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        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        Phony wrestling: We figured out a big ruse at like age 13

        I’ve been a bad dad, I realized the other day. I had never shown my boys the grand days of world-wide phony-baloney wrestling.

        This isn’t that glitzy crap that’s on today. It was the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation. The glory days of absurdly impossible maneuvers and shocking stereotype characters.

        I haven’t seen one of these “matches” in decades, but phony-baloney wresting came up the other day, and my older son and I watched a few WWF “bouts.”

        Aside from everything else, it’s moments like this when I realize what a great person he is to hang out with. We were cracking up. Snorting in amazement. He would shake his head and sputter, “This is ridiculous!” as Ivan Putzski delivered his Polish Hammer or Mr. Fuji (my god, the stereotypes) accidentally tossed salt into his partner’s eyes. How a dirty trick backfired! We roared while the announcers calmly described the improbability of one of the Wild Samoans (!) futilely trying to keep super-strong Tony Atlas in a full nelson–not happening!

        Watching these zoomed me back into the past. We would tune in on our little TVs and absorb the spectacle. It couldn’t be real… but, I mean, look how seriously all these adults were taking it. The referee counting, counting… we didn’t know what he was counting, but he was always counting something. Those announcers narrating it all if it were a real athletic event, talking about the batants’ strategies and how they had dealt with similarly difficult situations in past “bouts.” The juiced-up crowd exhorting Tito Santana, dazed on the concrete apron, to rise again or throwing debris at the Lumberjacks when Chief Jay Strongbow’s (!) tag team partner betrayed him.

        Think about it: So many adults were in on the joke–almost like Santa Claus. I told my son we would sit in our dim carpeted rec rooms as tweens and there was this sliver of time when we debated whether it was all real. He laughed, and I did too, because these videos are so absurd, but it seemed real for a simple reason: Because everyone surrounding it was taking it so seriously!

        The ref. The suit-wearing announcers. The crowd.

        We had no Internet, and we leaped off our battered couches doing atomic elbow drops ourselves, thinking, maybe, just maybe…

        But then we wised up. I think we were 13.

        We realized that just because a bunch of nuts yell and scream and a few well-dressed people talk with a straight face that that didn’t make it all true. Damn, Jimmy Superfly Snuka was just a really athletic actor. Damn, there was no Santa.

        We learned this stuff well before we learned to drive. It wasn’t that hard to recognize that it was easy to create a broad facade of falsehood, and as kids you could enjoy it, no harm done–but adults believing in the charade of Rowdy Roddy Piper?… well, they were friggin’ crazy!

        We knew before we could drive how simple it was for people to play it straight in a big lie. Calling bs?: That’s solid knowledge that you would think would carry us all the way through life.

        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        Yes-more people

        Most likely, you know about Simon Biles and the 2021 Olympics. I haven’t followed too closely the web scuttlebutt following her decision to withdraw from much of Olympic petition, only partially because I’m shutting myself off from Olympic news so as not to get spoilers every night.

        I know that she specifically had the “twisties,” and, more importantly, has been inspirational in discussing mental health. Her health, of course, is interlocked with her positioning as one of the greatest athletes ever, but I wonder if, while she is an extraordinary person, that she has something in mon with many others: She’s one of the yes-more people.

        It’s tough being a yes-more person. You always say yes. You always do more.

        The lives of yes-more people are often engulfed by expectations, acplishments, roles, titles, and duties. For long stretches of time, they often do get it all done. They brim with pride when someone says, “How do you do it?”

        But other times, they’re hollowed out, sleep-deprived, disoriented.

        I can be a yes-more person. I don’t know when it all started, but I got in the mode of doing things, saying yes–both in local activities and at work–and increasingly piling on. I got involved, got organized, and wanted to meet the world. I kinda love it most of the time.

        But once in a while, it has left me hollowed out, sleep-deprived, disoriented.

        It is difficult to escape, because yes-more people get a strong sense of identity from these external measures of self. And this can be very difficult to notice.

        I had an experience with a very wise counselor once. I had a holiday gift for her, a candle (of course purchased by my wife because I was too busy to get it myself). As I exited my car to deliver the gift, I was not only in a rush (because I was late!), but I also had in my hands too much stuff including a phone, wallet, keys (I mean, why use a pocket?), a book. I tried to then answer a phone call and grab the gift, which was wrapped and in a paper bag, at the same time.

        Of course, I dropped the bag on the pavement. I heard the jar around the candle shatter. Damn! I thought, but I brought it to her anyway, so she could see I did have something. I showed her and promised I would take it back and return with a replacement soon.

        Oh no, she said, relieving me of the bag, I want this one. I was puzzled. But she made clear the experience for me by saying, When you do too many things, something breaks. She kept that candle so she could remind me of that simple fact when I needed such reminding.

        You can see that story resonated for me. I don’t always succeed in following the advice of the wise counselor. I still often bee identified with my yes-more self.

        Sometimes, world-class athlete or not, you have to say no. Go to one less meeting. Miss a workout. Admit you can’t do it.

        Make no mistake, there are costs to saying no, missing things. But as I watched Biles’ smart interview with Mike Tirico at the end of her Olympic experience, I saw realizing your limits, even for the extraordinary, can help you avoid the more serious and sometimes dangerous costs of the yes-more person.

        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        Teenage traders?!

        I saw a story the other day about teenage stock traders.

        Teenagers trading stocks? What could possibly go wrong?

        I think back to myself as an entrepreneurial teen. What would I have done with my hard-earned cash from my Courier-Post newspaper route or my sporadic lawn-cutting jobs? What kinds of panies would have caught my glittering investor eye?

        I would have put a lot of money into eight-tracks, then vinyl, then cassettes, then probably Betamax… yeah, you heard it right: Betamax. I remember someone who I thought was smart telling me it was the next great thing. You get the gist, right?: I wouldn’t exactly have been on the cutting edge of the next big thing in music media.

        Electric football. Atari. Jarts.

        Ultimate disc leagues. The USFL (!).

        I still don’t know a damn thing about fashion, but would that have stopped me? Two-tone jeans. Big banana-shaped back pocket bs.

