Dateline Sunday 7:40 am; morning walk; listening to No Stupid Questions podcast, episode 98: Is Having Children Worth It? The episode consists of hosts Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth discussing the various factors – from economic to personal to cultural and beyond – people weigh when considering parenthood.
About twenty minutes into the podcast the show’s producer announces a break:
“Before we return to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about modern fertility, let’s hear some of your thoughts on the subject. We asked listeners to let us know the factors that affected their decisions to have kids. Here’s what you said.”
The producer plays three phone recordings. The sentiments expressed by the second listener/commentator were, unfortunately and predictably, no surprise to moiself. 
Second commentator: “As of now, my husband and I are leaning towards remaining childfree…. What I’ve found really interesting is the very different experiences that we’ve had in sharing this news when asked. I get asked very frequently, ‘When are you having kids?’ It’s just assumed. And if I tell someone, whether it’s a close friend or a complete stranger — which is very frequent — that we don’t plan to have kids, I get really strong reactions, and they’ve really made me question the value that I’d bring to society as a woman if I’m not a mother…. Meanwhile, my husband gets asked about once or twice a year, and his manhood and value is never brought into question.”
* * *
Department Or Morality, Schmality – The Ultimate Litmus Test On This Issue
Moiself has plenty o’ thoughts – some of them even/arguably suitable for non-R-rated audiences – about the leak of the SCOTUS draft which indicates that the conservative (read: Republican-appointed) SCOTUS justices have plans to return our society to the medieval mores of governance by religious superstition and female chattel-dom repeal Roe v. Wade.
Those thoughts I will share…later. As in, in several weeks from now, when the hoopla dies down (perhaps) and we get a handle on what’s really happening, and when I have been dissuaded from my karma-generating plan to hire a team of Valkyries and Ninjas to kidnap SCOTUS justices Alito, Kavanaugh, Roberts, and Thomas, transport them to a secure back alley where the justices will have coat hanger wires up inserted their respective urethras to perform a D & C of their potential abortion causing,  sperm factory organs.
For now, consider this:
* * *
Department Of Applying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy To Moiself
Dateline: Sunday 7:50 am-ish, Oregon coast. Returning from a walk along the beach. I turn around for one last glance,  pausing to gaze at the rising sunlight reflecting off the foaming waves, noticing how the retreating tide left a beautiful, reflective sheen to the green-gray sand…. Wait a sec – what is that awful, acrid smell, so early in the morning?
Looking behind moiself, I see a woman sitting on an Adirondack chair on the upper porch of a beach rental house across the street. She is vigorously/alternately sucking on and exhaling the effluence from her cigarette; my instinctive disgust kicks in:
“It’s one thing to torment her own lungs, but holy self-pollution – smokers don’t seem to realize – or just don’t care – that their smoke travels, and torments *me,* even though I’m 30 feet away….”
Then I stop moiself, and recall a cognitive behavioral tenet I recently (re)heard:
If you can’t change your circumstances, change how you think about your circumstances. 
And I am struck by a wave of gratitude.
Both my parents were the only non-smokers among their respective siblings.  When I was in early grade school, having non-smoking parents seemed to be the minority experience for my peers…although not long after the Surgeon’s General’s landmark report on smoking and health was released, that began to change.
Looking back, I have to laugh at the naivete involved when I helped a friend, who was concerned about her mother’s health (she’d overheard her parents talking about how the mother’s doctor had advised her to quit smoking). Friend and I conspired as to how we could get her mother to stop smoking. As fourth graders, we knew nothing about the power of nicotine addiction, only the power of our preteen will: we convinced ourselves that, by combing Friend’s house from top to bottom when her mother was out running an errand we could find and discard all of her mother’s cigarettes and cigarette lighters, and ta-da, she’d quit! How can you smoke something that isn’t there?
“Look, honey, I found your last cigarette in the cat’s litter box. Maybe you can skip your after-dinner smoke and we’ll watch ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ instead.”
Once again, I digress.
The gratitude which struck me: How lucky was I? How lucky *am* I?
If moiself had grown up with smoking parents, how likely is it  that I would have also fallen into that “filthy habit,” as my father called it?  And even if I’d managed to avoid becoming a smoker but had parents who were nicotine fiends, I would have had an increased risk of heart and lung disease from living with second-hand smoke.
And just like that, my annoyance dissipated ( like a puff of smoke? ), and morphed into a sense of gratitude. 
* * *
Punz For The Day Marlboro Man Edition
I had a legless dog I named, “Cigarette.” Every morning I took him out for a drag.
What does Han Solo put in his cigarettes? Chewbacco.
My friend started punting his Marlboro packs – he’s trying to kick the habit.
Why are cigarettes like hamsters? They are perfectly harmless until you stick one in your mouth and light it on fire.
* * *
May you feel grateful for unhealthy habits *not* practiced by those who raised you; May you cultivate the ability to reframe your circumstances; May the SCOTUS stay out of your respective lady and man parts; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Or, likely, to other female listeners, whether or not they have children.
 Abortions are caused by men – that is, unwanted pregnancies are caused by irresponsible male ejaculations… even the wanted pregnancies that must be terminated due to fetal abnormalities incompatible with life and/or maternal health issues, are also caused by men.
 Always say goodbye to the beach, every time you leave it. Blow a kiss to the breakers; you never know when it will be the last time.
If you can’t change your circumstances, work on changing the way you think about your circumstances, or how you frame your circumstances. Classic cognitive behavioral therapy advice, and one of the few things proven to help both your mood/attitude…which then may, even, eventually, help you to change your circumstances.
 My father smoked while in the army – cigarettes were part of a WWII soldier’s ration kit – but quit several years before meeting my mother.
I post frequently about the podcasts moiself listens to (and this entire post, unintentionally, is devoted to that). Recently I did a trial listen to a new (to moiself) pocast, titled, Tell Me.
TM is hosted by actor/producer Ellen Pompeo, best known for her seventeen year stint as Dr. Meredith Grey on the TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t remember how I heard of TM – most likely via an ad on a podcast moiself already listens to – so I checked out the show’s website:
” …Ellen Pompeo sits down with a wide range of guests and celebrity friends who inspire her and who do extraordinary things. Through in-depth, candid conversations, Ellen shines a light on people and issues that are important to her and the world at large…. Ellen is also an outspoken activist for issues including equal pay for women in Hollywood and beyond, social justice, voting rights, and women’s rights.”
Hmmm. I’ve had the ass-tearing-with-boredom experience of trying out podcasts, supposedly highly-rated, which feature “celebrities” (read: comedians and actors) who seem genial enough and are good at their profession, and then the podcast consists of them talking with their friends…and the conversations between them and their fellow, A- and B-list celebs don’t hold my attention for long. It’s like being on the bus listening to Joe Schmo and Kathy Whoa sharing their in-crowd jokes, etc., only these Joes and Kathys have famous names…but you still don’t know them personally. Despite how funny/talented they are on stage, they start with the seemingly obligatory Celebrity-Host-to-Celebrity-Guest podcast Intro ®, which is a session of mutual ass-kissing (“I love your work!” “And I love *your* work…!”)…and then…who really cares?
