We’re All Singing the Betwixmas Blues

by Bob Sparrow

Yes, Betwixmas is a word . . . sort of – it’s the term used for the six days between Christmas and New Year’s Day – and we are now in it up to our masks.    There are names for two of these six days that bookend Betwixmas; at the beginning, December 26 is ‘Boxing Day’, which is not celebrated in America, but mostly in England and its former Commonwealth satellites (Canada/Australia/New Zealand/Hong Kong).  It started out as a day to honor servants and those less fortunate by giving them a ‘box’ of something of value.  It then morphed into a shopping holiday (apparently, they said, ‘screw the servants’) where one would take back the ‘boxes’ of whatever they got for Christmas and exchange them for a box of something they really wanted (Maybe we do celebrate it here in America after all).  At the other end of Betwixmas is, of course, New Year’s Eve; never before will so many people really mean it when they say “Happy New Year”!!! But those four days in between, particularly this year, will drive you crazy enough to actually try to eat your grandma’s brick-hard fruitcake that you got again this Christmas.

Betweixmas is a time when we really don’t know what day it is,  who you are or what you’re really supposed to be doing.  There is no school and no one is really working.  If someone goes into the office during Betwixmas, it’s not to work, it’s just to get away from the spouse and/or kids, that have been driving them crazy since the Covid outbreak.

Paradoxically, the shortest day of the year was just last Monday, so the days should seem to just fly by, but no, these days drag on and makes Betwixmas seem interminable.  Typically, it’s the time to relax after the Christmas ‘rush’ and get ready to usher in a new year, a different year, anything but what we’ve been experiencing, so this Betwixmas drags on even more than normal.

Snow Angel

The result of these shiftless days are things like creating New Year’s resolutions that are unrealistic and completely unattainable.  To wit:  you’re probably going to be a little heavier by this time next year.  That home gym that you built this year will go mostly unused next year.  You’re not going to be a better person next year, you’re going to be about the same, and you’re going to be no more organized next year than you are this year.

Usually, the novelty of the kids being home during Christmas vacation calls for some family activity – heading to the mountains to frolic in the snow, visiting Disneyland or if you’re a fan, going to a college football bowl game.  But there’s no snow in the local mountains, Disneyland is closed and the general public is not allowed to attend a college football game.  We are doomed to spend Betwixmas just like we’ve spent the last nine months – in house arrest.

So, one would think that this would have been a good time for a blog that’s really entertaining; a missive filled with little-known facts of interest that would take your mind off the tedium of the times.  But no, it’s a match for the times.

Merappy Betwixmas

 

THE ANGELS AMONG US

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I am ending this very strange year with the inaugural From A Bird’s Eye View people of the year award.  No, it’s not as prestigious as the award from Time magazine, but I believe our nominees are more fitting.  The poem is one I came across a few years ago and my hardest task for this post was narrowing down the nominees who best represent it.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten many groups of people but for all of those who have worked during perilous times this year, we want to express our thanks for your unwavering strength throughout 2020.

 

There are always angels everywhere. 

 

 

 

Perhaps we only think to look for them at Christmas,

 

 

 

When their wings can be seen and their halos glow with light.

 

 

 

But they are always there.

 

 

 

There in the quiet corners,

 

 

 

there in the shadows,

 

 

 

 

there in their ordinary clothes, 

 

 

 

and they are beautiful.

 

 

 

Make room for the angels, for they will catch you unawares and fill your heart in ways you never could imagine.

 

 

 

Speaking of angels, our dad was certainly one on Earth and I believe he continues to watch over our family. One of Pop’s hallmarks was the Ice Cream fizz he served every Christmas morning.  Oh sure, most families had hot chocolate and cider while we were drinking gin, but don’t judge – it has given a roseate hue to many a Christmas morning.  So this year we are once again sharing his recipe so that you and your family might also enjoy this wonderful tradition.

 

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes

Add 6 jiggers of gin

Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream

Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)

My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg.  Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.

Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!

Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg.  As we got older we would conspire with Pop and ditch the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

Bob and I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.  We know for many of you it may be quieter, but hang in – 2021 is sure to be a better year.

Could This Be Your Most Memorable Christmas?

by Bob Sparrow

Like everything else in 2020, I’m guessing Christmas this year will be a little different for you.  Probably fewer people gathered together, maybe a change from the regular venue, Santa could be wearing a mask instead of a beard and perhaps the gifts given and received might be a little different, as suggested by Suzanne last week.  But I have no doubt that the ‘Christmas Spirit’ will prevail – assuming you don’t run out of Christmas ‘spirits’.  If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes we need a change of routine in order to appreciate the routine.

So, as we prepare for whatever this holiday will bring, I can’t help but recall my most unusual Christmas – it took place in 1968.  As a backdrop for those who weren’t around then or as a stark reminder to those who were, 1968 was a crazy year!  The U.S. was ass-deep in a very unpopular Viet Nam war, causing unrest on college campuses in the form of protests and draft card burning.  Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace to be elected to his first term as president, streets were filled with civil and gender-rights protests – some not so peaceful, 82 crewmen of the USS Pueblo were held captive most of the year by North Korea; Mao Tse-Tung celebrated 20 years as communist leader of China and the Zodiac killer (who has yet to be found to this day) is on the prowl in California. In December of that year, three Apollo 8 astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders, became the first to circle the moon, in preparation for the first moon landing seven months hence.

Don and me in front of house in Atsugi, Japan.  Dec. 1968

In 1968 I was an Ensign in the Navy (ours!) and in July of that year I received orders for Atsugi Naval Air Station, Japan.  By December, my wife and I and our dog, Xoon, were living in a small, two-bedroom house, surrounded by Japanese neighbors, about four miles from the base on Dog School Road – apparently, there was a dog school nearby; I’m not sure if it was a pre-school or a pee-school.  Thousands of miles from home in a foreign country, we were planning for a fairly lonely Christmas, our first and only one without family or friends.  Then, about two weeks before Christmas, I got a letter (no cell phones or even email in those days) from my best friend, Don Klapperich, who was a Navy F-4 jet pilot, assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Coral Sea.  He wrote that their ship, that had been on combat duty in the South China Sea, was coming into Yokohama for Christmas, and that their squadron (VF-151) allowed them to send for their wives to spend the holidays in Japan.

What great news!!!  What was going to be a very dismal Christmas, just got significantly better.  Don was not only my best friend, but my singing partner from high school, and since he had his guitar with him (not in his aircraft, but on the ‘boat’) and I had mine, Christmas Eve found the four of us gathered around our ‘space heater’ chatting and singing songs, which I recorded on a reel-to-reel tape.  I still have the recording, which I converted to a CD, and when I listen to it today, it takes me back to that most-unusual Christmas far from home.

That cold Christmas morning we woke up to no presents under no tree and no stockings hung by the chimney with care – we had no chimney.  But we did exchange gifts, then drove to the Officer’s Club on base, which had a TV, in order to watch our astronauts circle the moon and provide us with that iconic ‘Earth Rise’ photo.

Iconic ‘Earth Rise’ photo – December 1968

As we headed back home for the evening, we looked to the sky and saw a bright, crescent moon and marveled that three astronauts were up there circling it.  So, when I was expecting a lonely Christmas far from home, it turned out to be one of my most memorable Christmases ever.

My point, and I apologize for the rather circuitous route in getting to it, is that this Christmas will undoubtedly be different, presumably like no other you’ve ever or will ever experience, but with a little luck and a positive attitude, it may turn into a Christmas you’ll never forget – in a good way.

We’d love to hear how you’re planning to make this Christmas a pleasantly, different one.

