Monday, April 30, 2012

Front Page Fantasy

When one opens one's daily newspaper, one expects to find news, especially on the front page. I realize that sometimes a human interest story or a particularly curious event will be printed, but superstitious fantasy – please! Perhaps an unusual position on a particular subject might get a mention in an otherwise newsworthy story, but as a standalone story such things should be confined to the fantasy page, i.e., Letters to the Editor.
An example of an unusual position in an otherwise newsworthy story appeared recently in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era. A group of seismic experts was conducting a survey to determine the extent of any faults under the area, and were touring with equipment which tamped the ground. By measuring the resulting minor earthquakes they were able to get information which would otherwise be unobtainable.
Of course, they asked permission of property owners before tamping each area. Some refused to allow it because they didn't wish to allow the government to intrude any more than necessary on their property – a perfectly understandable reaction in today's political climate.
But one refusal stood out: permission was denied because the property owner was afraid the tamping would awaken the devil! Seriously! I find no fault (no pun intended) with including this in the overall story, but I would not think this would be worth a story of its own.
One “front page” story this past week would have been at home on the Entertainment page, but on page one: huh-uh. It seems the TV team “Ghost Hunters” had invaded Bube's, a local restaurant, and found: “A lamp on a table is extinguished as if by an occult hand while another next to it remains lit. A crash from a bar area, yet nothing is found that could have made the sound. A voice captured on special equipment seeming to say 'blow it out' in German.” The story continued telling about other paranormal activity which has occurred on the premises.
People believe this stuff! There is no reason to feed their ridiculous superstitions by presenting this crap as fact. So I immediately fired off the following letter to the editor:

The story about the “confirmation of paranormal activity” in your April 26 issue immediately caught my eye. In line with your pursuit of the unusual, I have a phenomenon which may be of interest to you and your readers. If you will send out a reporter to help me, I will set up a special camera to take a picture of the unicorn which has been hanging around my backyard. Of course, I will need to process the film on my special equipment - It shouldn't take more than a week to have the picture print-ready. If your reporter comes after a rainstorm, I can point out the animal’s footprints, and also show where it has been nibbling the grass.
Seriously, that story would have been more at home on the comics page, or perhaps as an advertisement for Bube's and the TV show.

The James Randi Educational Foundation is offering US$1,000,000 to anyone who can “demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.” Since 1964 there have been no takers. I doubt that there ever will be.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

     Job Titles I Never Grew Up With

     While watching the TV show “Jeopardy,” the show which gives us questions to answers of little real interest to most people, I am often intrigued by contestants' occupations, many of which were not in existence during my working years. We all know of the “handyman” who is now the “building superintendent,” and of course the “stenographer” has evolved into the “administrative assistant.” But I am thinking of occupations which have only come into being in the last 20 or so years, such as:

     Fulfillment Manager – At first glance this could cover anything from a fairy godmother to the director of the “Make A Wish” foundation, but it's neither. A fulfillment manager is required to have skills and training which, at one time, were expected of several people. The job description calls for inventory and project management skills, familiarity with computerized inventory forecasting and fulfillment programs, and good communication abilities in order to effectively negotiate with vendors as well as to supervise and motivate his or her staff. The ability to analyze demographics and market trends is required to efficiently meet fluctuating customer demands and avoid losses incurred by excess inventory. Proficiency in manufacturing and production planning is also necessary for this job.

     Educational Marketer – I guessed this was a seller of textbooks, but I was wrong. An educational marketer helps companies that make educational products — software, classroom materials, textbooks, supplies, and enrichment activities — make sales to school districts. This includes designing and printing catalogs, running e-mail campaigns, creating advertisements for trade magazines, and conducting focus groups with teachers and school districts. One big misunderstanding, especially with the recent popularity of “Mad Men,” is that marketing is glamorous, full of high-concept idea pitches to clients. Educational marketers spend a large amount of time on the phone with clients making revisions — they don't pitch ideas, they make clients’ ideas work. Well, I was only partly wrong – educational marketers do sell textbooks, but it's how they do so that has changed.

      Retail Horticulturist – I thought surely this was a glorified name for a florist, much like the “stenographer/administrative assistant” mentioned above, but no way. The main job of a horticulturist is to develop or design new methods regarding cultivation of vegetables, fruits and ornamental plants. This is done through various ways: crop production, cultivation and propagation processes by using genetic engineering, green house management, plant breeding, landscaping and many more. A graduate degree in a horticultural field is required.

      Communication Strategist – I couldn't figure out what was involved in this occupation, and I discovered that communication strategists are intriguing individuals who have created completely new roles for themselves. Although invariably among the best writers in the business, they have taken an extra step. They've looked hard at the ways companies use language and the results they achieve, and they've sought out new ways of making language work better for their clients. That may involve anything from introducing new forms of communication (migrating paper-based memos to email, for example) to running poetry workshops in law firms. The communication strategist is like a creative writer on steroids – one who is willing to train others in whatever it takes to improve personal communications.

      To me, watching contestants on “Jeopardy” sometimes raises far most interesting questions than Alex Trebek.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Let's Talk About the Unmentionable

     Words have power only as they elicit a response in those who are aware of them. They have no influence over events that are beyond human control, e.g. if someone is driving too fast, the passenger can control the car only to the extent his words can affect the driver.
     Most people realize this, but I am amazed that many, perhaps most, people refuse to discuss certain subjects. It's as if they were afraid that speaking about them would make them happen. It will not.
     In particular, discussing final incapacitating illness and death are subjects that most people shy away from, but these are exactly the subjects that people should talk about. It is not only unfair to expect a child, sibling or doctor to make life or death decisions with no knowledge of the patient's wishes – it is extremely irresponsible.
     The situation becomes especially acute when there is more than one possible decision-maker. For example, when the daughter who lives down the block decides that mom's illness has reached the point where she would want to be taken off life-support, and the son, who hasn't seen mom for fifteen years, flies in from California and says, “There is no way you are going to 'pull the plug' on dear old mom,” what is the doctor supposed to do?
     So please do your family a huge favor by sitting down while you are still rational, and commit decisions such as these to writing in the form of a Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney. This is a legal document which outlines at what point the it becomes effective, what procedures you do not want followed, and most importantly, who you want to make decisions for you, and the extent of his or her powers. In the event your directives go against the conscience of your physician, he can be legally ordered to find a doctor who will follow your instructions.
     To carry mom's situation one step further, suppose she finally dies. Now there are new questions: Would mom want cremation or burial? If burial, where? A big funeral or an intimate private one? What do we put in the obituary? Flowers or donations to charity? Organ donation? And many, many more.
     Unfortunately, there is no legal document to which you can commit your feelings on these matters. This does not preclude your preparing an informal document which answers these and other questions which you consider pertinent. It's a good idea to contact a local funeral director who will guide you through the maze of decisions which your loved ones will have to make immediately upon your death.
     At the very least, insist on having a discussion with all who might get involved in your final wishes.
     Oh yes, most important of all: Keep your will up-to-date.
     Take my word for it, as uncomfortable as it is to discuss these subjects, you will feel better after you have succeeded in handling them in the clear light of rationality. And you will be giving your family a wonderful last gift.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.