However, when I read about Pompeo’s activism I assumed that would be a prominent feature of her podcast, so I gave it a try.
In the past week I listened to three of her interviews…or tried to. I couldn’t make it all the way through: in at least two of them, Pompeo and/or her guests brought up their “signs,” as in astrology, and chatted about their respective and supposed zodiac attributes (along the lines of, “Ah yes, as a Scorpio…” ).
She’s off my feed now. I’m still a Grey’s Anatomy fan, but I simply cannot take Pompeo seriously as a podcast host of “… issues that are important to…the world at large.”
“It turns out that astrologers can’t even agree among themselves what a given horoscope means. In careful tests they’re unable to predict the character and future of people they know nothing about except the time and place of birth.
Also, how could it possibly work? How could the rising of Mars at the moment of my birth affect me then or now? I was born in a closed room. Light from Mars couldn’t get in. The only influence of Mars which could affect me was its gravity. But the gravitational influence of the obstetrician was much larger than the gravitational influence or Mars. Mars is a lot more massive but the obstetrician was a lot closer.” ( Carl Sagan )
In the year 2022, the idea that some people would give even a modicum of legitimacy to the medieval hokum that is astrology….
And yes, I realize a lot of people throw around astrology references in a casual, “fun” way and probably don’t take it seriously (or even understand what they are alluding to). However, facts matters – or at least, they should. Look around the world, read y’alls selves some history, and see what happens when people do not understand and misrepresent reality.
Again, I know, some folks play with the astrology thing for fun, but in the name of all that is rational, please, when someone asks, “What’s your sign?” the only polite response you should give should be:
* teach readers how to employ skeptical thinking and rigorous questioning, and other methods to equip ourselves with a “baloney taction kit” to help distinguish between valid science and pseudoscience.
“Dr. Yang, you will be taking over all of Dr. Grey’s surgeries until she stops refusing to operate on a Libra during the full moon.”
* * *
Department Of Destiny, Schmestiny
And one more thing.
In two of the three podcast episodes I listened to, Pompeo’s guests were people she knew personally (former Grey’s actors), and she brought up with them a concept which was obviously authentic and important to her, but which (along with the astrology) also strayed into woo-woo/squishy territory: destiny.
It’s hard to describe what she was trying to describe – in part because she was more enthusiastic than articulate about it, and in part because the subject itself is so subjective. To do it justice would require me relistening to those interviews (and I have no desire to do so) . Pompeo is not the first person to hold and express such sentiments, which go, basically, like this:
* Certain people come into your life, and you into theirs, because the two of you separately yet somehow reciprocally give off this kind of aura which attracts them; thus, you were “destined” to meet because of these mutualities ….
Pompeo brought this up with her former co-star Patrick Dempsey, and as part of the proof that they were fated to meet and work together and be friends, she told him that they used to live down the street from each other, before they knew each other.
So, two actors, in an area (LA) where you can’t spit without hitting an actor or would-be actor – two people working in the same field, living near one another, ending up working together and ended up getting along with and liking each other, and therefore, it’s destiny?
Destiny; fate? How about good fortune, brought about by coincidence? Star-crossed lovers and even besties-for-life have a prominent place in literature and the arts, which loves the meet-cute and “meant-to-be” scenarios. But in our non-fictional lives, when we step back and look at the facts and statistics, what we might consider destiny is in fact more accurately framed as a result of proximity or geography.
The vast majority of people become friends with and partner up with people who live near them and are from the same or similar educational, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I have friends with whom I share deep intellectual and emotional connections and/or have profound commonalities of interests and perspectives, but we didn’t meet because we were destined to. We met because we were in proximity; because, due to school or work or socia/neighborhood and/or or other activities, we encountered each other, and our relationships gradually grew from there.
My friend CC is a wonderful person and playmate and confidante, and I’m grateful for and have been enriched by her friendship. But I do not think in the slightest that these things mean that we were destined to become friends. If I were living in Hillsboro and she in Hanoi, or somewhere else across the globe, it is highly unlikely that the tides of fate/destiny would have brought us together.
In other words, destiny is not destined.
* * *
Department Of Advice Of The Week
“I do suspect that many, many people would be much happier
if they did less, better.”
This provocative quote is from a podcast I’m *not* deleting – a podcast where I doubt I’ll ever hear anyone cite astrology. I’m referring to PIMA (People I Mostly Admire), and the advice comes from PIMA‘s recent episode, “Turning Work Into Play,” which features psychologist, author, and academic, Dan Gilbert.
Gilbert (described on the podcast as someone who went “…from high school dropout to Harvard professor”) brings an intriguing perspective to concepts of being “lazy,” and how to bring about joy, as illustrated by this excerpt from the podcast, where Gilbert is being interviewed by PIMA host Steve Levitt. Levitt, like many academics, has had to teach as part of his university contract. Levitt also, like many academics, prefers research to teaching.  Thus, Levitt has been intimidated by and/or found teaching to be a chore, and so he asked Gilbert how he seemingly excels at it (my emphases):
“I would say that the reason I put so much time and effort into my teaching is because I’m lazy. And lazy people don’t like to work. Somewhere very early on in life, right around the time I dropped out of high school, I think, I decided I never want to work again. All I want to do is play. And what I discovered is that to the extent that you put your whole self into almost any task — even if it’s washing the dishes — it stops being work and it starts becoming play. I wonder if I can wash the dishes by holding them in my right hand and scrubbing with my left hand. Is it faster if I do it that way? Is there an interesting way to stack them so that they dry faster rather than slower? Anything that you are creative and playful with is a joy…..putting your entire self into things turns it into joy.”
“Doing the dishes them with my left hand brings me almost as much joy as doubling up on my Prozac.”
LEVITT: “So, you were the first person I’ve ever heard say so succinctly this idea that a 100% focus is associated with joy, no matter what the task. It’s implicit in a lot of, like, Eastern philosophies of enlightenment…. I think you’re probably right. And yet in my own life, I don’t do very much of that…. How did you figure this out?”
GILBERT: “I probably have a talent you don’t. Which is, I can say ‘No.’ I can say, ‘No’ very easily. I say, ‘No,’ to almost everything. My guess is you say, ‘No,’ a lot, but you say, ‘Yes,’ too much. And as a result, you have seven different things you’d like to put yourself fully into, but you can only put one-seventh of yourself in, because you said, ‘Yes,’ to all of them. So, early on, when I decided I want everything I do to be a joy, I realized I would only be able to do very few things. So, I just say, ‘No,’ to just about everything. And ‘Yes,’ to just enough that I can constantly be putting my whole self into the teaching or into an article. I mean, I’ve published a quarter of the articles most of my colleagues at my stage of career have published. Because I write very few articles. Because I’m not going to write one that isn’t just as beautifully written and as smart as I can possibly be at that moment. Because that brings me joy. And I’m lazy. I like joy.”
“I always ask my guests when they come on to give advice. I think I just heard you give advice — which is maybe the single most important thing anyone can do is to learn how to say, ‘No,’ and to say, ‘No,’ much more often.”
