What’s Poor?

A BlogSnax© post

I had an interesting experience recently. I use the term “interesting” against my better judgment because, as Ben points out in “Captain Fantastic”, it’s a non-word. I’m simply at a loss regarding how else to describe it. I’ll tell you and you can come up with your own assessment.

I was reading a picture book I’d written to a class of kindergartners. The book, “The Little Red Boat Came Back”, is about a little girl living in Haiti. Her mother leaves to seek out a new home for them. Introducing the book and its topic, I gave a short spiel about Haiti, a topic about which I’m passionate. I told the kids that the inhabitants of Haiti, which is on an island not far from the US, are very poor.

At that point, one child hesitantly raised his hand. Delighted that this child was sufficiently engaged to ask a question, I stopped my presentation to hear his query. To my amazement, he asked,

“What’s poor?”

I was dumbfounded. Maybe my expectations were too high but I assumed, even at that tender age, the concept of poverty would be understood. I gave as good an answer to his sincere and reasonable question as I could muster at the time but, in retrospect, I think I could have done better.

I’m not sure what the child’s puzzlement says about him, his upbringing, his community (an affluent one), his school, or our society but I was troubled at the time and I remain so.

I can’t even tell you why.

Life by Subscription

It started with TV. It used to be free. Before we knew what hit us, we were paying a monthly subscription for cable. We got all those channels and, as the old joke went, nothing was on worth watching. Then along came streaming. Now we’re paying for TV… one channel at a time… one month at a time. Netflix, Prime, Disney+, Paramount+, Hulu, YouTube, … The list goes on and on. And on and on, etc.

There’s subscription radio (Sirius), subscription software (Quicken, Adobe, and about a million others), even subscription cars. Yup, subscription cars.

And all this is in addition to your monthly (or weekly or annual) fees for luxuries like water, sewer, heat, electricity, internet, phones, AAA, rent, mortgage, insurance (all sorts of insurance), taxes (all sorts of taxes), loans, newspapers and magazines (online or old school hard copy), gyms, clubs… They just keep adding up, don’t they? And we forget we even signed up for half of them in the first place. The folks we’re paying count on it. It’s their business model.

Now add one more subscription to the list:

Your life.

Look at the pharmaceutical ads on TV. Nearly every single one of them is for a maintenance drug, one you’ll have to take every day and pay for every month for the rest of your life for the privilege of healthy living.* Don’t hold your breath waiting for any of those conditions to be cured. There’s no money in that.** Not when they have you on their subscription plan.

Don’t forget to renew those subscriptions.

* That is, if you survive the 750 side effects listed in the ads, most of which are more serious than the condition they’re treating.

** No, sir. As one Wall Street analyst warned, curing patients is not a sustainable business model. Read it for yourself here.

Shameless Promotion Department: Cycling to Crush MS

This is my annual plea for support of my bike ride to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The ride is on Martha’s Vineyard on April 29.

Read about the ride here.

Read about our team here.

Read my page and support me here.

That’s all for today. You may now return to your regularly scheduled life.

Some of the Vineyard Square Wheelers ready for action.

Inertia kills

A BlogSnax© post

The sentence that constitutes the title of this post casually left my mouth a couple of weeks ago. When I made this statement, I and the person I was speaking with paused for a moment. Although I hadn’t given the idea much thought beforehand, we both gave it a lot of thought and discussion after the fact. We decided there’s more to it than meets the eye… or ear. I believe with all my heart that it’s true in most, if not all, areas.

In business.

In the arts.

In government.

In faith.

In multiple sclerosis.

In life.

Inertia kills.

We must keep moving and learning and growing.

Obsolete stuff, obsolete language

A BlogSnax© post

In this era of increasingly rapid acceleration of technological innovation, stuff becomes obsolete all the time. I expound on the phenomenon in this post. However, it’s important to note that these changes have a ripple effect on our language. I’ve been thinking about all the expressions I use that are as out-of-date and meaningless as the items they reference.

Here are a few. Let me know if you think of others.

