Mystery Words

The December 2017 issue of Harper’s Magazine includes an article by Henry Marsh entitled “Before I Sleep.” Marsh is an English neurosurgeon who examines the issues surrounding the balance between prolonging life and quality of life. He speaks flippantly about his own emergency suicide kit filled with some pills that are likely impotent by now. He is famous for his work in Ukraine and authorship of “Do No Harm.” He writes well but the following excerpt is an example of the sloppy facts so popular today: “some have estimated that in the developed world, the majority of many patients’ lifetime medical costs are incurred in the last six months of their lives.” The nebulous words “Some…estimated…majority…many” combine to render this potentially powerful sentence meaningless. Except that readers will be quoting it without the qualifying words as a hard fact supporting assisted death or whatever cause it helps. Is “some” a reference to medical insurance experts or to Donald Trump and “some” guy on a bar stool? By “estimated,” are we talking an educated guess based on rigorous actuarial samples or an irreverent throwaway line on Stamper’s Blog about his great Aunt’s experience? Did we adjust for inflation? Does the “majority of many” suggest 51% of 20% or the much larger 80% of 80%? The legitimacy of fake news begins to erode the standards of even reputable sources. My Blog operates on generalizations and rumors and I do not want that niche absorbed by the likes of Harpers and Dr. Marsh who have the resources and capability to stay in their own legitimate lane. Some have estimated that the majority of many Blog readers think this posting is better than most previous ones.


Turkey Killings

After grace at the Thanksgiving table, I announced that President Trump was hunting down all the turkeys Obama pardoned and executing them. I borrowed this line from a reader who unearths some funny stuff. But the first two reactions I received left me once again disappointed in my ability to deliver a joke. Aunt Lula asked, “Is he really doing that?” My 17 year old granddaughter queried, “Can he do that?” Part of the problem is that no matter how bizarre something is, we can actually imagine our President doing it. The rest of the problem is my family’s sense of humor. Last year I blogged about their reaction to my statement that after 100 billion humans born over millions of years, hospitals were running out of unique fingerprints and were assigning duplicates. My daughter-in-law said “Really!?” with amazement in her voice. My wife stated, “Hospitals do not assign fingerprints.” Of course not, but I am telling a joke here. Why is no one laughing? And are we all accepting the part about running out of unique prints? I would change the word “hospitals” to “government” if that made it absurd enough to be funny but I do not think it would help. They just do not think I am that funny. They are right that I talk too much, drive poorly, and blame others for my failings. But on this one issue I am right. I have the good sense of humor and the other family members are the problem. Except for my six year old granddaughter who thinks I am hysterical. I sure hope she is precocious because otherwise that observation will damage my argument.


I discovered Nutella in Germany in 1975. I thought it was miracle food, healthy because it was nut based but delicious with a chocolate taste. I was going to become wealthy selling it in the States. It would be bigger than peanut butter. I would learn later from Germans my brother David hung out with that Nutella was already here. I now serve it to my grandson Diego all the time while Herr Nutella makes money off me. I used to work hard at parenting my grandchildren. I would trick Noemi into eating blueberries (feigning shock when they disappeared off her plate) and I would con Diego that raisins were not a fruit so that he would eat them. It finally dawned on me that I was not actually a parent to either child. So when their Mom and Dad are on a trip and I babysit, I treat Nutella like the health food I thought it was. Diego wants a Nutella sandwich for breakfast in front of the television. Why not? He wants to wear yesterday’s dirty clothes to school again. Sure. A Nutella sandwich might be good for lunch. And really good for an after school snack, especially while watching a show in English (instead of the Spanish favored by the parental unit). Dinner is Diego’s favorite meal because he gets a Nutella sandwich for the main course and another one for dessert. I am thinking a longer babysitting gig could involve the Guiness World Record people. Sometimes Diego throws me under the bus because part of the fun is seeing me in trouble. He will learn that reporting me can backfire when Nutella suddenly becomes a scarce commodity in the household. Although his parents are getting suspicious anyway because he is always constipated after my visits.

