Anecdotal, but seem like truisms

Yesterday, I went to a local Farmers’ Market that crops up (pun intended) on Saturdays and Wednesdays during harvest season. And, it started me thinking about anecdotal observations. They may be just anecdotes, but they sure seem to be truisms.

Have you noticed that people who go to Farmers’ Markets to buy fresh vegetables and fruits tend to be in better shape than the average person?

Have you noticed the opposite is true with people who dine at fish camps? – the more colorful the food, the better it is for you

Have you noticed a man will never be shot while doing the dishes?

Have you ever noticed that someone who is very skilled at something does not tend to brag about how good they are at it?

Have you noticed that someone who brags about his or her capabilities is trying to convince others of something that is less true than accurate?

Have you noticed the first suspect in a TV crime show shooting will usually end up dead, often discovered by the police going to see him or her?

Have you ever noticed the best coaches tend to be the ones who had to work harder at their craft than those where it came naturally?

Have you ever noticed the unknown actor beaming down to the planet with Captain Kirk is not going to make it back?

Have you ever noticed that lies travel faster the truth and, sadly, get more read? – the truth is often less exciting than a story.

Have you noticed a truism right out of the Ziggy comic strip – the better the packaging a presentation or product has, the less believable it is?

So, to sum up. Do the dishes, brag less, eat more colorful foods, be skeptical of provocative stories, don’t beam down with the star (this one is more profound than you think) and trust in Ziggy.

A Low Judgment Area

My youngest son uttered the above title that tickled all of us. A relative was visiting us the other day and she has habit (like many of us) of apologizing for things she need not do so.

As she was uttering an unnecessary apology for something, my son said “Don’t worry, we are a low judgment area.” It tickled all of us, including the apologist. But, it is also true. We do our darnedest to try to be less judgmental.

One of our blogging friends likes to say it is OK to judge things, but it behooves us to base our judgments on facts rather than biases. So, when I use the term “judgment” I am referencing an effort to not be unfairly judgmental.

Getting back to my son, his statement was marvelous as it was a nice way to invite someone to speak. It was “inclusive” rather than “exclusive.” I like that very much.

Let’s all try to be in low judgment areas. It will do us an awful lot of good.

Deny, Discredit, Disinform, Diffuse and Defray – a reprise from 2014

The following post was written almost seven years ago, before the former president walked down the escalator to announce his candidacy. He showed how to manipulate these five D’s, but his albatross was he could not control the one guy at the toggle. So, he often gets in his own way and the way of his helpers.

The five D’s. As a now 55-year-old man, I have witnessed over time the aggressively managed handling of criticism whether it is in politics or in big business. In my view, the defense could be summed up in the following order – Deny, Discredit, Disinform, Diffuse and Defray – where you keep drawing lines in the sand as you retreat. With each D and line drawn, you want to see if that will stave off the criticism.

The fossil fuel and petro-chemical industries have been deploying these tactics for decades, as what they do for a living is not easy and has a history of impacting the health and welfare of humans and the environment. When you add money on top of these approaches, it takes an Erin Brockovich to make any headway against them. Yet, what people fail to realize is these five D’s are an aggressive risk management strategy.

But, the approach is definitely not limited to big business. Vladimir Putin is probably the best games player around. He knows your weaknesses and hot buttons, so he has and continues to use these approaches. In the US, politicians value and pay dearly for spin doctors like Karl Rove, who in essence are paid liars. Their job is perfume any pig that comes their client’s way. However, most politicians who have won more than one election become increasingly artful in these defense tactics – Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Obama and the Bushes – all could be considered good at these approaches. With Nixon, the lies caught up with him as he taped himself. He only resigned once the courts ordered him to release the tapes that showed he was not only paranoid, but ran a burglary and disinformation ring out of the White House.