        I might have gone sci-fi. A pany promising to reincarnate John Bonham and Jim Morrison? Sold. Inviso dust. Take my money, please.

        The problem, man, was I had no vision as a teenager. It was all right in front of me, ready for the taking, it seemed, but in reality it was evanescent whimsy.

        Now, admittedly, we didn’t have the Internet back in olden times, so our knowledge sphere was smaller. I couldn’t look at charts and graphs to guide me to the next big thing.

        I’d have been forced to stay local. I’d support the nearby 7-11. The clam bar at the Berlin Auction. I would have backed K-Mart, the big store down the street (only the clam bar has survived).

        A frenzy of bad decision making.

        By the way, teenage stock trading strikes me as coupled, at least conceptually, with the deluge of online betting sites. If you watch sports on TV, you know they’re everywhere. I certainly don’t have the technical knowledge or vocabulary, but both types of endeavors are tapping into a similar kind of rush. Some of us can hit that vein only once in a while. Unfortunately, many can’t.

        I was talking to a relative young ‘un in the gym the other day. He works for an online betting pany and was reflecting on the similarities between online betting and stocks, noting the significant difference that unlike stocks, in online betting when the game is over, you could be instantly at zero.

        I won’t go into how my youthful online betting would have gone, as enough people now live that pain daily, but let’s just say I would have kept ponying up that the Minnesota Vikings were going to win a Super Bowl.

        My college sources tell me kids bet on anything because they can do it right on their phones. Don’t get me wrong, I love to play some cards. I’ve enjoyed times in the casino. But betting on the coin flip of the Super Bowl?–never my kind of thing.

        To me, it’s hard to imagine that this mindset, especially since it’s manifested with the languid tap of a phone, is good for kids. Tomorrow is far away for them, and a $100 bet on a team to cover the over-under can seem true and inevitable, much like a $500 bet on the next great pany. Life is about risk, sure, but there’s a difference between risk and gambling, and for the most part, teenagers imbibe enough risk- cocktail without mixing in the power juice of straight-up gambling.

        books & writing

        Franz Kafka’s Content Warnings

        Dear Max,

        You wrote in your last letter that the publisher of my forthing plete works wishes me to append content warnings to the front matter of the book “to prevent readers from being traumatized.” I must confess, this idea that literature should not traumatize readers is new to me. After all, I did write, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading it for?” Surely you have seen that one. Readers love to quote it on the Internet. However, as you say, these are different times. Perhaps you’re right that I am not the best judge of what is psychologically healthy. I will do as you request and provide warnings for my scribblings.

        [Read more →]
        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        Selection over serendipity

        Every time I get into one of my cars, the same thing happens–one of life’s petty little annoyances. It’s quiet, and I want to turn on the radio. Decades of instinct and logic have trained me that in such situations I should click on the power.

        But instead, when I do that now, I turn the system off. Frustrating!

        The reason this happens is because the power actually was on, but the input selection was turned to AUX or USB. When a Warnock child drives one of the cars (we’re good Americans and now have a bunch of vehicles), they always immediately plug in their phones and listen to their playlists.

        Like many other aspects of modern life, they have embraced selection over serendipity: They pick exactly what they listen to.

        If I say this makes me sad, you’ll pick on me in a generational way. But I’ll say it anyway: It makes me sad.

        I recently needed to have a conversation with a wise person, my colleague Prof. Robert Watts. I sent him an email, and then he called me. I missed the call and called him back. When he answered, we laughed about this: There we were, old-timers exchanging phone calls.

        He said he tells his students about the days when your phone would ring, your cord-tethered land line, and you had no idea who was calling. If you picked up–and we often did–there was sometimes a surprise person on the other end.

        Now, you only pick up (or not) when you recognize the call.

        You only listen to the song you want.

        I know personal digital curating, sometimes called narrowcasting, isn’t new: We read only what we want, listen to news that reifies our beliefs, etc.

        Radio listening is a gentler example, and I wonder what my kids abandon by seldom trying the radio.

        My pandemic work pattern for the past year and a half, since I was home, included tuning in Friday afternoons to WXPN 88.5’s Funky Friday.

        What discoveries! I gained a new perspective on The Spinners: How did I forget how great “The Rubberband Man” and “Games People Play” are? Do these songs, in fact, deserve a spot in my now bloated top 100 songs?

        Locked into my playlists, would I have e across other Funky Friday gems, like the amazing “The Numbers Game” by Thievery Corporation?

        Browsing other stations in my car, would I have developed a late-in-the-game interest in The Killers? How would I have ever stumbled across “Watch The Girl Destroy Me” by Possum Dixon?

        It’s not always a win. I hung in listening to 102.9 WMGK’s Philly 500 over Memorial Day Weekend only to reach the appalling conclusion: A Peter Frampton song at the top. “Who are these voters?” I seethed.

        Still, though, I got something out of it (at the least, it gave me a way to work toward a conclusion here). And with “Stairway to Heaven” at #2, the list reinforced the wisdom I displayed long ago when I made Led Zeppelin IV my first vinyl purchase at the Berlin (NJ) Farmer’s Market for $2 in about 1980.

        Sure, I have my playlist. It’s my all-time favorite songs. It started as a top 100. Now it’s a top 200. Maybe I should freeze it in time, so nothing gets added.

        On my list, nothing will supplant the mighty Zeppelin. My days of taking random calls from wacky old friends are likely over too. But if I don’t scan through the stations occasionally, that top 100/200 will remain frozen in time, and I suppose I will too.

        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        Really, I think we are

        Got Moderna #2 last week. How weird is this to say about getting a shot?: It was an enjoyable experience.

        The whole happening at Camden County College, both times I went, was great, and that’s even though I was a bad patient each time. First time, I was an hour late. I got what I deserved: They pranked me. A nurse at the check-in station told me since I was so late they had canceled my appointment. I was crestfallen, and I looked it. She waited a beat and then broke into a smile and said, “April Fools’!” Of course (dummy!), it was April Fools’ Day, and the nurses all cracked up. They got me!