Ear Piercing

My granddaughter Noemi had her ears pierced when she turned two months old. Her parents grappled with the decision because they had to lie and say she was three months just to get the procedure done. But Noemi had been bugging them about the piercing and all her friends were doing it, so what is a parent to do? I attended the ceremony as the designated opponent, although I must admit that Noemi did not seem to notice the piercing in the least little bit. When I returned home to Seattle, my Mother wanted to know why I did not stop that ritual. She of all people must have known how little control a parent has over adult children. Otherwise I would have been groomed properly and worn appropriate clothes after I was fully grown. My arguments and advice must have finally made some impression on Noemi’s parents, though, because they still have not pierced the ears of her younger brother Diego who is now seven years old. This memory flooded back to me on Thanksgiving Eve because that is when I saw Noemi with a first real hair cut. It looks good and she loves it but I am sure I would have been against that too. Where will it all end? Next thing you know, she will want a nose ring and tattoos. If you do not draw lines early and often, you miss all the yelling and screaming. Actually I think you get that yelling and screaming either way.

Christmas Newsletters

I began sending out regular Christmas Newsletters in 1991 when I moved my family of five to Wichita, Kansas, and needed to defend the decision with more than address change cards. The early versions make me cringe (in truth, so do the later ones). Self deprecating humor was designed to distinguish my Newsletter from the brag and gag pieces. A dangerous game to play, dancing with the very documents I mock. I learned a great deal. Six pages and a picture was too long. Four pages was even too long. After a couple three pagers, I finally settled on one sheet of text and a picture page where I could sneak more text in captions. I also discovered that the pretense of self deprecation was often unmasked by my readers (intelligent family and brilliant friends can recognize thinly disguised boasting). Yet I continue to tinker, seeking the perfect combination of words that would evoke the exclamation: “Geoff is my hero!” For example, I just now experimented with language about intelligent and brilliant readers. Unfortunately, I now write a daily Blog that threatens an annual Newsletter with redundancy and obsolescence. I cannot send out a 365 page document and invite recipients to find one page of suitable nuggets. So I undertook that tedious task of searching 365 posts for a Newsletter. I found I squandered valuable space on Trump, Ichiro, and philosophical nonsense. I honored too many requests from family members who took justifiable offense at being named. And I under represented East Coast family because I did not witness their shenanigans on a daily basis. I am tempted to rectify some of the imbalance in the last month of 2017 but will probably chicken out. Except I am definitely writing about Noemi and Diego the next two days.


Prolonging the election campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has been fun but I worry that it will lose relevance when The Donald leaves office next year. One solution would be to take a return match approach like some of the great boxing rivalries. Since it would not be feasible for the two adversaries to run against each other for President, they could face off in an election for a lesser position like Governor of New York or Representative for the District of Columbia. This would not only keep the debates alive but we could be entertained anew by all the mudslinging and personal insults. In addition to being a guilty pleasure, much good would come from the spectacle. Unemployment of comedians and political commentators would surely hit a record low. And, well, I cannot think of the other benefits off the top of my head, so this Blog is a little shorter than I planned.


PETA’s website identifies “10 Vegetarians You Already Admire.” The ten include Gandhi, Einstein, Paul McCartney, Bill Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, George Bernard Shaw, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Morrissey, and James Cameron. My problem is with Bill Clinton and not because of my politics. Full disclosure: I voted for Bill twice for President and his wife once. After leaving public office, Bill eventually figured out he could lengthen his life by embracing a much healthier lifestyle. Vegetarians on the far left claimed he was not a true Vegetarian because he was still eating fish. He countered that he was not inhaling his seafood but his Vegetarian status and credibility were slightly tainted. From the quotes of some of the other Vegetarians chosen by PETA, I gather that they abstained from eating animals on moral grounds and held those views for much longer periods of time. Bill seemed more interested in his personal health and was a little late to the Vegetarian Party which is alright, of course. Reformed smokers are welcome to identify as non smokers. Perhaps Bill also now counts himself as belonging to the group Men Against Sexual Misconduct. Doing something noble when you have little choice is not so impressive. When I was a young man, I was pontificating about the abysmal sexual morality of celebrities. I got a big laugh out of my Mother when I noted in fairness that Ann Margaret was not propositioning me. So I just think PETA undercuts its message that so many respected people favor their cause over the centuries and they cannot even fill out a Top Ten without wedging Bill Clinton onto the list.

