New book: “Only Love Can Break Your Leg”

(Apologies to Gene Pitney and Neil Young.)

My new book has just been released on Amazon. You can find the paperback here and the Kindle version here.

This novel is a straightforward romantic comedy. Don’t expect any messages, life lessons, or philosophy. Instead, I hope you find romance along with a few laughs… all accompanied by a series of minor mishaps by our protagonist. This was intended to be light summer reading but it was delayed. However, summer is not over as I write this so there’s still time to sit on a beach (maybe in a sweater 🙂 ) and get lost in someone else’s romantic misadventures.

Who couldn’t use that these days?

In Memoriam: Frederick Buechner

(JUL. 11, 1926 – AUG. 15, 2022)

This world has lost a giant. A giant of writing, a giant of speaking, a giant of faith. Frederick Buechner was a teacher and a preacher, a memoirist and a novelist, a wit and an intellectual, a man of God and what Mark Heard might have called a “profane saint”. There isn’t enough room here to list all his honors, never mind his prolific written output. (You can read his Wikipedia page for that.) It’s enough for me to say that his writing changed my life. I’ve never read anyone who was more honest, more challenging, more comforting, and more eloquent while doing all that.

Pulitzer prize winner Annie Dillard called him “one of our finest writers.” She’s absolutely right, but that’s just part of the story. His authenticity about his struggles with life and faith and God set him apart from other writers, thinkers, and theologians. He was a modern-day Jacob, wrestling with God but sharing the experience with anyone who was wise enough to listen.

The great thing about the written word is that it survives long after the scribe is gone. Mr. Buechner’s words were no “scribbling in the sand.” They will be set in stone and read by many for as long as time endures because we will always need them. I commend those words to everyone’s attention.

I trust that upon his passing, he heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

AI Addendum

Little did I know when I posted last week’s column on the dangers of AI running our lives that I’d experience the most egregious example of genuine AI stupidity this week.

I was visiting a friend where there was an active Alexa unit nearby. We told it to play a couple of songs we wanted to hear, which is about all an Alexa unit is good for IMHO, although that feature isn’t worth the pitfalls it presents in terms of loss of privacy and security, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

When it was time to leave, I thought I’d let Alexa bid adieu for me. I said, “Alexa. Play ‘Hello, I Must Be Going’ by Groucho Marx”. Well, Alexa is a young thing and might not be familiar with the brilliant Marx Brothers, nor with “Animal Crackers”, the film whence the song came. She said in no uncertain terms that she didn’t have access to that fun little ditty. Fortunately, she had a another number she was sure we’d find a perfectly suitable replacement.

What did she play for us? Johnny Cash’s rendition of the old hymn, “Were You There?”:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

I’m failing to make the connection, either between the hymn about the crucifixion of Christ and the song I requested (unless a blasphemous reference was intentional) or between the estimable man in black and the outrageous man in the greasepaint mustache, but that’s Alexa for you.

Sleep well knowing she’s listening and AI is in control.

Artificial Intelligence or Genuine Ignorance?

[A genuine Blog Snax© post!]

We’ve been told all along that AI will be controlling our lives eventually. It will drive our cars, determine our medical care, identify us by our appearance, as well as our purchases and preferences.

Unless there are incredible leaps in the technology, the future is bleak, based on my observation of the current use of AI.

Example: On Instagram, one of the few social media platforms I subscribe to, I’m inundated with cat and dog videos. I have less than zero interest in cat and dog videos. They annoy me no end. I’ve never watched one, much less lingered on one, which would supposedly trigger the “swamp this guy with cat and dog videos!” trigger. I don’t buy or search for cat or dog related products. So why does Instagram insist on showing me these videos?

There are countless clothing ads and recipes yet I’m the last person anyone would call a clothes horse (99% of my clothes were free and have dates on them going back to the 80’s) or a foodie (my idea of a gourmet meal is a burger and fries from a now defunct establishment).

Hair styling, knitting, jewelry, colleges, souped up cars and trucks, and so much more that are wasted on me. Why? AI.

Then there’s Amazon. I’ve vented on this before. (Buried somewhere deep in this post.) When you buy something, they always give you helpful ideas about what to buy next. First, if you’re letting Amazon decide what you need, punch in, folks. You’re losing it. Second, they always recommend I buy another of what I just bought. Coffee maker, refrigerator, cell phone cover? Who couldn’t use another one of those, just in case?

That’s AI for you. Someday, that will be the technology that will guide the surgeon’s scalpel (if there’s a surgeon at all) during your open heart surgery. And driving that bus heading toward me on the highway.