        Second time, I forgot my vaccine card, even though I wrote “BRING CARD” in my planner. As I gushed apologies to the first person I talked to, I was assured it was no problem. They said they would make it work, and, after checking my id, they did. A friendly nurse handing me my second card told me to simply staple the two cards together.

        Got to see the CCC gym converted to this mass vaccine clinic. It was incredibly organized, from the parking lot to the exit door. The place was relaxed, even though it had a celebratory atmosphere, an aura of triumph! (See below.)

        Got to see medical professionals and volunteers upbeat and happy–man, do they deserve it–as they worked with people for what felt like a powerful greater good.

        Got high-level medical advice from one of those people, a gentleman who told me, candidly, “Drink a shit-ton of water.” (I did, and I lucked out and had little reaction to either shot.)

        Got a teeny little shot both times. “Is that it?” I asked. You don’t even feel it, trypanophobes.

        Got to listen to pump-it-up tunes like “September” by Earth, Wind, & Fire.

        Got to see people dancing around to those tunes, keeping up morale, including a woman in a multicolored clown wig and outfit. I just had to go up to her and say, “You’re making it work!”

        Got to see a bunch of nice people. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a bunch of people period, and a bunch of nice people? But how could you not be nice? People weled questions, held doors for each other, let someone go ahead of them. Workers and volunteers looked for the confused and directed them and sought the anxious and calmed them.

        Got to thank people–everybody from the parking lot security at CCC to the nurse who brightly told me my 15-minute wait was over and I could split. It seemed right to do that, to thank every one of them, people giving time and effort so we can turn the corner on this terrible pandemic.

        Got to think during that 15-minute sit, putting away my phone and watching the dancing woman in the clown wig and giving myself a minute. There are foul people who have been making money and building fame by promoting the idea that America can’t do it.

        I had fun getting a vaccine

        BS to those foul people, I say. We can do it.

        And we are.

        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        At least we might be sleeping more

        Everything’s been all screwed up. You know what I mean, so I’ll spare you another listsicle of your Top 10 Life Disruptions.

        But in our weary world, is that a bright spot I see? Because so many of us have spent the last year rolling out of bed and walking into another room for work or school, have stayed out of the bars, have wrapped up dinner in the kitchen at 8:00 rather than in a restaurant at 10:00, have finished guzzling a few episodes of Three’s pany at 9:30 instead of a 10:30 movie, have decided against even going out (dammit, these listsicles pop up like mushrooms nowadays)–because of all these things, it appears we might be getting more sleep.

        An observational study of cell phone data appearing in the Journal of Medical Internet Research indicated that despite all the other nonsense, we may at least be getting some shuteye. Based on about 2.8 million observations, the researchers concluded, “The average estimated sleep duration increased sharply in the months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

        So, whoopie. Like many, many of you, I’m on one year+ of work-at-home duty. But that light out there… I got my first shot–Moderna–last week. I had few side effects, and I’m teed up for shot #2 in a few weeks. Spring is here. People in are being accustomed to mask-wearing and social-distancing. Restaurants are opening.

        With all the devastation, it’s difficult to write the positives, but our pre-pandemic culture was sleep-deprived and running on Red Bull and coffee. Now, after a year of five-second, slipper-clad mutes, of getting up later because of that reduced time on the road or in the train or bus, we’ve cashed in on extra zzzs.

        Because I stopped doing my daily 40- to 45-minute-one-way train mute, I started messing with the alarm clock. In the early summer I changed my wake-up time from 6:50 to 7:00. Then to 7:15. When I try to calculate it, during the quarantine I bet I’ve gotten an extra 5,000 minutes of sleep, or way more than three full days.

        (Kids may not be seeing the same benefit–the median age of the study seemed to be 35–because while they too have had reduced errands and activities, I feel life has morphed into one long perpetual weekend to them.)

        I also don’t want to suggest that more sleep has meant less work. Many people have likely worked more raw hours over the past year. Of course many people have also juggled working and parenting in ways previously unimaginable.

        Eh, and for me, getting more sleep is a mixed bag anyway. I’ve always been firmly lined up with Edgar Allan Poe, who said, “Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them.” At night, the dragons and demons emerge. Paranoia and abandonment and treachery and loss and despair.

        Then I wake. Yes, it’s mentally exhausting, but, dammit, physically, I’m on my game!

        You’re increasingly seeing stories about how we are returning to some new form of normalcy. It’ll be weird, It’ll be different. But we might all be rested up and ready to face it.

        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        A school picture–what a story it tells

        When you go through old school picture day photos, memories return, even if you can’t for the life of you remember who half those people were–or even sometimes have trouble finding yourself.

        What tales they tell.

        In the fall, on his way home from practice on a rainy day, my high school junior Zachary skidded out on his bike. His face was the first thing to hit the asphalt.

        One of our town angels gathered him and the bike up–thank you, James!–and brought him home. He was all banged up. I can at times embrace the aw-rub-some-dirt-in-it mentality, but when we got him into the upstairs bathroom and looked over the damage, we realized this thing might not heal properly. A scar isn’t the worst of things, but it’s different if it’s a result of parental negligence.

        Taking him to Urgent Care was the right call, because he ended up getting eight stitches.

        He was fine, though, playing in the soccer season opener two days later and even taking a ball right in the face–he had to convince the ref he was doubled over not because he was concussed but because he just had his face sewn together.

        But the week of the accident was also the week of school picture time. The heck with it, we said: We sent him. And we got this:

        Uh… yah. 950, 951, 952–some story. So what is the tale being told here?:

        • “They told me I could fight my way to the front of the picture line… so I listened. Oh, I was the last kid photographed.”
        • “A face only a mother could love–and even then only that one side of it.”
        • “I told you to shoot my good side!”
        • “I’m literally the poster child for bike helmets!'”
        • “Nothing to see here.”
        • “When you have a school photo like this, the message is clear: My parents don’t love me.”
        • “Hasn’t anyone ever heard of Photoshop?”
        • “Didn’t the pandemic prevent stuff like this?”
        • “So this kid walks into a bar… face first.”
        • “Dang it, I am smiling! You try smiling with this contusion on your countenance!”
        • “Once upon a time… I learned that the street is way harder than my face.”
        • “Sure I have a girlfriend! She just lives kind of far away–uh, in Canada, in, uh western Canada. That’s why you never see her.”
        • And, of course, “You should see the other guy.”

        virtual children by Scott Warnock

        Snow day today

        I watched the two-day snowstorm this week, and I also watched my high school junior sit diligently at the kitchen table, learning remotely. I thought how I can still remember the school closing numbers for not only Eastern High School but Berlin munity School: 579 and 578.

