December, 2008 issue

"Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus..."

It's been about 112 years since arguably the most famous newspaper editorial in history was published in the New York Sun. And it's been a few years since Irene and I produced this recording of the story of the little girl and the newspaperman who addressed her earnest question. It feels like a good time to repeat the story. Click on the title of this article, and prepare to find yourself in the holiday spirit!

Swipe Something for Christmas!

OK, we're talkin' credit and debt cards here!

Yes, that venerable institution, The Salvation Army, has finally gone high-tech, adding card scanners to the array of red buckets and weary bell ringers stationed at the main doors of America's retailers. Now, instead of fishing through your pockets for loose change, you can simply pull out the same well worn piece of plastic you've been using for all of those other holiday expenses!

And, of course, who's going to scan a donation of 43 cents? No, not you! It'll have to be at least a dollar... maybe even five or ten if enough people are watching.

So, you weren't planning on going ape over the inlaws this year anyway. Make it a cheap tie instead of Brooks Bros. He'll never know the difference and maybe, just maybe, a poor stranger may find a bit of cheer in an otherwise cheerless season.

"I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt with 'Guess' on it. I said, 'Thyroid problem?"

Arnold Schwarzenegger

"So", What?

The English language has a way of evolving. Common phrases are abbreviated or modified in some way that eventually becomes the "hot" new idom of the hour. It gets used over and over until it becomes totally assimilated into our language.

Remember when people used to say, "...the key to that process is whatchamacallit..." Now nobody uses the definite article. They just say, "Whatchamacallit is key to that process."

There's a lot of that kind of thing going on. The latest trend I've noticed is the use of the word, "So". This has traditionally been a word used to preface a continuation or clarification of a previous statement. "Are you happy? So am I."

But the use of this word is slowly changing. Just listen to NPR as they interiew a statistician, researcher, or scientist. Someone will ask, "Tell us how that works." And the guest answers, "So we are dealing with... etc."

Where the hell did "So" come from? It's like they're continuing some earlier conversation we don't know about!

Mark my words, this odd way of answering questions will soon be key to the interview process!

Bump Into An Old Friend...

... at this time of year, and some sort of seasonal greeting is expected. But what is appropriate? This has been hotly debated in recent years as a climate of political correctness has taken effect.

"Merry Christmas" is a phrase that can be uncomfortable for non-Christians, since it's rooted in a celebration exclusively of that belief. "Happy Chanukah" presents the same problem for the same reason, but with the Jewish faith. And we can't always identify a person's religion just by looking at them.

So Christians and Jews, if wanting to be sensitive to each other, usually say "Happy Holidays", or "Season's Greetings". But some people even find that offensive... as if it looks like they're not giving their own beliefs full support.

Oh, and then there's "Kwanza". What is the greeting for that? And is it strictly about race, or are there religious beliefs involved as well?

December is chockablock full of celebrations, so I guess everybody just goes along with whatever belief is in their own home.

Problem is I'm Christian, Irene is Jewish, and I have two black inlaws! So, Happy Holidays!

Cigarettes Cause Car-Jackings!

In my career as a free lance announcer I've done thousands of industrial programs, from early automated slide shows to the latest interactive CDs and DVDs. In the process, I've learned an incredible amount of general trivia.

One of the most recent jobs was for Lorillard Tobacco Company. It was one of the strangest employee orientation programs I've ever read!

It seems that Lorillard salespeople both sell and service their accounts, travelling their routes in company cars loaded to the dome light with cases of Newports, Kent, True, Old Gold, Maverick and Max brand smokes. This has not escaped the notice of criminals who've taken to car-jacking the Lorillard Limos and supplying the black market with plenty of fresh packs. My job was to impress on the trainee/saleman/delivery dude what to look for and what to do if they wind up in the sights of one of these thugs.

The most problematic area for butt-jackings seems to be in the New England states. Lots of smokers, too... or at least a lot of cigarettes get smoked there... so the return on the risk is greater for the bad guys.

To Lorillard's credit their video is crammed full of one particular message, repeated over and over again: "If you're faced with an attempted car-jacking, DO NOT try to defend or protect the car, product, money, or anything but yourself! Everything can be replaced except you." Good advice!

Movin' On Up!

I tend to brag about my wonderful wife in these pages from time to time. She gets embarrassed about it, but she may as well get used to it. I believe Irene is a remarkable educator with her focus planted firmly in a couple of very neglected and vital segments of our nation's educational and social fabric. Reading, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

She is a multitasker extraordinaire. She currently heads up a self-contained middle school classroom of autistic boys, with the help of two incredible assistants. She is finishing the last couple of chapters of her doctoral dissertation (regarding teaching autistic children to read) and plans to defend it, then graduate, this spring. She has just had an article published in a national magazine about autism, and is working on another one.

Now, if her plate wasn't full enough, my darling little over-achiever has been hired to teach a night course, about writing, at Queens University in Charlotte, NC, this next semester! It's her first step into the realm of higher education as an adjunct professor. Teaching at the university level has been a goal she has worked toward for years. Congratulations, Professor Van Riper!

Please note, I have only stated facts... not gushing value judgements from an adoring husband! (I save those for her to hear first.) If these were the accomplishments of a stranger, I would be impressed. Under the circumstances, I am in total awe!

Sobering Thoughts...

If you drive 10 miles to buy a lottery ticket, you are more likely to die in a car accident than to win the lottery.

If you leave an unpaid balance on a credit card charging 18% interest, the amount you owe will double in just four years and three months.

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