Maybe they’ll show cat videos at my funeral.

Modern movie clichĂ©s…

Hollywood is built on the back of clichĂ©s. It thrives on the familiar, which is why we get endless retreads, reboots, and remakes, not to mention trite pop culture icons (e.g. comics, board games, toys, and theme park rides) rehashed into lame movie franchises. I once joked with a production company executive that the next frontier of such drivel would be breakfast cereals. (“Cap’n Crunch Meets the Flying Dutchman!”, “Snap, Crackle, and Pop: Crime-fighting Triple Threat!”) I was kidding. He said it had already been discussed. You may yet see the horror flick, “Lucky Charms: They’re Magically Deadly!”

But most movies these days are merely collections of individual clichés. The age-old list of classics include such tired bits as:

  • The L-shaped bed sheets that reveal the man’s chest but not the woman’s.
  • Every room in Paris has a view of the Eiffel Tower.
  • All police investigations must have a scene in a strip joint.

There are many more back in the past but this post is about the newer banalities infecting our streams not the antique ones that used to infest our cinemas. The best way to know a movie effect has achieved cliché status (even better than seeing it repeated endlessly in mass-market studio productions) is when it starts to appear in commercials.

I won’t mention the proliferation of vomiting or profanity, which I’ve dealt with already in previous posts. They’re ubiquitous and gratuitous to the point of becoming clichĂ©s.

Here are some of the best ones I can think of off the top of my head:

  • The protagonist casually saunters toward the camera, walking away from a huge explosion that he (or she… but let’s face it, it’s usually a guy creating the mayhem) caused. Wondering where you’ve seen this one? Everywhere!
  • A person falls from the sky and lands in a three-point crouch, waiting to spring into action. Typically, the ground where he lands shatters. Yeah, Iron Man and Thor, I’m looking at you. And countless others, including advertisements.
  • Walking unscathed through the middle of a wild firefight, shooting in both directions… sometimes with arms crossed for some inexplicable reason.
  • Speaking of shooting, there’s the person who dives sideways while shooting. Inevitably, even though he’s flying through the air out of control, he hits everything in sight. On the other hand, he’s untouched by anyone shooting at him. You knew this was a clichĂ© when it appeared in a fake trailer in the movie “The Holiday”. Actually, that trailer includes several popular clichĂ©s.
  • A person defies gravity by leaning waaaaay back in slooooow motion to avoid a swinging sword. The character is essentially playing sword limbo. They might also be ducking bullets (yeah, right) but only Keanu Reeves can get away with that one.
  • Viewed from inside one car, another car slams into its side, shocking everyone. Well, it shocked everyone when I first saw it in “Adaptation”. Now it shocks nobody.
  • Important character makes dramatic entrance by opening a massive door, backlit as a silhouette. Cool when Aragorn entered Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers”. Now? Not cool at all.
  • Someone opens a refrigerator door (or other door, but the fridge does this best) and when they close it, someone (or something) is revealed standing behind it. It was cute in “E.T.” It ain’t cute or scary anymore. It’s boring and unoriginal like all the rest of these.

Scenes like those are so hackneyed, I mentally check out of the movie as soon as I see them. It means the director is lazy and unoriginal and I’m no longer interested in what the movie has to say. But it’s not just scenes. An individual line is enough to send me heading for the exit… or the head. Here are a couple of examples:

  • After an atrocious encounter involving intense emotional conflict that unexpectedly blows up in a character’s face, that person looks at another and says with thick sarcasm, “That went well.” It has now become part of everyday parlance. Or maybe it began there. Either way, it keeps coming at us from what used to be called “the big screen” long after it lost any impact.
  • A surprised character declares, “I didn’t see that coming.” Maybe not, but I did. And I’m sick of it.

The saddest part of this is that, somewhere along the line, each of these was original and effective. “The Matrix” was a gold mine of great shots and effects. By now, all those have been hijacked by lesser movies thus making even the original less enjoyable. I’ve already seen one of my favorite action shots, that of Bruce Willis stepping out of a rotating car in “RED”, botched up in some inferior wannabe clone.

And don’t get me started on movies that show one of the final scenes as some sort of “teaser” at the beginning. That might have been clever once or twice (although I doubt it) but it’s reached epidemic levels. There’s almost never a legitimate reason for it either, beyond the director’s conceit.

There are so many more examples, but I’ve run out of time, patience, and energy all at once.