Thanksgiving Dining

Our household has seven residents with seven different eating habits. Holiday dinners are always a test. My wife offers two choices at every meal: take it or leave it. My daughter-in-law Asia is technically a vegetarian aspiring to be a breatharian, a dying breed allegedly living on air alone. Her husband is a secondhand vegetarian. The cows eat the grass and he eats the cows. The granddaughter in high school presents different food personas to different people. The cute waiter is cross examined about the origin and marination of the beets in her salad. With me she eats pancakes at Lil’ Jon’s and dipped cones at Dairy Queen. Her sister, like many six year olds, has one mission in life: figure out how to procure her next treat. With four adults to manipulate, she is a chocolate finding prodigy. My 13 year old grandson eats all the leftovers, usually at 10 at night to avoid disapproval of any faction. Without leftovers, I am relegated to rescuing wasted food from the garbage. Other residents rely too much on overly conservative “best if used by” suggestions and an annoying strategy of throwing out the food they disapprove of. I cannot expose and reprimand the offenders because then everyone will know I am eating out of the garbage again. Another son and his wife who live in Seattle join us at Thanksgiving dinner where we entertain and horrify them with our dietary dysfunction. We send turkey leftovers priority mail to Virginia to the final foursome in our Clan of 13 because they are Atkins Diet people. They sent us a disgusting bag labelled Oyster Mushroom Planting Kit. I hope no one puts it in the garbage. I can hardly wait for Christmas dinner.


I often mix up the Middle East Countries Irun, Iran, and Ihaverun. One of them used to be named Persia but Reza Shah changed the name in 1935. So now the historic breed of Persian cats have been replaced by Iranian cats and Shirazi cats. As an aside, I would advise against ordering Shirazi salads. My family still mourns that our Persian rugs are now considered Iranian rugs. Rebranding everything from Persian to Iranian has driven down the value of Persian labels while the cost of living soars. As an aside, despite the high cost of living, it remains very popular. Humans are creatures of habit and we often resist change well past when logic dictates that we embrace it. That is why card players often throw good money after bad. Many Trump voters will be able to support the President even if he raises their taxes, cuts their medical benefits, pollutes their environment, and insults them and people they love. Everyone has a different tipping point. I eventually accepted deodorant, microwaves, email, flu shots, Amazon, and a smart phone. Some day I will likely use an ATM. I am a slow learner. But I am never visiting Persia. As an aside, if I did go, I am at least smart enough not to shoplift any rugs.

Turn Signals

When I was younger I used hand signals and turn signals while driving because I thought I knew where I was going and I did not care who else knew. I probably made fun of old people who did not turn off their signals after they turned. I do not remember for sure because I am the exact same age as Attorney General Jefferson Sessions and we could share one memory and name it Blank. Now I understand why senior citizens leave their blinkers on. We cannot hear the clicking sound they make and we cannot see the dashboard lights without reading glasses and a manual explaining what all the icons and lights mean. Now that my computer, phone, and car are all smarter than me, I am getting defiant. Although it can be convenient that devices know exactly where I am and exactly what I want, I resent that they can define and manipulate me so easily. So part of my ambiguous turn signal strategy is to confuse people because I value my privacy and no one needs to know my business or where I am going. Besides I do not know where I am going.