Entry 728: What?

My wife Barbara and I were watching TV the other day and, as always, we had the closed captioning on. I insist on this because I believe there is something wrong with our sound system that causes dialogue to be less than discernible.

So we’re watching Homeland, and the caption says “(Doorbell rings)” and I remark to Barbara that there was no doorbell ring, and how would anybody know there was someone at the door if they didn’t have closed captioning, to which Barbara replies that she clearly heard a doorbell ring and that maybe I should consider some sort of hearing assistance device.

This coming from someone who cannot hear her phone ringing unless she already has it in her hand.

“Maybe the doorbell was outside my range of hearing,” I said. After all, I have no trouble hearing our doorbell, so maybe the crazy CIA lady on Homeland has a higher-pitched ringer on her door.

“You should get your hearing checked,” Barbara said. And she added, since I was about to go visit my mother in Florida, that I could go where she got her hearing devices, which was a local flea market.

I planned on ignoring this suggestion, since every phone call I have with my mother consists mostly of her saying, “What did you say? I’m losing you. You’re fading…” until I just hang up.

I should mention that my resistance to hearing aids is not a matter of vanity. I’m well aware that current audio assistance technology has reached the miniaturization point where hearing aids are not visible unless someone sticks their eyeball in your ear. And, besides, anyone who sees me in my usual attire can tell you that looking good is not a big priority for me.

On the other hand, I really don’t want any more devices in my life. For the time being, at least, I would rather miss a word here and there than have something else to charge, program, update, upgrade, sync, adjust, clean or hold extended warranties on.

Besides, I’m told I will become a grandfather in June, and that there will frequently be an infant in our house, so I’m thinking that a bit of hearing impairment might be a good thing. That way, when Barbara asks me if I changed the kid’s diaper, I can plausibly reply that I didn’t hear her crying. (“She must be just outside my range of hearing,” I will say.)

I figure there’s one other advantage to somewhat faulty hearing. No less a person than Tom Brokaw recently suggested that certain Republican senators might consider corrective devices. “[Senators] cotton and perdue ’can’t recall’ potus using ‘s…hole’ language,” Brokaw tweeted without regard for capitalization. “fellow gop sen graham and others have sharper memories and better hearing. Sen cotton and perdue – costco has a good deal on hearing aids. just sayin…”

Yes, such is the state of our federal government that we have deaf senators named after puffs and chickens. But I think I am like most Americans in preferring not to hear my president use “s…hole” language. And if forgoing hearing aids is the sacrifice I have to make, well, it’s a small price to pay.

But maybe I’ll renew my Costco membership after the next election.

See you soon.

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Entry 727: Just Eat the Damned Thing

This may come as a shock to you, but I don’t care what you are eating. So stop putting your food on Facebook.

From my early days in advertising, I remember occasions on which I had to pace around a film studio trying to look interested while stylists attempted to make various dishes look appetizing for a commercial. I recall one time that was extremely excruciating: you might be surprised to learn how difficult it is to get Jell-o to retain its consistency under hot photographic lights.

So now I’m on Facebook, staring at this very unstyled, and very poorly lit, and usually, for some reason, very beige phone picture of your dinner, and wondering why you would post such a thing. I mean, I can maybe see it if you are dining in a three-star restaurant and you want to share the beautiful plating while simultaneously informing people that you are prosperous enough to spend $400 on a meal. But even then, your photographic skills are likely to make that meal from the Michelin restaurant look more like a Michelin tire.

And most of the time, the restaurant hasn’t even received three stars from Yelp, much less Michelin. Why are you showing me the pedestrian pasta plate from your local Italian place? I’m sure your penne a la vodka was delicious because, really, how can you screw up penna a la vodka, but it looks just like the penne a la vodka served at more than 98,000 Italian restaurants in the U.S.*, not to mention eateries of less-defined ethnicity and quite a few roadside diners. There is only one possible reason to post a serving of penne a la vodka, and that is if you are eating it in Italy . . . at a scenic outdoor cafe . . . with Sophia Loren sitting at the next table.**

Before we all had cameras attached to us 24/7, we managed to get along fine without photographing everything we ate. It’s not like you’d be dining at your local Howard Johnson’s and have flashbulbs going off all around you as folks fired up their Kodak Brownies. It’s obnoxious enough that you’re texting all through your meal without also taking a picture of the handsomely-garnished salmonburger your companion-who you are otherwise ignoring while you’re reading critical Facebook status updates–has ordered.

