On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the guest is Ellen Stofan, the under-secretary of science and research at the Smithsonian Institution. She has a fun, lively conversation with host Peter Sagal about her long history working in the field of outer space, including at NASA, and talks about why she’d like to go to Mars, but not anything much shorter. What’s goofy, as well, is that most of the panelists jump in with outer space question related to movies.
This again is the full Wait, Wait… broadcast, but if you want to jump directly to the “Not My Job” segment, it started around the 18:45 mark.
Continuing our policy of attempting to wean ourselves away from writing at great length about political hell every single day, I thought I’d jump in with a customer service tale.
I’ve ordered the Solimo hand sanitizer twice now, which is Amazon’s house brand. The issue at hand (okay, yes, pun intended) is not with the quality of the product – which has a very good rating and is also extremely well-priced. Rather, in both instances the expiration date was only 4-5 months away. On all websites I’ve checked, including the CDC’s, hand sanitizer should be stable for 2-3 years. So, 4-5 months is considered less.
Also, the order is for six 10-ounce bottles. I wasn’t sure if I’d use up all that in three years. So, there is no way on earth I can use that much hand sanitizer in four months -- unless I start drinking it as aperitif before dinning. And even then, I might have to start chugging it as the expiration date nears.
To be clear, Amazon has been very good about dealing with this. They give no argument and have said each time on their own that they’ll refund the money and I can keep the product. So, in essence I’m getting it for free for four months, twice. And that’s lovely, but I’d rather order it once and have it good for three years and not have to go through all the phone calls and re-ordering (arguably ever again, God willing), especially since the price is so reasonable. If I had a three year supply, it would work out to just $5 a year.
I’m not writing about that so much, though, as I am about the conversations I have with the Amazon folks. And again, as I said, even the conversations have all be very personable and responsive, and pleasant to deal with. It’s just that they always say the same, one particular thing, and it takes all my effort to be as polite in return as possible not to explain how utterly, monumentally wrong – and potentially dangerous – their cheery, well-meaning comments are.
Take this recent instance. The first call I made was to Amazon Customer Service to deal with the order. The second call was to the Amazon Brands office because I wanted to know what was going on with the expiration date – was there an old backlog, or bad timing luck on my part, or was this simply the standard with Solimo – when it came time in four months to order new hand sanitizer.
And what they always say is, “Oh, I use this product myself and use it past the expiration date, and it’s just fine. It doesn’t go bad.”
I always then take a breath and give the polite response. “Thanks, yes, I do know it doesn’t just go bad when it passes the expiration, but that it starts to degrade and over time loses more and more of its potency. And honestly, when it comes to a worldwide pandemic, I’m just not willing to take a risk with a less-potent degraded product past its expiration.
They always answer, “That’s very true. And yes, I completely understand. That makes sense.”
What I want to say is – “Wait, don’t tell me it’s perfectly fine past its expiration! You have no idea if it’s perfectly fine. I mean, seriously. Do you have a lab at home? Do you test it? Are you a scientist or send it in to a research center? How on earth do you even possibly know that it’s just absolutely fine after the expiration date???! Especially since all science says it starts to degrade when expired. And how long do you believe that it’s just fine? A year?? Two months? A week? And how would you know?! As kind and thoughtful as you’re trying to be, that is truly awful, and potentially dangerous advice.”
But I don’t say that. I just take a breath and push the subject elsewhere. Today, though, I have to admit that I did finally get a little fed up hearing that well-intended but deeply wrong-headed comment yet again and (because I didn’t want anyone giving that “advice” to other customers who might believe her as an Authority Figure with Amazon Brands) finally said a much-more polite version, along the lines of “Okay, thanks, yes, though in fairness I don’t have a way of testing how effective it still is, and you probably don’t, so I just don’t want to take a risk during a pandemic.”
She understood and said, “That’s very true. And yes, I completely understand.”
In four months, when December comes around and it’s time to renew the soon-to-be-expired batch, I’ll figure out if I want to go through this again or just trying another brand. I’ve already done the research and have my list.
And look forward to not having to order hand sanitizer again, period.
Yesterday,. the CDC made a major announcement about how all people who were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer had to wear a mask or social distance whether outdoor or indoors (with a few minor exceptions). There was more to it, but that was the big news. The really big news. Later, President Joe Biden had small press conference and addressed it all, as well.
Three things impressed me about Biden's speech, and none were the momentous news.
The first was that President Biden did not make the initial announcement. He didn't hog the limelight to get all the attention and make it seem like it was his news. Instead, since it was a CDC directive, he let the CDC itself actually make the announcement. What a concept.
The second was that in his speech, Joe Biden did not make it about him. About all he had done. About how the news was all about him and that he soaked up all the praise due him. He didn't ask thanks for himself and his great leaders. In fact, what he praised first was the incredible hard work of "the scientists and researchers; the drug companies; the National Guard; the U.S. military; FEMA; the nation’s governors, doctors, nurses, pharmacists," who he said moved Heaven and Earth to get get the country to this point. Again, thanking others first and science -- what a concept. But after that, he did what most impressed me. He went ever farther, and said --
"I need to single out one more group to praise: the American people. The American people. For more than a year, you’ve endured so much and so many lost jobs, so many businesses lost, so many lives upended, and so many months that our kids couldn’t be in school. You couldn’t see your friends or family. All the moments that mattered so much — from birthdays to weddings to graduations — all postponed. And most tragically of all: the lost lives." And then added: "You’ve endured all this. When your country asked you to get vaccinated, you did. The American people stepped up. You did what I consider to be your patriotic duty. That’s how we’ve gotten to this day.
