Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Choose to be Grateful

I have to be honest – this wasn’t the post I originally set down to write.  I had a choice of a number of topics, and all seemed negative.  Some were political, some were sports-related, and with tomorrow being Thanksgiving, none of them set right with me.  That bummed me out.

And frankly, I’ve been feeling bummed a lot of late, partly because of events around me (terrorist attack in Paris and the fallout from that attack, refugee “crisis,” Feds ready to raise interest rates, etc.) and much closer to home (lost a friend to cancer, had a root canal go bad and have a return trip to the “drill team” set for next week, another home appliance shot craps, etc.). The bummed-ness was affecting my desire to write, let alone my ability to write well (which also bummed me a bit, but then I usually write sucky anyway and hope no one notices).

While doing some research (aka flipping through Facebook’s news feed) I found this article about choosing to be grateful. The timing could not be better. The story resonated with me, and especially this one line:

For many people, gratitude is difficult, because life is difficult.

No shit.  Life can be a struggle, and what this article (and many more – see below) suggests is that despite the struggle, the search for the “good” will not only help you through the struggle better than if you  only concentrate on the “bad” but it will also make you feel better about everything else.  Just what I needed now.  In spades.

So for today, and the rest of the weekend (because it’s appropriate, dammit), I choose to be grateful, and I’m letting go of all that negativity.  I say through the weekend because I have to see the dentist on Monday.  As Mom says, “we’ll see.”

I realize that pretty much everything we do is a choice.  Yes, sometimes it doesn’t FEEL like a choice, but it is.  Even doing nothing about something is a choice (to be inactive and do nothing).  Mona and I joke about all the changes we’ve made in our lives, and all the various “choices” we’ve had.  Sometimes we had to choose between two lousy choices (or sometimes more than two lousy ones), but we always tried to pick the “least worst.” 

So why not choose to be grateful?  Surely I have plenty for which to be grateful (or, because of tomorrow), thankful.  Yes, plenty.  I have good health (except for tooth #19, of course), I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman for 40 years (I never know when she might read this, and want to make it to 41), the business had a another great year, my four ebooks continue to sell (I’m a thousandaire, not a millionaire), we have heat in the house, I have many friends across the globe (and even some on Facebook)…oh, I could go on and on.

And that’s the point.  We SHOULD go on and on about the good stuff.  Because it will make us healthier and happier.  So says the research here, here, here, and here (and in the original link). 

And isn’t the whole idea in life to be happy?

So be thankful.  Be grateful.  Be happy.  And share all of that with family, friends, neighbors…heck, total strangers if the mood strikes you.  Why not?  It might make THEM grateful, and you know what happens next.

And if you have trouble coming up with reasons to be grateful, try this:

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Change is Inevitable

You know that so-called Serenity Prayer, the one that goes…
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Yeah, that one.  It’s nice, comforting…and a bit misleading.  For while some use this as a guide to bend, adjust, and (sometimes) grow with the bumps and twists of life, others believe that if they have enough courage, they can stop change.


Change happens regardless whether you are serene or brave, smart or not.  How you deal with it (and how you deal with everything in life) is subject to further discussion, but not change.  Like shit, it happens.  Regardless.

I was in the grand Union Station in Portland recently, a magnificent building to catch a train (even if it IS Amtrak).  Built in the late 19th Century, this proud old structure still serves train customers well, yet it’s not the same building as it was.  I saw this as I waited for my train:
21st Century phone booths.  Superman would be PO'd

To be fair, there was one pay phone out of sight of this photo.  And maybe they’re doing a retro-fit to equip the booths with Skype.  Then again, I remembered another fixture of old public buildings like Union Station – water fountains.  And next to the phone booths I saw the 21st Century equivalent:

21st century "water fountain."  At $2 a pop, no less
Change happens.  No shit.

So many famous (and infamous) individuals have spoken on the idea of change being a permanent condition that I will cite two.  One is from British PM Disraeli, who said “Change is inevitable.  Change is constant.”  The other is much older, from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus.

Actually, he had two good ones:
“There is nothing permanent except change.”
“No man ever steps in the same river twice.”

That last one is the one I like best about change, because it illustrates the fact that even though you might reverse a decision and try to go back to “the way it used to be,” you truly can’t make it EXACTLY like it used to be.  For there’s always the history of what was, and all of the OTHER change that has occurred.  Nothing pisses me off more than people calling for a change “to the way it used to be.”  Besides it not being very progressive and forward thinking, it’s wrong, because it can’t be exactly the way it used to be.  Similar, yes, but not the same.