First, when criticism is made against what you do or have done, you deny it aggressively. That is absolutely not true will be words usually spoken. Note, with false claims, denial does not mean the accuser is correct as that is part of the defense strategy under discredit. Putin claims that Ukraine is fascist, but you really cannot call Ukraine fascist if they are trying to have democratic elections. The toxic fracking slickwater is not getting into people’s water supply, is a good example of denial. The NSA is not spying on Americans is another one.

Second, when the denial ceases to work, the discredit strategy begins. Sometimes, the discrediting comes with the denial. The Putin example is a good one. The global warming is a hoax is a prime example, where the fossil fuel industry through its public relations engine wanted to paint Al Gore and all of his imperfections as the reason why global warming was not happening. He lives in large mansion and is using this as a publicity stunt. Name calling or branding people comes part and parcel. Using terms like Hitler, Apartheid or Stalin to paint something you dislike is a common tactic. I have often been called an Environmentalist, which I am, but the term is used to smear me because it is meant to construe that I do not care about jobs. The fact that there are tens of thousands of jobs in solar energy in my own state and they are growing in number, seems to get overlooked as unimportant.

Third, if denials and discrediting don’t work, disinform. This probably frustrates me most, as it is a very common tactic on partisan news shows, to spin the truth, overlook the issues or just lie. I tell people often and write on this blog and emails for people to stop watching Fox news and its counterpart, MSNBC. Your are better off watching no news as the spins can be so severe that you are not informed –  you have been propagandized. The real truths include: Global warming is not a hoax. Fracking is not perfectly safe. Creationism is not science. Voter fraud is virtually non-existent. Business is not inherently bad, but needs governance. Protecting our environment costs us less in the long run. While there are a few abusers, people on food stamps are not gaming the system.

Fourth, if we are still in trouble, the next line in the sand is to diffuse. This is a measured  mea culpa which allows some concessions, but does so on your terms. You have already thought through beforehand what would be an acceptable position to come to, when the avalanche of truth gets too big. You have done some internal investigations and found there is some truth in what we are being accused of, so we will fix it. You are right, climate change is real, so we are going to focus on natural gas, as it burns cleaner than coal. The data breach is bigger than we first imagined, so we are doing the following. We are only getting Metadata and not listening to your phone calls and reading your emails.

Fifth, if this fails, then we need to defray. We need to settle claims as quickly and expeditiously as possible. We must avoid class action suits. We need to divide and conquer. Pay people a pretty penny, but limit the number of pennies and limit the number of hands. No one goes to jail. We just pay out of expenses what we have already accrued when the problem first reared its head. Or, let’s recall every car that has any minor defect now. This will be far cheaper than the potential lawsuit.

The five D’s. Next time criticism is flying toward someone or some entity, watch how the issue is handled. Usually, the higher the revenue stream potential, the more aggressive the defense. The truth is usually further away from the speaker with the most to gain financially. Not always, but often enough.

We need a Joe Friday presidency – just the facts

Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, along with a ceiling shattering vice-president, Kamala Harris. The first subject will be a breath of fresh air, while we should celebrate Harris’ elevation to her role as a woman who is multiracial, part African-American and part Indian-American.

On CBS Sunday Morning, long time conservative pundit and speech writer, Michael Gerson, noted the Biden presidency will be a return to normal governance with a heavy focus on standard communications of “just the facts.” This reminded me of another Joe, a role on the 1960s police show “Dragnet,” with Jack Webb starring as Detective Joe Friday.

The most consistent line uttered by the deadpan Friday to witnesses when they offered conjecture is “just the facts” usually followed by the appropriate “ma’am” or “sir.” It became so routine, the comedian Johnny Carson had fun with Webb in a take-off skit on his “Tonight” show’ well before Saturday Night Live started.

As the outgoing president rides off into the sunset with his well-packed saddle bag of routine untruthfulness, we are in desperate need of a boringly truthful president. This Joe needs to tediously follow the detective Joe with a consistent and daily stream of “just the facts.”