        In a much different time, marked by different media, on snowy days we would get up and turn on the radio and listen as an announcer, over a grainy AM signal, would rattle through the list of schools that had closed because of the snow.

        The anticipation built as he went into the 500s. We had looked outside and seen the flakes, thick and white, with no reasonable chance of stopping. We knew school had to be closed.

        On those days, often it was. Our expectations would meet up with the meteorological predictions of the previous night, and the announcer would call it for us.

        Other days, tragedy. The announcer would run the corner of 570 like a horse on the home stretch: “570, 571, 572, 573, 574, 575, 576, 577…” and then, cruelly, he would skip ahead to “…582, 583.” How could our schools be the only schools that were open?! Woe! Woe!

        Some days there was the “tie,” the unsatisfying conclusion. Slush. “577 two hours late,” the voice would utter. Two hours? What could we do with two hours? We were already awake and riled, so we couldn’t sleep in. No point in getting cold and soaked for a mere two-hour snowball fight. None of the adventures of the day could be pursued. Nothing made sense.

        Was it worse when we never made it to the numbers? I remember going to bed several times after the news had predicted a big storm–I would be almost as giddy and restless as on Christmas Eve.

        I would awaken early. It would always be dark. Something felt wrong–it was too dark. I would creep to the window, draw in a breath, and pull aside the shades. I still recall the scarring sight: The slick, black streets, only damp from some light mist, cast in the wan yellowy lights of the streetlamps. No snow could be seen. There would be school.

        Now that we are going through a pandemic, almost everyone has gone through the experience of online learning. Many educators have been predicting that the snow day will be a quaint remembrance, so 20th-century, perhaps.

        My teenager certainly didn’t miss a step. He has been fully remote anyway, and on Monday he strode into the kitchen and made himself some toaster strudels and was greeted online, as always, by his enthusiastic teachers and classmates. I do believe in the power and effectiveness of online learning–it’s my career!–and during this wintry week, even those students who chose hybrid learning were working only remotely.

        There are now no disruptions to education. No frustrating administrative re-configuring. No family spring break plans changed or school years extended. The school day happens inexorably, and then the kids can go outside at 3:00 o’clock for their fun.

        It’s a pity, really.

        sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Weekend of backup quarterbacks

        I started writing this a few weeks ago, right after the last weekend of the NFL regular season. A few things have happened since, but I’ll stay the course.

        2020 saw many a hope and dream crushed, including those who had thought their kids were fast-tracking to sports glory. The pandemic ended youth seasons, froze recruiting, and in some colleges led to an extended year of eligibility, causing many frosh to face a peculiar roster glut, as they tried to join teams that didn’t graduate anyone.

        Of course, many of these athletes had already reached their peak. I thought about this a lot in the final weekend of the NFL and the playoffs, which I watched, as always, with much interest. This year, I was noticing the chasm between starting quarterbacks and most of the rest, especially because many backups got a shot, even with playoff spots on the line at the end of the season.

        Often, these games made for tough watching. Aside from a couple outliers, the backup-led offenses were mostly inept, and the drop-off in talent was stark, almost painful.

        I listened to announcers (in between the incessant blather) discuss just how good these players were at previous levels. In college, they were nothing short of amazing–I mean, that’s the word: They put up these amazing numbers and won everything. Some of them played in other pro leagues, where they were nothing short of amazing. You can imagine how good they were in high school–yep, there’s that word again: amazing.

        Hearing this while watching the bumbling on-field play, I wondered how difficult it must be for players who had been dominant their entire lives suddenly to drop off the cliff when they took another step forward.

        It must be a tough reality to face after years and years of being amazing that you have little place at the next level. In fact, there was even a secondary narrative I noticed: Stud quarterbacks at previous levels who had been moved out of that position in the NFL.

        Hell, I’m not criticizing these athletics warriors. They still have reached the pinnacle, and, hey, they’re making a ton of cash. I love the hard-work quest for excellence in sports–or anything–and believe the journey is its own reward.

        But watching them, thinking about the hours they spent, made me wonder about the quixotic quest of many parents of young athletes, rushing breathlessly forward without considering that for the vast majority, it will end much earlier than they think. The higher, more unrealistic, and more external expectations are, the more painful the thud must be for the kid.

        It was a stark reminder that in my experience with sports, there are big jumps in levels. Young athletes often bump against the ceiling of their current level rather abruptly, in nearly all cases not only before the pros, but before college. In tough cases, kids peak before high school: You know, the sixth-grade playground god who sits the bench in high school.

        In these NFL games, it must be surreal for the old hometown fans to gather ’round when they hear that the local boy is going to finally play and then watch a game that’s too fast, too much for him. They’ll remember the high school state title, the pride of the town, like it was a million years ago.

        For me, it’s enjoyable to work with kids who are giving their all to be the best they can. It’s less enjoyable to talk to some parents who, often with a maniacal gleam in their eyes, see their kids as destined for high-level greatness and have, all by themselves, set the expectation mark at those heights: scholarships and all the rest.

        If the kids themselves, yes, encouraged by the supportive structure around them, want this glory, they should go for it! Most will recognize their limits, and that will be part of the experience.

        But as I watched those games, thinking of these players, I realized that we toss around the word “best” a lot, often forgetting what it means and just how few people can occupy the space it fundamentally describes.

        politics & governmentvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Many Americans will have a Ralphie-Ovaltine moment–and I feel for them

        In our house the movie A Christmas Story is, as in many other households, a holiday staple.