OK, there IS something that pisses me off more, and it also has to do with change.  You know the excuse people give you when you ask them why something is the way it is (because you’re interested in making a change)?  And they shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, it’s always been that way.” Yeah, that pisses me off more, because it’s NEVER ALWAYS been that way.  Because at one point it time, it wasn’t that way at all.

The first time I remember hearing this bellyachexcuse (and the story I always tell to get my point across) was back in my college radio days.  I was the GM of the student station and wanted to implement some programming changes.  One thing I did not understand was the daily “Album Hour” from 5pm-6pm (historical note:  we used to use something called a “turntable” to play “records” aka “LP’s” or “albums” that produced sound without the aid of a CD player or computer).  Why did we still have the album hour, I asked?  “It’s always been that way,” was the standard response from both students and faculty.  Truth was, no one really knew how it got started*. 

So naturally I shit-canned the program, because “It’s always been that way,” is a lame excuse.  Don’t be lame, be ready for change.  Hey, I made up my own famous quote.

Speaking of change, the Wikipidea people need your change.  Spare change.  Or more if you can.  You can be the change by giving $3 (or more) here: DONATE.  Thanks.

* I did find out, eventually.  It started because one DJ, way back when, wanted to skip out and grab dinner in the dorm.  So he popped on an album, ran to the commons, got his chow, ran back, flipped the album over (unlike some CDs, albums have recordings on BOTH sides), got dessert, and then made it back in time to finish the hour.  The truth was lame, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Guess it Depends on the Target

Friday night’s shocking terrorist attack in Paris has sent many in the US reeling.  Folks have shown their support by changing their Facebook avatar, posting pictures of the Eiffel Tower, etc.  Some have called for a step-up in our “War on Terror” while other have (seriously) suggested we wipe out ALL Muslims (one guy even provided a list of 55 countries where we could find them all – how thoughtful).

But a week ago there was a Russian plane downed by (most likely) the same folks responsible for the Paris attacks.  None of my friends posted a pic of the Kremlin on their timelines.  And just the day before Paris, 43 lost their lives in Beruit, again from the same group (again, most likely) that is responsible in France.  But Facebook didn’t offer anyone a chance to change their avatar to the flag of Lebanon, nor activate their “safety check” feature so people could let their loved ones know they were safe in Beirut (they did it for Paris).

No one suggested that Russia “get serious” about terrorism after the plane crash, nor suggested we “bomb the stink out of ISIS” after Beriut.  Only after more than 120 lost their lives in France did we get sympathetic to all things French.

Can we call ‘em French Fries again?  Or are they still Freedom Fries?  I know that’s so 2003, but it’s worth asking.  Because here’s the thing – we no doubt will take this latest attack and step up bombing or droning or even put “boots on the ground” and it’s important to remember that the reason we’re doing so is because of a terrorist attack, but a SPECIFIC one.

It’s important to remember (and I am borrowing a cliché here) that ALL LIVES matter.  French, Russian…even people who might just be Muslim (you know, the same religion as their attackers, which maybe means that this isn’t about religion?).  I look forward to the day when we decide that it’s all equally important, because that will mean we’ve taken a giant leap in fighting terrorism.  Because others not like us don’t terrorize us.

Oh, and there is a movement to make it so you can change your avatar to any flag you want – if you’re so inclined.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reflection and Rejections: Thoughts on the WSOP and Poker

I realize I’m late to the party, as most everyone else has already weighed in on this year’s Final Table of the WSOP’s Main Event.  I figured if I don’t post this now I might as well wait until next summer…and by then most of the good ideas will be talked about and forgotten and not acted upon, so, without further ado…some random thoughts:

The Final Table went just about as one might expect – the guy with the most chips going into the November Nine won it all (congrats to Joe McKeehen), so there was not a lot of drama.  And the TV broadcast could have used it.  In spades.  Yes, it was interesting to see Aces cracked and hooray for Neil Blumenfield proving that we old guys have what it takes, but otherwise…the show was somewhere between “meh” and “yawn.”  (more on Neil below in the postscript).

Others have suggested that changes are needed to make this a more viewable event, and I concur.  However, I think the days of “network coverage” are numbered, and not just because ESPN has shown little interest in hyping the event.  In the last decade the entire media stream (no pun) has been upended, so it only makes some sense that poker drift from network coverage (where it shines brighter when it can be condensed into bite-size pieces) to poker-specific venues (Poker Channel, Twitch, etc.).

