Tuesday, December 23, 2014


When I was a kid, Christmas was as easy as falling out of bed and running to the tree and doing this head swiveling survey to see just what was there.

After those carefree self centered days, it became more of a set of expectations and though the pageantry and the emotion of it all remained, it was more of a family gathering and a confirmation kind of thing. Here we are gathered up one more time. I never see a Christmas tree that I don't see Christmas trees of years past, and that doesn't always bring joy and celebration. Often it is hard work.

The past is your teacher but not necessarily your friend. Teachers are not there to be your buddy, but to teach. To bend your mind. The past is always saying as if a voice in the wind: Grow up! Accept change and move on. It's just another day - right? Not really. But it's special because it hits you in the face everywhere you turn. Your past is what hits you in the face harder than anything.

Christmas is like that. Mother and Dad are no longer there. The set of friends and family who gathered then are gone or scattered to the four winds. The boundaries of my life have moved so many times as to defy the surveyor's transit.

One year, in another life, we decided not to have a Christmas tree. We hung some little lights on a rubber plant in our TV room. That did it. We swore not to do that again. Even though we had presents around the plant it was a rubber plant! I mean, what did we expect?

CA and I usually go out somewhere and cut down a live tree and bring it home and do he whole thing, going through the heroic recitation of the provenance of each ornament. Talk about the past invading the present. It was fun. It was, for me, tedious at times. But deep down inside, it was - forgive me, I promise not to throw this one out many times - A TRADITION.

This year we are alone and have a small table top tree that is already decorated and wired and looks lovely sitting in the East window of the living room. It's enough. It really is.

We'll do what we always do on Christmas day. Open gifts. Hang out on the telephone for a while with distant family and eat. Then in the evening we will go to China Rose for our dinner. We've done that for years when we are in Maine. Sometimes, in the afternoon, we will drive out to Popham Beach. It's specially nice and full of silence, power and ever changing dunes. It's special. It's our way of being in the moment. The sea is a most eloquent teacher.

The Sea always says to us: MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Much has been said and is being said about the appropriate way to address the Christmas season. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas. It seems like one of those Congressional gridlock issues. You are some kind of abhorrent heathen if you say "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". First of all, it is a holiday. Get over it. The word originally meant "Holy-day". Christmas as a day of remembrance didn't happen for more than three hundred years after Jesus lived, died, and came back to life. The particulars are lost in antiquity but the best we can deduce is that somewhere in the fourth century CE, or AD, if that makes it easier, an actual Christmas observance became an historical fact, as much as can be known about historical facts at the time. A case can easily be made for the celebration of the birth Christ to be called a Holy Day. So the word has changed after a long while to sound like "Holiday".

Then consensus arose in the organized church - such as it was at the time - that since Christ's conception took place on March 25 then his birth must have taken place on December 25? Right? I mean, do the math. I'm not sure how we figured all that out to the exact date – but there you go.

I'm not trying to be flip about the Christmas season, but not to put too fine a point on things, Christ was never in the Christmas we now see all around us at this time of year. In latter times, it became a great shopping idea and then there is the Christmas tree, gifts, the office party and Santa Clause.

Just so happens that the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukknah, falls within an acceptable range of December 25 enough to be considered part off the "holiday ( Holy Day ) season". So what's the big deal? Happy Holidays! You want to make it Merry Christmas, great! You want to make it Happy Hanukkah, great! You want to be right and everyone else wrong? I hear they are taking new members over at the Taliban headquarters.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to each and everyone of you.

Friday, December 12, 2014


I've got three unanswered questionnaires on my desk from three different health care providers wanting me to give them some feedback.  One of them wrote me a week later asking me to get off my butt and do it.  I go to see my primary physician and three days later I get this multipage questionnaire to fill out about my experience.  What's going on with this?

I go to my favorite Apple Store and purchase some widget or other and before I get home there is an email wanting me to respond to this "important" document so they can make their service TO ME better.  Order something on-line and before you get off their "page" you are asked to spend only a moment to answer a few questions about your experience.  It's a corporate disease.  Well, it's one of them.  It infects businesses all over.  We want to know what you think.  What you think is important.  Ya think?  

It's marketing, pure and simple.  I could stop here, but of course, I won't.

Here's how it goes.  You receive a service, buy a widget or a new pair of socks and overnight get this questionnaire in the mail or via email because they really want to know what you think about their performance.  Here's the hook: you really want to believe they want to know what YOU think, and that they have a room full of analytically trained people waiting to read what you say about their performance, and who have the power to change things you want changed.  Right!

The marketers, aka, customer manipulators, know this about you and believe that even if you had a bad experience, IF you return your questionnaire with all negative answers, you will probably come back anyway to see if they fixed anything.  Gotcha!  The whole idea is to keep you connected to their shop.  They couldn't care less what your reasons are just so you  return.

Another way of seeing this amazing phenomenon is to recognize it for what it is: data mining.  I don't care what you do when you have an experience with anyone in the public sector someone is collecting data about you to use "against" you.  Well, maybe against is too strong a word but never in history are the words, LET THE BUYER BEWARE, more relevant.

there is only one way to make sure your personal dedicated information stays that way when you go shopping: bring cash.  I'm giving this plan some serious thought.  Recent items in the news about personal records - including credit card numbers - being stolen from your favorite retailer should be giving us all pause about this broken system that lays us all open to fraud.  It's so easy to use a credit card for everything and pay one bill a month.  Every time you swipe that sucker the great dark digital money troll licks her lips and whispers in her sinister soto-voce, thank you very much.  And she ain't talking about money.

There is one bright spot on the horizon.  It's called the Near Field Communication payment system, (NFC).  To use it to pay for something you hold some device "near" the terminal and probably jump through some other hoop and Cha Ching!  They have your money.  No credit card is even touched.  However in some of these systems the customer must yield some piece of identifiable data.

The latest iteration of such a process is called Apple Pay.  As far as I can determine, it is the most secure of all the present systems.  Banks are so "up" for it that they are assuming all the risk for any fraud that may occur.  Here's the funny part about that: many retailers won't authorize Apple Pay and use some twisted English to justify such a bizarre position, claiming that they are more interested in some alternate process that will more fully increase customer satisfaction.  WHAT THEY REALLY WANT IS CONTINUED ACCESS TO MORE OF YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION AND IDENTIFIED BUYING HABITS.  It's data mining folks.  With Apple Pay there is no data to mine and therefore the resistance.

Like I said - bring cash.  Refuse to give away your zip code, telephone number or email address.  A guy at Radio Shack told me once that he needed my phone number or he couldn't complete the "cash" sale.  I turned to leave and he caved in, of course.  He was lying.  

Before long there will be cameras at checkout positions with face recognition capabilities and you will have to wear a mask to keep your private information private.  

So here I am out here on the internet with my bare face hanging out.  Groan!