        In this perfect little movie, Ralphie has several loss-of-youthful-innocence moments. One of the most poignant (mild spoiler alert follows if for some reason you’ve never seen this movie!) is his effort to decode a message to save radio show heroine Little Orphan Annie.

        Ralphie has eagerly awaited a special decoder pin’s arrival in the mail. He’ll tune into his favorite radio program, receive Annie’s coded message, and then use the decoder. This is important stuff!

        He finally receives the decoder package (making him forget immediately about a narrow escape from bullies), hears the message, and rushes off to the bathroom, “the only room in the house where a boy of nine can sit in privacy and decode.”

        While little brother Randy whines at the door about needing to use the bathroom, the narrator recounts Ralphie’s decoding. The tension builds as he deciphers Annie’s message, letter by letter, imagining he might be saving the world!

        That’s until the whole message is clear: B-E-S-U-R-E-T-O-D-R-I-N-K-Y-O-U-R-O-V-A-L-T-I-N-E.

        A stunned Ralphie realizes he’s been duped: The message was merely “a crummy mercial” for the program sponsor. Ralphie throws down the pencil and decoder and leaves the bathroom, going “out to face the world again, wiser.”

        It’s another bittersweet moment where he is yanked into the sphere of mature knowledge.

        For some chunk of Americans, their Ralphie-Ovaltine moment is ing. I don’t think it’s funny. I’m not gloating about it. I don’t envy them it.

        At some point, these Ralphies will be engaged, perhaps feverishly, with recollecting a lingering aspect of the chaos of the past four years of this president, and it’ll hit them.

        Perhaps it will be when one of the many inside stories of a presidency driven by selfishness and greed and antagonism es to light. They will hear about just who walked and tarnished the halls of their White House the past few years. They will see clearly the pardoning of those who abused their trust.

        Perhaps, my god, they sent money the past few months to “fight” the bizarre claims of election conspiracy. They will see how a purported-drainer-of-the-swamp created the deepest fen in modern political history with their money.

        Perhaps they’ll read a book about autocratic or fascist propaganda. Or they’ll read–or re-read–1984. They’ll realize that the person who hugs the flag tightest may be the least patriotic, the least American. They will see that a long and unfortunately reliable way to fool people is with what many call “The Big Lie,” which is that if you tell a monster lie, a preposterous untruth, and repeat it enough, some group of people will e to believe it.

        Perhaps they will not have their moment for many years. Perhaps it will e when their kids or even grandkids will read about this era, read about how a purveyor of more than 20,000 lies set up a sloppy, stupid lie about the integrity of the U.S. election and how many enablers went along with it to get votes, and a young face will look up to them asking, “You certainly didn’t believe that, did you?”

        Faced with that question, what will our Ralphies do when they think back on the unpatriotic and undemocratic actions of the past four years? Will they admit their culpability?

        Or, even with so much time having passed, will they follow dutifully from the wreckage of integrity of the past four years and simply lie themselves?

        Regardless, I feel for these future Ralphies, as many will have a moment when their belief in a movement will be abruptly shattered, splintered by the searing shock of knowledge that the past four years had been largely a sham: a bloated, “crummy” mercial.

        health & medicalvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        My little knee surgery saga

        In the spring, as we were whiling away pandemic time, I decided to attempt to rekindle my short-lived TikTok fame by making a video about badminton.

        Yeah, let that sentence sink in.

        Unfortunately, in trying to please my small and ever-dwindling fan base, I stumbled in a rut and tore the meniscus in my knee.

        Some fun.

        I hobbled around for five months before determining that I had to address it. The surgery is tomorrow.

        With that decision, I entered the insurance maze. Realize, no one was a malicious player–in fact, everyone I worked with was friendly and helpful–but the process was like a part-time job.

        Once upon a time, I went to my primary care because that’s where the process all starts for these things. That makes sense. Got it. From there, I needed an MRI. Check. Then I was off to see the knee specialist.

        I have good, maybe great, insurance. I work for an employer that has a preferred network. I searched the nearly 24,000-line tier 1 provider spreadsheet for a knee doc, and I found one.

        I went to the office, got some x-rays and had an eval. He sent me to the surgeon. I went to see the surgeon and the NP he works with, had a more detailed eval (like I said, the individual players were great), and set up the surgery.

        During the course of all this bills and paper copy EoB (explanation of benefits) forms were arriving. Sometimes I was billed. Sometimes I wasn’t. Sometimes I paid on the spot. Sometimes I didn’t. I tried to keep up, matching EoBs (they can be a bit confusing) with bills. I was also trying to leverage the waning dollars in my health care spending account–see, I’m a smart consumer!

        The big day crept closer.

        I of course needed a CoVID preop test. I also needed to set up postop rehab. I looked through my big spreadsheet and found a tier 1 rehab provider. When I called, though, I was told they are not “capitated” to my primary care, so, as a super helpful person there helped me sort that out–including by making a phone call to my insurance for me–I can’t go there.

        I called a “capitated” rehab center. I can go there, even though it’s more expensive than the other place. Another nice person gave me a mystery number I had to provide to my primary care, which I did. I called back the primary care to give them that number for a referral.

        I was feeling I was almost over the finish line, but near the end of my call about the rehab referral it was mentioned that I might need a “clearance” or “referral” for the surgery. I went from befuddled to panicked, because I thought we did that from the get-go, and then I realized I didn’t know what “that” meant! What were these terms?!

        I scrambled to connect my fine primary care folks and the helpful surgeon’s assistant. There was a moment of concern, but they took care of it.

        Apparently I am ready, although during the course of those conversations and the conversation with the rehab place I was also told I need a “script,” and I was initially befuddled again until I was assured the “script” would be sent out with me following surgery.

        I’m an organized guy. I have a folder for all this stuff. Nice notes. A filing system powerfully behind it all.

        How do other people deal with all of this, I thought? Or, wait… am I other people? Pride, indeed, eth before the fall.

        Anyway, I’m ready for the big day–I think.

        But this is more plicated now. CoVID. I have to think about the implications of going to the hospital. I also have to think about the implications of asking health care providers to do this job when they might be doing other jobs.