I am reading the excellent book by historian Jon Meacham called “Soul of America.” In it, he noted that Dwight Eisenhower was worried about being on TV too much as president. He thought Americans would grow fatigued with seeing him so often. He knew real leadership was working together with disparate interests and groups for a common cause and felt going on TV made it more about him. And, Ike knew a lot about leadership as Allied Commander over Europe in WWII.

Contrast that to the outgoing president who cannot stand NOT being the center of attention. Seemingly every issue is made about him, even things that we do not need a president to opine on. We are exhausted by this person and need a break. An old colleague had a line that comes to mind, “when you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember as much.” If the outgoing president did more of that, we would not need to hear from him so much.

I am hoping we can return to a more normal modus operandi where we need not hear from the president every day. People may disagree with his policies, but this Joe is a decent person. But, one thing is for certain, if the 46th president is talking, we will stand a far better chance of hearing the truth than from the 45th one. Just the facts, Joe.

The echo chamber feedback loop

“Everyone is talking about this,” says the outgoing president on more than a few occasions.. “Everyone knows this is true” or “Everyone knows” he might use as an alternative or add-on to the above, as he is prone to repeat himself. These are intentional phrases used to make the listener or reader skip past them and assume the statements are true. When you hear or read these comments, do yourself a favor and assume the opposite.

Why? Because you are hearing an echo chamber feedback loop. The echo chamber occurs when the same piece of information, rumor or conspiracy theory is repeated within limited sources of information. In fact, this is how disinformation is so easily shared, especially with an untruthful, unrelenting and unaware user in the White House. In fact, when a Russian, Iranian, Chinese or American troll hears the outgoing president repeat what they made up, it is like capturing lightning in bottle.

Here is how it works. One of these sources will concoct an outlandish story that has some link to the truth or preconceived notion. about a person or party. Hillary Clinton is a prime target, eg, she is imperfect and an easy foil for made up stuff. As of this writing, there is a North Carolina man who is in jail because he believed that Clinton was running a child trafficking ring from a pizza parlor in Washington and took action armed for bear.

The concocted story is then picked up by one of the conspiratorial websites or a known sensationalist like Alex Jones, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. Since the outgoing president is on the look out for props to sell with (meaning a good story), he will latch onto it and retweet. Since he is president, the news agencies may pick up on the story he is espousing. As it gets repeated more, the lack of veracity of the story does not get repeated each time with the story, especially within the limited sources of information.

Then, the outgoing president will hear these stories and repeat them again. The story is still concocted, but now the White House incumbent believes it to be true and will punctuate statements with the phrases above. What is also interesting is even when the outgoing president makes things up on his own, he will begin to believe his own BS. This is what has happened with fraudulent claims of wide-spread voter fraud. He staged this story for months, but now believes it to be truth. Why? Because losing cannot be tolerated.

Years from now, historians will look back at this period and define the outgoing president as the most corrupt and deceitful US president. The voter fraud story is just a subset of his deceit, but the real story is how a person, well documented as untruthful, has convinced his followers every else is lying. That may be the biggest con in American history.

Two rules of thumb to remember. Read and listen to multiple sources. And, if the outgoing president says it or writes it, do not assume it is true. The odds are well in your favor to consider it false.

Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

Bloom where you are planted

Bloom where you are planted. I read this phrase from an article that cited it as advice the author’s mother gave her. Sometimes, we go places where we must. Maybe you are a trailing spouse or the child of a family whose breadwinning parent moves a lot. Maybe the better job offer you get is in another place. So, you go and get replanted.

Now, the path forward is up to you. You can cry, bitch and moan. If you are young, you can throw a tantrum. If you are old, you can become colder or invest only in your work and less in the community. Or, you can bloom. You can look at the opportunity to make the most of the situation. You can invest with water, sunshine and effort and bloom.

My wife will lament about how good certain former neighborhoods were. After she does this, I say it was nice because you were in it. You made it nicer. You welcomed people to our home and made new friends. You invested in the neighborhood and bloomed. And, we (and they) bloomed as well.