GILBERT: “ ….I do suspect that many, many people would be much happier if they did less, better. Publish fewer papers and make them better papers. For God’s sake, publish one paper and make it a great paper. Not only will you be happier, but the world will be happier without all the crappy papers you didn’t publish. Reading this one that you put your heart and soul into, and everybody can tell you did because it’s just such a pleasure. Don’t you think the world would be better with fewer books that were better books? Fewer X that are better X? I’m not sure what you could substitute for X that wouldn’t be true.”
LEVITT: “I think that’s right. And I have gotten better at saying, ‘No,’ but as you described my life — seven things that I do, each of them pretty poorly…. And it’s probably four too many. And I’ve yet to figure out how to get from seven down to three.”
GILBERT: “…I know you can go from seven to three very easily. My guess is that when somebody says, ‘Steve, I’ve got this idea for a project.’ You go, ‘Wow, that would be really fun.’ And this is what we call ‘affective forecasting.’ You’re imagining how great it will be to do the project. And we know from a lifetime of research that there’s a whole bunch of things you’re not imagining. Particularly how it will impinge on all the other things you already said, ‘Yes,’ to.”
* * *
Department Of My To-Do List: One More Item To Check Off
Midway through the podcast, psychologist and NSQ cohost Angela Duckworth  read a teaser — a quote from an article in The Guardian — that to be happier, women should “…give up on being good.” 
Another entry on moiself’s To-do list: Give up on being good.
* * *
Punz For The Day Happiness Edition
Why are horses so happy? Because they live in a stable environment.
Why can’t tennis players ever find happiness? Because love means nothing to them.
I’m so happy with my financial savvy – my credit card company calls me every day to tell me that my balance is outstanding!
What is the best blood type for happiness? B positive.
* * *
May you make the world happier “…without all the crappy papers you didn’t publish;” May you say “no” more often so that you can joyfully say, “yes;” May you equip yourself with a baloney detection kit; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 And read it yourself, even if you consider yourself a good hokum detector and/or already know why astrology is bunk.
 And enjoy, as well as the facts Sagan presents, his distinctive speech patterns and intonations.
had only one big ball
had two but they were small
Had something similar
And poor old Goebbels
had no balls at all. ♫
I’d vaguely known about Hitler’s goofy gonads (he suffered from right-side cryptorchidism – an undescended testicle). But the fact that this detail was woven into an anti-Nazi ditty delighted the spirit of the 11-year-old Girl Scout who still resides in me – the girl who wanted to sit in the back during the boring troop meetings and exchange bawdy jokes with the other so-inclined scouts instead of listening to yet another boring lecture on how we were supposed to be working on our camping merit badges.
“All in favor of skipping reciting the Girl Scout Promise and singing the Hitler song instead, raise your hands.”
* * *
Department Of Yet Another Podcast Citation
The most recent episode of the People I (Mostly) Admire podcast – website description: “Steven Levitt, the unorthodox University of Chicago economist and co-author of the Freakonomics book series….tracks down other high achievers and asks questions that only he would think to ask….” – had me hooked with the opening:
“My guest today, John McWhorter, likes to stir things up….
He’s a linguistics professor at Columbia university, author of over a dozen books, and has emerged as one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals. He’s an opinionated centrist, and chances are, whatever your politics, you’ll love his views on some issues, and despise his stance on others.” (intro to People I Mostly Admire, episode 72: “Leaving Black People in the Lurch” )
I was immediately intrigued by the host’s description of his guest: “an opinionated centrist.” Not being fond of political labels (at least for moiself), I don’t consider moiself to be a centrist. Rather, I approach issues as a “Does this make sense?-trist.” When some folks on The Far Left ® find out my liberal/religion-free/ flaming feminist viewpoints, they assume that I’ll tick off all their boxes on particular issues. And when they find out that I do not, *they* get ticked off.
My intrigue-ears perked up for other reasons as well, including the fact that McWhorter is a linguistics professor. Being a linguist, as in studying the cultural and cognitive development and application of languages, is one of my “if-I-were-to-do-it-all-over-again” professions.  Now, just because I maintain an interest in that area of study doesn’t mean that I have any current and/or particular skill in or aptitude for languages – far from it, as anyone who has heard me mangle the French language could attest to. And while moiself is on the subject I’d like to offer a shout-out to all you Parisian shopkeepers and restauranters who, despite the stereotype of the snooty French, were most patient and gracious with me when I was visiting your merveilluse villeand tried to order a pain au chocolat in every venue possible.
Let me guess, *elle demande* the entire tray, again?
Once again, I digress.
Back to the podcast opening.
Steve LEVITT: “In your day job, you (McWhorter) are a linguist at Columbia University and you also moonlight as a commentator on American society, especially around issues of race. But I’d like to talk first about linguistics, because I suspect if we start on race, we’ll never make our way back to linguistics.”
Linguistics/ race – I wanted to hear it all. Any author of a book called “Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter,” is all right by me. Then, after the first 15 minutes of linguistics talk, I was surprised by McWhorter’s choice in an answer to a certain question.
LEVITT: So, English is obviously emerging as something of a world language, and that’s mostly for accidental, historical, social, political reasons. And in my very first episode of this podcast, I had Steve Pinker, the Harvard linguist, on. And I tried to get him to make a vote for what the best world language would be. I had no luck. He would not bite on that at all. Is that a question you’ll bite on?”
MCWHORTER: ” Hell yeah. ….If all of the world were going to use a single language, it should be not English…. Really, the language of the world should be Indonesian.”
Really. He chose Indonesian.
MCWHORTER: “…Not the way it’s written, but the way it’s typically spoken, where you have almost no suffixes, almost no prefixes. (Indonesian is) not a tonal language. It’s very low on throwing you with things like, what does ‘pick up’ mean? You can pick up a disease; you can pick somebody up from school; speed is about picking up speed. Why deal with that? There’s very little of that. …. even though most people who don’t speak Indonesian would find it hard to learn just the words themselves….if you could pick up 500 of them, say 600 of them…the grammar would be very, very easy. You could make yourself understood. I would say it’s better. It’s easier for everybody — colloquial Indonesian would be the one.”
McWhorter’s quotes about the reasons why a language like Indonesian would be a better “world” language  made me think about Turkish, which I studied for a few days in an online course (until Putin’s aggressive assholery changed my travel plans  ).
Here are nine encouraging and refreshing observations I made during my brief foray into the Turkish language:
Two or more letters are never combined to make a new or different sound!
Turkish contains no articles at all!
It is also not a gendered language; nor is it tonal!
There is no 7th observation!
There are standard rules for making plurals!
Word Order is set: Subject-Object-Verb. The verb is always at the end in written Turkish! 
You’d spin with delight, too, if you spoke such a sensible language.
After twenty-five or so minutes of Fun With Words®, podcast host Levitt ventured into topics where McWhorter’s opinions have made people who are prone to look for divergent poles line up into their default defensive positions…such as McWhorter’s book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.
LEVITT: “I was talking to a white friend of mine, someone who is deeply sympathetic to the anti-racist cause. And she said to me recently, ‘My daughter is friends with a Black girl in her nursery school class….and I’d like to invite that Black girl over to my house for a play date, but I’m afraid to because I don’t know the appropriate way to acknowledge my white privilege to the girl’s parents. And I don’t want to insult them by not acknowledging it.’