        I’m at the eve of the event (who knew this would be the biggest “eve” of the month for me?). If something prevents the procedure, I’ll realize there are more important things in the world. I’ll wait, and then re-open up my little file system and figure out where we left off.

        ends & oddvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Venmo: Reinforcing that I have no idea how social media works

        I have again wrenched myself into the 21st century. Last year I did it through TikTok. This year, Venmo.

        This Venmo thing took a big leap of technofaith, since I had only recently started depositing checks electronically. I was driving to the bank with paper checks in my leather wallet–I know, I know: it was, as the kids say, ridiculous. It was time to get modern.

        I signed up for Venmo. Not long after, someone wanted to give me money. I told them my Venmo userid. And they did! Look at me, exchanging money online–whee!

        Now if you are a late teen or 20-something, the rest of this will no doubt strike you in a “Wow that dude’s old” kind of way. You’ve been warned. But that’s where the story is.

        So one day I open my Venmo (is “open my” the proper phrasing?) and look around, and I notice that I can see that Jimmy gave Jenny “$20 for drinkies.” Jeffy paid Jilly and there’s a French fries emoji. Somebody paid somebody for “Sticky Buns.” Serena paid Virgil acpanied by a GIF of a fingernail getting painted.

        On and on. I was stupefied: What was I seeing? I’ll tell you, uh, whipper-snappers what I thought I was seeing: The intimate financial transactions of people, many of them strangers.

        My befuddlement led me to what I thought was a good question: Why would people want other people to know how they spend their money?

        I posed this very question to many of these people and others like them. The general response I believe can be summarized succinctly: “Who cares?” Not only did they not care, but few could even understand why it mattered.

        If I thought this was weird, people said (sometimes stifling a yawn), I could simply make my own transactions private (ah–I had already done that!). But what was the difference?

        This behavior was outside my sphere of understanding. In my world paradigm, financial transactions are private. They shouldn’t be social. They shouldn’t be media. Especially when it is easy for them not to be.

        However, as I scrolled through the endless transaction list of pizzas and drinks and articles of clothing and drinks and tickets and drinks, money eagerly exchanging hands, I wondered if my perception was what needed changing.

        Doubt crept in. Why should these things be private? In real life (IRL), wouldn’t I have seen these people in public with their drinkies and pizzas and other stuff, handing money to another person?

        What’s the difference if I’m seeing it all secret-like on my phone? Who does care, and, in our digital world, what does it ultimately matter?

        politics & governmentvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Donnie Dodgeball

        We all knew a Donnie Dodgeball. He’d get pegged during a playground game of dodgeball The ball would carom off his back. But he wouldn’t admit it.

        The kid on the other team would cry out, “Got ya!” But he would claim he wasn’t hit. Of course, these things happened sometimes. At that point, the rest of the other team would urge, “You’re out!” The fibber, caught, would give in.

        Not Donnie Dodgeball. He’d stay put. He’d insist the ball missed.

        There were unwritten playground rules to deal with these situations. After a bit, a stubborn player’s own team would declare the player out. That would almost always do the trick.

        Not Donnie Dodgeball. He would angrily maintain that he wasn’t hit. His teammates would urge, “C’mon Donnie Dodgeball, what are you doing? You’re out. Get going!”

        Donnie Dodgeball would sit down and refuse to leave the court.

        You almost had to admire his brazenness. Even though everyone else knew what had happened, everyone saw it, he would dig in. He would get flush, his voice would crack, and his eyes would moisten.

        The pressure would build, and eventually the whole force of the fifth grade playground would have to rise against such a player before he would finally get up, unsuccessfully fighting back tears, and tromp off to the side.

        Donnie Dodgeball, though, wouldn’t care that he ruined the game for everyone. He would stay on the court all the way through recess or until an aide who had seen the whole thing would have to tell him he was out and to remove himself from the court.

        As time passed and you thought it over, there would be other incidents like this throughout Donnie Dodgeball’s life. Cheating in school. Shortcuts. Pettiness. He wasn’t hated–in fact some people like him–but most knew he was a cheater and he couldn’t be trusted.

        Sometimes you would run into Donnie Dodgeball later in life, maybe in a bar, maybe at a class reunion.

        He’d get going and he would voice all of the transgressions the world had mitted against him, tell you about all the stupid people he hates. You would see the color rise in his face again.

        He’d badmouth his wife, plain about his job. It was all same day, different shit.

        You’d sit and listen and watch, and you would think back to Donnie Dodgeball sitting defiantly on the playground, bathed in hot tears, and realize you knew who he was all along.

        ends & oddpolitics & government

        Vote with your own two eyes

        You’ve heard this everywhere, but I’ll still do my little part here: Get out and vote. I believe if enough people do, we’ll move on from this embarrassing chapter in U.S. history, and we’ll reduce the chance of hemming and hawing and resisting and bs’ing.

        Get out there and vote so the swell of numbers means we don’t have to listen to lies about fraud or tampering. Make all of that not matter by virtue of decisiveness.

        Tampering? I admit I’ve been mystified since 2016, when everyone was crying foul because Russian bots were running amok on social media and ruining our democracy.

        I kept thinking, wait, not Russian tanks or paper-shredder-wielding soldiers or poison-toting spies. Bots. Carrying little pieces of stupid information. My frustration would well up that these bots were an excuse, that our elections’ integrity were being questioned because people weren’t smart enough to do some research on a stupid little fake news story they read on Facebook.

        We’ve got to do better. We cannot allow phony ads to influence our vote for the President of the United States.

        We’re not living in mud huts cowering and shivering every time it thunders. Shame on us for this nonsense even being a factor in our election. I know digital deceptions–deep fakes, etc.–are getting more plex, but everything can be double-, triple-checked.

        It only takes rudimentary critical thinking skills to see through slick editing to a lack of substance, especially when you factor in motive: If a message you receive is being propagated to better someone’s chances at election, at any cost… c’mon, connect the dots!

        If you see, for instance, a photo of a bunch of bikers with a caption saying they are praying for the president’s recovery outside Walter Reed hospital, you just need to look around a little to see this isn’t true.