Although our kids have moved away, with one return exception since COVID-19 altered his travel plans to teach abroad, we had a house that welcomed our kids’ friends. As a result, we seemed to have a constant state of flux with all the guests that came to play and hang-out. Neither of us would have it any other way. Hearing your children and their friends laughing is the greatest sound any parent can hear.

I chose the investment word not to mix metaphors, but to encourage folks to invest time and energy in their new place. It is like marriage – if you invest in your spouse, it will make the marriage last. If you don’t, the marriage, or in this case, your time in the new community will suffer.

So, it is up to you. Bloom where you are planted. Make the most of any situation. How you react to any change is truly the greatest power you have. Don’t cede that power. Bloom.

Why is the English language so difficult?

In one of life’s ironies, the citizens of the United States speak an Americanized version of the English language, yet so few Americans bother to learn a second language. It has been argued that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, yet because of the exploration of the English and the success of two large English speaking economies, people feel the need to learn it.

I inherited from my mother a love of Crossword and other word (and number) puzzles. As I wait for my computer to boot up, I will pick up a pocket dictionary close by and just leaf through it, testing myself on words that I may use or need. I do not prefer to know arcane words, as using them will be more pretentious than communicative. There are some editorial writers who prefer to show how smart they are rather than make the reader understand what they are saying.

But, why does English have to be so difficult? Here a few case in points.

Ingenious vs. Ingenuous – the first word means clever or resourceful, while the second word means naive or artless. Only one letter divides an insult from a compliment.

Impunity vs. Impugn – the first word means free from harm or punishment, while the second word means to challenge as false or questionable.

Reproach vs. Rapprochement – the first word means to blame or rebuke, while the second word means an establishing of friendly relations.

Glib vs. Glum – while these words sound like they are similar, the first word means fluent or a good talker of banter, while the latter means gloomy. I have often said glib is one word that means the opposite of what you think.

Curate vs. Curator vs. Curative – the first word means a clergyman helping a vicar, while the second word means a manager of a museum, while the third means having the power to cure or offer remedy.

While I was compiling these words, I was reminded of the great college and NBA basketball player David Robinson. Robinson attended the Naval Academy and served his country after his graduation. A very smart man embodied this 6’11” basketball player. When a reporter asked him why he was good at blocking shots, he said he did not want others driving the lane with “impunity.” The reporters had to go find a dictionary.

What are some of your favorite, confusing English words? Before I leave, my wife and I watch the show “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit.” At the introduction to the show, the narrator mentions the special unit that handles crimes that are “heinous.” Now that is a word that means what it sounds like.

Wear sunscreen and other advice

The following post is from eight years ago, but still resonates, at least to this old guy. I hope you will agree

Back in the late 1990s, there was a song that was quite popular with the young crowd. Song is too generous. It is basically an old guy like me who gave words of advice from the perspective of someone who had made more mistakes than the younger listeners primarily because he had more years behind him than they had. The kids called it “The Sunscreen Song” as it started and ended with those words of advice – wear sunscreen.

So, in this spirit, I offer some words of advice, which may be helpful or may just be redundant. Hopefully, the reader will find some benefit in a one or two comments. So, in no particular order, here are a few thoughts from an old fart.

Context is everything. Please try to understand the context of everything you hear or read. Anyone can be made foolish by taking their words out of context.

Spin doctor is a nice euphemism for “paid liar.” Don’t ever forget it is the job of the spin doctor to perfume any pig. See the above about context.

Try to understand the source of information. Is it reputable? There is a lot of uncensored data on the Internet which is not worth the binary code it is written in. Also, be even more wary of politicians who cite data. Many surveys are sponsored by political parties under mainstream names.

You can be too connected. Folks, take a break and stop looking at your I-phone. Companies love the fact that you are doing your job at 10 pm or on vacation – don’t. Trust me it will still be there when you return or better yet, someone else will solve an issue that was not that important to begin with.

It is not possible to be texting or on the I-phone while driving and not be distracted. Full stop. The show “Mythbusters” did a neat driving test which showed you could drive better slightly inebriated than when on a cellphone.