My daughter Casey often posts pictures of various desserts she’s made, and that’s okay, because she makes really creative (and tasty!) desserts and she is, in effect, displaying her art. But how proud can you be of your ordinary chocolate chip cookies? Okay, fine, they’re perfectly round. Congratulations. You can use a cookie cutter. No one needs to see your cookies. Keep your cookies to yourself.

Listen: I do not want to be gawking at your goulash at seven o’clock in the morning. And I don’t want to see the “native” food you ordered while on vacation, probably on a dare, especially when it’s a weird dish involving insects or intestines. I hope you enjoyed your haggis, but I’m getting nauseous just looking at it.

I’m happy to report that I am not alone in my distaste for food porn. Many other blogs have posted pleas for people to cease and desist. A psychiatrist even mentioned that obsessively posting food pictures may be a sign of a serious eating disorder, which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense, because you really should be eating the food rather than photographing it.

Speaking of which, there’s an Instagram page that does nothing but collect horrible food pictures from around the web and was the source of all the shots in this post. Except the one at right, which is the photo that inspired it. The caption read “Christmas Eve antipasto during some movie watching.”

Frankly, I didn’t know there was such a thing as Christmas Eve antipasto, and I have to say, this looks pretty much like the Veteran’s Day antipasto I had in 1979.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it.

See you soon.

*True, as of 2014.
**For you younger readers, Sophia Loren was an Italian actress who made lots of movies in the 50’s and 60’s. She was kind of like the Valeria Golino of her day.^
^For you even younger readers, ValerIa Golino was an Italian actress who appeared in lots of movies and TV shows in the 80’s and 90’s. (Rain Man, for instance). She was kind of like the Monica Belluci of her day.†
†I’m so friggin’ old.
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Entry 726: We’re Number Six!

Since the turn of the century, the United States has seen its standing among nations diminish in many important categories such as innovation, education and sanity.

But now its standing has plummeted in the most critical category of all: branding.

According to the GfK Nation Brands Index, a precipitous decrease in global perception has dropped the U.S. from first place to sixth, below England, Japan, Canada and even France, which really doesn’t care what anybody thinks.

In other words, from a branding point of view, America is like the Bill Cosby of sovereignties.

When you’re talking about corporations, the origin of a brand disaster is often clear: Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial, United Airlines dragging people off planes, the Equifax data hack, and so forth.

But America’s brand debacle, I’m afraid, has many contributing factors, not the least of which is our inclination to shoot people at random and our refusal to establish a health care system to look after the gunshot wounds. Although, if you did want to assign blame to a single factor, I guess you could point to our pre-Trump ranking of #1…just a year ago.

In fact, you might be interested to know that other countries in the Top Ten include Italy, Switzerland, Australia and Sweden and that, of the Top Ten nation brands in the world, only one saw its score decrease from 2016 to 2017. That would be the U.S. Which means even nations that force you to assemble your own furniture had a better year than us.

On the plus side, if there is a Laughing Stock index of countries, I’m sure we’re doing very well.

However, I’m not here today to talk about why the world thinks America sucks. Instead, I want to talk about the new champion of the world, the new Number 1 country brand on Earth.

Germany.

This is a tale of an unprecedented brand comeback, a triumph of perception recovery, a rebound on a par with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which was close to deceased before it became the go-to brew for hipsters.

Not even BP, in the wake of the gulf oil spill, had a worse brand perception than Germany did after World War II. Not Tylenol when its containers held actual poison pills, or Ford when Pintos were exploding, or Sea World when it was enslaving killer whales.

When Adolph Hitler was running the country, Germany perpetrated some of the biggest marketing blunders in history. Tourism was way down.  Its chief export was V-1 bombs, for which there was absolutely zero demand (but they kept sending them to England anyway). For a while there, you couldn’t even give away a “My parents escaped the Nazis and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” t-shirt. Then, after the war, they made matters worse by spinning off the part of the country with all the good athletes, so they couldn’t even build positive brand awareness at the Olympics.

But slowly Germany began regaining relevance, starting with an unassuming humpbacked automobile that even Jews like my father eventually embraced. And now the nation is home to many of the top brands in the world. You don’t think twice about using German products anymore. You drive them, take them for headaches (Bayer), text on them (T-Mobile), brush your teeth with them (Braun), and run in them (Adidas).

So here we are. With Germany, which, in 1944, was ranked below the Austro-Hungarian Empire (an entity that didn’t even exist in 1944), now at the top of the charts, at least according to the GfK Nation Brands Index.