 

OUR ANNUAL USELESS GIFT GIVING GUIDE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Each year at this time we try to perform our civic duty by providing suggestions for silly and useless gifts for the upcoming holiday season.  Last year I included such things as a harness for your chicken and a “Pull My Finger” Santa.  Boy, was I ever off the mark.  As it turned out, the most useless gifts for 2020 would have been tickets to a Broadway show, a gift certificate for business attire, or a European river cruise in July.   So I’m cautiously taking a different approach to the list for 2021.  Herewith is a list of what I hope will be useless in 2021:

Coffee Mug Map of My House: When I was a kid the phrase “shelter in place” meant we ducked under our school desk for a 5 minute drill.  This year, while we weren’t confined to a 2×2 space on a grimy linoleum floor, we did have to spend a whole lot more time inside our homes.  Venturing from the kitchen to the patio was the 2020 equivalent to a European Grand Tour.  

 

Toilet Paper Ornament:  Never have so many struggled to obtain such a pedestrian item.  Toilet paper became the Holy Grail of paper products.  People were trading semi-precious stones for a roll of Charmin like they were at a Middle Eastern bazaar.  One would think that we had become a nation full of diarrhea-prone idiots. There were jokes going around that in 2050, when people are cleaning out their parent’s homes, they will find a stash of toilet paper that will last another 100 years.  The summer brought some sanity to the situation with plenty of stock on the shelves but, alas, the recent uptick in Covid has caused people to lose their minds again.  Look for large quantities of tp for sale on Ebay when this thing ends.

Costco:  I don’t really want Costco to become useless in 2021.  I love Costco.  How could you not love a store that produces such a perfect pumpkin pie? But in 2020 Costco has become a madhouse.  At our local warehouse lines stretched around the store 30 minutes before it opened.  When the metal grate finally lifted there was a mad rush to the back of the store for….you guessed it…toilet paper!  And paper towels, meat, Lysol wipes and liquor.  Lots of liquor.  Last week when I was there I discovered that Extra Strength Tylenol is now on the restricted list, as it is what’s recommended to thwart the effects of the COVID vaccine.  So, I’ve made my last trip to Costco for the year – I’m just not up for being an unwilling participant in the Supermarket Sweepstakes frenzy.

 

Hand Sanitizer:  My hands are chapped, my nails are split and I rub my hands with sanitizer like an obsessive-compulsive person in “the home”.  I never thought that I would switch up my perfume for “Essence of Purell”.  Early on there was a huge shortage of sanitizer but then some geniuses figured out how to use regular alcohol to manufacture it and suddenly our local brewery became the best place to score some.  Now it is ubiquitous, featured on the end caps of every store from Target to the gas station.  I think the person who can come up with toilet paper and paper towels with hand sanitizer built in could make a fortune.

Lounge Wear:  Personally, I love a good pair of sweatpants.  I have some in every color, ranging from formal black to “greet the Amazon delivery person” gray.  Prior to the pandemic I really deplored people wearing their pajamas to the grocery store.  Now it’s so common it’s startling when you see someone with pants that actually zip.  There have been numerous studies over the years around the concept of “you are what you wear” and they all agree that dressing well positively impacts self-esteem and how you interact with the world.  Based on what I’ve observed in the past few months we have desperately low self-esteem, bordering on self-flagellation.  Hopefully when we regain some sort of normalcy we will also see the return of buttons and a sharp crease.

Working from Home:  I used to love working from home on occasion.  There’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing a load of laundry in between conference calls to make you feel like Super Multi-Tasker.  But I can probably speak for every working parent that we have reached the limit of how much time we want to work from our living rooms.  Turns out that most people like the interaction with people other than their immediate family and pets.  Plus, working while trying to futilely understand your third grader’s math problems is humiliating at best.  The goal for 2021 is to get everyone back where they belong – kids in school and adults at work.  For those women whose job was already full with child-rearing and running a household, I say they have earned a very well deserved rest, complete all the chocolate and wine they can consume.

That’s it for this year.  I’m looking forward to 2021, when a finger-pulling Santa is the highlight of my list.