[Side note: One of the primary indications that my life is sweeping by faster than a Delorean with a flux capacitor is how quickly I get behind on these posts. If you’d asked me how long it had been since I posted one, I’d have said 2-3 weeks. Nope. It’s been six weeks. ((sigh)) ]

In case you missed it…

In case you missed one of my many announcements, this post is to let you know about the documentary I recently released on an unsuspecting populace.

“Who Is MS?” profiles the lives of a group of men and women living with multiple sclerosis, MS, a devastating, incurable disease that afflicts nearly 1,000,000 people in the US and almost 3,000,000 in the world. By listening to their stories, you will gain a new appreciation for the problems and possibilities that come along with an MS diagnosis.

If you have MS, these peoples’ stories will inspire you to make the most of your life. We might not be able to stop MS, but it doesn’t have to stop you either. There are people and resources available to keep you moving. You are not alone. This movie lets you know you are in good company.

For those who don’t have MS, it’s been said that you won’t get MS unless you get MS. If you want to understand what it means without having the “full MS experience”, the film will give you first hand testimony, the only real way of understanding this miserable disease.

For those who doubt that MS even exists in spite of watching your friends and loved ones struggle with it–yes, you’re out there and you know who you are–you will be confronted with the truth of what life with MS really means. You owe it to those people in your lives.

You can see the movie on YouTube here:

Stevie Wonder: Prophet

It’s patently obvious that Stevland Hardaway Morris, a.k.a. Stevie Wonder, is a musical genius. I can’t think of many people in history who have created such an extensive catalog of brilliant music. Three consecutive albums of his won “Album of the Year” Grammies, a feat never achieved before or since. I’m just scratching the surface of his prowess, both musical and personal. Scan his Wikipedia entry for more details of his incredible contributions.

It boggles my mind to think that one of his masterworks, the album “Innervisions”, my personal favorite, was recorded when he was only 23 years old!! (What were you doing at 23?) Not only was it an outstanding musical tour de force, it also revealed one of his heretofore unknown gifts, that of prophet.

Read these lyrics from the great song, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” and tell me whether this guy precisely described our 45th president 43 years before he was elected:

He’s a man
With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Playin’ hard
Talkin’ fast
Makin’ sure that he won’t be the last
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Makes a deal
With a smile
Knowin’ all the time that his lie’s a mile
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Must be seen
There’s no doubt
He’s the coolest one with the biggest mouth
He’s Misstra know-it-all

When you tell him he’s livin’ fast
He will say what do you know
If you had my kind of cash
You’d have more than one place to go
Ooh

Any place
He will play
His only concern is how much you’ll pay
He’s Misstra know-it-all

If he shakes
On a bet
He’s the kind of dude that won’t pay his debt
He’s Misstra know-it-all

When you say that he’s living wrong
He’ll tell you he knows he’s livin’ right
And you’d be a stronger man
If you took Misstra know-it-all’s advice oh oh
Ooh

He’s a man
With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Take my word
Please beware
Of a man that just don’t give a care no
He’s Misstra know-it-all (look out he’s coming)

Dum bum bum ba bum bum,
Dum bum bum ba bum bum
Bum bum bum bum bum say
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Can this line, take his hand
Take your hat off to the man who’s got the plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Every boy take your hand
To the man that’s got the plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Give a hand to the man
Don’t you know he’s got the plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Give a hand to the man
You know damn well he’s got the super plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Give a hand to the man
You know damn well he’s got the super plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

If we had less of him
Don’t you know we’d have a better land
He’s Misstra know-it-all

So give a hand to the man
Although you’ve given out as much as you can
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Check his sound out
He’ll tell it all
Hey you talk too much you worry me to death
He’s Misstra know-it-all

(Although I’d never noticed this until hearing the song recently for the first time in a long while, I’m not the first to make this connection. It bears repeating, however, because it serves us all well to (1) be reminded of Stevie’s brilliance and (2) further expose the target of these lyrics as the scoundrel he is.)

Mixed Messages

Saw this sign on the side of a building during a recent bike ride:

Okay, I’m good with that. I’m a massive proponent of supporting local businesses.

But wait! Pull back a little and we see the bigger picture:

What am I supposed to do with this cognitive dissonance? Subway spreads like a deadly pandemic across the face of this country. Fine. Let Iowa, Florida, and New Mexico have their nasty, mass-produced, generic sandwiches. But here in the Boston area, home of some of the best local sub shops east or west of Tuscany, Subway is unnecessary at best, a cancer at worst, eating away at our culture like the rot slowly consuming the shack in this photo.

Run away! Run away!!