  • Bankers hours – Banks used to be open from 9-3. Now they’re online 24×7. I sure hope you don’t keep them hours!
  • Carter’s pills – This is a real oldie-moldie, before my time, even. The saying went, “I’ve got more of <whatever> than Carter has pills.”
  • Bigger than a breadbox – The breadbox is a useless object today and perhaps always was. Is something “bigger than a breadbox”? It’s hard to say, given that they come in different sizes. When playing 10 questions, what question should we ask now? “Is it bigger than an iPhone?”
  • Through the wringer – Again, this predates me. People haven’t used clothes dryers with wringers for many decades. Yet, you can still buy them.
  • Hang up – We don’t “hang up” anymore but the phrase persists because the cell phone has no corresponding function that also gets the message across. “Click the little red button” doesn’t have the same finality.
  • Ring off the hook – Much to our loss, phones don’t ring, nor do they have hooks.
  • Clockwise – I claim this phrase is in its death throes. It will be meaningless to future generations as analog clocks go the way of all flesh… and technology.

The list goes on and on. They won’t completely die until we do. I’ll still be “taping” shows just as my father never stopped exhorting us to “turn off the gas” long after my family switched to an electric stove.

William Goldman was an optimist

One of my favorite quotes is from one of my favorite screenwriters. William Goldman, who wrote such brilliant scripts as “The Princess Bride”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, and “All the President’s Men”, among others, once summed up his opinion about the state of affairs in the film business by saying:

Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess—and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.

He was talking about Hollywood’s ability (or inability) to predict which movies would be hits and which bombs. His wisdom has proven accurate over the years.* Supposedly sure things with well known commodities as subject matter and bankable stars have soiled the proverbial bed. (Think “Jungle Cruise”, for just one instance.) There are several every year, just as there are several surprise hits. All this in spite of the focus groups, market research, and billions spent on advertising.

Let me suggest that Mr. Goldman, as much as I respect him and his acerbic opinions, was an optimist by limiting his comments to the film industry. Here are a few more fields where his insight applies just as well:

  • Medicine
  • Sports
  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Publishing
  • Weather forecasting
  • Religion
  • The list goes on and on…

Go ahead. Check “predictions” about what college quarterback will be a star. (Tom Brady? No way! That’s why he was drafted in the sixth round.) Ask ten economists how to solve some financial crisis and you’ll get a dozen plans. You can’t even get doctors to agree on whether a patient has multiple sclerosis, never mind how it will progress. (They don’t even know what it is.)

Even a field such as technology where there a lot of smart people (although I spent my professional career in high-tech, I wasn’t one of them) has had its share of gaffes. Check out this curiously entertaining list. The folks making those predictions were no slouches but they still got it wrong.

This is why as a child of the 60’s (okay, Boomer) I still abide by the motto, “Question Authority”. Especially in medicine. Especially in neurology. Especially in multiple sclerosis.

Your mileage may vary.

But probably not.

*With the possible exception of the pre-Disney Pixar, which produced hit after hit after hit… etc.

[Goldman photo by Bernard Gotfryd, photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Ultimate Christmas time-saver!

Like many of you out there, I’m addicted to Hallmark-style Christmas romance movies. They’re awfully acted, wretchedly written, dreadfully directed Christmas-cookie-cutter calamities. Yet, for reasons I can’t identify, I watch them anyway. (Admit it, you watch them, too.) I already wrote about my addiction in a post from a few years ago.

Other than “A Christmas Kiss”, the “Citizen Kane” of Christmas romance movies (from a non-Hallmark source, more recently and inexplicably renamed “A Kiss for Christmas”) they are a complete and total waste of time during a season when time is at a premium. We’re fortunate they’re all almost exactly only 90 minutes long or some people might never leave the house for the whole month of December.

This year, however, I’ve come up with the perfect time saver for addicts like me. As a public service, I’m passing along my findings to you, no charge. (I know, that kind of selfless anti-capitalist behavior isn’t in the modern Christmas spirit.) First, I found the following video at my local library: a collection of nine of these dogs on three DVDs in a single package.

Now here’s the tricky part. Hook up your DVD player(s) so they can read and play all nine movies at the same time! (How? You’ll have to work it out. Hey, I gave you the idea; I can’t do everything for you!) Once that’s all set, sit down and watch all nine movies in parallel. You just watched 810 minutes of miserable movies in 90 minutes, a time savings of 12 hours!

