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Remember When We Didn’t Need A Planetary Protection Officer?

When I saw NASA’s advertisement for “Planetary Protection Officer,” I knew that it was the job for me.  I have always been concerned about interplanetary missions accidentally bringing alien germs back to Earth.  Although I did not have the required degree in physical science or math, I hated being around sick people, especially people who are sniffling or coughing, and I knew that this trait would make me the most qualified candidate.

My first task upon being hired was to install hand sanitizer dispensers on all spacecraft, with a sign stating that all personnel were required to use it on their hands before entering the spacecraft.  It seemed easy, until I realized that the alien life forms would probably not be able to read English.

So instead I drew several diagrams of aliens placing their hands underneath the dispenser, their hands filling with foam, and then the aliens rubbing their hands together.  But then I realized that the aliens might not have hands.  So I added a few more diagrams that were exactly the same, except in each one the hands were replaced with a different extremity: tentacles, claws, wings, hooves, fins.  I thought I’d covered every possible combination, until some staffer asked, “What if the alien is a gelatinous blob?”  I replied that gelatinous blobs would obviously be far too weird-looking to be allowed on Earth.  I then arranged to have the staffer transferred to a less challenging department.

Next, I drew diagrams demonstrating how aliens should cover their mouths if they coughed or sneezed.  This was a much larger project, since not only did I have to cover a wide range of potential types of hands, but also types of mouths.  Then it dawned on me that some aliens might have more mouths than extremities capable of covering them all.

This problem really had me stumped, until I realized that the thing to do was draw several diagrams, one showing the cough coming from one mouth, then another showing a sneeze coming from another mouth, and so on, with each drawing showing the hand or fin or tentacle covering just the mouth that was coughing or sneezing.  It came out very clear, and I marveled at my success in communicating with extraterrestrial life.

My third task was the most challenging.  I have always considered it my mission, and a difficult one at that, to convince people who have runny noses to grab a tissue and blow their noses, rather than sit there sniffling all day.  We all know what it sounds like when someone with a runny or stuffed up nose chooses to sniffle it back rather than expel it into a tissue.  And then makes that same choice again, and again, and…again, all day long, day in and day out, when there are plenty of tissues right there for the taking, especially when a well-meaning co-worker is holding the tissues out and offering them for free.

With it being so difficult to get humans to use tissues, I knew it would be even harder to convince lifeforms from other planets to blow their noses rather than sniffle?

I struggled with the problem, until I realized the truth was staring me right in the face: sound doesn’t travel in space.  The aliens could sniffle all they want, for no one would ever hear them.  I patted myself on the back for solving a problem with no cost to the taxpayers, and thought about tackling my next big project: extraterrestrials abusing cough syrup.

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My Slogan Was Published In the New York Times!

Two weeks ago, Senator Chuck Schumer announced the Democrats’ new slogan:  A Better Deal

And my first thought was:  “Surely they can do better than that.”

So when the New York Times asked readers to send in their ideas for a better slogan, I submitted mine…and it was among the handful chosen to be published!  I am deeply honored.

So what’s my slogan?  Read it here: A New Democratic Slogan?  Your Choices.  There are a number of other slogans, all of them great.  But if you want to go directly to mine, just scroll down a bit, or search for my name.

I am deeply, deeply honored, not only to be chosen, but to be among so many other great slogans.  If you check out the link, let me know what you think!

-MK

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Remember When It Seemed Like Christmas Was Far Away?

This was published yesterday at Markkaplowitz.com.

santa bear

Photo taken October 7.

Remember when you were in school, and it seemed like the month of December that was after Thanksgiving but before the beginning of Christmas break, took an eternity to pass?  When you’d think, “Oh, it’s only December 12th?  Christmas will never arrive.”

Nothing like Christmas makes me aware of how fast the year goes.  I feel like it was just that time of year when every other commercial is about men’s college basketball.

I wondered if there was a way to make Christmas start later.  So I started a campaign on Facebook to move Christmas to mid-January or even February.  And I got people to support me.  I was very clever.  I posted on people’s Facebook walls that I was tapping them for the “Christmas – Paper Towel Tube Challenge.”  The challenge was to film yourself putting one of those cardboard tubes at the inside of rolls of paper towels.  and speak into it like one would a megaphone.

It became very popular and before long I had a million Facebook users saying move Christmas to February 15 so that it would feel like the year was longer.  There was a referendum and a very close vote, and more than one accusation of cheating.

But when all was said and done, the ayes had it and Christmas – the biggest holiday of the year – was moved to mid-February, a month and three weeks from its usual spot.

Oh sure, people loved the extra shopping time at first.  But the next thing they knew, it was February 12, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and everyone was stressed out.

So there was another campaign on social media, and another referendum, and another close vote, and Christmas was now scheduled for May 22nd.

Why people did not foresee this causing conflict with graduation ceremonies and celebrations is one of the larger questions to arise from this episode.  An easier question might be why they decided to move the holiday once again.  Naturally they had another referendum – most people cast their votes early this time – and Christmas Day from the previous year is moved once again, this time to September.

This was later viewed, correctly I believe, as a mere stopgap measure.  All voters, no matter yea or nay, knew that with the start of another school year, and the Jewish holidays, that a September Christmas was dead in the water.  At the eleventh hour the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a create was stirring, not even a mouse, the Christmas from the previous year was moved to December 25th of the current year, so there would be two Christmases on the same day.  People had to buy last year’s and this year’s gifts at the same time.  Retailers never had it so good.  And so it was decreed that henceforth every Christmas would be a double Christmas.