Just because you can does not mean that you should. Computers and I-phones have enabled us to do wondrous things. Yet, they also provide temptations to do things that you probably should not do. Computer actions leave interesting trails, so your employer or significant other can see when you are given in to temptations.

Getting elected to public office costs way too much money. So, politicians need funders to get elected. As a result, the best a politician can be is mildly subjective. This is the best case for term limits I can make. Maybe the backers would not contribute as much if their return on investment is time limited.

Be careful with your personal information. You have to be zealous in guarding against your information being compromised. ID theft is a painful process to remedy. Be careful in what you put in the public domain. It is very easy to get to. I have been down that road several times to keep the wolves at bay.

Your name is the most important asset you have. Quoting Liam Neeson in the movie “Rob Roy,” “honor is a gift you give yourself.” What do you want people to say about you when they hear your name spoken? He is a good man or he is a jerk.

While it is important to work, do not let it define who you are. I work hard, but when I had a health scare a few years ago and was in the ER with wires attached to me waiting for my wife to show up, I can assure you I did not think of work. I was thinking of my family.

Don’t play the lottery. If you have the urge, just give the money to a person in need instead. You will feel better about it and they will benefit. If you play it, you are just throwing money out the car window.

Laugh at yourself. When you make mistakes, it will make it easier on you and others. Also, if you do screw up, apologize and make it right. You won’t regret remedying an error.

Find out what you love to do and find a way to get paid doing it. Sometimes you may have to try on different jobs to discover this.

You can never have enough cups of coffee with people. Meet people, listen to them. Life is more enjoyable over conversations. Also, remember, you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. You are not as smart as you think you are, so listening makes all the difference.

Tell someone you love to have a good day and ask how it was at the end of it. Those little questions day in day out matter.

Finally, quoting Ted from the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” – “Be excellent to one another and party on dude.” The best rule Jesus gave us was golden. It still makes sense today. And, have fun because life is too short.

Is it Agnes or Maggies?

My wife says “Goodness gracious Maggies!” I was brought up hearing “Goodness gracious Agnes!” She was raised in South Carolina while I grew up in Florida. We don’t know where Agnes and Maggie were raised.

Geography seems to play a role in variations in similar sayings. In the South, I often heard “Bless his (or her) heart” to reference someone prone to inanity. Our friends from Pennsylvania say “God love him (or her)” meaning the same thing.

The more religiously influenced have a variety of sayings. I think the Catholic influence might lead a surprised person to say “Holy Mary mother of God!” which is quite the mouhful. Often, it is shortened to “Holy Mary!” leaving the longer version for more awe-inspiring events.

“Jesus Christ! or the shortened “Jesus!” is uttered when a religious mother is out of earshot. Otherwise, the child might get a look or rebuke. Often, it is shortened to “Jeez,” “Jeepers,” or “Gee whiz,” depending on the generation or religious zeal of the mother.

We can thank Walt Disney for popularizing another replacement with his character “Jiminy Cricket.” Making his name plural makes another saying of surprise. A variation is “Jiminy Christmas” for more exasperating events.

“Dammit,” has long been a shortened version of GD which would have gotten a strong rebuke in my house. The rebuke for Dammit wpuld be less severe. Either phrase reveals disappointment in some failure. I am reminded of Strother Martin’s character in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The tobacco chewing character would say “Dammit” when his tobacco spittle got on his chin, yelling “bingo” when it did not.

It saddens me to think of the humor of Bill Cosby given his off-stage criminal acts of sexual assault. But, one of his funnier routines was of his father trying to edit his language around his kids. When mad, Cosby said his father could not complete a sentence due to self-censure.

I have shared before the saying of my wonderful ciolleague whose father was a minister. When very frustrated, she would say, “Bad word, bad word.!” Her saying would lighten the moment if others heard her saying it given her temperament.

What are some of your family, friends and region’s sayings? Are they unique to your area or more widespread?