To me, what a disaster – when kids can’t build friendships because parents are so paralyzed by fear of not doing the right thing.”
MCWHORTER: “You know what? That woman is who I wrote Woke Racism for. That is exactly what I mean. That is somebody whose heart is very much in the right place, but she’s so afraid of being called the dirtiest-name-other-than-pedophile in our current cultural vocabulary that she’s basically hamstrung.
After a while, it might be that you end up avoiding Black people because you don’t want to take a wrong step. And then you get accused of being a racist. And where does that get us? To actually say, ‘What is the result of all this?’ is seen as somehow beside the point.
Rather, what’s considered important is smart people stating that racism still exists; racism is systemic. Now, what’s actually happening out on the ground, whether we’re improving Black lives by stating that, is considered subsidiary…..
And yet, that’s the situation that I saw us slipping into starting after the hideous murder of George Floyd. I saw us dealing with a kind of semaphore, where we say things and we say things and we say things, and what we’re really doing is fostering a kind of general guilt and engaging in a kind of passion play…. But the result is not anything that any civil rights leaders of the past would have recognized as meaningful. We need to get back to doing the real thing.”
Fine; you’re awake. Now, make the bed and start cleaning up the mess you left in the kitchen.
LEVITT: “I always ask my guests to give advice to my listeners. And I’m curious what advice you would give to young people trying to build a good life for themselves.
And would you give the same advice to a young white person and a young Black person?”
MCWHORTER (my emphases): “… at this point, in the way our national dialogue goes, I would say this to kids of any race: Distrust your impulse to suppose that people who don’t think like you are either naive or evil.
It’s very easy to think that if they don’t think like you. It’s either they don’t have the facts that you have, or if they do have the facts that you have, there’s something sinister about them. They’ve got motives that they’re not quite letting onto.
And the sad thing is that these days, young people are being taught to think that way by an awful lot of grown-ups.
It’s an easy misimpression to fall into because we tend to be binary thinkers. But with any debate that’s uniquely challenging or frankly, interesting, about which you might argue, that’s different from decreeing that people are either stupid or bad. And that’s what a diverse and large society is all about. That’s what diversity of opinion is.”
Moiself highly recommends that y’all’s selves listen to the entire interview, and pay attention to McWhorter’s insightful analysis re how “3rd wave anti-racism” (a term he borrows from the feminist movement) “is a religion.” It’s guaranteed to offend at least a few third wave anti-racists and religionists. Now, that’s my kind of a podcast guest.
* * *
Punz For The Day Woke Politics Edition
Why were environmental activists protesting outside the elementary school? That heard a rumor that the kids were singing, “Rain, rain, go away.”
What do you call a woke Star Wars droid? R2-Me2
Did you hear about the laundromat manager who had her Facebook account cancelled? FB monitors read that she told her customers to separate the whites from the colors.
One night I dreamt that I was a muffler… I woke up exhausted.
“There’s woke jokes, and then there’s woke jokes.”
* * *
May you choose meaningful action over virtue-signalling; May you have fond memories of your bawdy joke-telling, scout-meeting (or the equivalent) ignoring days; May you enjoy singing the song about Hitler’s balls; 
….which I hope you will (eventually, if not now) ignore.
The following deals with grief. Specifically, the intense and traumatic grief experienced by the sudden and/or unanticipated death of a loved one.
If you are presently not in a physical or emotional space to handle the subject, moiself hopes you’ll take care of yourself, and read this later.  The thing is, if you aren’t grieving such a loss right now, you will later on…and someone you know and love is dealing with this or will be, soon. That is Life’s price of admission…and one particular grief survivor’s insights and observations could be – I’ll go so far as to say *will* be – of use to you.
The following excerpt blew me away (my emphases):
“The five stages of grief are ingrained in our cultural consciousness as the natural progression of emotions one experiences after the death of a loved one. However, it turns out that this model is not science-based, does not well describe most people’s experiences, and was never even meant to apply to the bereaved.
I had read about the questionable science behind The 5 Stages of Grief ® model, and had always had my doubts about its application. But I had no idea that it was *never* meant to be applied to the bereaved – to people grieving the death of *other* people.
But wait – there’s more.
“…many people, even professional psychologists, believe there is a right way and a wrong way to grieve, that there is an orderly and predictable pattern that everyone will go through, and if you don’t progress correctly, you are failing at grief. You must move through these stages completely, or you will never heal.
This is a lie.
Death and its aftermath is such a painful and disorienting time. I understand why people – both the griever and those witnessing grief – want some kind of road map, a clearly delineated set of steps or stages that will guarantee a successful end to the pain of grief. The truth is, grief is as individual as love: every life, every path, is unique. There is no predictable pattern, and no linear progression. Despite what many ‘experts’ say, there are no stages of grief.
In her later years, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote that she regretted writing the stages the way that she did, that people mistook them as being both linear and universal.”
“We’ve all heard about The 5 stages of Grief. But what happens when your experience doesn’t follow that model at all? Resilience researcher Lucy Hone began to question how we think about grief after a devastating loss in her own life. She shares the techniques she learned to help her cope with tragedy.” ( intro to the Hidden Brain Podcast, “Healing Your Heart” )
This is the podcast I want you to listen to, and Lucy Hone is the “one particular survivor” I referred to earlier in this post.
The 5 Stages of Grief ® has become part of our culture’s how-to-grieve manual. But the thing is, this list which was meant to be descriptive has now turned proscriptive. It’s originator, Swiss-American psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, *surmised* (not proved) these stages, when, as a psychiatry resident, she observed observations of people dealing with terminal illness – people who had advance knowledge of their impending death.
And yet, how many times have you heard about
* the family of a *recently* and *suddenly* deceased person  “going through the five stages of grief.”
* someone else, perhaps also grieving the same loss, being concerned that these same family members had not gone through the stages, or had skipped a few and were therefore stuck in their grief or somehow not doing it properly?
Something like this happened to the HB podcast guest. Dr. Hone, ironically enough, a “resilience researcher,” had to rethink her and society’s approaches to grieving after the devastating loss of her beloved 12-year old daughter, Abi, who died after the car she was riding in (along with Abi’s best friend Emma and Emma’s mother) was t-boned by a driver who went through a stop sign at high speed. 
Hone and HB host Shankar Vidantam talked about Hone’s drive to know what she could do to manage her grief.
HB host Shankar Vidantam: “…the grief counselors and others told you that the next five years of your life were going to be consumed by grief; that you were a prime candidates for divorce, estrangement, and mental illness. You also heard about the 5 Stages of Grief. What is the conventional wisdom about the 5 Stages of Grief, Lucy?”
Hone: “…Like most people, I was kind of aware about the stages, and like most people I could probably name about three of them. But when people started telling me about them – and boy, anyone who’s ever been bereaved will know that people tell you about them! – they expect you to go through them.