When I did this, other than a few scenes where characters seemed to have multiple shadows and the colors were a little funky, you can’t tell you’re watching multiple movies. That’s because, in reality, you aren’t! They really are all the same movie!*

There. My Christmas gift to you. You’re welcome.

*Seriously, two of the movies had the same actor as the male protagonist with the same irritating personality in the same job: a workaholic advertising executive. I’ll admit to giving up after that revelation. That’s another approach to the problem: go cold (Christmas) turkey.

Thanx Redux

Back in my old Limping in the Light days, I had a series of posts named “Thanx#<insert installment number here>”. The series lasted 5 years. The first entry, Thanx#1, explained the motivation and meaning behind the series. The final entry was posted 7 years ago this Friday. Like this one, that was the day before Thanksgiving, appropriately enough.

Each post consisted of a list of people, events, objects, and concepts for which I was grateful at the time. For those that remain extant, I’m probably still grateful. For those that have passed the way of all flesh, I’m grateful for the memories. In the first few posts, I listed at least 10 things I was thankful for. After that, I had 20 or more items in my lists. Estimating, that makes for well over 300 objects of gratitude. (I confess there were repeats in there. My wife, children, and grandchildren deserved and received multiple mentions.)

I’d barely scratched the surface.

I won’t necessarily repeat the series, but there is always room for gratitude, especially in this season. Science is finally catching on to what the Bible has been telling us for eons, gratitude is a path to peace and joy and away from anxiety and depression. For those of us with MS, it can be a more difficult exercise, but it is also more important. It’s therapy.

Here’s a new list for this year, in no particular order… except the first two:

  1. Jesus. (A given.)
  2. My wife, children, and grandchildren. (You had to know that was coming.)
  3. 30,000 miles of cycling.
  4. My bikes.
  5. Two new books this year, this and this.
  6. Five repaired doors.
  7. King’s Cribbage.
  8. The Vineyard Square Wheelers.
  9. Biking NYC.
  10. Bark Thins.
  11. Healing and successful surgeries.
  12. MSSG, or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days.
  13. Cafe 12 and the Java Room.
  14. The late Paul Farmer and his legacy at PIH.
  15. Reunions.
  16. Baby laughter.
  17. The lives and work of Frederick Buechner and Fran McKendree; I miss them so.
  18. Freshly baked bread.
  19. Generous friends and family.
  20. Eggroll Cafe.
  21. Martha’s Vineyard.
  22. “Who Is MS?”
  23. Acadia National Park.
  24. Crossing guards.
  25. You… for reading.

Look, I could go on and on (…and on (…and on and…)) but you get the idea. This Thanksgiving, for your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, I suggest you make a list for yourself. If you can’t quickly come up with at least 20, you’re not trying hard enough!

A BlogSnax© post about a snack

BlogSnax© are quickie posts I write occasionally to keep the momentum on this site. Read all about them here. This one happens to be about a snack, one of my favorites.*

I love potato chips. I eat way too many of them, be they plain, barbecue, sour cream & onion, or salt & pepper. (Note: Pringles don’t count. They are not potato chips. They’re overpackaged compressed industrial waste.) Barbecue chips are my flavored chip of choice. Among those, the primo brand, IMHO, is Route 11.

However, there’s nothing like a plain and simple potato chip, unflavored and unadulterated. After all, they already have a flavor: potato chip flavor! In that category, one brand rises above the rest so supremely that it stands in a class by itself.

Utz Kettle Classics Potato Chips Dark Russets

As we say here in New England, they’re wicked good. And look at the ingredient list:

It doesn’t get any simpler than that: Potatoes, oil, and salt. What else do you need? Nothing! And the flavor is incomparable. If I could only eat one kind of chip for the rest of my life, this would be my chip of choice, hands down.

*I should be more discreet in naming my favorite foods. Whenever I do that, they seem to disappear. See this post for ice cream examples. I’ll take my chances. I think Dark Chips, as we call them in my house, have staying power. At least, I hope so.

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.