If ESPN or some other network entity is to continue to show poker “live” may I humbly suggest some changes:
  • Shot clock.  Steve Ruddock has suggested a variety of options for this, and y’all can take your pick, but TRY ONE, PLEASE, just to see its effect.
  • Three nights for coverage was way too many.  Last year (and every year prior) you got it done in two.  Hell, shoot for one if play moves faster.  See above.
  • The 3+ month delay from the end of the tournament to the November finale has run its course.  Nothing is to be gained by waiting, so ditch this…you COULD wait a week or so, and THEN do the final table…seems like there might be enough to do in Las Vegas to hold folks there for an extra week or so.
  • Finally, how about making the event coverage live?  Really live.  Like, ditch the hole card camera and show us the event LIVE, without a delay.

This last one might be more controversial, but hear me out:  I had friends at the Penn & Teller Theatre to watch the Final Table, where they (obviously) could not see the hole cards, and they didn’t seem to mind – they loved the excitement of being there and watching the event as it unfolded (all three nights, too).  I followed along at the website, where (obviously) I didn’t know what the hole cards were, and I did not mind.  I think that we’ve progressed enough in professional commentary (even Norman Chad) to a point where the audience can ascertain enough about the play to not need to see the hole cards.  And when ESPN shows Days 1-7, much of the action recapped doesn’t involve the camera. 

I know the lipstick cam was a stunning invention and it most likely did wonders for the uninitiated in the audience, but…that’s not who is watching poker on TV.  I don’t think we need it any longer.  Am I right?

For poker to continue to flourish, a strong media presence can’t hurt, and the Final Table has always been a great showcase for poker.  Changes are needed to continue to make it so.

Oh, and of course, another way poker can flourish is to allow all Americans to play online, but you knew that.

Postscript:  Much has been made about the ages of those making the Final Table over the last few years – all “young guns” and few older players.  I was pleased to see fellow sexagenarian Neil Blumenfield make a great run, but really…no one should be surprised at this.  Next time you get a chance, stop by your local retirement village or senior center, and watch the bridge/canasta/mahjongg game.  Them oldies play on and on and on and on and on.  Of COURSE they have the stamina for the grind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Seeing (Just) Red

By now you’re familiar with the “Starbucks Red Cup” controversy, also known as “Another Salvo by a Mega-Corporation in the War on Christmas.”  Noted “Public Figure” and ex-pastor Joshua Feuerstein (who USES a lot of CAPITALS in his POSTS to show how ANGRY HE is) got the ball rolling, accusing Starbucks of “hating Jesus” because they are offering a plain red cup this year instead of a cup that has the traditional biblical symbols of the season such as snowflakes and reindeer (both are part of the manger scene, I’m pretty sure of it).  Actually, you can see by the pic below that this year’s cup isn’t that much different than last year’s (and the last several years also seem to lack a certain Christian flair – see this wonderful article via VOX).  Winter scenes, yes, but Christmas?  Maybe in a secular (commercial) way only.
Left: 2015 Anti-Christ Cup
Right:  2014 Dead Tree for Jesus Cup
As stooped as all of this is (and make no mistake, it is STOOPID), the “solution” suggested by Feuerstein is even worse.  He suggests that when you order your skinny-double-tall-half-caf cappuccino (no foam, please) you state your name as “Merry Christmas” so that they have to write it on the cup and announce it and that way the baby Jesus gains another set of wings.  Or something like that.

Well, having a common name like “Mike” I can tell you that if good Christian people do as Joshua suggests, it will be hell on earth (excuse the jarring hyperbole).  What if TWO people use “Merry Christmas” as their names, and one has a 8 ounce decaf while the other orders a Quad Grande? 

And that’s not the worst of it.  The very fact that Feuerstein hates Starbucks because, in his words, they aren’t “allowed to say Merry Christmas to their customers,” so his genius response is to…give them MORE BUSINESS? 


First, there’s the ton of free publicity your stunt is providing them, Josh.  And then, instead of boycotting the chair, you want your followers to ACTUALLY GO IN AND ORDER SOMETHING SO STARBUCKS CAN PROFIT.

You are seriously stoopid, Joshua.

Here’s a better idea.  OK, several:

1)    Go to Dunkin Donuts – they have shitty coffee, but their cups say “Joy” on them, so that’s a bit more in the holiday spirit (though around the Exinger household I can tell you the most joyous season is when the kids go back to school).
2)    Go to a local coffee shop – they most likely use a plain white cup (like you get at the wholesaler) but you can take the money you save by buying local (usually always cheaper than chains like Starbucks) and put it in the coffers of your local food bank or give it to the homeless guy with the cardboard sign at the corner or the Salvation Army kettle (yes, it’s PLAIN RED like the STARBUCKS cup, but get over it ‘cuz I think they are on Jesus’s side on this one).
3)    Stay home and brew your own coffee and put it in any damn cup you want.

And remember, like the Starbucks cup – ignore the fancy or non-fancy container – it’s what’s INSIDE that counts.