Pretty quickly I became frustrated with (the 5 Stages), because I didn’t feel anger and animosity towards the driver. I knew that that was a terrible mistake – that he didn’t do it intentionally. And I wasn’t in denial – from the very first moment I remember thinking, ‘Okay, this is my job now, my mission is to survive this.’ And so they didn’t fit with my experience.
And the other aspect that quickly frustrated me (with the 5 stages) is that it’s reasonably helpful to be told that you might feel ___ (all of these different things), but actually, I don’t want to be told what I’m going to feel; I am desperate to know what I can do, to help us all adapt to this terrible loss.”
SV: “I’m struck by the fact that at a certain point in your journey of grief over Abi’s death you were thinking like a researcher, or starting to ask yourself whether you yourself could be a research subject – that you’re’ studying yourself, observing yourself, like a scientist…”
Hone went on to say that yes, she did have a moment of being aware that she was both
“…experiencing this devastating loss and curious about my experiences simultaneously… I was doing this internally, observing my loss and my reaction to it, and then I thought, ‘Well, what I’m really curious about, is we have all these tools from resilient psychology, which have been shown to help people cope with potentially traumatic events. How useful are they when they are brought to the context of bereavement?’ And so that’s been the question I’ve been really exploring, ever since Abi died.”
SV narration: “Pondering this question gave (Hone) the space to analyze how her own mind was responding to grief. When she noticed something about how she was coping, she reserved judgement about what it meant.
When she engaged in ‘what-if’ scenarios – What if she hadn’t allowed Abi to drive with the other family? What if she hadn’t planned a beach vacation? – she noticed how those thoughts made her feel. She paid attention to how she felt after getting exercise or a good night’s sleep. In other words, she started behaving like a scientist. She eventually discovered there were things that made her feel better, and things that made her feel worse. She came up with a series of techniques that gave her a measure of control over her grief.”
Hone: “I distinctly remember standing in the kitchen thinking, ‘Seriously, Lucy, chose life over death. Don’t lose what you have over what you’ve lost.’ “
I wanted to print a transcript of the whole episode, it’s so good, but I’ll leave it to you to find that, or listen to the entire episode (the link again: Healing your Heart.)
Moiselfwill, instead, just list a few bullet point-style take aways:
* Hone’s ideas are not a glib substitutions for one series/stages or method over another.
* Models such as “The 5 Stages Of Grief, The Four Stages Of Recovery,” et. al., have been perpetuated because they are tidy. But grief is not tidy; grief is messy and does not lend itself to finite lists. According to one researcher, grief is “as individual as your fingerprints.” What works for you as a strategy for handling your grief might not work for your spouse, your mother, your brother, your siblings – even as you are all grieving the same loss.
* “Taking a break” from grief is not avoidance, or denial.
* Learn the difference between grief reaction, over which we have little control, and grief response, which is loaded with options
* It isn’t *easy* – to learn such distinctions and apply techniques to give you a measure of control over your grief – but is it possible.
I was in Russia listening to a stand-up comedian making fun of Putin. The jokes weren’t that good, but I liked the execution.
What kind of humor do quarantined comedians use? Inside jokes.
Why do mountains make good comedians? Because they’re hill areas…
A new standup comic told jokes about the unemployed. Unfortunately, none of them worked.
What did the cannibal comedian say when he tried to eat the audience? “Tough crowd.”
You got a long way to go, girl.
* * *
May you appreciate the differences between reactions and responses; May you rethink your own “However Many Stages of Doing This Thing” lists; May you treat yourself to some stress relief and watch Paul Lynde’s one-liners outtakes from Hollywood Squares; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Not because moiself is the preeminent grief expert; rather, the people behind resources I am citing *are.*
 as per UC Berkely’s Greater Good Science Center (“Science-based Insights for a Meaningful Life”).
 Suddenly as in, via an accident or homicide or suicide – any death that was unexpected or not with foreknowledge of its inevitability, as in, with cancer or other diagnosed terminal illnesses.
 The two girls and the adult woman died; the driver who caused the accident survived.
Thanks to a friend, I got distracted. This is not the blog I was intending to write.
Dateline: Tuesday. Moiself sees a link to a NYT article, posted by my retired  journalist friend, GR.
“After recent focus groups with Democratic-leaning voters on the economy; younger women on work, relationships and gender roles; and teenagers on school and their futures, we decided to talk to conservative men about how they see themselves and what they value. Most said they believed society is headed toward increased rule breaking and a “me, me, me” culture….” introduction to These 8 Conservative Men Are Making No Apologies. ( NY Times, Opinion, “America in Focus” series.  )
Here is (part of) of GR’s introduction to the link:
“If we are ever going to bridge the divides in this country, I think it begins with understanding how others view themselves and the issues that confront all of us.”
I agree with that sentiment. I also find it telling that the “bridging the divide” talk always seems be one-sided, as in, flowing from Left to Right. As moiself commented to GR (before I’d followed the link to the article):
“Is there a conservative newspaper doing a focus group with ‘…8 liberal women making no apologies?’ “
My FB-comment conversation (with GR) continued after I started reading the article:
Moiself: Thanks for posting this – I intend to read it all, but need a break right now, due to this part:
Tony (one of the focus group’s panelists): “This country has become more feminized. It’s not the way it was when I was growing up. We started off talking about how the country has a weak image. They don’t call women the weaker sex for no reason. Men are necessary to maintain a vibrant society. And we’ve been feminized. No offense.”
(Focus group moderator) “…who, if anyone, do you think views masculinity as a negative thing these days?
Christopher (another of the panelists): “I support feminism, but I don’t support modern feminism. I think that modern feminism is focused on so-called toxic masculinity, and they are actually purveyors of men-bashing. And so I support femininity and feminism but not to the point where they’re looking to hoist themselves above men to try to make up for so-called patriarchy.”
Moiself: Geeze, Tony. “No offense” he says, when he’s just called women “weaker” and has associated the feminine with weakness. And Christopher says he “supports” feminism, but not “modern” feminism.
Maybe he prefers feminists of the 19th century, the Seneca Falls Convention era, where they had to fight for even the right to vote – which could only be granted to them by men? I remember hearing in the late 60s-70s the same rhetoric, from men who claimed to “support” women and women’s rights but not those “man-hating women’s libbers….” With “support” like that, who needs equal opportunity enshrined in law?
While I appreciate the idea (and ideals) behind the America in Focus series, this particular one disheartened and frustrated me. Isn’t dialog supposed to be uplifting?
Those 8 Conservative Men ® may be making no apologies, but many of them are also making no sense. Take this shining example, when the conversation seemed dominated by the panelists’ complaints about (what they saw as) the changing definition and devaluation of masculinity. Running with the theme, the moderator asked, “Who, if anyone, do you think views masculinity as a negative thing these days?”
Danny (another panelist): “Look at fashion. Look at the newer generation of how people dress, how men dress. There’s men, and there’s women, and there’s masculinity, and femininity. And there’s no reason to destroy one in order to make the other one better. I’m not trying to get into a negative men-versus-women thing, but I’m seeing masculinity under attack. And I’m seeing men wearing tight skinny jeans, with no socks and velvet shoes. And it’s cool to wear pink. I don’t mind wearing pink. It’s a cool color. And I’m not saying colors belong with a certain gender. It’s so funny — this is what we were talking about earlier: Every time you speak, you don’t feel comfortable enough to say what’s on your mind, where you have to almost give a disclaimer. I have no problem with pink. But when we go out to a club or a dinner or dancing, you see some of the younger generation wearing very feminine clothes, blatantly feminine clothes — so much so that we are almost trying to portray masculinity as negative.”