        Facebook and its kin, for all the money they make, should police content better, but if your decisions are being primarily governed by material that you’re reading on social media…

        … well, here we are.

        Smarten up, and get out and vote. Inform yourself, even a little, and then vote. Think of it, as Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum wrote in “Citizens Guide to Defending the Election,” as something proactive you must do: “To put it differently: Instead of treating democracy like tap water, Americans must start fetching it from the well, carrying it home, and boiling it before drinking.”

        I’m no prognosticator, and perhaps I’m naive, but if the vast numbers of people who think what’s happening now is a disgrace show up and vote, there’ll be no conversation e early November about the transfer of power. It’ll be too overwhelming to be a conversation.

        Who knows, maybe the incumbent will even surprise us with a show of decency in conceding in the face of massive polling numbers.

        If that image cheers you, however unbelievable it seems, then get out and vote.

        politics & governmentvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Don’t change the debate format!

        People across the world are dismayed, disturbed, and appalled by the U.S. Presidential debate Tuesday.

        CNN simply called it a “shit-show.”

        Following from these responses are cries to change the format in any future debates to control the verbal batants, particularly the incumbent, who acted, unsurprisingly, in an egregious manner.

        I’ve been seeing these perspectives through the lens of many younger people, including my own kids, who haven’t experienced many debates. Many asked: Is this the way it is supposed to be? Is it always this bad?

        Trying to see what they had seen got me thinking, and those thoughts lead me to say firmly to all those who want to change the format: No way! Keep it as it is!

        I’ve always wondered about the purpose of presidential debates. A debate is an artificial munication and interaction scenario that enables us to see the debaters in a narrow, particular way: On a stage, answering plicated questions against a tight clock.

        In this environment, verbal dexterity, humor, and partisanship take precedent over traits like team-building, contemplativeness, and open-mindedness. Traits that might make you an excellent president may not show up in a debate venue, not to mention the value of silly attributes like good looks and even height.

        While I enjoy debates, I never saw them as a tremendous predictor of who would be a good president/leader. In fact, as you saw Tuesday, they may not even show who’s a good debater.

        How can a candidate articulate how to address climate change or health care reform in a two-minute ment? At one time, debates were perhaps a way for people to see candidates and to put those candidates’ ideas put under pressure, but now candidates are visible in many other ways. Maybe there was a time, oh, say, back when Lincoln debated Douglas, that you had a mono-media view of your candidates. That time is past. If you want to see Biden’s plans, for instance, just go to his website.

        Oh, and forget all that stuff about looking presidential. When you step off Air Force 1, you look presidential, despite massive contradictions otherwise.

        So why change the format? Tuesday night was not a shit-show–it was perfect. If, for some reason you didn’t already know about the behavior of the incumbent, you got to see that behavior in front of a world-wide stage.

        You got to see the level of listening and truth telling and respect. Of course, if there was any doubt about that person’s stance on white supremacy–well, it’s now more difficult to defend that platform plank.

        He laid it all out for the world to see because the debate format provided the platform. You saw how he is. If you vote for him, then you are saying that is how you want to be represented.

        By the way, younger viewers I spoke with were frustrated in general with the candidates. But I noticed the debate let them see behavior for what it was. I’m just telling them that despite the bluster about voter fraud that their vote will decide how much they accept what they saw on that stage.

        politics & governmentvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        All of a sudden… Captain America!

        There is this guy I know. One day he turned into Captain America. It was a quick and thorough transformation.

        I’m not sure how it happened, but all of a sudden he’s the biggest patriot around. It’s all red-white-and-blue and U.S. of A. The flag means everything to him, and if you get in front of a camera and hug the flag, no matter how obviously insincerely, he’s all for you. Any questions? If so, he’s mad as hell about your lack of mitment.

        The little problem here is that I ain’t seen Captain America do a damn patriotic thing yet.

        He’s bent out of shape if you “disrespect” “his” flag. To him, that means you’re disrespecting “his” country. But he spends 95% of his national anthems in the beer line or bathroom hunched over a urinal or on a couch,

        On Memorial Day I saw him tossing some horseshoes for a few hours before he puked in the bushes after guzzling a 12-pack of patriotic beer. He did have on a red, white, and blue tank top.

        I was thinking he’d be all over Flag Day–I mean, he had the tank top–but he missed that one pletely.

        Fourth of July, the big daddy, Independence Day, I saw him eat 8 hot dogs and up the 12er to dang near a case (hell, it was a really patriotic year this year because Fourth of July fell on a Saturday) before repeating the bush incident.

        Constitution Day has always been a tough one because he still gets that document confused with the Declaration of Independence. The transformation to Captain America did unfortunately no good in that regard.

        He doesn’t do nothing for Veterans Day.

        He didn’t do nothing special to memorate 9/11 either.

        Not a drop of service or a dash of remembrance.

        Whatever, in his heart he’s all about the USA, even if in his head he couldn’t pass the citizenship test they give to aspiring new Americans, but he don’t need to–this is his country and his kind’ll be administering the tests, thank you very much.

        Being Captain America means he doesn’t have to make any sacrifices like learning stuff.

        In fact, he’s so unwilling to sacrifice, he won’t even wear a face mask lately. He’s not giving up his personal freedom.

        I wonder if George Washington had e a knockin’ on Captain America’s door back in the 1700s. Is he the kind of guy who would have answered the call, who would have slept in the snow with no shoes? It’s tough to imagine. I feel like he would have said, “It’s too cold out there, general! I don’t have the time to sacrifice for your stupid war!”

        But now he thinks he’s the natural inheritor of that legacy of personal sacrifice.

        So he stomps around all mad, gets good and drunk on some of the big days and says stuff like, “If they don’t like it, they can live somewhere else!”

        They.

        Them other folks.

        Not him.

        Not Captain America.

        Defender of the red, the white, and the blue.

        politics & governmentvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Stop the bullying at White House press conferences

        Now that the political conventions are over and we can get back to normal (hahahahaha–I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get that out with a straight face), I have a request: I want the bullying at White House press conferences to stop. You know what I’m talking about, and you know who I’m talking to: You question-askers better stop bullying!