People still wait until the last minute to shop and are stressed out leading up to that minute.  But the double the joy on the children’s faces more than makes up for it.

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Happy Thanksgiving

This post also appeared on my own website, MarkKaplowitz.com.

What I remember most about Thanksgiving is having a school assignment that was due the day after Thanksgiving break.  Why do they make things due the day after Thanksgiving break?turkey

Like the time in fifth grade, I had to write an “report” on Ferdinand Magellan.  I’d done nothing for weeks, thinking, “Oh, December first, that’s like forever away.”  Then that Sunday after Thanksgiving, when I and my brother are still eating pumpkin pie for breakfast, I realize in a panic that the report is due, that I don’t have any books on the subject, and that our library branch is closed.  To appreciate this scene you have to know what it was like in the days before the internet.

Fortunately, my father served with someone on the synagogue ritual committee who worked for the library system, and by calling this person – during dinner, from what I could gather from my father’s side of the telephone call – discovered that there was one library branch that was open, and it was thirty minutes away by car.

It was an uncomfortable car ride.  My father waited while I got out the books, and then had to drive me to his office thirty minutes in the other direction from our home, just so I could type the essay because, I had meant to add, the teacher said that the essay had to be typed.

And there was eighth grade Thanksgiving break, for which I saved an assignment to pick ten Civil War battles and write a short poem about each one.  This was my first (but far from my last) experience with the “all-nighter,” as well as with the technique of using the same rhyming couplet (“In this battle of the Civil War/Twas hard to know who suffered more”) in every single poem to give some substance.  I recently reviewed the teacher’s comments in red – “Good technique but need something about the battle.” – and was insulted all over again.

In twelfth grade, I honored my Thanksgiving break with an assignment to memorize and recite lines from Hamlet.  As I could do this entirely by myself without need for rides or money or labor, I told no one, and stayed up all Sunday night and into Monday morning rehearsing the words “we fat ourselves for maggots.”

After dozing off and missing the bus and enduring a ride to school from a very angry and tired parent, I ran to English class, took a few deep breaths, got into character, and commenced my performance.  It was more exhilarating than I had ever imagined, at least until my teacher informed me that I had learned the wrong lines, and gave me an A-.

These days, the challenge on Thanksgiving is getting ready and out the door at near light speed without upending the pie or squishing the rolls.  This ritual is in its own class of torture.  But by Sunday I am worry free.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Remember When It Was Safe to Eat Processed Meat?

Remember When It Was Safe to Eat Processed Meat?  (via MarkKaplowitz.com)

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Remember When You Couldn’t Reconstruct a Rat Brain?

New post at my new site today:  Remember When You Couldn’t Reconstruct a Rat Brain?

Hope to see you there!

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Remember Shopping on Black Friday?

The CEO took a few deep breaths and repeated his mantra silent to himself, and then addressed the shareholders.

“Esteemed shareholders, I know that our Black Friday sales were quite a bit lower than anticipated,” he said.  “Believe me when I say that this is a greater shock to me then it is to you.  No one could have predicted that people would be sick of Black Friday, and would choose to stay at home with their families rather than run out in the dark night and participate in a stampede for televisions.  Clearly there are forces at work here with which we are unfamiliar.”

The CEO took a sip of water.  The water went down the wrong pipe, and there was a coughing fit for a few moments.

“But do not despair,” the CEO continued upon regaining control.  “There is hope.  We and the other big stores have a plan.  Instead of waiting for the customers to come to us, we’re going to go to the customers.”

At 4:00 a.m. the following morning, employees from all of the major retailers lined up at the home of one of their rewards club members who had failed to show up at the Black Friday sale.  Someone pushed the doorbell, and when the groggy homeowner in his bathrobe opened the door a crack to see who was ringing the bell at such an hour, the employees rushed into the house with all sorts of wares – on sale, of course.

The homeowner was bewildered, but he was so tired and desperate to get back to bed that he bought a few items.  Then the employees left and went to the house next door, where the process was repeated.  And so on until the end of the block.

A lot of people complained about the invasion of privacy and overly aggressive sales tactics.  But it was hard to argue with the results.  It turned out that the real reason people didn’t spend on Black Friday was because they didn’t want to deal with the parking.  Once that was taken out of the equation – along with the traveling, the waiting on lines, the crowds, and the having to wear pants – people were happy to spend money.

Sales not only rebounded, but exceeded all the estimates and set a record for the holiday shopping season.  Soon all the stores were doing it.  People could expect a visit from the employees of a store at least once a week.  Not only was it unnecessary to visit the store in person, but it became unnecessary to shop online.  Why waste time on goods you can’t see, when the goods will be physically in your home within the next few weeks?

Online sales dropped so much that the Internet began to suffer.  Shopping websites that had gotten millions of hits per day during previous holiday seasons, now saw just a handful of visitors.  The brick-and-mortar stores had folded up long before.  Now they were joined by the digital stores.

The stores would do their best to tailor the goods they brought to households.  But it was still guesswork, and some people lamented the loss of personal choice.  Others, however, didn’t care about personal choice, because something else was taking its place.  People were finding that they could learn to like the goods that the stores brought to their homes.  The holiday wasn’t about breaking one’s neck to get the best deal.  It was about learning to be thankful for what one had.

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