There may be one other thing helping to improve Germany’s ranking. GfK is a German company. So it’s clear that, if America is to once again be the mightiest brand in the world, it must start its own nation brands index.

Or do something about you-know-who.*

See you soon.

*Or at least teach him the words to the national anthem.

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Entry 725: Spaced Out

In my last post, I wrote about my resolution for the New Year, which was to try to pronounce the word “vegan” correctly or, rather, the way vegans would like it to be pronounced, which is incorrectly.

You may have thought that was somewhat weak as resolutions go, along the lines of Donald Trump promising to cut down on his use of the word “loser.”

Okay, fine. If you insist, I’ve decided that I’ll also stop putting two spaces between sentences.

I grew up with two spaces, and I’ve always been sure that was correct. I would have sworn it was correct. You could have won a major bet with me and perhaps taken possession of my 401k if you had known how sure I was about this. It made so much sense, after all: if there’s one space between words, wouldn’t you think there should be a bigger space between sentences?

Apparently not. In fact, I have recently learned that two spaces was never correct, and I’ve been wrong about this my entire life, just as I’ve been wrong about which New York baseball team to root for. In my defense, however, the two space rule wasn’t something I imagined. In the mid-20th Century, people were sometimes told to use two spaces because computers hadn’t been invented yet. Well, they had been invented, but they took up entire rooms, and had lots of spinning reels, and the average person said, “I think I’ll wait till you get that down to the size of a phone.”

The manual typewriters we had in those prehistoric days used monospaced type . . . that is, every letter was given the same amount of space. But that made the spacing between letters look uneven because skinny letters like “i” had more “air” around them than fat letters like “m.”  So people started putting two spaces between sentences to differentiate that from the variable spaces between letters.

Obviously, that’s no longer necessary because today’s modern computers know how to smush letters together.  You can see the same principle at work with passengers on New York City subways.  If a skinny person sits next to a fat person, the fat person fills in the space next to the skinny person, unless the skinny person manspreads (assuming the skinny person is male), or the fat person has not bathed recently, in which case the skinny person will stand, and the fat person on the skinny person’s other side will somehow expand to take up the space where the skinny person was sitting and the two fat people become like the middle of the word “simmer.”

Where was I?

Right–spaces between sentences.  Anyway, the double space bar tap is so automatic to me, I’m no more likely to stop doing it than I am to suddenly begin using the metric system.

Yes, I know. This post has one space between sentences. But it’s only because I do a search and replace when I’m done. Search “  ” and replace with “ ”.

So maybe I’m cheating a bit on my resolution. Which is why I’ve also decided to begin typing ellipses correctly.

Hey, you–put down your counterfeit moon-watching glasses!  I said “ellipses,” not “eclipses.”  An “ellipsis” is what cretins like you refer to as “dot dot dot.”

I use ellipses more than most people because I write direct mail for a living, and we direct mail writers are fond of using headlines like:

Get this Harley Davidson Leather Jacket Absolutely FREE . . .

And then continuing with “ . . . with your purchase of the 2018 Harley Davidson 1200 Custom starting at $10,999 MSRP.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve always typed an ellipsis as “…”. Now I’m told that there not only has to be a space between each dot, but there has to be one before the first dot and after the last dot, which creates all kinds of problems when your dot dot dot gets automatically line-broken and two of your dots end up on the next line.

So, anyway, here I am, staunchly prepared to do battle with my natural inclination to put two spaces between sentences and no spaces between dots, and I go to see Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, the opening crawl of which ends with:

“But the Resistance has been exposed. As the First Order speeds toward the rebel base, the brave heroes mount a desperate escape….”

And as everyone in the theater leans slightly forward in anticipation of the latest adventure, I’m taken aback with this thought: “FOUR DOTS? WTF!”

And, I looked it up and the original Star Wars had four dots . . . and no spaces between them! They had all the space they needed to put spaces between the dots . . . in fact, they had all of space available to put spaces between the dots, and they didn’t!

I hate starting a new year all confused.

See you soon.

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Entry 724: I Can’t Stop Making This Horrible Mistake

It’s time to make New Year’s resolutions, and, rather than vow to eat healthier or exercise more, I’ve decided to do something I might actually manage to accomplish: pronounce the word “vegan” correctly.

I have this mental block, you see. I know how it’s supposed to be pronounced, or, rather, how vegans want it to be pronounced, but then I think about how it’s spelled, and “vay-gan” comes out of my mouth. Every time. Sometimes there’s an expletive before it.

