Wednesday, December 21, 2016

schlocky column for the month

Here are some of the columns I did not write in 2016 – a kind of stocking-stuffer of ideas I was too research-averse to attack and parse and issue an opinion about.

-- Not long ago, as is her occasional wont, Janet sent along the following pithy observation penned by her late husband, science writer Isaac Asimov:
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always had been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ ”
Strange how cozy and confirmed the mind can feel when hearing what democracy is not and yet how stymied (and loud) it can become when asked to nail down what it is.

-- Walk into any supermarket and check out the tomatoes. The uniform redness and roundness are a sight to behold. But are these things tomatoes or are they really some better-living-through chemistry, a thick-skinned, largely juiceless fruit that can be harvested by a machine that will reduce the need for manual labor?
As a kid, I can remember walking through tomato patches, plucking an irregularly-shaped-and-colored fruit off the vine, taking a bite and having the juice dribble down my chin.

-- Today’s tomatoes remind me a bit of the 2-by-4s sold in lumber yards but don’t measure 2-by-4 ... or the Defense Department that lost the courage to label itself the Department of War ... or the life-insurance policy that rests squarely on the ability to drop dead.

-- Funeral homes and doctors both seem to be in businesses that confer upon them the right to call me by my first name. How did this happen?
My mother always taught me that until otherwise instructed, Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. and whatever other polite prefix is popular these days was a way to depict respect and a warranted distance. And that includes “doctor.”

-- On the internet, there is an “algorithm” (code) that allows the site to remember my interests in the past and serve up more of the same. This coding magic is granted a round of applause.
But when I head to one of a number of news sites that I read daily, I most emphatically do not want more of the same or even something that is similar. That’s not the nature of news.
More important, this algorithmic magic means that whatever anyone’s interest might be, they are in some measure confined to their interest bubble and that as time passes, that bubble gets smaller and smaller.
Put politely, individuals become “intellectually challenged.” Put directly, more of the same is likely to make people “stupid.”

-- “Multi-tasking” is a word used by those who wish the drones of any given business will produce more in the same amount of time. It’s a money-maker to the extent that it is real.
The problem is that it is not real and anyone who says it is is either greedy or lying or possibly both. Human beings do one thing at a time and a study in Texas showed that shifting back and forth from one topic to the next produced less efficient results and, into the bargain, tended to depress the person attempting it.
Those who say, “We need someone capable of multi-tasking” are simply saying they want more money and less work for themselves.

-- Several weeks ago, a 300-plus-pound mechanical engineer who had played Santa over the better part of a decade was called to a Tennessee hospital where a 5-year-old boy was dying and wanted to see Santa.
There was no time for Eric Schmitt-Matzen to don more than his Santa suspenders and adjust his own, very real, girth When he got to the hospital, Schmitt-Matzen, 60, said he asked family members to remain outside the room if they were going to break down in tears. “The little guys and girls have a hard time fathoming the whole concept of death, but they know Christmas and they know they have a lot of fun,” he said.
“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,’’ Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas. Why, you’re my No. 1 elf.’ ”
After Schmitt-Matzen assured him that he was passing on to a better place, the boy gave Santa a hug and asked a final question: “Santa, can you help me?”
“I wrapped my arms around him,” Schmitt-Matzen recalled. “Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.”

And that’s what I want for Christmas – the courage and kindness and generosity that the Schmitt-Matzens of this world can provide.

Adam Fisher, of Northampton, is a regular contributor. He can be reached at

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