I have no problem with pink, says the man who goes on to reveal that he definitely has a problem with pink (or, at least, with men wearing pink), by mentioning that thing he doesn’t have a problem with twice more.
I am not thinking of elephants. Nope; no elephants here. No elephants in my brain, no sirrrreeeee.
Danny, like some of the others in the group, does make several points moiself finds especially valid (and have addressed in this space many times), such as how labels and epithets (racist, sexist, homo-and other “phobics”) are so easily used by people, and once someone labels you, how do you refute it? Danny, a realtor, tells the story of when he was the president of a homeowner’s association board in his community, and
“…an Asian woman got into an argument with us. When I say ‘us,’ I mean the whole board. That night, she went and wrote a review on my business page saying that I’m a racist. My parents are Lebanese. I was beaten up every day when I was a kid because I’m Arabic….I’m not a racist….She wrote a nasty review, and Google won’t take it down, even though she wasn’t a client of mine. She’d never bought a house from me. She never did business with me, but she said that I’m a racist. That’s what’s happening today. And that never happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. And you know what’s worse? You can’t stop it.”
Danny and others in the group also directly or obliquely referred to about how our language police culture (my term; not theirs) stifles expression and makes assumptions, and seemingly pays more attention to howyou say something rather than what you are trying to say:
“…And I’m not saying colors belong with a certain gender. It’s so funny — this is what we were talking about earlier: Every time you speak, you don’t feel comfortable enough to say what’s on your mind, where you have to almost give a disclaimer. “
But then Danny negates his disclaimer, with further statements which indicate he really does think certain colors and certain styles belong with certain genders. His comment about how so much of the younger generation is wearing “feminine clothes” – uh, maybe because half of any generation is composed of females? But his usage of “the younger generation” indicates he’s talking about the younger generation of *males,* who by wearing “blatantly feminine” clothes” are “… trying to portray masculinity as negative.”
Oh Danny boy, the pipes the pipes are calling I just don’t get it. Unless there is a dude wearing a (pink, I bet) shirt with lettering which proclaims, “Masculinity sucks,” I don’t see how a choice in clothing portrays masculinity, or any “inity,” as negative.
Six out of six Monty Python Girly Men agree.
(Focus group Moderator): “How many of you think men have it harder than women these days?” [group members Krupal and Danny raise their hands.]
Krupal: “It’s like, you’re a woman, you’re given a trophy. If a guy does something, it’s not a big deal. If girls do the same thing, it’s like, you go! Girl power! I think her gender plays a bigger role, and it gives her more advantage these days — be it career or anything.”
(Christopher, a group member who didn’t raise his hand, although IMO his comment indicates that he should have): “I think that women have it a lot easier than men these days. What it feels like is that society is trying to make up for the times that women were oppressed, and it seems like it’s kind of going overboard.”
Ah, gee. Don’t let your gender pity party get in the way of reality, Conservative Guys Sans Apologies. Their statements of woe-is-me-as-a-man, without any attempt to cite data supporting their grievances, was as tiring to read as it was frustrating – and alarming – to consider. They really think that – that being a woman is an Advantage ® ?
Yo, Krupal: here is just a sampling of the *advantages* being a woman gets a woman, “be it career or anything.”
* According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in 2020, women’s annual earnings were 82.3% of men’s, and the gap is even wider for many women of color. * Women earn less than men in nearly all occupations. * Women earn less than their same race and ethnicity counterpart at every level of educational attainment * Educational attainment is not enough to close gender earnings gaps. In fact, most women with advanced degrees earn less than white men, on average, with only a bachelor’s degree.
* Women still face significant obstacles when it comes to accessing the credit necessary to build and expand their businesses. Multiple studies indicate that women face a gap when it comes to getting funding. Though women business owners apply at similar rates to men, only 39% of women-owned businesses had a conventional bank loan…compared with 52% of male-owned businesses that received conventional bank loans. * Gender discrimination persists, in the form of both gender stereotypes and unconscious gender bias. “What If,” the recent report on the gender credit gap, cites multiple studies between the 1980s through the present, indicating the presence of stereotypes that negatively affect women when trying to advance in the workplace, or when seeking traditional loans, or venture capital investment for their businesses. ( “Women and the Future of the Gender Credit Gap” )
* Although single women have lower average annual incomes, they are better at paying their mortgages, default less and usually make larger down payments than their male counterparts…. (yet) On average, women pay more for a mortgage through higher interest rate terms than male borrowers. (“The Gender Gap: Women As Mortgage Consumers,” NWRB )
* Gender bias persists in health care…. One in five women say they have felt that a health care provider has ignored or dismissed their symptoms, and 17% say they feel they have been treated differently because of their gender—compared with 14% and 6% of men, respectively. * Studies show that women’s perceptions of gender bias are correct. Compared with male patients, women who present with the same condition may not receive the same evidence-based care. In several key areas, such as cardiac care and pain management, women may get different treatment, leading to poorer outcomes. (“Recognizing, Addressing Unintended Gender Bias in Patient Care,” Duke Health/Referring Physicians )
* …gender in tech has often been governed by a set of interlocking, and surprisingly fine-grained, sorting systems…. women were less likely to be promoted than men, and when …promoted, it was frequently into jobs that seemed to separate them further from the core business of the company, and toward ‘soft’ and ‘people skills.’ * When it comes to who gets promoted how in Silicon Valley…there’s still an assumption that ‘anybody can be a manager, but not everybody can be an engineer.’… female tech workers get frequently shunted onto management tracks…or even into HR, even though they have the same degrees and training as their male engineer colleagues. (“How Sexism is Coded into the Tech Industry.” The Nation, 4-26-21)
“May I give my advantage back now?”
* Gender-based price discrimination…when one gender is charged a different price than another gender for identical goods or services…negatively affects women more often than men…. Gender-based pricing exists in many industries, including insurance, dry cleaning, hair, clothing, personal care products.,,, * Consumption taxes on certain products but not others have also been viewed a form of gender-based price disparity. For example, in the USA, Australia, and the UK, tampons are often subjected to a consumption tax, while related products such as condoms, lubricant, and several other medical items are exempt from the tax. ( “Gender-based price discrimination in the United States,” Wikiwand )
* An estimated 91% of victims of rape & sexual assault are female and 9% male. Nearly 99% of perpetrators are male. * Around the world, at least 1 woman in 3 has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime. Most often the abuser is a member of her own family or is her partner. (“Sexualized Violence Statistics,” CalPoly Humboldt)
I want my gawddamn trophy.