Imagine that. He thanked the American people -- whatever their politics, and just for getting the vaccination. Making clear that it was that action, their sacrifice, the loss of human lives, their "patriotic duty" that helped accomplish this moment and ultimately brought all this science to fruition. Putting it all together with an understanding of what people actually endured.
And the third thing in his speech that impressed me He said --
"You know, some may say, 'I just feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask.' They may feel that way. So if you’re someone with a mask — you see them, please treat them with kindness and respect. We’ve had too much conflict, too much bitterness, too much anger, too much polarization of this issue about wearing masks. Let’s put it to rest. Let’s remember, we’re all Americans. Let’s remember that we are all in this together."
Imagine that. Talking about kindness. And respect. To treat people well, just for making a personal choice that makes them feel comfortable and safe. Because we're all in this together.
Yes, the medical news from the CDC was wonderful. There is still a very long way to go, most especially throughout the world, but this was a significant day. But having a leader of the country was was willing to make it about the American people and kindness and not about himself was arguably as significant for building on the moment and completing the task. Not just this one, but those to come.
I happened to record Jimmy Kimmel Live last night because Dr. Anthony Fauci was a guest, and I wanted to see it. I figured that he and Kimmel would likely have a good conversation -- and they did. It was very informative and often very funny. (Like when the Kimmel noted that Dr. Fauci was the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious diseases and noted that we haven't heard about allergies all that much recently and wondered if the doctors there who deal with allergies were feeling a little left out. Fauci cracked up -- and said, in fact, yes, they did, but that they were still working on vaccines for allergies. Which got the conversation into peanuts so that Kimmel could make sandwiches for his daughter -- and the doctor talked about how they were indeed working in that area, as well.)
I had something else planned for today, but on the show Kimmel did a wonderful segment that dealt with the 26% of Americans who said that they will not get the vaccine. (A number, but the way that I suspect -- based on no evidence, other than an observation of human nation -- which could drop a bit as time passes and more people get vaccinated. But I digress.) They three-minute piece was so good -- very funny, but really informative and pointed and with a serious undertone -- that I searched it out so that I could post it here.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, his Main Story -- which he got to almost immediately, rather than doing his short news recaps first -- was about the COVID-19 vaccine. The point was to look at all the reasons so many people have either put off getting vaccinated or refuse to, and give responses to all of them. It was a very good, information, and often funny report, though I'm not sure it did as intended. On the good side, he noted that simply showing his show to such people won't convince them, that statistics show people are most-convinced by people they know -- so he offered his information as something to pass along. On the other side, I'm not sure if his explanations to many of the issues would convince anyone. They were certainly all valid, just not as simple to grasp as is likely needed. In fact, his best explanation about why to get vaccinated came in a wonderful rant at a fictitious "Mike from Baltimore."
(Also, I think they could have been more blunt in addressing concerns of all those people who think the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease by pointing out that almost 600,000 Americans alone have died from COVID-19, while mere single-digits have died as perhaps a complication of other conditions combined with just one of the vaccines -- which was, in fact, taken off the market to study, and then re-released with full understanding of the very rare issue.)
But it was still a very good, entertaining report.
Yesterday, 60 Minutes did a show on Boston Dynamics, a research laboratory that develops robotics which the TV show has been trying to get behind-the-scene for years. It was worth the wait. The story is absolutely fascinating, thanks to the remarkable developments by the company. My only two quibbles with the otherwise very good report are are that though the company does a good job explaining away myths about robotics, they don't get into how artificial intelligence works into all this, and also that while the heads of Boston Dynamics are aware of the problem related to job loss, their explanation about it all creating new industries -- while true -- is much to surface to serve as a proper answer.
Still, the story is really worth watching and even fun. But most especially stick with it until you get to the part about the newest discipline they're developing. It's remarkable.
On this week’s ‘Not My Job’ segment of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, is Swati Mohan, lead engineer of NASA who narrated the Mars landing. Her conversation with host Peter Sagal is pretty straight forward about the Mars project and her work on it, including the famous Seven Minutes of Terror – but it’s fascinating. Including that Mission Control was actually 11 minutes behind the real landing as they were guiding the movement of the craft. Interesting, too, is how many of the panelists jump in with questions. One oddity, given her job, is that the audio quality comes across somewhat like her head is in a wooden bucket.
For those who missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, his Main Story was about plastics. More specifically, it was about how recycling plastics isn't the great and easy panacea it appears to be on the surface. The report is very interesting, and includes some wonderful humor...most notably one joke that relates to the blob fish which they carry out to its wonderful fullness. And I should add that there is a joke at the very end which might pass by most people, who'll think it's about Spring Break -- and while that might be what prompted the joke, it's actually an allusion to the sign-off Jackie Gleason used on his TV variety show in the 1960s. I really admire people who make jokes that they know not everyone will get. Fun Fact: everyone doesn't have to get every single joke.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is Nobel Climate Scientist Michael Mann who talks with Al about “Denier tactics and idiocy.” He also discusses his new book The New Climate War. Though the initial conversation took place before the Texas disaster, the two got together again afterwards to talk about it and how Climate Change was foundational to what happened.
I meant to post this a couple days ago, but...well, y'know, with the news and all...
For what it’s worth, Ed Solomon is a very good screenwriter. (Among other things, he wrote the Men in Black and Bill and Ted…” movies. I interviewed him years ago for a WGA column I did.) I only mention that for perspective. Mainly, I love his joke and the phrasing of it – and it also especially hit home because a friend took his daughter to the Santa Monica beach the other night because she wanted to get a better view of this.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor