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The Woo I’m Not Speaking

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A blurb in the Sunday Oregonian‘s (3-30-14) arts section The Buzz claimed that James Patterson is the most “successful” author since January 2001 (my emphases):

“…which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been to the beach or walked down the aisle of a plane.  Patterson, a former advertising executive…has successfully branded himself and started several new product lines with co-authors.” 

Patterson has branded himself.  Yikes.  And, ouch. 

BRAND

And he’s started “several new product lines.”  Literary integrity, schmegrity; Pulitzer, schmulitzer – it is every author’s dream, to have their own line of toiletries, kitchen cleaning supplies and/or energy drinks….

Well, no, it isn’t.  Or, at least, it didn’t used to be.  I have pissed and moaned about it decried this transformation before in these virtual pages, and will likely do so again, seeing as how, increasingly, fiction authors are advised or even expected to build “platforms” and establish recognizable “brands” – concepts once associated with shilling laundry detergent.

Oh, an elaboration/translation of the last term (“co-authors”), for those of you fortunate enough not to be able to recognize the literary shenanigans between the lines.  The reason there seem to be new “James Patterson” books out every four months is that James Patterson isn’t writing them.  He’s not the only “successful” author to go this way (yet another a dirty little secret in the best selling fiction world).  Patterson the newbie author did write his earlier works.  Now that he has established his genre and style and main/recurring character, and he comes up with an outline or premise for a new book (a 60 – 80 page “treatment,”) and those co-authors so casually mentioned?  They do the actual writing.

Co-authoring (a phenomenon akin to ghost writing ) will get you a work-for-hire-fee, while Patterson gets the credits and royalties. Occasionally co-authors get a cover credit [1](usually listed as “with” or “and “not “by”, as in Patterson’s latest credits, which feature his name prominently above the book’s title.

Not long after came across an article in a writer’s trade magazine about Patterson’s co-author arrangements, Patterson pledged to make a made a $1 million donation to independent bookstores around the country.  Nice move. So, now I have to grit my teeth and acknowledge that at least some of those trash royalties might be put to good use.

*   *   *

The connection explained.

PALTROWMARTINSeparated at birth?

Separated at birth?

A new phrase seems to have entered our ever-expanding lexicon.  By now some of the attention has died down, but last week you couldn’t swing a dead honey badger without hearing or reading about conscious uncoupling.

Don't swing me.

Don’t swing me.

Even diligent celebrity ignorers couldn’t hide from the torrent of talk show & social media quips re actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s and musician Chris Martin’s bemusing announcement, posted on Paltrow’s GOOP website under the heading, Conscious Uncoupling.

“It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate…. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.  Love, Gwyneth & Chris.”

A brief sidetrack:  more than one alert journalist has noticed that the vast majority of the scorn being heaped upon the producers of the prodigiously precious proclamation is falling upon Paltrow’s petite, porcelain shoulders:

 “…together for 12 years…by all evidence, equal partners in whatever was Project Paltrow-Martin…. Martin’s name and visage are attached to the “conscious uncoupling” letter.  And yet it’s Paltrow who’s received all the scorn for the admittedly deeply pretentious announcement, as she has throughout the pair’s marriage…. Why does every attempt to read into Paltrow and Martin’s marriage end with the takeaway that Paltrow is a villain and Martin a passive bystander?
(“Gwyneth Paltrow’s getting treated much worse than Chris Martin,” by Daniel D’Addario)

Once again, I digress.

Conscious uncoupling. The first time I heard the phrase it sounded, to my warped little mind, like the title for a course in the Zen School of Railroad Engineering. 

Now that we have mastered Mindful Milepost Marking, we graduate to Conscious Caboose Coupling.

Now that we have mastered Mindful Milepost Marking, we graduate to Conscious Caboose Coupling.

My theory re why the Paltrow-Martin announcement received such scornful attention is three-fold:

(1) conscious uncoupling is the epitome of “woo-speak;” it is an amalgam of New Agey lingo meets politico-nonspeak, that obscures what it purports to reveal  (“The cars we sell are not used, they’re pre-owned”).

(2) P-M’s use of such a WTF?! expression draws attention to the form of announcement itself, rather than the information contained therein, and the announcement goes on to insincerely (if unconsciously) ask for privacy.

(3) number three has indeed folded.  Two folds are plenty.

Anyway and thus, the punk & Gwyn & Chris connection:  The punk’s painfully, exhaustively detailed bodily, hair and sartorial mutilations and modifications, in essence, scream, “Look at me!  I’m special!  Everyone, pay attention to ME!  Then, of course, when attention is granted, surly punk snarls, “What are you looking at?”

Gwyn & Chris, darlings: if you really wanted to do this with the least amount of fuss, y’all could have said nothing, or, released a brief but straightforward statement: we’re separating and/or getting divorced, and ask for space and consideration for our family during this difficult time.

*   *   *

Speaking of woo

Dateline: Monday, March 30, ~ 4:50 am. I am awakened by a loud, WOO-WOO!  I bolt upright in the bed, my heart pounding, and nudge MH.  “Uh…are you okay?”

MH chuckles softly (apparently, his outburst also woke his own self up). “It’s okay.  It was a dream. I was trying to scare something away.”

Moiself:  “Well, you scared me.”

MH pauses for a sec before answering.  “Then I guess it worked.”

clowndream

*   *   *

Speaking of scary clowns….

Fred Phelps, vitriol-spewing head of the hate-mongering, gay-baiting, soldier-funeral-picketing Westboro Baptist Church, died March 19.  Let us pause for a moment of silence, or a chorus of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. I’m pro-choice; I’ll leave it up to you.

VOLDEMORT

Ever since Phelp’s death I’ve noticed a higher than usual number of liberal-Christians-feel-good-about-themselves, rainbow-strewn, If you’re using the Bible to hurt other people you’re using it wrong” postings on Facebook.  The trouble with such a sentiment is that the people employing it are “using it wrong.”  The thing is, if you are using your bible, or any ancient “holy scripture,” as a life instruction manual, you will find plenty of commandments for believers to specifically hurt people.

The cruelties of the Old Testament [2] are sometimes acknowledged (and well known, at least by us happy heretics) but rarely cited by Christians.  When believers are confronted with scriptural depictions of their god’s barbarities, including but oh-so-not limited to…

☼  burning alive people who complain

☼   commanding the wholesale slaughter of a nation (kill all males and non-virgin females, but keep the virgin women for yourselves [3] )

☼   killing the new neighbors who have a different religion

☼   ordering the death sentence for a man who gathered firewood on the wrong day

☼   and also for children who curse their parents or are stubborn

☼   sending a bear to maul and kill youths who teased a follicularly-challenged prophet (they called him “baldy”) 

…their knee-jerk strategy is to claim that all those acts of mass and individual murder, rape and torture “don’t count,” because JC supposedly rejected the OT’s violent legacy. [4]

Cool story, bro.

BIBLEBEARS

However, Christianity’s own theology refutes this excuse.  The cornerstone of Christian belief, “the trinity,” avers that Jesus was/is god.  This means JC was/is also the OT god, that crotchety, short-tempered, “You kids get the hell off my lawn!” Yahweh – the same deity who ordered all those killings, the same credited author of the numerous, violent, repellent commands listed in the Torah (“the Law”).

In the New Testament scriptures, Jesus is quoted as strongly approving of the law and the prophets, and makes no exceptions for the absurdities and cruelties contained therein.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [5]

The NT also has Jesus claiming that he has come to destroy families by making family members hate each other. JC claims he has come “not to send peace, but a sword;” and that those who don’t believe in him will be cast into a fire to be burned; and that we should fear a god who is willing and “able to destroy both soul and body in hell” and who has the power to kill us and then torture us forever in hell. Oh yeah, and JC had no quarrels with the idea of drowning everyone on earth in the flood, and says it’ll be just like that when he returns, and that people who disagree with his followers will suffer a fate worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. [6]

And since scripture itself claims Jesus is always in perfect agreement with the Father, [7] believers cannot claim that war, murder and cruelties were only divinely willed in OT times, as, once again, their pesky scriptures claim that their “god does not change.” [8]

Look.  I’m glad that (most) contemporary believers don’t take their “holy books” seriously – as in, applying what their scriptures literally say – which enables them to pick & choose from among the “nice stuff” (e.g., The Sermon on the Mount & the Beatitudes).

But Fred Phelps also was a believer who picked and chose. He chose from among the “icky stuff,” true, but the ickies were scriptural directives nonetheless.  And Phelps had plenty of biblical ammunition for determining what and whom his god hates.

*  *  *

 You can choose your friends and you can pick your nose,
but you can’t choose to pick your friend’s nose. [10]

Do you like my earring? I picked it myself.

Do you like my earring? I picked it myself.

*   *   *

Someday I’ll write my own version of the Beatitudes.  In homage to my childhood summers spent at the beach, I’ll title them The Beati-Dudes: timeless wisdom channeled via The Chosen Ones of Southern California. [11]

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, ’cause…dude?  No way, man, it sucks to be poor!”

Surf’s up.  It must be time for the hijinks to ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

 

 

[1] Or not, as with sci fi author Ron Goulart, co-author of “William Shatner’s” Tekwar series.

[2] A (rather condescending) Christian term for the books of the Hebrew Bible.

[3] read Numbers 31 for the heart-warming story of the Midianites.

[4] The typical theological justification is that Christians are to read the OT stories “through the lens” of the NT.

[5] Matt 5:17 – 19

[6] Matt. 10:34-36; John 15:6; Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:5; Matt. 24; Mark 6.

[7] John 10:30.

[8] Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.

[9] footnote  #9 is taking a break.

[10] Robyngwen 2:99.  I’m just sayin.’

[11] I mean of course, surfers.

The Munchies I’m Not Curing

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It’s unanimous (and it rarely is, in my family):

K, Belle, MH & I agree: the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics should be awarded to Danielle Lei, the Girl Scout who decided to sell cookies outside a medical marijuana dispensary.

 On my honor/I will try/to help all people/ cure their medical munchies...

On my honor/I will try/to help all people/ cure their medical munchies…

 *   *   *

“Fifty was a shock, because it was the end of the center period of life. But once I got over that, sixty was great. Seventy was great. And I loved, I seriously loved aging. I found myself thinking things like: ‘I don’t want anything I don’t have.’ How great is that?” 

( from This is What Eighty Looks Like  by NY Times op ed columnist Gail Collins )

Gloria Steinem turned eighty this week.  I’ve always thought of her as timeless if not ageless, and so it was strange of me to ponder, as I did upon hearing her birthday news, that Steinem is only five years younger than my mother.  Chronologically, Steinem belongs to my parents’ era…although, in comparison to most of what would be considered her peers, Steinem’s forward, forthright thinking and activism would mark her as belonging to another planet,  rather than to their generation.

GLORIA

Among Steinem’s many talents, she’s always been quick on the verbal draw.  One of my favorite Steinemisms came from her reaction [1] to an announcement by the New York Times.  Background: women’s rights advocates had long objected to the practice of designating women by their marital status (“Mrs.” or “Miss”) while men were identified by the status-neutral “Mr.”  The Times, a bastion of conservatism when it came to acknowledging linguistic evolution, had refused to allow the use of “Ms.” in their articles.  When in 1986 the Times editorial board finally announced a change in editorial policy, Steinem quipped,

I will no longer be referred to as “Miss” Steinem of Ms. magazine.

 Steinem has always been adept at using humor to highlight the politics of injustice and the absurdities inherent in social and societal gender disparities…

If men could menstruate…clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much…. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of (purchasing) such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammed Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields—”For Those Light Bachelor Days.” [2]

…and she was never far off from sharing yet another click!-moment [3], the kind of observation that makes you gasp aloud, in one of those-truth-telling/recognizing moments:

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” [4]

GLORIAAGE

Happy birthday, Gloria. I hope you have your cake and eat it, too.

 *   *   *

Oh, you gotta love this.  In the spirit of truthiness and other stunt words, may I present, courtesy of Republican senator and “Tea Party identifier” Ted Cruz (or his publicists), a new phrase, that, IMHO, is worthy of  the coveted Picard Face Palm.

From the introduction to Ted Cruz to the Future – Comic Coloring Activity Book, from Really Big Coloring Books (no, I am not making this up)  (my emphases):

In a continuation of the company’s popular series Tell the Truth – Tell it Often – Tell the Children…Really Big Coloring Books®, Inc. turns complex challenges or issues into a relevant format with an emphasis for youth. The Cruz to the Future book is a non-partisan, fact-driven view of how Texas Sen. Cruz became a U.S. senator and details…his ideas for what he believes will help America grow…..

Fact-driven view.”

facepalm

The book about Cruz does not claim to present “facts,” nor even to be “factual,” but it will present a “fact-driven view” of Cruz’s agenda. [5] Kinda like the idea of using a fact (“Our solar system has a sun”) upon which to justify any lunacy view you can then refer to as fact-driven (“The sun revolves around the earth because that’s what my Iron age twaddle holy scripture tells me, and oh yeah, I can see the sun go around the earth, ’cause I’ve seen it set and rise, every day. Fact!“).

But seriously, Ladies and Germs. The intent of the coloring book is, of course, to instill extremist conservative viewpoints in young children.  And as always, the Internet strikes back, in the form of brutally funny reviews posted on the book’s Amazon page (including one by yours truly…can you spot it?).

"Look kiddies, it's the Tree of Life – er, I mean for conservative-approved political freedoms, not that crazy evolution stuff."

“Look kiddies, it’s the Tree of Life – er, I mean The Tree of Conservative  Political Freedoms, not that crazy evolution stuff.”

*   *   *

Are We Having Fun Yet?

There are a smattering of for-profit corporations that, citing special instructions from their imaginary friend religious objections, want to refuse to provide some (or all) of the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the FDA in the health plans these corporations offer to their employees. Because there is nothing else to do during the first week of spring, the SCOTUS [6] began hearing arguments from these company’s lawyers, including the hired guns of Hobby Lobby , one of the leading arts & crafts retailers in the USA.

PROTEST

Hobby Lobby’s CEO, founder and SRDOTUS [7] David Green openly espouses Southern Baptist, conservative “Christian” values, and proclaims that his corporation is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles….We believe that it is by God’s grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured.”

Really.

REALLY

Yes, Really.

Check out the company’s “mission statement” on their website.  Hobby Lobby asserts that its god, this same deity who remains deaf to cries for help from its believers who endure horrific assaults in rape camps around the world, [8] somehow keeps itself busy doling out its “grace and provision” to an American craft vendor.

Once again, I digress.

Hobby Lobby wants to get out of providing full health care coverage for its employees;specifically, HL want to not cover forms of contraception it  mistakenly [9] believes are abortifacients, and argues that the ACA’s contraception “mandate” forces them to violate their religious beliefs.

UTWERUS

Let’s check in with someone more articulate than moiself; i.e., someone who is less likely to out-and-out use the term bullshit, but whose know-how on the issues at stake (e.g. tax laws, insurance coverage and what the ACA actually says) enables him to refute such bullshit nonetheless (my emphases):

 There is no contraception mandate.  Hobby Lobby is not legally required to compensate its employees with health insurance at all. The regulations imposed by the ACA are on insurance plans, not on the corporations per se.  What is erroneously described as a “mandate” simply means that if corporations choose to take advantage of the tax benefits for compensating employees in health insurance rather than wages, the insurance has to meet minimum coverage standards.  As is often the case with specious religious freedom arguments, the corporation wants it both ways, to get the tax benefits without providing the full benefits to employees.
(Scott Lemieux, professor of political science at The College of Saint Rose)

It might be interesting for y’all, no matter where you stand on the ACA/contraceptive coverage brouhaha, to consider the fact that majority of Hobby Lobby‘s inventory comes from China.  Thus, I ask my faithful flock to meditate upon the irony if not the blatant hypocrisy of today’s homily:  Hobby Lobby sells goods they import from China, a country that not only provides abortion on demand but has also coerced and forced women to have unwanted abortions[10],  China’s policies and the forced abortion incidents are well known by international human rights organizations and religious communities, and yet, such knowledge has not induced Hobby Lobby to refrain from profiting off of the cheap, slave-wage-factory-produced crap inventory they import from China.

CHINESE

One last thought on this issue, courtesy of a business owner’s musing (on a Facebook posting):

“I am Jewish; can I withhold the amount of money from my employees salary’s that they use to buy
pork products and Christmas decorations?”

JEWISH

 

*   *   *

May all of your personal and political inventory be politically correct (or at least justifiable), and may the hypocrisy-free hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

 

[1] Quoted in Newsweek, June 30, 1986

[2] From Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate,” Ms. (Oct. 1978). You really need to read this, if you haven’t.

[3] A term for the moment of truth, in which the need for feminist consciousness raising – on both a world-wide and personal level – becomes irreversibly clear.  Jane O’Reilly depicted many “click!” moments in “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth,” (Ms. magazine preview issue, 1971); e.g., as a hostess and female guest finish washing the day’s dishes, a male houseguest enters the kitchen, asks, “How about something to eat?”, then waits to be served. “Click!” The hostess replies that they both work all week, and if he wants to eat, he can make himself something and then wash up.

[4] Steinem, in an interview with The Humanist, attributed that remark to an older, Irish, female taxi driver she and feminist activist Flo Kennedy encountered in the early ’70s.

[5] Hint: Tea Party friendly, pro-gun, anti-choice, anti-equal rights….

[6] Supreme Court of the United States

[7] Spewing Religious Doofus of the United States

[8] This assertion is (surprise!) not part of Hobby Lobby’s mission statement.

[9][9] As per the science behind how such methods actually work.

[10] Chinese officials claim forced abortions are not official policy, yet documentation of such incidents, enforced by local government officials as part of China’s One Child policy, have been verified.

The Thematic Consistency I’m Not Maintaining

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Breaking literary news:  my short story “The Assassin,” an excerpt from my (as-of-yet-unpublished) novel, Looking Up, is featured in WIPS: Works (of Fiction) in Progress.  Read it here.  And for a special treat, an interview with the author can be found here.

*   *   *

Is that a mournful train whistle I hear in the distance?  The second semester for university students begins next week, after MLK Day. This morning I’m taking K to the Amtrak station, where he’ll catch the train back to Tacoma. It was so nice to have my son home for winter break (all together now: They grow up so fast [1]).  There is always a heart clutch to see him go, even if it’s not quite the dramatic departure as portrayed in cinema.

MOVIE

*   *   *

Four Things I have learned to appreciate with age:

1. Dim lighting.
2. That’s about it.
3. There is no third thing. [2]
4. Did I mention dim lighting?

One Thing That Frosts My Aging Butt

If I hear or read one more time about how Forty is the new thirty, heads will roll.  Not your head and not mine, and maybe just doll heads, but still….

HEADS

Fifty is the new forty!  It is ignorant insult masked as encouragement; it is a clueless commentary buttressing ageism and stereotypes.  And we (women in particular) are supposed to find it complimentary, even as it implies that whatever age you are, don’t worry, you actually look or act younger, and younger is always better, so how dreadful to actually think of yourself as ___(whatever age you are) when that age is…no longer what it used to be.

Eighty is eighty and seventy is seventy and sixty is not the new forty, or even fifty.  And Fuck you is the new fifty-seven, okay?

UPYOURS

*   *   *

How many times do you have the opportunity to look at pretty pictures of the bottom of someone’s feet?  This is one of those times.   You’re welcome.

SOLE

sole2

*   *   *

Silly question of the day:  is it time for flatulence humor?

FART

Really, when is it not time for a fart joke?  Even better than your average fart joke is, the discovery that there is an Muslim version of The Onion. It’s called The Wadiyan, and alert readers will appreciate its coverage of breaking news, including the controversial law proposed by a sharia-following Indonesian city council to ban females from audibly passing gas.

Hard to believe that the preceding story escaped my attention when it was first published.  I can only assume it was a somewhat silent but deadly warm up for April Fool’s day. 

Carpe that diem, y’all.  And may the ageless hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Or, They look almost human when they’re sleeping…or whatever your favorite offspring adage is.

[2] But there is a second footnote.

The Trolls I’m Not Feeding

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Monday I made a visit to Forest Grove Community School, where the 5th & 6th grade students are using The Mighty Quinn for their block of study on realistic fiction.  I spent two class periods with them, first with the 6th graders and then the 5th graders.  I read a brief TMQ excerpt as an example of revealing character via dialog, did a Q & A session, and met individually with students to hear their writing samples and banter about story ideas.  The kids were delightful, and one of the best school groups I’ve ever visited.

I got a kick out of observing the students’ interactions (from the back of the class, before the teacher introduced me.  (Yep, I was lurking).  What a difference a year makes.  The 6th graders were obviously conscious of how they might “look” to their peers when asking a question or offering a comment.  Their Q & A concerns focused on their struggles with their own writing assignments.  The 5th graders were energetic, unbounded and out there – one boy shrieked with delight and threw me a high five when I was introduced as the author of the book they’d been reading aloud in class.  The 5th graders’ Q & A session was dominated by personal (to me),  what’s it like to be a writer queries.  One student even asked about my royalties, and was thrilled when I complimented him for knowing the term.  Several students stayed after class, missing part of their recess, to gather around me.  They gushed about how unbelievable it was that they had met a REAL PUBLISHED AUTHOR ® a sentiment I find embarrassing/annoying when expressed by adults, but from those students, it was sweet beyond words.  FGCS 5th and 6th graders, this Pretty Purple Toe Award is for you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*   *   *

BELLY LAUGH OF THE WEEK

Tuesday:  in my car, waiting for the left turn signal.  The car in front of me had one of those stick figure family decals in the rear window, which, in general, I find annoying and rarely give a second glance to.  But something about this one caught my attention.

STICK FIGURE FAMILY

*   *  *

BELLY CREEP OUT OF THE WEEK

Wednesday: Back in the damn car again, performing what used to be an almost daily chore that has evolved into a rare errand: sending a manuscript via snail mail.  The nearest mailbox where I might still make the pickup time [1] was a couple of miles away, by a Bi-Mart store. As I pulled into the Bi-Mart parking lot a woman pushing a shopping cart with an infant seat in it crossed in front of me.  Heading for the store, she walked slowly and laboriously and looked neither left nor right.  She just crossed the lane of traffic.

I was ~ ten feet away from her, in no danger of hitting her as I was going quite slowly, but I was annoyed by her negligent pedestrian-ship. FFS lady, maybe you don’t care about your own life but what about the baby?  Further annoying me was the fact that it was 27º outside, and I could see the infant’s bare legs sticking out from the bottom of the child seat.  As my car rolled closer I could see that the woman had a vacant, slack-jawed expression on her face, one that might be explained by a mental or physical disability, and the “baby” in the baby seat was actually a (very realistic-looking) baby doll.

DOLd

*   *   *

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
(Einstein’s letter of 3-24-54 to a correspondent who’d asked Einstein to clarify his religious views.
(“Albert Einstein: The Human Side.”)

 One of the great games in the culture wars is claiming the good and smart for your team and pushing the monsters away. Picture Christian and atheist captains in a sandlot choosing basketball teams. “Einstein, we get Einstein!” say the atheists. “No way, he used the word God!… “Oh you WISH!” ….
Albert Einstein is the three-point shooter everybody wants to draft.

(from Dale McGowan ‘s blog post, “Owning Einstein.”)

holding out for free agent status

holding out for free agent status

A link I posted on my Facebook page – to Hemant Mehta’s  blog post about Ron Reagan Jr. taping a PSA for an atheist organization – got me sucked into one of those  discussions.  A FB friend apparently took issue with the younger Reagan’s statements about reason being “the hallmark of the human species.”

FB Friend: Who says that believing in God makes one unreasonable? That is a rather objectionable statement. Most of history’s great thinkers believed in God. I believe in God and I believe im (sic) a reasonable person. You don’t believe? No prob. Its (sic) not my job to force my faith down your throat. We can get along without faith being an issue…

RP:  “Most of history’s great thinkers believed in God.” Now, that is a statement of faith, not fact.   ;-)

FBF: Einstein believed, Newton believed, Galileo believed, Devinci (sic)  did as well. its not a matter of just having faith…

MH also followed the link in my post. He read the Reagan post in its entirety, and thus was confused by FBF’s reaction.  “Why did he (FBF commenter) assume the article said religious people are unreasonable, when it didn’t?” he mused.

My Son K would probably say that I violated the don’t feed the trolls rule by even acknowledging the comment.  You know, stick to posting pictures of your dinner and links to fart jokes.

TROLL

But, no.  That’s too easy.  And besides, the commenter is no troll.  Rather, he is a friend from high school days, and a very nice guy.  So, I posted the Einstein quote that opened this section, and said I’d deal with this more extensively in this blog post.  Here we are.  More extensively, ho! [2]

Although they (of course) are not here now to speak for themselves, I’ve little doubt that many if not most of what we might call the “great thinkers” of the past were religious…at least, in their public personas. People had to make some sort of public religious profession; there were no other options. [3]  What choice did people have, to believe or express opinions to the contrary?

Giordano Bruno was just one of many great thinkers who were tortured and murdered for expressing opinions and/or doing research that the religious/political authorities (often one in the same, in that most unholy of alliances) found threatening or blasphemous.  You need not have a writer’s imagination to posit what would have happened to Galileo if he’d expressed doubts as to the existence of the Jehovah deity, when for merely making scientific (not religious) statements – backed with, hey, evidence! – he was called to Rome and tried for heresy.  Galileo, well aware of the fate of Bruno and others before him, was given a “tour” of the church’s dungeons, and shown the instruments of torture that would be used on him if he did not recant his support for Copernicus’ theory .  Even after he recanted the truth [4] Galileo was confined to his home under house arrest, where he died seven years later, not having been allowed to leave or to receive visitors.

Albert Einstein tried to fit his complex ideas into terms that might interest the lay (as in, non-science literate) population.  The mis-location of Einstein to the Religious Believers’ Great Thinkers Team mostly stems from two of his public figurative comments:

(1) his public statement, reported by United Press in April 25, 1929: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony in being, not in God who deals with the facts and actions of men,” and
(2) his famously misinterpreted metaphor regarding nature conforming to mathematical law: “God does not play dice with the Universe.”

But in his private/personal and other correspondences, Einstein lamented the misuse of his public statements to infer religious belief on his part.  He made his opinion about such matters quite clear, as in the opening quote and many others, three of which I’ll cite here.

“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” [5]

“The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.” [6]

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.” [7]

Ultimately, the numbers on anybody’s “teams” are irrelevant. The criteria for evaluating the truth of statements – even those phrased as “beliefs” – is not all that complicated.  Which leads me to a brief [8] incursion into what seems to be a minefield for many people:  the difference between facts and beliefs.

MINE

I hold many, many beliefs about many, many subjects.  I believe that Meryl Streep is a great actor and that Tom Cruise is not, that Oregon Pinot Noirs are superior to California Merlots, that is more enjoyable to watch a high school varsity volleyball game than any professional golf tournament, that corn snakes make better pets than mice, that cedar-planked salmon is a tastier entrée than fried razor clams, that MH looks better with a full beard than with just a moustache, and that Elvis, Lady Gaga and the Virgin Mary do not make cameo appearances in the spots on someone’s flour tortilla.

Beliefs can be preferential, like those I listed.  A preferential belief expresses your opinions about interesting but ultimately inconsequential matters.  But beliefs can also express factual or cognitive claims, which call for evaluations of the truth of the propositions or assumptions behind the claims.  For example, if you assert that you “believe in God,” you are also making the assumption that the god you refer to exists.

If you express a cognitive belief but make no effort to justify it, you’re merely telling me your feelings or expressing your opinion.  It may be true that you believe you are the greatest fastball pitcher since Sandy Koufax.  However entertaining that claim may be to your slow-pitch softball league teammates, your belief by itself has no factual value.

koufax

There is nothing admirable about a belief just because you hold it, and cognitive beliefs are not immune to criticism. Cloaking beliefs in the robe of “god” or “religion” doesn’t excuse those ideas from examination.  “Believing” (aka “having faith in”) something doesn’t make an irrational claim suddenly rational, nor does it protect your belief from the test of evidence and reason – from the kind of the evaluation a thoughtful, intelligent person would normally apply to any statement of any kind, be it political, cultural, emotional….

If you want your beliefs to be taken seriously by others, you need to communicate them as something other than personal statements about what you “have faith in.”  Beliefs become objective when backed up by explanations and evidence that can be analyzed.  If you don’t want your beliefs to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, then you should keep them to yourself.

I for one wouldn’t go around claiming too many of the “great thinkers” of centuries past for my team.  Great minds who seemed ahead of their time in their niches of music, art, literature, philosophy and/or science may also have thought that the earth was flat, that enslaved peoples were “naturally” inferior to their enslavers, that diseases were caused by evil spirits and ill humors, etc.  Even great thinkers are commonly bound by the ignorance and superstitions – and subject to the cultural and political pressures – of their times.

Down from the soapbox and up to the feel good FB posts.  Truly, those are what I should be posting at this most festive time of year – a sampling of flatus classifications:

Backseater: an odiferous fart that occurs in automobiles, it is usually not very loud and can be concealed by traffic noise.

Cherry bomb: A loud, high-pitched, squeaker fart.

The Rambling Phaduka: One of the most loud and lengthy of farts,  it goes on for at least 15 seconds, often leaving the farter unable to speak, as if he’s had the wind knocked out of him.

The Skillsaw:  sounds like an electric skill saw ripping through a piece of plywood.  It has been known to cause people to back away in terror and confusion.

TGIAF: the thank goodness I’m alone fart. You look around after producing it and say, thank goodness I’m alone.  Then you get out of there, fast.

And may the farting animals compilation video hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 


[1] I didn’t, and ended up driving to the main Post Office.

[2] As in Westward, ho!” and other idioms expressing the desire to go or return to a certain destination, and not as in a reference to skanky pavement-pounders Our Great Nation’s proud sex workers.

[3] Even the option to choose this flavor of Christianity or that flavor of Islam could get you murdered, plundered or banished, depending on which group was in charge.

[4] And some  say he recanted his recanting, under his breath….(Atheism for Dummies, ch. 6, “enlightening Strikes”)

[5] (From Einstein’s letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, dated Jan. 3, 1954, cited in The Guardian, “Childish superstition: Einstein’s letter makes view of religion relatively clear,” by James Randerson, May 13, 2008).

[6] From Einstein’s to Beatrice Frohlich, December 17, 1952 ( The Expanded Quotable Einstein )

[7] Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel, New York: New American Library, 1972, p. 95.

[8] No really…considering the subject.

The Hat I’m Not Talking Through

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Why doesn’t my washing machine have a spam cycle?

My email’s spam cycle – if there be one, arrrrrrr [1] – is difficult for me to discern.  Not so long ago, days and even weeks would go by with but one to four messages in my spam file.  The last three weeks I’ve been greeted with sixteen or more when I log on. And the content has changed. I never thought I’d be nostalgic for requests from fraudulent Nigerian bankers and Enlarge Your Manhood peddlers, ah, but now I yearn for those simpler times.

It seems the Tea Party’s mental health committee and/or conspiracy theorists have taken over the e-waves. I don’t know what else would explain the fact that so many of my e-spams have a common theme of social media paranoia.  Someone has been talking about YOU, the messages proclaim.

OHNOO

“The public knows the truth about you. Bad Things From Your Past Have Been Posted Online. Is what they say you did really true?  Swift action is necessary if you don’t want EVERYONE you know seeing this awful information, r(___@______) ! [2]

Yesterday evening, a new favorite spam enticement caught my eye: Why are all these celebrities eating this fruit?

It did pique my curiosity, but not in the way the sender likely intended. Instead of following the link to the miracle fruit product (I assume) they were hawking I did a search for “celebrities eating fruit.”  Of all the images the search produced, this was my favorite.

can you name the celebrity armpit that looks like fruit?

which celebrity is…uh…anticipating licking her fruity armpit?

*   *   *

horn tooting

Shameless self promotion, the continuing series

“Porches have a way of evoking early memory — connections that linger, sounds and images of the moon, dream-lit faces, lightning bugs, voices, and song.  Porches, a place where people gather with relatives, friends, and lovers to party, protest, shell peas, knit, play cards, talk and disclose secrets…where stories collect and unfold.”
(Maureen A. Sherbondy, Editor, Voices from the Porch).

My short story “Requiem” is being included in the anthology, Voices from the Porch, to be published by Main Street Rag. The anthology is available for advance ordering .

BookPorchesAnth

*   *   *

MH, Belle and I will be attending the upcoming FFRF Convention in the organization’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.  As always, those wacky Freethinkers have scheduled a variety of thought-provoking, riveting and crazy-ass hilarious speakers, including Savage Love advice columnist, author, and It Gets Better Project founder Dan Savage, and SNL veteran comedian/actor/author/playwright Julia Sweeney .

Last year the convention was held in Portland, which was great fun and oh-so-convenient for us. One of the 2012 convention highlights was keynote speaker Richard Dawkins. The distinguished professor, author, evolutionary biologist and freethought champion appeared to accept the FFRF’s The Emperor Has No Clothes award. [3]

In his acceptance speech (titled, “On Mormons & Metaphors“), Dawkins had a jolly good time informing an American audience, prior to our 2012 presidential election, about the misuse of metaphors in religious and political language, and why politicians’ religious beliefs should be up for discussion, just as are their views on economic theory and foreign policy.

Emperor

The US Constitution states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That’s very different, Dawkins noted, from saying voters should ignore candidates’ beliefs when deciding who to vote for:

“I wish that presidential debates were more gloves off when it comes to the religious beliefs of candidates.  Why does Mr. Obama limit himself to criticizing Mr. Romney’s taxation policy, medical policy, foreign policy and so on? Why does he ignore the elephant in the room, which is that his opponent is capable of holding beliefs which, in England, we call barking mad, and here, you might call batshit crazy.”

Dawkins then listed an amazingly brief summary (considering the subject) of some of the absurdities of Mormon “revelation:”

* – Joseph Smith, whom Mormons revere as the prophet/founder of their faith, said he was guided by an angel to dig up some golden plates upon which were written characters of an ancient language which Smith called “reformed Egyptian” (a language unknown to any linguists or archaeologists, by the way)

* – Smith placed a “seer stone” in a hat, buried his face in the hat, looked at the stone and translated the Egyptian scripture that he said appeared in the stone; [4]

* – Smith’s oral translations were written down by a scribe, who was seated behind a curtain so he couldn’t see what Smith was doing….[5]

“Everything about the Book of Mormon reeks of fake.  Joseph Smith was an obvious charlatan. [6] That’s not an interesting fact in itself. There have been numerous charlatans down the ages. The point is that Mitt Romney, candidate for the job of most powerful man in the world, with his finger on the nuclear button, is a gullible fool who believes Joseph Smith.” 

I’m not an American voter, but if I were, I would want to know that my president has the critical intelligence needed to be a president. Anybody who can’t see that Joseph Smith was a charlatan and a liar doesn’t have critical intelligence.”

"Ollie Ollie oxen free!"

“Ollie Ollie oxen free!”

Of course, others  have pointed out that almost all political candidates profess religions which have more ancient origins than Mormonism – religions that also make absurd claims that do not stand up to the scrutiny of logic, reason, or science. Due to the numbing effects of familiarity, these religions don’t always come under the same scrutiny. Isn’t, for example, Obama’s Christianity just as ridiculous?

True.  However….

You can argue that the Hebrew and Christian bibles, the Quran, the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, can get something of a pass in that they are Iron Age writings and teaching that have been passed on for historical and cultural as well as religious reasons. There was no discipline of science to investigate the claims nor investigative  journalism to report the goings-on when those ancient tales were collected.  And then, there is the matter of Dawkins doubting the authenticity of Obama’s public religion:

“I think there’s an excellent chance that Mr. Obama is not a Christian….. But in any case, the fact that he professes Christianity means absolutely nothing. He’s an elected American politician. And if you are an elected American politician, that has to mean that you pretend to be religious. There’s no other way about it. [7] So that doesn’t really mean anything. 

“But I think the evidence shows actually Romney does believe it. He was a Mormon bishop. There are records of his excommunicating people. He excommunicated a woman because she left the Mormon Church…. And it’s really much more recently that he, I think really rather obnoxiously, posthumously baptized his atheist father-in-law. If he were professing religion for reasons purely of political expediency, instead of saying he’s a Mormon, couldn’t he say he sort of believes in spirituality or something vague like that? I think it’s pretty clear Romney is a definitely strong-believing Mormon…” 

romney_mormon_underwear

“Christian scriptures are genuinely ancient. The translations from Hebrew and Greek that Christians use are in a language contemporary with the translators. The Book of Mormon is not ancient. The language of its alleged translation is ludicrously anachronistic  [8] . It contains absurdities, scientifically demonstrable absurdities, about the origin of Native Americans,  [9] about people of African descent. [10] “ 

“It’s an absurd piece of work. A man who seriously believes it, it seems to me, cannot be trusted to have the sort of acumen, the sort of critical mind that you need in a leader of a great country….”

“For many Americans, the sticking point is whether the candidate keeps his religion separate from his politics. This was the Kennedy defense, [11] and it has a lot going for it. But I actually want to go further. I’m not an American voter, but if I were, I would want to know that my president has the critical intelligence needed to be a president. Anybody who can’t see that Joseph Smith was a charlatan and a liar doesn’t have critical intelligence…. 

“Maybe people here wish to argue the case that if religious beliefs or disbeliefs, about the stork theory or whatever, are private, we have no business intruding upon them. I’m offering my alternative view, which is that we don’t only want to know what the candidate’s policies are, we want to know whether he has the kind of mind that you can trust to take reliable decisions under difficult circumstances.”

imagine the even sillier religious teachings that could have come, had Joseph Smith translated this hat.

imagine the even sillier religious teachings that could have come, had Joseph Smith translated this hat.

It was a thought- and discussion-provoking speech; you can read the transcript on the FFRF site. I’m afraid you’ll have to use your own hat for translations.

Until next week, let us all meditate upon the progression of humankind….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Talk Like a Pirate Day flashback. Sorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry.

[2] (my name and email, usually misspelled)

[3] The award is reserved for public figures who take on the fabled role of the child in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and “tell it like it is”—about religion.

[4] The idiomatic “talking through your hat”  (which linguist say arose ca. 1880) means to speak utter nonsense.

[5] Before any of this happened, Smith had built up a track record as a psychic diviner of buried treasure. He claimed to be able to see underground, to see treasure by talking through his ass looking through –  you guessed it – that amazing hat of his.

[6] And was convicted of fraud in 1826 in a suit brought by a treasure-seeker he’d swindled.

[7] When Rep. Pete Stark “came out” as atheist, Woody Kaplan (Secular Coalition of America) interviewed 60 “likely suspects” in Congress and got 20 to admit – only if Kaplan promised total anonymity – that they were also atheists or non-religious. US politicians feel they cannot be truthful about their beliefs because, unlike the rest of the developed world, the non-religious are viewed as unelectable.

[8] Mark Twain’s many unflattering opinions on Mormonism (“Evidently one of the least difficult things in the world, to-day, is to humbug the human race.”) and  the BOM include: “All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the ‘elect’ have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so ‘slow,’ so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print.”

[9] Mitochondrial DNA lines show that Native Americans are of Asian extraction.  The BOM teaches that American “Indians” are descendants of Jews who migrated to America from Israel before the birth of Christ, crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a large, ark-like ship. No shit.

[10] Blacks were the cursed descendants of and bore the “mark of Cain” as a punishment for their failures in the pre-existence. Dark skin was a sign of the curse, lighter skin a sign of god’s favor.

[11] While running for President JFK assured the Catholic-phobia American public that he would not be taking orders from the Pope:  “I believe in an America where the separation of Church and State is absolute….”

The Anonymous Note I’m Not Writing

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I don’t do this — two posts on the same day.  But, you know, global warming and all….

*   *   *

You’ve seen the posts, you’ve followed the links, to a story about where some No Goodnik gets a good scolding.  I followed one such link today on Facebook, thinking I was in for a surefire, feel-good moment (what the heck; my tea needed more steeping).

Instead, my gasted was flabbered. Or however that works.[1]

The post I refer to is being cited on FB and other social media sites as an example of a heroic or “gotcha” response to a cowardly anonymous note.  It is by Suzanne Perryman, identified as a blogger at SpecialNeedsMom.com. Read it before reading further:  To The Author of the Anonymous Note Left on My Car Window  .

To The Author
of the Over the Top Response
to an Anonymous Note Left on Her Car Window:

I sense years of slights and misunderstandings, bitterness and resentment, erupting in your retort to the anonymous Note Writer.  And, although you and I have never met, I know all about you – I know why you do and say the things you do.  Because I am a mother. Because I am…

Oh, no, wait.  I’m not going to second guess your motivations.  That in turn would be condescending, judgmental, patronizing – that would be just what you gave back tenfold to the Anonymous Note Writer.

Anonymous  Note Writer was mistaken.  Although you, in fact, are not disabled (ANW was correct in that observation [2]), your two special needs children were with you, and perhaps ANW did not see them, nor notice your handicapped placard.

It happens.  ANW was in the wrong. Shame on them, right back at them. Crumple the note and recycle it.

Instead, you compose a seven paragraph screed “inspired” by an eight word note.

Really.  Re-read what you wrote, to a person you’ve never met:
“I think I recognize you… I do. Before becoming a Mom, I used to live in your world of black and white, with everything in order, in its place. I had a plan, a schedule, a list of finished projects to check off, checklist and all. How wonderful for you that your life is so structured, so dependable and predictable that you cling to that line dividing right and wrong, black and white, and that you feel compelled to comment when you think someone is coloring outside the lines….

“I recognize where you are from. I used to live there, too. I used to have checked-off lists, awards touting my accomplishments, perfect hair, great skin, sparkly eyes, a quick wit, a clean car, a social life, a large social network, an organized calendar, vacation plans set in stone and no overdue library books. But then I became a mom. And unexpectedly, a mom of a special needs child.”

Sorry about your hair and skin (hint: diminished perkiness of bodily accessories happens to us all. It’s a byproduct of aging, and Life with a capital L).  But, the patronizing:  “Before becoming a Mom….  And then I became a mom.”  A stand alone sentence; a justification for it all?

???????

And the heavens opened and there was a cry from Valhalla, “This woman has given birth!”
And Odin bestowed upon her the gift of self-righteous vengeance and inerrant motivational discernment….”

Two special needs children.  No doubt about it, you have a tough row to hoe.  Yet and still, your being a mother, of any kind of child with any kind of need, does not give you clairvoyant powers, nor a special window into the life circumstances and motivations of other people.

“I think I recognize you… I do (emphasis mine).  I recognize where you are from.”

No, you don’t. You recognize little but your own sense of indignation.

You  know  Not. One. Thing. about the person who left you that note, except that s/he thought you were taking a handicapped space to which you were not entitled.

That’s it.

You do not know that Note Writer’s life is “…so structured, so dependable and predictable that you cling to that line dividing right and wrong, black and white….”.

You do not know Note Writer’s health or parenting status, or life circumstances.  You do not know that Note Writer might be handicapped, or have a handicapped child or parent, and thus had a personal, visceral reaction to seeing what they mistakenly thought was a scofflaw in action.  You do not know that NW may have had a flashback, to the time when they had to assist their shaky, walker-pushing, oxygen-tank using elderly father in navigating across a pothole-ridden parking lot because the one handicapped parking spot by the pharmacy was occupied by a non-disabled person who “just wanted to leave the kids in the car and dash in and pick up a refill.”[3] [4]

Anonymous Note Writer was mistaken. You had the chance to play your Righteous Indignation card.  Bully for you – in every sense of the word.

*   *   *

Full disclosure: I have left an anonymous note on a car windshield.  I wrote it to a Porsche-driving dickhead who parked his pathetic penis substitute in a way that took up four (!) parking spaces in a crowded lot.  The note consisted of a brief yet colorful critique of his consideration-challenged parking strategy.

Correction – it wasn’t exactly an anonymous note.  I signed it: “From all of Humanity.”

 

Ah, but it’s still Friday.  Let the hijinks continue to ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Flabbergast: to overwhelm with shock, surprise, or wonder. (Webster’s)

[2] But could have been mistaken, as many disabilities do not “present themselves” with obvious or outward physical manifestations.

[3] I witnessed such a scenario at Hillsboro’s (now defunct) Hi School Pharmacy parking lot.

[4] Or to the time when they witnessed an able-bodied person use their disabled mother’s placard to get a better parking space, even when that person was not running errands with wheelchair-bound mom in the car.  I have seen people do this, and have heard people admit – sometimes gleefully, and sometimes guiltily – to doing this.

The Cufflinks I’m Not Inspired By

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 Cufflinks: these affordable imitations make you look rich at a fraction of the cost

I was thrilled to find out, via my email spam filter, that there is a more affordable way to fulfill my lifelong ambition to spend as little money as possible to “look rich.”

If I were a composer, that out-of-nowhere e-solicitation might be a source of artistic inspiration.  Odd/random snippets of information have provided the creative kick for many a song.  John Lennon famously wrote Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite after seeing a 19th century circus poster in an antique shop.  The brain nudge for yet another Lennon-penned track on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Good Morning, came from a breakfast cereal commercial.

Most of the ideas for my stories have come from what I call the what-if? question.  Following a seemingly haphazard visual, auditory or personal encounter, I find myself asking questions and/or posing scenarios and wahoo, story outline.

Cufflinks.  What if?  Cufflinks…cufflinks…cufflinks….  Nothin.’

*   *   *

So, it’s officially launched.  The Mighty Quinn had its release date May 14, which means I was finally able to download my e-version of my own book.  My publisher, Scarletta Press,  had sent me my author’s copies and readers who’d preordered the paperback version on Amazon and Barnes & Noble told me they’d begun receiving their copies two weeks before the 14th.  I was able to get TMQ’s tantalizing icon on my ereader two weeks before the release date, but could not access it until that very day.  I wanted to e-whine into my Nook, but I’m the author; can’t I see how it looks on screen, pretty please?

And now, I know. Yikes, and with a capital Y.  Here’s how the title page looks when the screen is rotated long side vertical.:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*   *   *

Last week was must-see TV week in this house, what with the series and season finales of The Office and Grey’s Anatomy.  And then there was this unexpected entertainment from that bastion of reasoned debate and civic discourse, Meet the Press, Face the Nation Geraldo at Large.

Confession: I’d never seen the show (which, judging from the title, I thought was a reality show about the host’s battle of the bulge), until alert media critics called to attention the episode with a certain, guaranteed-to-amuse guest.

Ostensibly on the program to dispute NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s public health initiatives, conservative political foghorn commentator Ann Coulter managed to steer her anti-nanny state tirade to one of her favorite topics: naughty gay sex.  The always blithering quotable Coulter’s best line:

“Sodomy: we all have to pay.”

That’ll be $200, in cash, up front, Ms. Coulter.  Leave it on the sink counter, next to the mint mouthwash.

Poor Ann, still paying for it.  No wonder she seems so agitated.  Someone, please, send her a link to Craig’s List Casual Encounters.

*   *   *

One prays for rain, one prays for sun;
they kneel in church together.
Which of them, do you suppose
will regulate the weather? [1]

When someone asked Humanist Rabbi Adam Chalom to pray for a friend who had breast cancer, Adam said, “I have a better idea — give me her phone number and I’ll call her. Talking to her to lift her spirits, and make her feel less alone and more cared for, will do much more for her than talking to anything else.” [2]

To many people, prayer apparently provides the illusion of compassion and intention.  “I’m praying for ____ (your job search, a cure for Nana’s cancer, the tornado/ flood/hurricane/bombing victims…).”  No matter how sincerely you may hold that thought, all you have is the self-comforting (read: selfish) delusion of doing something, when, in fact,

You. Have. Done. Absolutely. Nothing. Except. Pray.

People in trouble, people in need, need your actions, not your carefully arranged thought patterns.

My point is not to bash the ignorant praying masses, nor make light of the latest tornado tragedy.  My intention, as always, is to promote reason and look reality in the face (metaphorically speaking, of course.)

And then, there is Wolf Blitzer.

Need I say more?  No.  But I will.

In case you were on a media-free retreat in an Indian ashram this week (or perhaps busy crawling out of the tornado-flung –debris from which your Lord and Savior neglected to save you [3]), you’ve probably come across the Ultimate Newsman Fail clip, in which CNN Evangelist Snake Handler Blessings Giver correspondent Wolf Blitzer keeps pushing an Oklahoma tornado survivor to mouth the obligatory Natural Disaster Survivor’s Pious Blather ®  .  Blitzer prattles on about how Rebecca Vitsuan and her family have been “blessed,” and when he insists, “You gotta thank the Lord,” a visibly bemused and flustered Vitsmun  gives that BlitzHole more civility than he deserves by politely replying, uh, no, that’s not gonna happen, seeing as how she’s an atheist.

It would make for a fascinating on-camera moment to see a real “news” correspondent ask some religious person (preferably your average, Sally PraiseDeLawd and not Pat Robertson or other religious pros) [4] the following question:   Please explain your understanding of why all those faithful believers living in in the heart of the Bible Belt died (no doubt furiously praying their asses off as the wind howled around them), while that unrepentant atheist survived.

Okay. I understand why many people appeal to their deities and call for prayers during times of loss and tragedy.  It is something I did (with varying degrees of confidence in the efficacy of the act) when I called myself a believer; it is a cultural reflex, a part of the human struggle to attribute cause and effect – or assign blame – for events we don’t understand or burdens we feel powerless to ameliorate.

But please, leave the god talk out of natural disasters.

I was elated to see the Oklahoma elderly woman’s on-camera joy at discovering her dog beneath the rubble of her home, the dog she’d assumed was dead…even as I cringed to know what was coming – the thanking of a god for not only saving her, but her dog:

 “I thought god just answered one prayer; ‘let me be OK,’ but he answered both of them.”

I would never want to quash the woman’s delight at having her beloved canine companion back.  If I knew her personally, and had an ounce of respect for her intellect and sentience, after her recovery I’d hope she’d have the opportunity to consider the conflicting, disturbing implications of truly believing what she said on camera.

1) If this supernatural being you prayed to exists, you believe he [5] has the ability and the willpower to intervene in the natural world, which is why you prayed for him to rescue you, and your dog.

2) If you believe this god used his divine powers to rescue your dog you must also consider that he did so while allowing human beings, including children cowering in terror in their schools, to suffer horrific, crushing injuries, and die.

3) This same god is now the object of prayers of gratitude from survivors, and petitionary prayers to extend his comfort to the brokenhearted families whose dead children were somehow less worthy of divine protection and intervention than one old woman’s dog.

prayer

I am being advised, on Facebook, radio, television, email petitions, by people who don’t even know me (as well as by people who do and should know better), to pray and pray some more – this week, for the tornado survivors.  Next week will surely bring another prayer-worthy petition.

And I realize it isn’t considered kosher to bring up this Uh, wait a minute, are you really thinking this through?  issue in times of trouble – or at any time, in a culture as superficial as ours.  Pandering religious sound bites of gratitude and “comfort” are the norm, and it’s a popular move for politicians, media mouthpieces and other public figures to Thank God for ____ or announce, as one newscaster did this week, while viewing footage of a tornado-razed school,  “We pray they [the faculty and children of a Plaza Towers Elementary] were somewhere else.” [6] But true religious believers cannot be taken seriously when they (claim to) apply reason to the rest of their lives, and then perform mental gymnastics worthy of an Olympic medal when it comes to their theology or worldview.

If your deity is all-knowing, it knew the tornado was coming yet “said” nothing. If your deity is all-powerful, it watched the tornado and did nothing. If your deity is all-loving and compassionate, it did not warn its beloved followers and  it did not prevent their violent deaths by stopping the tornado as it was being formed or by redirecting it to an empty prairie.

The deity whom you believe formed the universe with a thought and animated humanity with its breath and commanded a 40 day flood to rain upon the earth, this deity was unable to affect a minor change in barometric pressure to morph the tornado into a harmless rainstorm.  And no running away from it with the “the gods work in mysterious ways” crap.  If a god is unable to act, then it isn’t much of a god.  If you believe that this (or any) god exists then you must consider that this god twiddled its divine thumbs while a school building collapsed upon the heads of terrified and screaming children.

Social media has, of course, proven to be yet another venue for perpetuating the prayer nonsense…and also combating it, or at least pointing out its ultimate inefficacy.  An example of this is comic/actor/director and atheist Ricky Gervais,’s marvelous reaction to trending Twitter hashtags #PrayForOklahoma and #PrayersForOklahoma.

When MTV News tweeted, “Beyonce, Rihanna & Katy Perry send prayers to #Oklahoma #PrayForOklahoma,” Gervais’s commented:  “I feel like an idiot now.  I only sent money.”

Gervais went on to promote #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma, and suggested his 4.6 million followers give $10 to the American Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts

Oh, and back to the dog. As caught on camera, the stunned puppy peeking out from the rubble was saved by human hands.  Humans lifted up the debris.  Humans pulled the dog to safety, held the trembling, whimpering animal, and comforted it.  No matter what their supposed motivation or attribution, it is our fellow human beings who pull us from the wreckage, help us heal, and rebuild.

*   *   *

In order not to end on too serious a note, have you ever wondered what would happen if you did a search for cutest reptile in the world?

lizard1

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Variously attributed to “Anonymous”

[2] Event also cited in author Dale McGowan’s insightful, witty and compassionate blog, The Meming of Life

[3] Or caused to be flung upon you. If you believe your deity is in control of such things.

[4] or at least waiting until the professionals have finished blaming those storm-causing homos

[5] I’m using the male pronoun because the elderly women did. Although I believe all supernatural beliefs, mythologies and superstitions to be gender inclusive.

[6] They weren’t.  Seven children died.)

The Thumbs I’m Not Lowering

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Roger Ebert loved movies.
Except for those he hated.

So begins the Chicago SunTime’s feature on the death of film critic and author Roger Ebert.  Ebert was one of the few critics (in any field) whose work I respected, even when I disagreed with his opinions.  I’ve always suspected Ebert secretly loved those movies he supposedly hated, because they afforded him the opportunity to pen the most entertaining of his critiques.  Check out these two collections of some of his most scathing reviews, his books I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, and the exquisitely titled, Your Movie Sucks.

Having read a news article just days ago about Ebert’s announcement of his cancer’s recurrence, I feared the worst was coming, soon.  Yesterday I intended to forward the article to friend and fellow movie lover CC [1].  I logged on to the computer, and there was the sad news.

Rereading that last paragraph, I’m thinking that while I may have “feared the worst,” Ebert didn’t.  As followers of his blog know, Ebert wrote with clear-eyed eloquence about his battle with cancer and the contemplation of his inevitable demise, from the perspective of a literate, intelligent, contemplative and grateful atheist/agnostic/deist/non-believer/free-thinker…. [2]

Ebert was fond of a quotation by Brendan Behan, which he cites in the following excerpt from arguably his most profound blog entry – you must, must, must read it –  Go Gentle Into That Good Night. [3]

I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer. 

“For 57 words, that does a pretty good job of summing it up. ‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
(Roger Ebert, 1942 – 2013)

I am happy he lived long enough to share that.  Two thumbs up to a life well-lived.  The balcony is closed.

The key to maintaining a motivated, youthful perspective is immaturity.
Chapter 324 in a never-ending series.

 I rarely listen to music when I’m working on new material.  Doing the bizness stuff – what I consider to be unpleasant, logistical/housekeeping chores of writing – requires both distraction and fortification.  While researching agents to query about my novel, I had the following inspirational song [4] on repeat play. Which may explain my success in querying agents.

*   *   *

 The new updesk is here!  The new updesk is here!

Actually it’s been here for a couple of weeks, but the screw holes for the crossbar of the desk’s left leg were improperly threaded, and so a new left leg had to be sent from the company’s headquarters in Tennessee.

Two years ago, right around the time MH was having surgery on his back, I became concerned with the sedentary nature of my profession.[5]  No matter that I am a lifelong, devoted, daily exerciser – the latest research says that we desk people are sitting ourselves to death.  I installed an ergonomic program on my computer that makes little icons to pop up a regular intervals to nag remind me to get up and move/stretch. That helped…a little.

I began experimenting with a makeshift [6] standing desk, and discovered I liked standing and working. I also discovered that the relief to my back came at the expense of my knees, a discovery predicted by more of that pesky ergonomics research, which says that there are musculoskeletal problems associated with any prolonged posture.[7]  Also, there are times when I just want to sit and work.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to quickly and conveniently switch between the two modes without having to unplug/schlep everything?

The techno Good Fairies [8] granted the wishes of moiself and others who seek to reinvent our work environment, as I discovered when I searched for adjustable height desks.

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We received the new desk leg yesterday, and handy husband MH assembled the contraption.  After three weeks of having my office torn apart/rearranged and my papers and materials divide up between the office and kitchen table, I am so behind with everything, and The Mighty Quinn is coming out in four weeks and I haven’t had time to get back to the office and take the desk for a test drive.  Ah, but tomorrow with a push of a button I will be able to raise or lower the desk to two present heights, or any height from 26.5″ to 42.5.”  The future is here (and, as usual, catches me wearing my sweatpants)!

*   *   *

 Future, schmuture:  back to the Middle Ages.  Which means, of course, a breaking news update on an Islamist society.

Get your motors running, gals, and let's go kick some Saudi ass!

Get your motors running, gals, and let’s go kick some Saudi ass!

In yet another stunning stumble leap toward entering the 19th century, Saudi Arabia has lifted its ban on women riding bicycles. As you know, Saudi women may not drive cars, run for public office or vote, or appear in public unless smothered covered head to toe in a black funeral shroud stylish abaya-niquab-hijab combo.  However, as of this week the Mutaween, the kingdom’s notoriously conservative religious police, are allowing female Saudis to ride motorbikes and bicycles in certain areas…providing that a male relative or guardian accompanies the biking babes.

 The Mutaweenies also stipulates that women may not use the bikes for transportation but “only for entertainment,” [9] and that they must not ride near men “to avoid harassment.”

Saudi Leaders March for Equality

Saudi Leaders March for Equality

They’re baaaaack.

Faster than cinema patrons fleeing a Poltergeist sequel showing! More powerful than a politician’s ego! Able to leap inconsistent alibis in a single press conference! It’s SuperCluelessman!

I refer of course to the spectacle that is the political resurrection of Mark Sanford, the self-awareness-impaired former governor of South Carolina.  This week Sanford emerged from the slime seemingly out of nowhere to win his state’s Republican House primary, held for the special election that will fill the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Tim Scott.  The special election, slated for May 7, will pit Sanford against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Stephen Colbert’s sister.