Read it (the transcript of the focus discussion) y’alls selves, and draw your own conclusions.  My summary: these eight conservative men have noticed that Others are taking steps up the power ladder, and thus they  don’t feel in charge anymore. They make some valid points about language police/cancel culture (that women and liberals also experience, not just male conservatives). But, seemingly without any self-awareness as to their male privilege (a term that would probably have their manly orbs crawling home to daddy, howling with men-are-being-cancelled! outrage), they see the writing on the wall… and instead of stopping to read it or consider what spurred the writing, they’re just concerned about protecting their own rung on a rickety, rusting ladder.
And this concern with their own status comes from a group that kept saying, without any irony moiself could detect, that one of the things wrong with our culture today is
“We are the most selfish, self-centered, entitled culture. Everything is me, me, me.”
I kept waiting to read at least one of them commenting on how sexism and/or racism is a problem in the USA today. Nope. 
* * *
Department Of And One More Thing, Guys
“Toxic masculinity” is a phrase several men in the focus group identified as being irritating to them. Although the expression may be relatively new, what it describes – the personal and societal repercussions of living in patriarchal systems – has been around for a long time. Wake up and smell the (ED, medically enhanced) coffee, dudes: Patriarchy is also poisonous to the very people it enshrines in towers of power.
” ‘Toxic masculinity’ doesn’t mean that men are toxic or that masculinity is de facto toxic. Rather, it means that extreme forms of traits traditionally associated with masculinity, like aggression and stoicism, are toxic. Right-wingers, however, like to pretend the phrase is an attack on men because it’s a quick way of derailing a conversation about rigid gender norms, and allows them to pretend that feminism is some sort of plot against men…. We hurt our boys when we teach them that being a man means suppressing your emotions and treating women as an inferior species, to be dominated and controlled. And toxic masculinity doesn’t just hurt men, it kills them. In America, for example, men are 3.5 times more likely to die from suicide than women – a phenomenon many experts attribute, in part, to the fact that men are told they shouldn’t express emotion or admit that they feel vulnerable, and therefore are less likely to seek professional help. “ (“Toxic masculinity doesn’t hurt men – it kills them,” The Guardian 6-1-19)
Patriarchy grants numerous benefits to men as a group, and imbues men with a sense of entitlement, (implicitly, or overtly in some cultures  ) as The Favored Gender. And that preference comes with a steep price, with a statistic that is worth repeating, and more.
“Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women…. They have more academic challenges and receive harsher punishments in school settings. They’re the victims of 77 percent of homicides (and they commit 90 percent of them). One cause for this consortium of maladies, the America Psychological Association’s Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men  suggests…is ‘Traditional masculinity’ itself — the term refers to a Western concept of manliness that relies — and sometimes over-relies — on stoicism, dominance, aggression and competitiveness. ‘Everybody has beliefs about how men should behave…We found incredible evidence that the extent to which men strongly endorse those beliefs, it’s strongly associated with negative outcomes.’ The more men cling to rigid views of masculinity, the more likely they are to be depressed, or disdainful, or lonely.” ( “How ‘traditional masculinity’ hurts the men who believe in it most,” The Washington Post, 1-13-19 )
Patriarchy bestows privileges upon men as men, but profoundly harms individual men in many ways, including:
* Patriarchy pressures men to eschew distinctiveness in favor of fitting into preconceived boxes – to conform to a constricted definition of masculinity, under which it is not a given quality. You are not masculine simply by virtue of being male; your masculinity must continually be proved and reinforced, by competing with other men,  and engaging in risk-taking behavior – the latter of which also discourages or discounts seeking help and engaging in health-preserving behavior. Translation: Men are less likely to go to the doctor for physical ailments, or seek counselling support for mental health issues, and are more likely to stop taking medication for chronic or life-threatening illnesses than are women.
C’mon, guys, it’s not “men-bashing women” who are after you. Y’all’s hurting yourselves.
* * *
Punz For The Day Toxic Masculinity Edition
Why was #45 so insecure about his masculinity? He was diagnosed with electile dysfunction.
Dude, if you have to have sideburns to prove your masculinity …then you need to grow a pair.
Why are weeaboos  the opposite of the patriarchy? Because instead of treating women like objects, they treat objects like women.
What kind of bread does the patriarchy serve at their dinner parties? Traditional gender rolls.
It’s good to be king.
* * *
May you never have reason to fear your “inity” is threatened; May you try to initiative and maintain dialog, no matter how face-palming it can be; May you not deny thinking of elephants when you are soooooo,thinking of elephants; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Ah, but do journalists ever really retire? Not the good ones, like GR.
 In the America in Focus series, NYTimes editors asked Americans to share their views on life, society, politics and more.
 The transcript in the article is excerpted; there is also an audio tape of the entire discussion.
 Arguably, some would say – *certainly, *I would say – you can put “engaging in warfare” in that category. Men’s deaths in combat far outweigh those of women…although, since men start the overwhelming majority or wars and either volunteer themselves to participate in it (and usually prohibit women from “combat” roles), or conscript their fellow men, that seems somewhat “fair,” or at least logical. However, in war, civilian casualties always outnumber military casualties…and who, during wartime, are the civilians? The vaunted “women and children” whom the fighting men say they are protecting.
 Weeaboo – a (usually derogatory) slang term for a Western person who is obsessed with Japanese culture, especially anime.
Moiself would like nothing better than to wake up tomorrow morning to the news that Vladimir Putin has
* kicked the KGB bucket * cashed in his commie chips * bit the Chernoyl dust, * bought the fascist farm, * given up the glasnost ghost * won his last rabid dog lookalike ® contest…
you know – died. Whether through “natural” means or otherwise; hey, I’m not picky.
Still, it doesn’t seem…wise…or right…or fair…or historically accurate, to blame Russia’s assault against Ukraine solely on that festering turd of a genocidal despot one leader.
Russia is a big ass country. Even with an oligarchy-stained kleptocracy of a dictatorship masquerading as a federal republic, moiself doesn’t think the P-boy can do what he’s doing unless he’s got a whole lotta other Russians – if not the majority – on his side.
This is the 21st century, and Russia is not North Korea. In “First World” countries whose people have access to First World technologies (internet; cellphones) is impossible to completely control the narrative; it is impossible to make the majority of the Russian populace believe that Ukrainians are “neo-Nazis”, or the other delusional justifications the P-pants-boy offers for invading a sovereign country, unless there are those who, for whatever reasons, want to believe such bizarre, totally unsubstantiated falsehoods.
Are Russians who support their country’s actions also victims (of P-face’s propaganda), as I have heard more than one person surmise,? Or are they collaborators? I’m not sure it matters, at this point. Not to the dead Ukrainians, that’s for sure.
* * *
Department Of Thanks For The Imagery
Dateline: Saturday, March 26; circa 7:45 am; morning walk; listening to the People I Mostly Admire podcast’s latest episode: No One Can Resist A Jolly, Happy Pig. Host Steven Levitt is interviewing naturalist and author Sy Montgomery, who gets the following introduction on the PIMA website:
My guest today is bestselling author and naturalist Sy Montgomery. The Boston Globe describes her as “part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson.” Her best-known book is The Soul of an Octopus, which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015. But she’s written about everything from tarantulas to hyenas to hummingbirds to pink dolphins. And as far as I can tell, she’s fallen in love with every one of them.