And stay tuned for December 21 where I will once again share our dad’s recipe for his Christmas Ice Cream Fizz.  This year we may have fewer people gathered around but if ever there was a year where we need to double the recipe, this is it.

 

 

Rudolph the Bullied Reindeer

by Bob Sparrow

Rudolph without antlers

Do you ever really listen to the lyrics of Christmas carols?  I do; and we’ve certainly had plenty of opportunity since Halloween, as radios and department stores remind us that it ‘tis the season’.

Some of you will remember a short while back when the lyrics to ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, were assailed by the ‘Me Toos’ for manipulative tactics of a guy using the cold weather to keep a female from going home on a cold winter’s night.  So why isn’t someone outraged when it come the Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer?

Sure, on the surface it seems like a benign enough, feel good, Christmas carol, about a reindeer that helps Santa and the other reindeer, find their way to our homes on a foggy Christmas Eve.  But have you ever really listened to the lyrics?

 

All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names

They never let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like bullying to me – laughing at him and calling him names and excluding him from whatever games reindeer play.  But once Santa and the reindeer realize that what makes him odd, his bright shiny red nose, is now a benefit to them; well . . .

Rudolph with antlers

Then how the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history

Aside from trying to imagine a reindeer shouting out with glee, it seems that all is forgotten and Rudolph will be going down in history as the most famous reindeer of all – which clearly irks Dasher and the gang.  But, if you really think about it, which clearly I have, isn’t it cruel to be calling him by the derisive moniker ‘red-nosed’, as not to confuse him with the rest of the reindeer with normal colored noses?  What if they called Donner the ‘clubbed-foot’ reindeer and Blitzen the ‘lisping’ reindeer, or Prancer the ‘anal leakage’ reindeer?

There’s more.  It is a little-known fact that both male and female reindeer grow antlers!  Males drop their antlers in November, leaving them without antlers until the following spring, while females keep their antlers through the winter until their calves are born in May.

Cupid keeping the ball from Rudolph

Pictures of Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer typically show them pulling Santa’s sleigh, so we can reasonably assume that it is the month of December and thus a male reindeer would have no antlers.  The pictures of Santa and his reindeer almost always show all the deer but Rudolph, with antlers; so since the pictures are in December, we know that Comet, et. al, are all female.  Pictures of Rudolph are mixed, showing him/her both with and without antlers.  So, his name, Rudolph and the song’s lyrics referring to ‘him’ or ‘he’, would suggest that he is a male, but antlers would tell us that she is female.  That’s OK to be questioning, but it makes one wonder if this, in fact, is the source of the bullying by this team of catty reindeer.

And of course no one ever thinks about what happens after Christmas Eve, when there is no longer a need for Rudolph and his scarlet beacon.  One can only surmise that by Christmas Day the reindeer have probably return to their malicious name-calling.  I envision the reindeer playing a pick-up game of 4-on-4 basketball, as Rudolph sits on the sidelines, watching and hoping that next Christmas Eve will also be foggy.

OK, I admit it, I have too much time on my hands!

OH, TO BE THANKFUL

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

 

Well, we’ve made it to Thanksgiving.  In this weird/awful year of 2020 there were no guarantees.   If ever there was a year that a giant asteroid would destroy Earth, this would be it.  But here we are, ready to celebrate what we are thankful for on Thursday.  Some gatherings won’t have as many guests as normal since everyone except the Governor of California is supposed to limit the number of people with whom they dine.  Other families have had a really rough year – either due to health issues or financial stress.  We all know that we should be grateful for what we have and there have been about 8 million articles published about that in the last week.  There are so many that I’ve begun to think “yada, yada, yada” when I see them – they invariably with a photo of someone in a yoga pose or a cup of matcha tea.  So I’ve decided to take a different view – this week I tried to find some reflections on Thanksgiving that might just bring a smile to your face or appeal to the irreverent aspect of your humor.  After all, we could all use a laugh about now.

