Tuesday, August 16, 2022


Legend: A lie that has attained the dignity of age.

— H. L. Mencken

This much can be proven: the soft drink known as Dr. Pepper was first sold in 1885 by a Waco, Texas, pharmacist named Wade Morrison.

A patent from that year documents as much.

As to the drink's specious name—well, like much of history, you must take most of the story on faith.

The legend holds that Morrison named the soft drink after a former employer, Dr. Charles Pepper, of Rural Retreat, Virginia.

Pepper had been a surgeon in the Confederate army before retiring to open a pharmacy in Rural Retreat, from which he dispensed a sweet and spicy elixir not dissimilar to Morrison's later concoction.

The legend suggests further that Morrison was Dr. Pepper's assistant and was in love with the doctor-turned-pharmacist's daughter.

Told he wasn't suited to marry the boss's daughter, Morrison swiped one of the doctor's formulas and fled to Texas.

But whether Morrison ever worked for Pepper is questionable.

Although US Census records show Morrison indeed lived in the vicinity of Rural Retreat and worked as a pharmacy clerk, he may never have even known the doctor, much less worked for him. 

But Morrison, aiming to turn his soft drink into a powerhouse throughout the South, was happy to market it under Pepper's name and title.

By doing so, he reasoned, he could conjure both the notion of "healing" and warm memories of the Lost Cause—a winning combination in the soul-sick South.

Morrison's branding strategy worked.

By the turn of the 20th century, his company, Artesian Manufacturing & Bottling, had sold hundreds of thousands of bottles of Dr. Pepper in Texas and Virginia.

Soon the company would become the Number 2 seller of soft drinks in America, outsold only by Coke, and Morrison would crown Dr. Pepper the "King of Beverages."

Even today, ignoring "woke mobs," the company stands by the legend that Wade Morrison named Dr. Pepper after the Confederate surgeon.

POSTSCRIPT: To learn more about Dr. Pepper's brand history, go here.

Above: Dr. Pepper by Annie Morgan Preece. Oil on canvas. 6 x 6 inches.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

My Morning Ritual

A daily ritual is a way of saying I'm taking care of myself.

— Mariel Hemingway

Like hundreds of millions of people around the globe, I wake up every morning and perform precisely the same task.

I brew coffee.

For me, it's more a ritual than a routine.

A routine, psychologists say, is a more or less meaningless activity, while a ritual is purpose-filled.

Brewing coffee certainly is purpose-filled for me. 

I'd describe its purpose as "to start the day with elation."

Some days, I know, will deliver several moments of elation.

But some days will not.

My morning ritual compensates for that.

It's like an insurance policy that protects me from a ho-hum day.

"It is unrealistic to want to be happy all the time," says alternative medicine advocate Andrew Weil.

He's right, of course.

But doesn't everyone deserve at least one dose of happiness a day, even if it's caffeine-induced?

The morning ritual is a catalyzer of happiness.

It is a homecoming, a refuge, or, in the words of the German philosopher Byung Chul Han, a "technology for housing oneself."

Life coaches and self-help gurus point to the morning ritual as the prime example of "self-care."

It gives you the feeling that you're in control, even if that's for only a few minutes of the day.

Were I more original, I'd invent my own morning ritual, as did many famous people in the past:
  • Ben Franklin sat and wrote naked every morning for an hour after rising.

  • John Quincy Adams (also naked) took a dip in the Charles River.

  • Jane Austen woke up every morning and played the piano for an hour.

  • Alexander Dumas began his mornings with a stroll beneath the Arc de Triomphe, where he would stop to eat an apple.
  • Marcel Proust woke every day to smoke a bowl of opium and eat a croissant.
  • Winston Churchill drank a whiskey and smoked a cigar first thing every morning.

  • Marilyn Monroe drank raw egg yolks in warm milk.

  • Elizabeth Taylor arose to eat bacon and eggs with a mimosa.
Many contemporary celebrities have more imaginative morning routines than mine, as well. 

TV producer Simon Cowell, for example, wakes up every morning and watches Hanna-Barbera cartoons. 

Warren Buffet drinks a can of Coke and reads The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, like clockwork. 

Michelle Obama wakes up at 4:30 and works out in the gym. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wakes up and drinks water and lemon. "I try to drink it slowly and mindfully,” she told Balance the Grind.

Victoria Beckham wakes up and drinks two tablespoons of vinegar.

Morning rituals are really all about doing one thing that's important to you, no matter what the day may bring.

The hell with the rest of the world, the morning ritual pronounces: this is mine.

As journalist Jess McHugh wrote in The Washington Post in January, morning rituals "provide a feeling of freedom and a rare moment for self-determination."

What's your morning ritual?

Above: The Morning Coffee by Charles Hawthorne. Oil on canvas. 30 x 30 inches.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

You Can't Make Enjoyment a Goal


Never be entirely idle; but either be reading, or writing, or praying, or meditating, or endeavoring something for the public good.