Brief background info:  In 2009 Sanford resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association after he admitted to an affair with an Argentinean woman. [10] Sanford was later censured by both the House Judiciary Committee and the South Carolina House of Representatives, as per Sanford’s misuse of state travel funds to conduct his affair.  But the real fun had come earlier in the year, when Sanford, the executive administrator of his state, became the subject of nationwide news coverage because for seven days his location was unknown to anyone – not his constituents, not his wife, not the State Law Enforcement Division which provided security for him.

Providing material for late night TV for weeks, Sanford had told his staff that during his absence he would be hiking the Appalachian Trail.  When a reporter caught him arriving at Atlanta’s airport on a flight from Argentina, Sanford quickly organized a news conference, during which he admitted that when he was supposedly hiking the Appalachian Trail he was actually pursuing some Argentinean tail. [11]

Oh, but that was then and this is now.  Sanford is now back on the campaign trail, and between self-righteous proclamations of change and milking the politics of forgiveness (he’s made mistakes, you know, and none of us is perfect, praise Jeeeeeesus), he also wants you to know that no one seems to know anything about his opponent aside from the fact that she is Stephen Colbert’s sister. On April third he made a point of highlighting this fact on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show:

“She’s not held office. Right now, the one thing that people know about her is that she is Stephen Colbert’s sister. Well, at the end of the day, Stephen Colbert is a very popular, well-regarded comedian, but at the end of the day he’s not on the ticket.”

Oh really?  At the end of the day?  Why not, at the beginning of the evening?  Or, in the middle of the afternoon? Or at the cusp-if-not-quite-not-the-edge-of-the-dusk….

Forget all the other crap Mark Sanford has done and said.  The most compelling reason for not voting in this lying, cheating, censured sack of shit into office is that he used that vapid idiom TWICE, IN THE SAME SENTENCE. Which I didn’t even think was possible.

May the hiking hijinks ensue.

*   *   *

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Our nicknames for each other, when planning our movie dates, are Gene and Roger.

[2] These and other labels were given, by others, to Ebert, who refused all labels for this himself.

[3] which also served as the last chapter of his memoir, Life Itself.

[4] Included as a cardboard record in a 1963 issue of Mad magazine.

[5] Translation: my back began to hurt.

[6] Translation, the sequel: monitor & keyboard propped up on lots of books and other non-desk items.

[7] Translation, the last:  “ouch”

[8] Chill out, you paranoid dudes, it’s a compliment.

[9] Riding around in a circle to amuse yourself and your “male guardian” is kosher (ahem), but Allah forbid a women might actually use a bike to get somewhere.

[10] To whom he is now engaged.  Whaddya think, should I send them a toaster oven, or candlesticks?

[11] Not his exact words.  You can credit me on this one.

The Fly I’m Not Casting

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I have as much authority as the Pope.  I just don’t have as many people who believe it.
(George Carlin)

The talking heads think we all just can’t get enough of that papal resignation stuff. Me, I’m trying not to sound or think like one of the old folks (What happened to February? Where does the time go?!). Meanwhile, Washington Post opinion writer E.J. Dionne Jr. tried one more tactic to get us to care about the papal succession, and threw in his two ducat’s worth, by positing that the best choice for pope may be a nun.

Dionne admits to certain pesky impediments, such as the fact that in the RC-world, “Women, after all, are not yet able to become priests, and it is unlikely that traditionalists in the church will suddenly upend the all-male, celibate priesthood.”  Nevertheless, he opines that handing leadership to a woman (read: a nun) “would vastly strengthen Catholicism, help the church solve some of its immediate problems and inspire many who have left the church to look at it with new eyes.”

Amazingly, Dionne’s bio lists him as an opinion writer, and not a humorist.

I understand and recognize jesting, and satire and irony.  Dionne’s article is free of all three.  The dude is actually serious.

Appointing another pope, no matter what the shape, color or national origin of its genitalia, will not help anyone with 21st century eyes to look at Catholicism with new eyes.  As for helping his religion solve some of its “immediate problems,” those of us who’ve left any – and every—  religion know that it doesn’t matter how you dress it up or down.

Although I have to admit, Sister Mary Clarence  would rock that papal mozetta .  Well, almost anyone would be an improvement, style-wise.  Even Sister Bertrille for that matter,

shoopi

 Religions – from the liberally acceptable and/or relatively benign Wicca, Neo-paganisms, women-and-gay-ordaining protestant denominations, to fundie Mormon wife collectors, Pentecostal snake handlers, foam at the mouth homophobe evangelists, pontificating papal pederasts, and all the “moderates” in between – are simply incorrect. Their (mis)understandings of the world are based on mythologies and unsubstantiated claims that, while defensible for illiterate, scientifically ignorant Bronze Age denizens to have held,  have no basis in reality.[1]

Absurdity playing dress-up is still absurdity.  Donning the robes of religion does not make the illogical tenets of theology logical. Changing the gender, age, ethnicity or national origin of a religion’s figurehead is a meaningless PR gesture, as the figure will still be nunsense  nonsense in drag.

flyingnun

 “I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.”
(Thomas Jefferson)

*   *   *

I don’t know what triggered the following, college-days memory.  But, unlike the remnants of the vegetarian chili I had for lunch, I’m grateful for its resurfacing.

GS, a friend who lived down the hall from me in my dorm, had to write a VIP [2] for his physiology class.  The class was mostly filled with pre-vet school students ,[3] who were very competitive with one another.  The assignment: delineate the actions of all muscles, both separately and in tandem, involved in executing a certain task of your choosing (e.g., opening a jar of pickles or blinking an eye).

The professor warned his students that the assignment was far more difficult than they realized; thus, he was going to give them two shots at it, so to speak.  Those students who were able to turn in (what they thought were) their completed research papers at the end of the week would receive the benefit of the professor reading, but not grading, their papers over the weekend.  The Prof would note suggestions for improvement and/or expansion and return the papers to the students on Monday, thus giving them a chance to revise their work before the final version was due on Tuesday.

GS, who had done a bit of trout fishing in high school, decided to describe the process of casting a fly.  He was humbled and frustrated as he researched and wrote his paper and tried to describe the various muscular actions involved in what, to him, had seemed a simple, almost instinctive action.  This paper consumed his life, all week, and his dorm friends heard all about it…but he was able to turn in his paper on Friday.  On Monday he received his paper back, with his professor’s comments.  The Prof noted that although GS’s detailed analysis of the kinetic choreography of the shoulder, upper arm, forearm and hand was impressive, as an avid fly fisherman himself the professor knew that GS had neglected to consider and enumerate the lower body motions (hip rotation, pelvic propulsion, foot placement, etc.), involved in casting a fly. [4]

GS realized he was way in over his head, and had a dark night of the soul Monday evening.  I saw that he was still pacing the halls, his paper in his hands, when I left Tuesday at 5:30 am to go for my morning run. I didn’t run into him again until Friday evening in the dining commons.  I, of course, asked what had happened with his revisions.  He said he’d turned in his final paper as originally written, with no changes except for an addendum to his opening thesis: “This paper analyzes the coordinated muscular action of a person casting a fly, the person being a T-4 paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair, with no voluntary muscle movement below the nipple line.”

His paper received the highest grade in the class.

A

*   *   *

Ways to feel really stupid inadequate incompetent.
#542 in a series 

In all the excitement during the past couple of years, what with finding a publisher for finalizing the contract for The Mighty Quinn and taking notes for two more juvenile novels, another adult novel and short fiction collection, I neglected to check my own notes to see that I had not, in fact, done the final edits on the novel I had started to submit to agents and publishers.

I discovered this just recently.  Thus, even as I’ve been enjoying the final editing process, I have to take time out ten times a day to do a Holy Jean Luc Picard on my forehead.   I so did not make it so.  Jeesh.

facepalm

The more I thought about the current events of the past week, the more I wished I could be serenaded by goats.

Be careful what you wish for.  Who knew goats could sound like old men complaining about stale toast, and scream like slasher movie victims?

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without a footnote.

[2] Very Important Paper.

[3] UC Davis has a world-renowned veterinary schools. When I was a mere UCD undergrad, the vet students did an excellent job spaying my cat, and didn’t seem to mind that she bit at least two interns during her post op appointment.

[4] No footnote here.  There’s nothing to see, folks.  Keep moving on.

The Car I’m Not Decorating

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Indeed, the season is upon us. If you need further evidence, let The Dropkick Murphys explain it to you.

Ah, but the season unfortunately includes you-know-what. I’ll get this rant out of the way. 

Ban assault weapons! No, ban violent video games! No, it’s the combination of mental illness and access to weapons! At least have the discussion about gun violence! Discussion, schmussion – arm every sixth grader in America!

The enormity of the Sandy Hook tragedy is almost beyond comprehension. Our society, for a slopbucket-load of historical and social reasons (that moiself shall not address at this time), is increasingly called to make even a few baby steps toward comprehension…and consistently fails to do so. Instead, we end up lobbing verbal grenades at one another, occasionally pausing for a moment of silence at yet another memorial service for “the ____ victims” (insert latest shooting locale).

And then of course, there’s Mike Huckabee[1], former Arkansas guv, part-time Republican presidential candidate, ordained Baptist minister and Fox News (surprise!) blowhole. Huckabee is highly regarded in scholarly circles for…well, for nothing. Nothing, that is, that has ever leaked from his lips, although he does get credit for jettisoning something like 300 lbs several years ago. Recent pictorial evidence shows that much of his bulk is returning to the mothership, and his recent rhetoric evinces that most of it is settling between his ears.

In his latest self-serving spewfest exploiting a national catastrophe pronouncement, MH attributes the “violence in our schools” to what he describes as the systematic removal of religion from our schools. Oh, Mike, Mikey Mike, you Hucka-hucka burning…something. The gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the brain train isn’t coming.

I suppose it’s just a matter of time before the Huckster and other religious righties brainstorm knock their empty coconut noggins with the NRA and come up with a plan to place AR15-packin’ preachers in every classroom.gunpriest

There has been much religious speechifying about the Sandy Hook shootings, to which my reaction is: ick, and ick again.  But, it’s more than just ick-worthy.  Many of us who are mythology-free find the public prayers/religious invocations that typically accompany such incidents to be almost as galling, and ultimately more perplexing, than the incidents themselves.  The rhetoric and rituals are so ubiquitous, oft times it just seems like background noise or white sound, like the distant rat-a-tat-tatting of automatic weapons fire.

Okay.  Perhaps another analogy might be more…appropriate? Perhaps not.

Of all the mumbo jumbo about “keeping the victims in our prayers,” “pray for the families of Sandy Hook,” “our prayers were answered when we found out ___ had survived the shooting…” most mind-bogglingly ridiculous to me is when the political talking heads called upon to Respond To This Tragedy ® end their statements with the seemingly obligatory[2] – what is it, invocation? plea? command? suggestion? – “God bless America.”

I do think God Bless America, ala Keep me in your prayers/I’ll pray for you, is one of those phrases that, like much public god-talk, is almost always employed without the benefit of reasoned contemplation. It is used as a reactive response to certain situations – the intellectual/rhetorical equivalent of Gezundheit.  But to those who would claim to employ GBA etc., in all sincerity, what are you thinking?  I don’t expect an answer, but, really: What particular, magical word combination or incantation do you believe will appeal to your celestial, imaginary friend, whom you apparently believe “is watching over us” and has the ability to intervene in human affairs (to “bless” you) and who may, somehow, someday, do that, despite the fact that if said celestial being exists, on December 14 it was watching over a madman entering a grade school and then twiddling its divine thumbs while six year old children[3] were being slaughtered?

Human beings – in the form of a sad/lonely/alienated/angry/deeply disturbed young man, with – God bless America! – access to high-powered firearms, carried out this vile act. Human beings in many forms – including the principal who died trying to thwart the gunman as he forced his way into the school, the teacher who hid her students in cabinets and cloakrooms but stayed visible to deter the gunman and told him her class had gone to the gym (after which he shot her, and moved on to another location), the teachers who risked their own lives guiding their students to safety, the emergency responders, the community who reached out to friends and strangers alike with generosity and compassion – human beings rushed in to help in whatever way they could.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*   *   *

Writing this week’s post from Southern California, I’m as close as I get to being a Foreign Correspondent.

Trust me, you do not want to spend several hours of your holiday-season birthday online, trying to book the last seat on a flight that leaves in less than 24 hours. But this is what you’ll find yourself doing if, after making a pre-birthday phone call to your elderly mother, you decide to do A Good Thing ® and surprise her [4] with a visit.

All together now: “What a gooooooood daughter.”

On second thought, hold your applause. I am hardly worthy of such magnanimous regard.

I had a (mostly) enjoyable childhood, growing up[5] in Southern California, to which my increasingly furrowed, sun-blotched skin now attests.[6] Still, I headed north as soon as I could. Although ’tis good to visit with the kinfolk, I get in somewhat of a funk when I travel to the Land O’ My Birth. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which I may mention in a much later, much less sober post. For now, suffice to say I find the area to be crowded, grimy, desiccated.[7]

As per the latter, considerate Oregonian that I am, I brought some precipitation with me. The mere hint of a light shower elicits the obligatory, “Oh, we need the rain!” from the locals.[8]  Out for a walk on Tuesday morning, I experienced a mild epiphany of sorts: I find SoCal almost tolerable in the rain. Even a moderate drizzle functions ala Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak – it serves as a mask or shield, temporarily veiling the area’s aridity, and…well…dirtiness.  This place looks, feels and smells different (better) when it’s wet.

THE APOCALYSE IS NIGH, AND IT’S WEARING AN ELF HAT.

Oh, oh oh oh oh, before I forget – another story! Pick me, pick me!

As I returned to my mother’s house after my walk, I spied with my little eye a Hummer parked in her neighbor’s driveway.  My self-righteous, what kind of person still has that gas-guzzlin’, manhood-mocking[9] behemoth snort was diverted when I saw something that made me approach the vehicle for closer inspection.  The Hummer’s armor was fortified by what appear to be an oversized pair of Mr. Spock ears…no, they’re…elf ears?  Plus, an elf hat was wired to the Hummer’s grill.

Soooooooooooooo, I sez to moiself.  Last night was not a fluke.

rudolph car

I’d notified older sister NLM (who lives ~ 15 miles from our mother) about my spur-of-the-moment visit, and she’d graciously offered to act as my airport shuttle transport. As was pre-arranged, I called her when my flight touched down Monday evening. “Look for the car with the antlers,” she said, as I was headed for the passenger loading zone.  I stood outside the airport terminal, in the dark, repeating “What?” into my cell phone as she in turn repeated her auto antler identification spiel. Sure enough, a red Lexus with antlers attached to the passenger door windows and a red fuzzy nose wired to the front grill pulled over to the curbside in front of me.

“The grandkids love it,” she explained to me. “It’s Grandma’s Rudolph the Red Nosed….”

Well, of course it is.

*   *   *

But I digress.  I was walking.

Walking around my mother’s neighborhood, I crossed the bridge over Santiago Creek (as usual, the “creek” bed was totally dry, even after the rain), to do The Loop.  The Loop is a secluded residential circle, composed of two of the nicer (read: most expensive houses) streets in the city. It’s been several years since I’d walked the Loop, but little seemed to have changed. The house’s front yards were, as always, buzz-cut short and impeccably manicured (do lawns have cuticles?).  Leaving the loop via the bridge, I walked up and down a series of streets which had apparently been visited by one of those Neighborhood Holiday Beautification Czars, who had intimidated threatened extorted convinced each household to participate en bloc.  Every one of the curbside sycamore trees on Ladidah Lane had green plastic wreaths wired to their trunks. I rounded the corner to Decorous Drive, where every curbside pepper tree had oversized, red felt gift bows wired to their trunks.  The next street over had multi-faceted, red and green, mini disco glitter ball-style jingle bells affixed to red, green and white ribbons which were…wait for it…wired around the trunks of every house’s curbside Icky[10] tree.

Just as I was starting to get creeped out by the uniformity of the arboreal embellishment I received a text from Belle: Goooood morning!! And by the way – it’s snowing!!

Snow is a rare and generally appreciated weather wonder in the Portland metro area. I phoned my daughter, anticipating the delight I would bring to an old woman when I returned to my mother’s house with the news that it was snowing in Hillsboro and Belle had a day off from school…except that a somewhat disappointed Belle told me that it was a light dusting of snow and school had not been cancelled.

pdxelk

My mother, who spent the first 18 winters in Northern Minnesota, has a kneejerk response whenever I share news of what typically happens after a snowfall in Hillsboro. She trots out a litany of scornful clichés concerning the wimposity of those who let half an inch of snow close the schools and paralyze the freeways and major roads of a major metropolitan area.  Every time she launches into her spiel my knee jerks in response, and I trot out my Litany of Justification (LOJ):

a. Unlike Minnesota, snow is not a regular/seasonal occurrence in the major metro areas west of the Cascades Range (Portland & Seattle).

b. Because of (a), the cities and towns of said NW metro areas cannot justify the expense of having and maintaining fleets of snow removal equipment.

c. Due to the geography/altitude and other climatological conditions that make (a) our default winter weather, it is not consistently cold enough in the Portland Metro Area to maintain snow, as snow, on those rare times when it indeed does fall. It will typically either rain a bit after a snowfall, or warm up enough to cause a brief melt, the temps drop overnight…

d. and we wake up to ice. Not fluffy powdery, stomp-worthy snow, but a slick, traction-resistant, accident-causing, coating of ice. Over everything.

And every time I do this my mother reacts to my LOFJ as if hearing it for the first time, and concedes the points I make in our area’s defense. The next time we participate in this ritual I should mention the upside to (d), which is that the phenomena of a thin but determined coating of ice makes for jolly entertainment for so many of us wimpy Pacific NWers.  We cup our hands around a warm, foo-foo beverage of choice, huddle by our TVs, and enjoy the petty, smug pleasure that can only be found by watching the local news channels air footage of the idiot hapless drivers whose vehicles are spinning out and sliding down the hills on The Sunset Highway and other major roads leading in and out of Portland.

*   *   *

Dateline: just about now.  Back up in Oregon.  I counted at least seven more variations of the Rudolph/Santa’s elf – decorated vehicles while I was in So Cal.  I’ve yet to see one up here.  Maybe I just need to get out more?

Hilarity ensues.

Happy Holidays nd Thanks for stopping by.

Au Vendredi!


[1] Rhymes with Fuckatree; how portentous is that? Must be a sign from a god.

[2] For American politicians, lest they be perceived as commie/atheist/homo-loving/socialist/Kenyanappeasers.

[3] Many of whom, if they came from religious families, were likely calling out to their god(s) to save them even as they were being gunned down.

[4] and your husband, and children, and Mastercard balance

[5] Or just living. The “growing up” part is still up for debate.

[6]  Waaay too much time spent at the beach. Before the concept of SPF.

[7] A years-ago trip to see my folks, our plane descends toward the Orange County airport, K and Belle have their noses pressed against the windows, their eyes widening in alarm: “What’s that brown stuff we’re flying through?” K asks. “Down here, they call it ‘air,’” I explain.

[8] Although it’s obvious they resent the need, or any interruption to their cloud-free, brown/blue skies.

[9] Nothing says overcompensation (read:  I have a small penis) like an oversized vehicle. ..or firing guns at a group of children — make that firing guns at anyone, any thing.  Except a block of wood.

[10] Mea culpa, botanists –  no fauna is in fact “icky.” Since I can’t remember the name/genus of these trees whose prolific, tiny, elliptical leaves are shed year-round, I resort to the moniker bestowed upon them by my Aunt Erva  (“they make such an icky mess all over the sidewalks.”)

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