Can I help it if vegans don’t know how to pronounce themselves?

I mean, you’ve got a star called Vega (the fifth brightest in the night sky), and if anyone ever came to Earth from there, he or she or it would be a Vay-gan, unless they were Vay-ganese. Further, if those Vay-gans were gamblers, they might visit Las Vay-gas and maybe even abduct a Las Vay-gan or two.

Not only is there a star named Vega, there was once a car named Vega. It was a crummy car, to be sure, but if there are any left on the road, and the people who owned them wanted to start a club, it would be the Vay-gan Club.

So where do these animal-loving herbivores get off being vee-gans? And how in the world did they get there from “veh-getable?”

I looked up the entomology of the word “vegan” and discovered that those people don’t eat insects, either. Then I remembered that what I wanted was the etymology. And it turns out that there’s a very good reason why “vegan” doesn’t conform to any of the etymological rules of English pronunciation.

It’s not a real word.

Well, it is a word in that it’s recognized by dictionaries and such, but it’s not a word in that it didn’t come into being through the usual channels, beginning with Greeks, or Latins, or Germans or Sumerians or some ancient people and getting all jumbled up when those people conquered some other people, and then the spelling changed, and then the pronunciation changed after a game of telephone that lasted hundreds of years and you end up with a word like “assassin” deriving from the word “hashish.”*

None of that happened with “vegan.” What happened was, some guy made it up.

That guy was Donald Watson, and he came up with the word in 1944. I’ll let him tell you how:

“I invited my early readers to suggest a more concise word to replace ‘non-dairy vegetarian.’ Some bizarre suggestions were made like ‘dairyban,’ ‘vitan,’ ‘benevore,’ ‘sanivore,’ ‘beaumangeur’, et cetera. I settled for my own word, ‘vegan,’ containing the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’ — the beginning and end of ‘vegetarian’”

This fellow may have been a pioneer in unnatural eating habits, but he was clearly an idiot when it came to words. How do you take the “vej” and the “an” of “vegetarian” and wind up with “veegan?” There is no long “e” sound in any way connected to an offshoot of “vegetable.”

So whenever I say “vay-gan,” I may be wrong, but I’m also right.

And, by the way, if we can have non-dairy creamers, why can’t we have non-dairy vegetarians?

See you soon.

*True story (according to Business Insider): Members of a fanatical Muslim sect during the Crusades used to smoke hashish and then murder leaders on the opposing side. They started going by the name “hashishiyyin,” meaning hashish-users in Arabic. Through centuries of mispronunciation, English arrived at “assassin.” Oh, and “avocado” comes from the Aztec word for “testicle.”

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Entry 723: The Future Writes Again

Every year or so, right around this time, I’ve been receiving letters from future me, reassuring present me that my personality will not get any sunnier as time goes on.

This year’s letter from the future, however, wasn’t from me at all. Much to my surprise and delight, it was from my granddaughter, who is due to arrive in June!

December 31, 2030

Dear Grumps, (Mark’s Note: This is the name we’ve decided our grandchildren will call me.)

Mom said it was okay to write to you as long as I didn’t tell you my name, which you don’t know yet when you are. Actually, first she told me to say my name is A’kierra, because she says you’d have a conniption fit if you thought she and dad gave me a name with a punctuation mark.

I turned 12 in June, which was great, because I got my driver’s license and my own car to drive me to school every day. It drives me straight home afterwards so I can work on my new invention, a fossil-fuelless hybrid engine that uses solar, wind and cow dung and gets 600 miles on a fill up. It will totally change the world if I can do something about the smell.

(Mark’s Note: In the letter I wrote to myself from 2036, I mention to myself that this engine turned out to be a huge success.)

I’ve just finished my eighth year of therapy, which mom insists is a result of that stuffed animal you ordered the Christmas before I was born, the one that was an exact replica of your dog Riley. “To get her used to him,” you said. Mom says I was traumatized the first time my toy dog “came to life,” but I don’t really remember it. My therapist is trying to draw it out of me, though.

(Mark’s Note: It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

You might be interested to know that President Swift is about mid-way through her second term, and America is great again, although mom says she’d prefer it if the President didn’t feel the need to mention former boyfriends every time she gave a speech. (Oh, and don’t worry about President Trump. He’s going to die of a Diet Coke overdose soon after getting impeached.)

(Mark’s Note: My earlier future letters had mentioned Taylor Swift would be elected in 2024, so I was ready for it.)

Speaking of politics, you wouldn’t even recognize Congress now. Or the business world, either. After all the sexual harassment scandals of the late teens, the only man in America still in any position of power is Tom Hanks. Mom says that, compared to past generations of women, things will be much better for me when I start working. (Dad chuckles and says, “Why can’t she start now?” Ha ha.)

Let’s see, what else? Mom’s still teaching, only now she teaches holographic video. One of her students’ films is standing next to me right now! Oh, and you know dad’s Internet start-up, the one you never understood? He sold that for a few hundred million and then started a new company on the Q-net. That’s the thing that began after they canceled Net Neutrality in 2017, and now the Internet you know is just a big shopping mall for old people. All the good stuff is on the Q-net, or Quantum Net, which is way bigger than the Internet (and, my friend Liam tells me, has much better porn).

Also, dad didn’t want me to tell you this, but in 2019 everybody suddenly realized that digital currency is totally made up and the value of Bitcoin dropped to around 3¢.  I guess you’ll have to wait a couple of years before you can say “I told you so.”

We’re getting ready to celebrate your 76th birthday in February. Mom says she’s going to once again renew the Spotify subscription she signed you up for in 2016 and hopes you’ll eventually learn how to use it. And guess what? You’ll finally be able to get on Social Security! You’ve been so funny every year when they kept delaying benefits; I always laughed so hard when your face turned that bright red color!  That’s how I know what a conniption fit is.

One more thing: tell gramma that, by the month after I was born, she used up her entire cloud allocation with pictures of me. Mom says she should delete a few of the less attractive ones.

I think that’s about it. I love you, Grumps.

What a kid, huh? I can’t wait till she’s born!

See you soon, and somebody remind me to tell my daughter to watch out for some kid named Liam in 12 years..

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Entry 722: It’s My Party (and I Can Cry if I Want To)

Nikki Haley, our Ambassador to the United Nations, is throwing a party next week.

She’s inviting some of the most important and powerful countries in the world: Guatemala, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo.

Often, these sorts of affairs are intended to help form key strategic alliances, although that’s obviously not the case here, unless the U.S. is planning to corner the market on non-filleted frozen fish, which is Micronesia’s chief export.

Naura, with a population that could not even fill Madison Square Garden, is absolutely thrilled to be invited anywhere. Palau is excited to even be mentioned in the same news story as a major country like Guatemala and, in appreciation, has pledged that, if the U.S. ever needs military assistance in its part of the world, it would send its soldier to help. And Togo had to double-check to make sure it wasn’t mistakenly invited because of Haley’s instructions to the caterer, that she wanted all 30 pizzas “to go.”

Ha ha, I kid, of course. Haley is throwing this little gala not so much for the nations she’s inviting, but for the ones she’s not. She is not inviting most of the countries you’ve heard of . . . you know, the 128 nations that voted in favor of a U.N. resolution to declare President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israel’s capital “null and void.”

In diplomatic circles, this is known as “throwing a tantrum.”

It’s the equivalent of a teenaged girl putting on a bash solely to not invite another girl who has slighted her in some way. Nikki better hope none of the cool countries tries to crash her party.

And if her reasons weren’t clear enough, Haley has also announced that the U.S. is withdrawing $285M from the UN’s operating budget which, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor, is like getting pissed off at the other players in a pick-up basketball game and leaving with the ball.

The seven nations mentioned above, along with Israel (who’s also invited and will be bringing the babka), are the only ones that voted with the U.S. against the resolution.

Haley’s actual invitation said the following:

“The Honorable Nikki R. Haley, Permanent Representative United States Mission to the United Nations, invites you to a reception to thank you for your friendship to the United States.”

It added that the affair would begin at 6pm on January 3.

Such is the state of America’s standing in the world that she is not only inviting the countries who voted against the resolution, but is also inviting nations that abstained or just didn’t bother to show up for the vote. After all, if she only invited the friends who actually voted for us, she’d have to book a much smaller venue, possibly the back room at nearby Ted’s Corner Tavern, home of the $1 Oyster Happy Hour.

The only way this episode could be any more pathetic would be if one of the invitees said it couldn’t attend.

“Dear Representative Haley, With great regret, we must inform you that we will not be able to attend your reception because of a prior engagement. Unfortunately, we already have . . . a thing . . . on January 3. Sincerely, The Marshall Islands.”

It’s a shame, too.  The Marshall Islands is usually the life of the party.

Happy New Year, and I’ll see you soon.

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