        Here’s a definition of bullying I found on the web: seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).

        There’s a lot packed in there, especially in the word “coerce” and in that parenthetical at the end.

        What else can you possibly call it when people wearing masks–who do they think they are protecting their own health?!–ask this poor schlub at the podium specific questions about a virus?! Talk about coercion? Talk about vulnerable! They are asking someone questions about a topic that this guy has clearly demonstrated he knows nothing about, yet, when prompted, will gladly make a fool of himself in front of the world audience by answering.

        For shame!

        This has been going on for months and I for one am tired of it. Think about the future, when our kids and grandkids will watch these videos (oh, and there will be videos). “But Grammy,” they’ll ask, perhaps through tears, “who kept letting these people bully a poor confused guy who can’t even speak in plete sentences by asking him questions about medicine, about science, about facts?!”

        Yes, our ancestors will see clearly how question-askers relished the daily ineptitude, the what would appear to be almost scripted foolishness!

        He’s a sitting duck. I mean, anyone who can say something like “I know more about drones than anybody” will clearly say anything if prompted (if there is a person in the world qualified to make that statement about drones, isn’t it unimaginable that the person would actually state it?!).

        These questions need to stop now because Miss Manners would say it’s not nice and none of us are learning anything anyways. Geez, what do they achieve? We all know this person knows nothing about the coronavirus. Since this has gone on for so long, we also know, at this point, that he’s not going to spend time learning either.

        So you know what, you mean bullies, remember that some day we’ll all look back and wonder how a person like this got into that podium position in the first place, how a person who was the least informed in the many rooms he ventured into got to call the shots. Until then, ask nice, kind questions that won’t cause any further embarrassment.

        In fact, let’s stay in his wheelhouse. Maybe start here: “If you were the coronavirus, how would you successfully market yourself?”

        health & medicalvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Don’t know anyone who has dealt with COVID-19?

        As the rate of COVID cases in the U.S. continues to rise, I’m struck by the number of people I speak with who say, honestly, that they don’t know or haven’t heard from anyone who has personally dealt with it.

        Well, if you were one of those people, the moment you started reading this, that changed. My family has had to deal with COVID-19. My wife and 19-year-old son both got sick, both got tested, and both were positive.

        My son, who hadn’t been feeling well, got tested at about 10:30 in the morning and received the bad news a few hours later. My wife then went to a different testing center with my younger son; it took several days for her results to be sent to her.

        My son was sick for a few days but pulled a quick, full recovery. My wife, an otherwise perfectly healthy person [of indeterminate age], was increasingly slowed up as the days went by. She had the issue/plication of losing her sense of smell. She was lethargic. She spent nearly two weeks in the front room, doing puzzles and getting furious at the news, which couldn’t have helped.

        Neither of them had a fever.

        Because the other half of our household, my younger son and I, showed no signs, we had to divide up the place like post-WWII Europe.

        My younger son ended up being negative, but it took many days for his results to e back negative. I was going to get tested, but my quarantine status was self-isolation, and that was not going to change regardless. Plus, with the long waits they experienced at the testing center, I was reluctant to take up a testing slot for someone who might really need it, and when I did finally did call a center, the person I spoke to pleasantly discouraged me from ing in since I was asymptomatic.

        I’ll get an antibody test at some point.

        Many of you know our family personally. For some of you the relationship is purely digital. You should of course feel free to have your own macro views about this pandemic, about masks, about rates of infection, about data, about politics.

        But if you’ve made it to the bottom of this short piece, you now can’t say, “I don’t even know anyone who’s had to deal with COVID.” If you want further reinforcement of the message, feel free to stop by. But I’ll ask you to keep your distance for just a few more days–and that’ll be for your own good.

        politics & governmentvirtual children by Scott Warnock

        Let’s watch the news together

        We’re all aware of some version of the problem: It’s not just that we can’t agree, it’s that we can’t even have the conversation.

        You know what I’m talking about. In a way, it’s difficult to articulate–hard to find the right words to explain. You say something and I’m immediately sent spinning. I say something and you have a fact to refute it.

        You’re suspicious. So am I. We’ve both heard things and have facts and sources. We both have premises. We both know a lot of stuff. Over and over, we keep having conversations that never get off the ground.

        Even though we’re still connected, we know those who’ve separated from friends and family.

        So let’s try something different, something kind of simple–if we’ll give it a chance..

        Let’s watch the news together.

        Yes, this is an invitation. In these COVID times, we don’t have to be in the same room. Let’s get on the old horn, settle down, and watch the news. Let’s flip the channels and land on one. You tell me what you see. I’ll tell you what I see. You tell me what you hear. I’ll tell you what I hear.

        Then we’ll flip to another channel. You can pick the first channel. I’ll pick the second. Repeat.

        Let’s present our experience to each other so we start to understand not so much what each other thinks–which all of us may be too eager to volunteer lately–but try to understand how each other sees the world.

        I need to understand that if I’m asking this of you, I have to hold up my end. I can’t immediately swoop in if I hear something I don’t like. I can’t sit, ready to pounce on the perceived weakness (when you think about it, it’s amazing how many of the metaphors for these types of behaviors draw from images of hunting/attacking animals) of your argument.

        Basically, I have to shut my mouth for a minute and hear what you have to say, but over the specific medium of watching the news together. So we’re freeing each other of bickering about data points and generalized conspiracies. We’re watching images on the screen and listening to the words that acpany them, and we say, “I see this. I hear this.”

        We have e a long way, so we probably won’t end up agreeing. I don’t want us to argue, but we may start arguing a bit. Perhaps that’s okay, but let’s just not finish that way.

        Because if we can’t even do this simple thing, take a few minutes and watch TV together, then all hope for discourse really is lost, isn’t it?

        Part of me envisions a scenario in which we don’t even weigh in on each other’s ments. We listen, take our turn, and eventually turn the TV off and take conversation elsewhere, maybe to why we’ve been friends in the first place.

        Then we can hang up for now.