Like “Don’t Look Up”? You’ll love this!

In light of the nomination of the film “Don’t Look Up” for Best Picture at a certain awards ceremony that must remain nameless or I’ll have to put ®’s and ©’s all over the place, it’s time to point out that the production company I’m affiliated with filmed a very similar epic (the screenplay for which I humbly admit authorship of) ten years ago.

The film, entitled “Worst Case Scenario” predates some of the issues that gave rise to the newer film, concepts such as climate change denial and an insane cult trying to overthrow the American government, but it deals with other foolishness, just as topical now as it was then. Let’s see if “Don’t Look Up” remains as relevant in ten years as ours is today.

Want to see how the two films compare? Watch “Worst Case Scenario” here.

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…

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.

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.)

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?

The Year Without Smiles

The year 1816 has come to be known as “the year without summer”, all because temperatures around the world were up to 3 degrees cooler than normal due to the largest volcanic eruption in world history.

3 degrees.

Doesn’t sound all that bad to me. It wouldn’t have kept me away from the beach or off my bike. Still, it was enough to wipe out crops, cause near-famine conditions, and provoke atypical outbreaks of disease, so I guess it should be taken seriously. (Do we really want to find out what a permanent rise of a few degrees created by climate change will bring about?)

What will 2020 become known as? The year of Covid, coronavirus, or simply “the pandemic”? To me, it will be the year without smiles. What is there to smile about when confronted with the anguish caused by the constant threat of serious illness and loss of life for ourselves, loved ones, and hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens of the world? There’s little reason to smile for the overworked and overwhelmed healthcare workers watching waves of the sick and dying pass through their care. Even less for the elders spending their waning years isolated behind walls of glass or clear plastic, lacking the comfort of human touch.

(And this was written before a sitting president encouraged a mob of misguided, mentally deficient terrorists to attempt to overthrow the government. Sheesh.)

And if you are among the fortunate who haven’t lost a loved one, a job, or a business venture at the hands of this callous virus, perhaps you’ve been able to manage the occasional grin, whether feigned or from a grateful heart. As St. Paul encourages us, we should give thanks in (not necessarily for) all circumstances. It’s safe to assume that he would include Covid-19 within the definition of “all”. Psychologists have finally come around to Paul’s ancient wisdom, acknowledging the power of gratitude in emotional and physical healing.

So what do we have to be thankful for in the lengthening shadow of a killer pandemic? A number of things come immediately to mind:

  • Businesses overcoming the resistance to allowing employees to work from home. (May they not forget!)
  • Increased outdoor activity and the accommodation thereof. (Even if it caused a shortage of bicycles and their parts.)
  • A tiny-handed and tinier-brained would-be autocrat was taken out of the White House and out to the woodshed. (May he remain there.)
  • I don’t have to take my partially completed jigsaw puzzles off the dining room table; no company’s coming.
  • Increased awareness of the need to address issues of racial justice. (Even if we have yet to actually implement the necessary measures to mitigate the problems.)
  • Forced family time (for better or worse).
  • Creativity demonstrated by individuals and organizations to address the limitations imposed by the pandemic.
  • Zoom! (Saving grace for us extroverts.)

So, contrary to all logic, for the above reasons and more, I’m still able to smile and maybe you are, too.

But it doesn’t matter. All those smiles are hidden behind masks.* This is a not-to-be-underestimated problem for our society as a whole. Look, I’m used to seeing people walk down the street wearing grimaces and scowls, but there are usually enough smiles around to compensate for all those malcontents. Now, however, I have no idea what’s hiding behind those masks. I’m not the best at reading facial expressions as it is, but when all I see is a pair of eyes (and a nose, in the case of the weak-minded who seem to believe Covid is transmitted only through the mouth and/or chin) I’m useless.

This problem is most harmful to children. They are nourished by smiles, not to mention the equally unavailable hug. Outside of their immediate families, some little ones may go days or even weeks without seeing someone smile at them. (TV smiles are not and should never be a substitute.) What impression of the world are they developing? In my mind, every child needs and deserves every smile we can give them. That’s one reason I smile at every child I see. I still do, but they can’t see it.

I can’t stand it anymore. When a vaccine was initially under development, I was ambivalent about getting it, especially early in its distribution. Now, though, I’m ready to get in line first chance. By the grace of God, I’m ready to shine my smile again.


* Please note that I’m not an no-masker. Those folks are a toxic combination of ignorance and selfishness. If nothing else, 2016-2021 has amply demonstrated to us the danger of that personality type.

Something/Anything… Else!

Hello, it’s me.

The two devices that store and play most of my music are my phone and my car’s sound system. I have both set to play random selections from my entire collection. Lately, for some unknown reason, they’ve both played a lot of songs by Todd Rundgren. (Pretty much everything I listen to is over 40 years old.) I have no problem with this. I don’t think I’m alone in the opinion that Mr. Rundgren is a musical genius. The (brilliant) LP “Something/Anything” is the one that keeps getting played. Which got me to thinking…

I’d like to talk about something/anything other than Covid-19!*

I can’t be the only one who feels this way, yet it’s still all anyone talks about. Including me! Maybe it’s because we can’t think of anything else to talk about. There aren’t that many subjects we cover in most conversations anyway.

Many of those are off limits.

Religion and politics are taboo in the best of times. Now that they’ve merged into an unholy alliance, they’re even less appealing. Besides, the maniacal moron now occupying the White House part time is a one-man pandemic and just as tiresome a topic.

Others are just plain dull.

The weather is a popular, if tedious, conversational crutch. Let’s skip that one, too, for the cliche it is. Your latest purchase or home renovation? Equally banal. And equally unedifying. And maybe just a wee bit vain.

Hey, we can always rely on sports to prompt a lively discussion or argument. How ’bout that? Oh, yeah. There are no sports happening because of the… well, you know.

So what’s left?

One of my favorite fonts of conversational fodder is movies. Most people have a good stockpile of movie experiences and opinions. The same goes for books and TV shows. Those talks can also lead to deeper exchanges. Such as…

One another. Tell me about you. No, not what you own or what you’ve accomplished. You. As the equally brilliant Michael Omartian once sang:

I don’t want to hear about your conquests,
Or your casual affairs.
Each one a great new story…
But who cares.

I want to know about your feelings,
Or the ache in your heart,
The thoughts that make you what you are,
That set you apart.

‘Cause maybe I’ve had them, too.

We avoid those sensitive topics, not wishing to make ourselves vulnerable, but is anything more important? Granted, this is not the stuff of light banter among casual acquaintances. In those cases, the weather will suffice. When sharing with someone closer, though, coronavirus is as sterile a subject as any. Why not go deeper?

For example, let’s talk about God. (That’s different than religion.) The way we conceive of Him might determine what’s inside us better than any other question. As A. W. Tozer once put it:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

What are your dreams, hopes, and plans? What are your fears, failures, and disappointments? Now we’re getting somewhere. Drop that stuff on me and we both might benefit. You get to share your burden and I could find a kindred spirit.

Or we could fall back on R.E.M.’s advice**:

Should we talk about the weather?
Should we talk about the government?

Sure. Something/Anything but Covid-19.


* I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be all-consuming. To obsess over it is as dangerous to our mental health as the virus is to our physical bodies.

** I’m of the opinion that a post can’t have too many references to quality music.