song in the Storm”, were married on September 11, 1921. We’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of their marriage with anyone who wants to join us at the Old Mill Coffee House in Chelmsford, MA, from 1-3 PM.

We’ll have a cake to share and delicious coffee (or so I’m told; I don’t drink the stuff 🙂 ) and baked goods will be for sale in the shop, as will their usual assortment of excellent locally made products. Do I need to say that copies of my books will also be available for sale?

Support the battle to destroy MS before it destroys anyone else!

On Saturday, September 18, I’ll be doing my annual fundraising bike ride to fight the scourge of multiple sclerosis. If you’d like to support me or my team in this effort, click on one of these links:

Support Rick

Support The Vineyard Square Wheelers

As you’ll see on the web site, this ride, normally held on Martha’s Vineyard in the spring, will be in Concord, MA, because of Covid.

Covid or not, MS continues to ravage lives, so we don’t take the year off. Please consider sponsoring us as we ride to destroy this destroyer of lives.

The other pandemic

We’re all about coronavirus for the past year and a half. Something most of us had never heard of or considered before 2020 is now the fulcrum on which everything in our lives turns. Our conversations invariably revolve around the pandemic, the Delta variant, masks, and vaccines. Yet, there is another pandemic sweeping through our land whose effects are equally tragic. I’m talking about…

The Obliviousness Pandemic!

Yes, obliviousness has taken our country, and possibly the entire world, by storm, leaving death, destruction, ignorance, and oppression in its wake. I see the symptoms of this deadly condition everywhere I look.

  • The person who hears “Black lives matter” and scornfully replies “All lives matter!”
  • The one who doesn’t believe in vaccines even though vaccines have effectively wiped out (or at least ameliorated the effects of) some of the most deadly and contagious conditions the world has ever known: smallpox, polio, measles, chickenpox, influenza, tetanus, hepatitis A & B, and many, many more. And yet they suddenly fear the Covid vaccine. Can you spell o-b-l-i-v-i-o-u-s?
  • If you’ve disabled the muffler on your car, motorcycle, SUV, or pickup truck thinking it would make you (1) cooler, (2) safer, and/or (3) more of a man (sexist, yes, but what woman would be foolish enough to do such a thing?), seek professional help right away. You’re a victim of the oblivious epidemic. And everyone else within earshot (i.e. a mile or so) of wherever you drive is a victim of your obliviousness.*
  • Anyone who thinks Donald Trump gives a flying fig about anything but himself and wouldn’t slit their throat if he thought it would add to his bank account and he could get away with it. Or that he’s a conservative.
  • If you never considered the possibility of a pandemic hitting us, as so many have throughout history, you’ve been struck with this condition.
  • Smokers.
  • The billionaire who thanks the people he has exploited for financing his insane space boondoggle. Oh, and the people he exploited who don’t recognize it.
  • Anyone with a “Coexist” bumper sticker who runs red lights and cuts off people in traffic.
  • Me, much of the time.
  • Then there are the obvious, longstanding examples, such as the person hauling a month’s worth of groceries through the 10-items-or-less line, the clown going below (or even at) the speed limit in the left lane of the highway, and the Jeopardy contestants who always start at the top left of the board instead of intentionally trying to find the “Daily Double” by choosing higher value clues early in the game.

There are millions of examples, at least as many as there are people. I’ve expounded on this general topic before but realized I could create a whole new post by repackaging it. 🙂

Where have you seen obliviousness? Or are you oblivious to it?


*One of the most heinous aspects of this epidemic is that it doesn’t cause the victims any ill effects. It only harms others! Imagine if contracting Covid didn’t hurt you at all? What if only other people, some of whom you might never come in contact with, who might even live half way around the world, had to go on ventilators? (Right now, the oblivious among us are thinking, “That would be great!” sigh)

FAQs

(Any web site worth its salt has an FAQs page. Mine has never done so. That could be an inhibitor to its growth from a platform for a curmudgeon trying to unload his lame scribbling to a viral social media giant.

Or not.)

  • Why do you bother with this blog after seven years of almost complete reader indifference?

A fair question, one I’ve wrestled with many times. The most obvious is ego. Having a blog allows me to pretend I have something of import to say, when it’s highly doubtful I do. That’s a self-defeating concept since, as you so clearly and painfully point out, no one appears to be reading it. Ouch! (Thank you for not noting my other blog, “Limping in the Light”, which experienced a similar lack of impact for 10 years. Oh my.)

Another, more reasonable excuse is the desire to sell books. I have seven out there as of this typing (2021) with one more in the works. There’s an infinitesimal but non-zero chance that Oprah will happen on this site and discover that my novel about Haiti, “A Slippery Land”, is perfect for her book club… which it is.

Finally, I just like writing. It’s enjoyable and it’s therapeutic.

  • Have you read the new Andy Weir book, “Project Hail Mary”?

Yes, and it’s great. Similar to “The Martian” in both style and entertainment value. Highly recommended.

  • Can I borrow ten bucks?

No.

  • What’s the deal with that guy in the commercial who points at all your junk and it just goes away?

Nothing is more annoying to me. Our stuff doesn’t just “go away”. There is no “away”. Living under that delusion has brought this world to the predicament it’s in today.

  • How many Frenchmen can’t be wrong?

Last I checked, it was 1,000,000. That might have changed.

  • Is it true that Dick van Dyke was originally cast as the lead in the old movie, “The Omen”?

That’s what I heard. It would be a very different movie with him instead of Gregory Peck, don’t you think? It might have been a musical.

  • Why do people say “dial the phone” when there hasn’t been a dial on a phone in decades?

The same reason my father used to tell us to turn off the gas on the electric stove.