— Thomas à Kempis

Minus the prayer, I spend a lot of my time in retirement along the lines recommended by Thomas à Kempis, a 15th-century advocate of what today we would call mindful living.

I read, write, ruminate, and try to remain a productive citizen.

I hope in the long run to devote even more time to mindful activities, reducing to near-zero the time that I spend on mindless pursuits, such as watching TV, scrolling through social media, and worrying about the state of the world.

But no matter how I wind up spending my time, there are no guarantees.

For as I have discovered in four years of trial and error, you can't design a retirement guaranteed to produce enjoyment.

You can only try things. 

Golfing, gardening, hiking, biking, birdwatching, breadmaking, singing, sailing, painting, philanthropy, or songwriting.


Tutoring schoolkids.

Or playing dominoes in the park.

Whatever floats your boat.

When they promise you that, with sufficient planning, you'll enjoy your golden years, the retirement experts are lying to you.

Yes, retirement is an opportunity to reimagine yourself.

You no longer have to react to bosses and customers, or go places and perform tasks not of your choosing.

You're free to do what you will enjoy.

The problem is, you can't decide in advance that you'll enjoy an activity.

You cannot make enjoyment a goal.

"Enjoyment is not a goal, it is a feeling that accompanies important ongoing activity," said the writer Paul Goodman.

The best you can do is to test out a lot of important activities, and learn whether enjoyment follows.

While they're still working, people wonder mostly whether they'll have the money to retire. 

The smart ones make saving a goal.

But they don't give thought to whether they'll enjoy retirement.

And there's a good reason for that.

You can't make enjoyment a goal.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Faking It


To fake it is to stand guard over emptiness.

— Arthur Herzog

Fraudsters know it's easy to make a fast buck from a phony "news" website.

To prove how easy it is, journalist Megan Graham conducted an experiment a couple of years ago.

She built her own website and filled it with stories she stole from CNBC.

"Within days, I had the ability to monetize my site with legitimate advertisers," she reported. 

"It was shockingly easy."

Graham's success was no doubt due to advertisers' shoddy ad-buying systems, which funnel ad money through third parties.

Those companies take their fees off the top and buy ads with the money left over.

But in their haste to earn fees, the companies lose track of where that money is spent.

"Half a brand’s digital marketing spend is absorbed by middlemen," Graham says. "It’s impossible for advertisers to know exactly where their money is going."

But suckering advertisers and their agents isn't the real crime here. (It's perfectly legal to create a website filled with gobbledygook.)

Plagiarism is.

To sustain the illusion that they're legitimate publishers, fraudsters rip off stories from legitimate publishers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.  

Fraudsters can even automate plagiarism by using website plug-ins known as "scrapers," which swipe articles from legitimate publishers hourly.

To cover their crime, before posting the stolen stories, the more artful fraudsters run them through a paraphrasing app.

These apps thinly disguise the plagiarism—but only thinly.

They also provide inadvertent chuckles.

Consider, for example, how one fraudster mangled parts of a story about a Congressional hearing on stock-trading:

Some legislators called for more transparency. Rep. Nydia Velázquez asked about the lack of requirements for hedge funds to disclose short positions.

Some legislators necessitated additional transparency. Rep. Nydia old master asked regarding the shortage of needs for hedge funds to disclose short positions.

In this case, the fraudster simply published the paraphrasing app's results verbatim:
  • Called for more was replaced by necessitated additional
  • Velázquez was replaced by old master

  • Asked about the lack of requirements was replaced by asked regarding the shortage of needs
How do the fraudsters get away with this?

As Graham showed, they count on advertisers' inability to detect original from plagiarized stories.

"It’s easy to make money from advertisers just by setting up a web page," she said, "That means there’s significant incentive to create sites filled with outright plagiarized content."

But fraudsters also count on visitors' shabby reading habits.

As studies have shown, digital readers are evincing ever-greater degrees of "cognitive impatience," robbing them of the ability to "deep-read."

To put it succinctly, digital readers lack discernment: we'll accept any crap that's dished out, no matter the source or the quality.

In a real sense, we're complicit in the fraudsters' crime.

Friday, July 29, 2022

My Rabbit Hole

I lead a monastic life, a theater unto myself, sequestered from the tumults and troubles of the world.

— Robert Burton

Crime, violence, vanity, ignorance, disease, poverty, corruption: I'm done with them. 

Done with the day's news stories and current events. 

Done with the real world—with the theater of the forlorn. Done with sorrows, follies, afflictions, and lies.

I can't take them any more.

I'm heading down my rabbit hole, where I can escape the world's heaviness and be a "theater unto myself."

If you care, you can find me there painting.

"A simple line painted with a brush can lead to freedom and happiness," the painter Joan Miro said.

He got that right.

How about you?

What's your rabbit hole? 

Above: Baron von Hoppin' by Jan Weir. Oil on linen. 6 x 8 inches. The Rabbit King by Joan Miro. Etching, aquatint and carborundum on paper. 38 x 28 inches.

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