“A new survey found that 80 percent of men claim they help cook Thanksgiving dinner. Which makes sense, when you hear them consider saying ‘that smells good’ to be helping.” – Jimmie Fallon

“If you stand in the meat section at the grocery store long enough, you start to get mad at turkeys. There’s turkey ham, turkey bologna, turkey pastrami. Someone needs to tell the turkey, ‘Man, just be yourself.'” – Mitch Hedberg

“The Thankstini: A fun and delicious new novelty drink I invented. Cranberry juice, potato vodka, and a bouillon cube. Tastes just like a turkey dinner.”  – from How I Met Your Mother

“It’s not too much food. This is what we’ve been training for our whole lives. This is our destiny, this is our finest hour.” – from The Gilmore Girls

“Coexistence: What the farmer does with the turkey—until Thanksgiving.” – Mike Connolly

“I suppose I will die never knowing what pumpkin pie tastes like when you have room for it.” – Robt. Brault

“An optimist is a person who starts a new diet on Thanksgiving Day.” – Irv Kupcinet

“I’m looking forward to seeing pie this Thanksgiving more than members of my own family.” – Damien Fahey

“Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Half-time of the football game takes 12 minutes. This is not a coincidence.” – Erma Bombeck

“Cooking tip: Wrap turkey leftovers in aluminum foil and throw them out.” – Nicole Hollander

“Thanksgiving: Bringing out the best in family dysfunction since 1863.” Anonymous (for obvious reasons!)

“Thanksgiving—when the people who are the most thankful are the ones who didn’t have to cook.” – Melanie Cook

“There’s always something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Even if it’s just not being a turkey.” – Unknown

“Money saving tip:  Be sure to bring up politics at Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s going to save you money on Christmas gifts.”

“Real ballplayers pass the stuffing by rolling it up in a ball and batting it across the table with a turkey leg.” – Tom Swyers  (This one strikes a chord with me as it reminds me of the year that a large bowl of fresh whipped cream was placed on the table in front of Bob and me and we proceeded to take take large handfuls of it and have a whipped cream fight.  And, no, we were not 10.  We were in our 30’s.  Perhaps there was some wine involved.)

Bob and I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving.  However you are able to celebrate it, hopefully you will find something or someone to be grateful for.

Also, as a reminder, this is the last week we will be posting on Facebook so if you want to continue to read our blog please subscribe.  It’s easy, free and we don’t share your information!

 

Mama, Please Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (and Cowgirls)

by Bob Sparrow

Mama’s Wranglers

Brother, Capt. Jack Sparrow and I, principals in the Sparrow Brothers Fine School of Football Forecasting, along with our wives, made a trip to Vegas to test the analytics we’d gathered since the beginning of the season, on both college and pro football betting.  We headed to our favorite hotel/casino there, South Point on Saturday morning. (Note: we never travel to Vegas on a Friday, or come home on a Sunday)

We arrived in time to place some bets on the afternoon college games.

I knew we didn’t want to spend all of our time in the casino (or couldn’t afford to), so I looked for things to do in Vegas.  Due to ‘that thing going around’, there was not much happening in the way of entertainment.  I was hoping to get in to see my old friend, Wayne Newton, but his show, like most others, was shuttered.  Undaunted, I continued my search and eventually found:

Mama’s Wranglers at the Firelight Barn Dinner Theater

Hummmm, looked interesting.  It was in Henderson, about a 20-minute drive east of Vegas and the price was right, $38 per person for BBQ dinner and a show!  Or maybe it wasn’t right – $38 for dinner and a show?!  What’s wrong with the dinner or the show?  But there was not much else going on, so I booked it for the four of us.  A dinner and show in a barn sounded very fun, although the price made us a bit leery, so we figured it might be a bit cheesy, but it kept us away from the sports book where we had lost every college game we had bet on earlier in the day.  So, $38 for dinner and a show was sounding better all the time.

Halloween Dessert Face

We drove to Henderson looking for a barn, but the address took us to a strip mall off a main road.  OK, we were prepared for cheesy.  We were greeted and seated by ‘the family’, Mama and her two daughters and her son.  The room was decorated in a western motif which was a bit cheesy, but created a nice atmosphere.  We asked for the  wine list and Mama said, we normally serve wine and beer, but because they had carpeted floors, due to Covid, they could not have alcohol in the room.  Wow, I thought about all the wine and beer I drank at home on a carpeted floor!  Then I imagined her saying, as she looked around the room furtively, that there was a liquor store across the street and if we kept the bottles under the table, she would give us some red solo cups from which to drink.  Wink Wink. I immediately went to the liquor store and bought some wine.  I returned just in time to be served our dinner.

When I think BBQ dinner, I think chicken, ribs, brisket or tri-tip; nope, dinner consisted of pulled pork on a hamburger bun, a helping of Mac & Cheese and some coleslaw.  Not what was expected, but rather tasty!  The coup de gras was the ‘Halloween’ dessert on a red paper plate, where we were asked to make a creative face out of two Oreo cookies, 6 pretzel sticks, 4 mini marshmallows and 2 candy corns.  I was hoping to win a prize with my entry, but apparently others were more creative.

After dessert was served, Mama and kids disappeared to get into their ‘performance outfits’, the lights dimmed and the show started. This is a very talented family, between the four of them they played guitar, banjo, bass, keyboard, fiddle, drums, accordion, spoons and sang great harmony. They sang mostly country, with some pop as well as yodeled and clogged.  We clapped and sang along to the many familiar songs and walked out of there with big smiles on our faces.  For a very fun evening, I highly recommend heading out to the Fire Light Barn and taking in this show, if you don’t expect steak & lobster, cover charges and expensive drinks, you won’t be sorry.

PS: We didn’t do that well on Sunday, betting on the Pros either, like not winning a single bet!  Son, Jeff wanted to get in on the ‘Sparrow Brothers’ action and sent me money to bet on some games . . . lost every one!  Jack has suggested that we go into making and selling Shepard Pies.  Couldn’t do worse!

 

SUBTRACT THE ADS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, it’s been quite a week.  Finally…I think…the election is over.  The bonus is that our lives will not be filled with campaign ads every second of the day. Living in Arizona this year has been like living in an advertising vortex.  We’re used to the normal local campaign ads for dog catcher and county judges, but the races for President and Senator were tightly competed here and resulted in record spending on TV ads.  The only refuge was Netflix and shows we recorded that could be fast-forwarded.  Now that the election is over, watching TV feels like I’ve stopped banging my head against the wall.  This respite got me to thinking…how did political ads start and do they really work?

Historians believe that the genesis of campaign advertising began in 1791, when groups that supported and opposed Alexander Hamilton published competing newspapers in hopes of swaying the electorate. It’s been a downhill slide since then.  Today, almost all successful campaigns include a huge budget for television advertising. In late October CNBC reported that election spending would top $14 BILLION, doubling the previous record.  When all the dust has settled it will be interesting to see what the final tally is.  All I can think when I see that big of a number is how many schools it could improve, families it could house and feed, or potholes it could fill.

But, back to history.  Campaign slogans became popular in the mid-19th century.  In 1860 Abraham Lincoln campaigned on “Vote Yourself a Farm”, referring to a Republican party promise of free homesteads to settlers of western lands.  By1880 candidates had to rely on other means to get their message out so political songs were written and distributed throughout communities for inclusion in local gatherings.  That sounds pretty dreadful, given that most people sing like drowning cats.   In 1900 William McKinley promised “A Full Dinner-Pail”, only to be outdone by Herbert Hoover’s 1928 slogan, “A Chicken In Every Pot”.  Of course, the Depression hit the next year and this slogan was chided in 1932 by the Democrats with the addition of “…and two cars in every garage” to show how out of touch Hoover was with the average American.

Campaign advertising entered the television age in 1952, when the adman previously famous for M&M’s “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands” slogan, suggested television advertising to Dwight Eisenhower.  By making one trip to New York to record a commercial, Ike reached 19 million television sets.  By comparison, in the previous election Harry Truman travelled 31,000 miles in his famous Whistle Stop tour.  It’s impossible to know exactly how many people he spoke to on that tour but it was likely far fewer than 19 million. Today there is a specialization within the advertising industry focused just on planning and promoting candidates through the media.

So the question remains, do the ads work?  Apparently they do, at least for a certain segment of the population – the undecided voter.  Let’s face it, that was a very small number of people in this election but they were the ones who could make the difference in the outcome.  Online ads have become more popular – they can target specific voters with pinpoint accuracy and they are cheaper.  Television is just the opposite of that, but campaigns still pour the bulk of their budgets into it for one big reason:  it is still the easiest way to reach those people who are undecided and don’t necessarily seek out politics on their own.  And, unfortunately for the rest of us, it’s proven that in a short ad (usually 30-60 seconds) negative information about a candidate sticks with us longer than an uplifting message.

So my proposal for 2024 is that we round up the small number of undecided voters and put them all in one location.  The campaign advertisers can have a field day and the rest of us can keep our sanity.  In the mean time, my heart goes out to the good citizens of Georgia who no doubt will be inundated with campaign ads for the senatorial run-offs January 5th.  My guess is Netflix subscriptions will be the big winner in the Peach State.

Finally, my brother and I would like to send our appreciation out to all of those who have served on this Veteran’s Day week.

 

Our Social Dilemma

By Bob Sparrow

To say that Suzanne’s post last week affected me is a huge understatement.  I would like to believe that anybody who has looked into what’s really going on with our social media today has the same reaction – frickin’ frightening!  After reading the blog, I read the link, The Dark Psychology of Social Networks, watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, as well as watched another documentary entitled, The Great Hack, which was recommended by one of our readers, Jeff Kane.

Both of the aforementioned documentaries state that “we“, or rather our brains, have now passed oil as the largest commodity in the world. Unbeknownst to us, our minds are being harvested and sold to the highest bidder. You may say, “I don’t care who knows that I like chocolate or that I like to travel to Italy”.  But when “they“ start knowing everything about us – what we like and dislike, who we associate with, what we search for on Google – then “they“ can program what we see and ultimately what we think. Don’t believe that? Have you ever asked yourself why we as a country are so divided? People on opposite sides of the political fence don’t understand how the “other side” can think the way they do and that’s easy to explain if you understand that virtually everything we see on social media reinforces what we already think. So our values, feelings, and persuasions get reinforced and the values of those who don’t think like us get diminished.

Even before Suzanne’s blog was published last Monday, I sent a text to my two daughters, who have young children, and told them to get educated on this phenomenon and to pay particular attention to the former execs at all the leading social media outlets, at the end of The Social Dilemma while the credits were rolling, answering the question, “Do you let your children on social media?”

We here at From A Bird’s Eye View have made a decision that we are no longer going to be part of the problem, so Monday, November 23rd will be the last day we post our blog on Facebook.  Yes, we will still be writing a new blog every Monday, as we have for the last 8+ years, but it will only be going to those who ‘subscribe’.  Some one hundred and fifty odd (mostly odd) of you already do that, but we know there are a lot more of you who only read our blog on Facebook.  So, if you’re not a subscriber, we encourage you to subscribe, it’s free and we don’t want to lose you as a fan, or even a casual viewer.  It’s easy to delete us and we’ll probably go to your ‘spam’ anyway.  There is still a place for you to comment on our blog and we are always delighted to hear from you.

 

YOUR BRAIN HAS BEEN SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Whew…these are tough days we’re in.  I readily admit that my stress level is through the roof.  This week I decided to take a break from news shows and social media.  Yes, I’m going to miss all the posts of cute dogs and scrumptious birthday cakes, but my mental health requires it.  A few days ago I decided to stick with Netflix and I hit upon the documentary “The Social Dilemma”.  The film features former executives and developers from Facebook, Google, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter and their comments about the dangers of these social media platforms are both illuminating and frightening.  As is so often the case, these sites started out with good – perhaps even innocent – intentions to make the world more connected.  But to a person the executives are alarmed at what social media has become.  The documentary spells out in a clear way how our brains are being manipulated and even rewired by algorithms designed to get our attention and make us buy things.  And not just to buy physical “things” but to buy into ideas.  Ideas about the world, ourselves, and each other.

After watching the documentary I wanted to know more.  I read as much as I could stand about social media manipulation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Attention Extraction (AE).  You may not have heard of the latter.  AE is a business model used by all of the social media platforms to monetize their business. In other words, it’s how they make the big bucks.  The basic construct is they employ surveillance tools to observe what their users are viewing and clicking.  Have you ever thought it was creepy when you see an ad for something you were just talking about or Googled?  It is all planned.  The tech companies are constantly reviewing what interests you and then they  configure the algorithm to have ads or stories come up related to that interest.   And who is paying for those ads or stories?  Big business and big politics.  In other words, the product that big tech is monetizing is YOU!   If we only saw ads for a dog food we’d researched that might be pretty harmless.  But it goes deeper than that.  The algorithms in AI and AE  use what they know about you to tailor the news results you see.   The upshot is the average person is only seeing stories that reinforce their preexisting inclinations. Some of the tech executives opine that no one knows what is genuinely true anymore because every story has gone through a filter.  That goes a long way toward explaining why we’re so divided.  AI is increasingly being used to curate and generate the news.  Even traditional news organizations such as the AP, Bloomberg and The Washington Post are utilizing it and Microsoft has transitioned to AI to generate all the news on its MSN homepage.  And who is programming the AI and checking it?  The executives in the documentary point out that only a handful of people in any of the companies understand the AI algorithms and that AI is becoming so sophisticated that soon no one will understand or control it.

Perhaps more troubling than skewed news and advertising is the affect of social media on our youth.  According to a September 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the suicide rate for pediatric patients rose 57.4% from 2007 to 2018.  That should alarm everyone.  The Facebook engineer who invented the “Like” button did so thinking it would be a positive reinforcement.  Instead, it turned into a social measurement of popularity among young teens.  Other social media platforms followed suit and we now have a generation of kids who assess their self-worth by the comments others make about their posts and photos.  Pre-teens, who have never been known for their kindness, have taken criticism and cruelty to a new level.  Almost all of the executives interviewed in “The Social Dilemma”  ban the social media apps on their children’s devices.  That speaks volumes.  In 2020 when we add in COVID and its isolating impact, it’s easy to see how overwhelmed and vulnerable young kids have become.

Certainly social media is not to blame entirely for our problems and, in fact, it can provide some positive relationships and distractions, but we need to be better informed about how we are being influenced and manipulated.   Bob and I obviously get the irony that some of you may be viewing our blog on Facebook, which means we’re contributing to the problem.  We are going to spend some time this week discussing our social media presence going forward.  Look for news on that next week.  In the meantime, we ask that you subscribe directly to our blog.   Why?  Because we don’t monetize our site – no one pays us and we don’t pay anyone (except platform management fees) and we certainly don’t share our subscriber list.  Here is a link to the site and you can sign up in the right hand column:  https://fromabirdseyeview.com/

For me, I’m taking a break from social media.  If you post something fun or interesting please don’t be offended if I don’t click the “Like” button.  If you don’t get a Facebook message from me on your birthday, rest assured I’m still wishing you a happy year ahead, I’ll just do it via email.  Finally, if you’re one of my friends who is constantly re-posting news and political stories I respectfully ask that you stop and think about how you’re being used by the big tech giants.  If you want to write something original – great!  But re-posting just feeds the beast and the beast needs to be killed.

See you on the other side.

P.S.  In addition to “The Social Dilemma” I found the following article to be most informative.  I’ve included the link in case you’re interested.

“The Dark Psychology of Social Networks” by Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/12/social-media-democracy/600763/