  • How about five bucks?

Okay.

  • Why do motorcycles make so much noise their riders can’t hear themselves think?

They aren’t missing anything.

  • Then they turn up their music above the sound of the bike?

Go figure.

  • Is my call important to you?

Yes, and it will be recorded for customer satisfaction purposes.

  • Where can I get your awesome books?

On Amazon or from me directly.

  • What do you want to be when you grow up?

I have no intention of growing up.

  • What’s the meaning of life?

The Westminster Catechism says “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.” That works for me.

  • Who are your favorite actors?

For some reason, my favorite actors tend to be more commonly in supporting roles as opposed to carrying a movie. Among those that come to mind at the moment are Stanley Tucci, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Bill Cobbs, Steve Zahn, Michael Pena, and a bunch more I can’t think of right now. I appreciate people like these folks who (1) are humble enough to take smaller roles, (2) flexible enough to play anything from drama to OTT humor, and (3) make every movie they’re in better.

  • Have you heard the one about the…

Yes.

  • What does “clockwise” mean?

You were born after 2000, weren’t you?

  • $7.50?

Give it a rest!


(Let me know if you have any more questions you need answered.)

A sign of the times… past.

I’m a cyclist. I ride my bike as often as possible, wherever possible. It’s my hobby, recreation, and therapy. The great thing about riding a bike, as opposed to, say, driving, is that I’m out in the open and at ground level. As a result, I get a chance to see many curious sights I’d otherwise miss. I’ve seen all manner of wildlife, including turtles, snakes, deer, and even a coyote. I routinely encounter chipmunks playing chicken. That doesn’t even include the variety of people–the wildest of all wildlife–I’ve happened on doing everything from walking to rollerblading to dancing.

Quite often I’ll come across something that makes me think, “Hmm…”

This sign was one of them:

I don’t know where to begin with the problems this sign raises in my mind. The most obvious in this era of wokeness, is: “Men???” Really? How has feminism missed this glaring affront? What is this, 1957?!?

Then there’s the fact that these signs are more often than not surrounded by men who are merely looking at work, rather than actually performing it. Reminds me of one of my favorite quips: “A little hard work never hurt anyone who watched it.”

Finally, I know some wives (not mine, of course) who would question the entire concept of “men working”, especially around the house. That’s why you never see these signs in a kitchen.

Do You Believe in Magic (or Science?)

The estimable musical force of nature known as John Sebastian wrote a song that has become an institution in popular culture. Since it was recorded and released by The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1965, “Do You Believe in Magic” has become one of the most recognizable songs in American pop music history. The reason is simple: It’s a wicked awesome song. (And one of the few hit songs to feature an autoharp.) It has been covered by many artists and has been featured in movies and on TV. It’s likely to live on as long as people have ears and want to move to music.

Recently, I’ve been thinking of that great song in conjunction with an insightful quote by the late science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke (he of “2001: A Space Odyssey” fame):

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

This statement is surely accurate. I experience its truth all the time. My phone, computer, TV, and much of my car seem to have been created as much by Merlin (or at least Penn and Teller) as by engineers. I have no idea how they work but I trust that they do… most of the time. (When they don’t I curse them up and down while banging my head against the wall.)

This leads to a most relevant question for these trying times: Do you believe in science, even when it’s more like magic? The fact is that most people, even those who deny the veracity of certain scientific claims such as climate change, do believe in science. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be trusting the internet, a world-altering scientific (and administrative) bit of sorcery if ever there was one, to push their anti-intellectual drivel. (An aside to my conservative friends: Please note that the internet was developed and funded by the federal government.)

A friend once told me he thought people who deny clear, obvious, and well-accepted scientific truths shouldn’t be allowed to own a TV. He has a point. If you reject science, maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from it. I’d add to his list phones, antibiotics, Netflix, eyeglasses, X-rays, airplanes, and most everything else that makes modern life, um, modern.

The truth of the matter is that we believe in the science we want to believe in and reject that which undermines our preconceived worldview. Thus, if what you care about is oil company stock value, you will deny climate change. If you don’t want government to tell you to wear a mask, you deny Covid, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

My liberal friends can be guilty of the same pick-and-choose attitude toward science. In spite of being told by the same scientific experts they formerly trusted that the Covid vaccine is effective, many are still hiding in their homes and wearing masks.

On the other hand, to quote a friend of mine who happens to be a physics genius, “Medicine is not science.” As a person with a chronic illness about which there is no certain “scientific” knowledge, I’ve experienced this truth first hand… and leg and brain. In medicine, it seems as if very little is fixed and certain. Imagine if physics were like that. What if gravity worked 95% of the time or if E equaled MC2 usually but it equaled MC3 for some people, especially on really humid days?

Thank God (I mean that literally) it doesn’t work that way. So, barring occasional (but inevitable) manufacturing, material, or software flaws or human stupidity or evil, your phone just works. Antibiotics cure you. The plane almost takes off and lands safely where you want it to.

I guess the point of all these ramblings is that there are many subtle sides to this “belief in science” thing. As long as humans are involved, with all their mixed motives and imperfections, science as it is communicated to us, will always feel a bit tenuous. At one point, “science” endorsed things like leeches to cure disease, eugenics to purify the human race, and, not that long ago, homosexuality as a mental disorder. Who’s ready to go back there?

Now, perhaps we’ve reached the point where we actually know everything there is to know for our science to be pure and exact. Not likely. That’s what they thought when scientists said bad smells caused disease. And when people with multiple sclerosis were told not to exercise. See this older post on my other blog for a litany of badly mistaken medical advice from the past.

Maybe we need to be more thoughtful about our beliefs. The question is…

Do you believe in magic?