Levitt asks Montgomery how she got to where she is, in her profession – combining her two loves, of journalism and animals. Montgomery talks about visiting various people she knows who devote their lives to studying some obscure species, including a friend who is currently studying “the southern hairy-nosed wombat”…
…which caused moiself to actually speak the following picture’s caption aloud. To moiself, but ALOUD.
“Hey, Buford, y’all going to the barn dance tonight?”
* * *
Department Of Dietary Motivations
Back to the above-referenced podcast: Montgomery’s years of study of numerous animal species has caused her to refer to these animals as “people” (in aggregate) or “somebody”in particular. She explains her vocabulary choice: not only do many of the scientists who study these animals attribute consciousness and emotion to them, but scientists who study animal brains consistently find the same or remarkably similar neurotransmitters and hormones that, in primates such as our homo sapiens selves, are responsible for the production and transmission of emotions.
Montgomery and Levitt had an interesting back-and-forth about such discoveries and attributions. (Excerpts from their discussion; my emphases.)
LEVITT: Now, I’m no expert on ethology, which is the study of animal behavior, but I suspect that the scholars in that area might be upset by your books…. I’m sure they would consider it a no-no to anthropomorphize animals, but that’s not even exactly what you do. You speculate about the unique ways each creature might experience the world. Am I right that some scientists complain that you go too far in that direction?
MONTGOMERY: It’s not so much the scientists, but sometimes it’s the philosophers because they want humans to be the top of everything. Now, it is true that in science they use different words than I would use. Of course, in their scientific journals, they have different readers than I’m going to have, but things have changed a bit since, for instance, Jane Goodall first published her findings about tool use in chimps. No one wanted to publish that groundbreaking paper because she named her chimps instead of numbering them.
LEVITT: Woah. Uh-huh.
MONTGOMERY: Now things have changed…. There actually is a field of study that’s looking into animal personalities. I went on a personality survey with some of the top octopus researchers in the world…The person who headed that study…was the one who pointed out to me that if we fail to talk about emotions in animals, we are overlooking a central fact of neurobiology. And that is that every animal that has ever been studied, when you try to look for the hormones or neurotransmitters responsible for all of our feelings, like joy and fear, like stress and love, we find the exact same neurotransmitters. Even in taxa as different from ourselves, as octopuses, from whom we have been separated for half a billion years of evolution.
LEVITT: The scientific, conventional wisdom for decades, hundreds of years, insisted that humans were unique on so many dimensions, like consciousness, the use of tools, ability to problem solve. Do you have a take on how these past scientists just got things completely wrong?
MONTGOMERY: Yeah. I think it’s human supremacy, just like white supremacy. We wanted to be at the top, which would justify our exploitation of everybody else….
LEVITT: Here’s something I strongly suspect will happen. When people look back in a hundred or 200 years, they will be shocked and dismayed at the cruelty that our society subjects animals to with factory farming. Do you agree?
MONTGOMERY: A hundred percent. We will be appalled. And that’s why I became vegetarian years ago. Now there are farms that raise animals and slaughter animals in a more humane way, but I’m still delighted that I’m not eating them.
LEVITT: You made a really powerful case for the wonder of pigs. Do you think for people whose goal it is get away from factory farming that maybe the strategy they should be taking is trying to teach people about the wonderful personality that pigs have?
MONTGOMERY: Oh, I have gotten so many letters from people telling me that my book was the end of their bacon. And also, after Soul of an Octopus, many people wrote and said, “You know what? I used to love to eat octopus. I don’t eat it anymore.”
I love food and I love making food, but the taste of that item is on your tongue for less than a minute before you swallow something else. And for someone to lose their life for a taste on your tongue, that just seems like an enormous waste when there’s so many other delicious and nourishing things that we could have and not take away somebody’s life, somebody who thinks and feels and knows.
* * *
Department Of Inquiring Minds Want To Know
“She holds a PhD in neuroscience, but I couldn’t find whether she ever actually worked as a neuroscientist. It’s obvious that her understanding of ‘strong science’ doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. I doubt if she reads Science-Based Medicine or understands the principles we go by.” ( Harriet Hall, MD aka “The SkepDoc”  )
Any claim that has the word “actually” in it must be true.
Moiself saw a commercial the other day in which Mayim Bialik, the child actor turned adult actor turned part-time Jeopardy host, has apparently now become a vitamin supplement shill. The ad was for Neuriva-Plus, a supplement which, its manufacturers claim, can make you smarter by increasing brain levels of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF, and shame on you for thinking that the acronym refers to some kind of S & M practice).
Why should you trust the celebrity who is promoting such a product? Well, you silly goose, because the ad begins thusly:
“I’m Mayim Bialik, and I love brains. It’s why I became a neuroscientist.”
“Neuriva Plus is backed by strong science — yes, I checked it myself —
and it combines two clinically tested ingredients that help support six key indicators of brain health.”
Not only does Bialik claim to be a neuroscientist, in another, longer Neuriva ad she describes herself as, “America’s favorite neuroscientist”
Bialik went to college, studied neuroscience at UCLA, took a break from studies to return to acting, returned to school to earn her Doctor of Philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA, had two children, then went back to acting.  But nowhere in her (admittedly impressive) resumé can I find any reference to her working in the field of neuroscience.
I’m not concerned about how many reputable sources, including Psychology Today, have called the product Bialik is endorsing “Neuriva nonsense” and “just another snake oil.” Moiselfassumed that from the get-go.
Rather, I’m curious about the validity of her claim to be a “neuroscientist” when she doesn’t appear to be doing neuroscience. She studiedneuroscience; I get that. But she’s not doingneuroscience.
If you go to law school, get your law degree ( a J.D. in the USA ), then become a carpenter – i.e., for whatever reasons you decide you want to earn a living crafting furniture and do not practice law, either with a firm or in a partnership or by “hanging out your shingle” (solo practice) – is it accurate to say about yourself,
“I actually am a lawyer.”
“Don’t blame this one on me. You want snake oil? I’ll show you some snake oil.”
* * *
Punz For The Day Snake Oil Edition
Which snakes are best at mathematics? Adders.
I got mugged by a cobra when I was walking through the park. I told the police I couldn’t recognize it in a lineup, as it was wearing a hood.
Why don’t rattlesnakes drink coffee, or any caffeinated beverages? Because it makes them viperactive. 
What do you call a snake that builds houses? A boa constructor.
* * *
May you never feel compelled to refer to yourself as an “actual” anything; May you have fun imagining a southern hairy-nosed wombat; May you be delighted by those creatures which you choose not to eat; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
Hall is a retired family physician who researches and writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices.
Content warning: Despite the date, and one or two moments of comic relief,  this is probably the most serious and personal blog post I have written. No foolin.’
* * *
Department Of Worst April Fool’s Day Ever
The following took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – twenty-one years ago today, April 1, 2001. Background info: MH and I and our offspring, K and Belle, were members of a local church.  Within the past seven weeks we’d celebrated K’s eighth birthday, and Belle’s fifth.
* * *
At approximately 12:20pm, Sunday, April 1, 2001, MH and I were in the ___ (church name) Fellowship Hall’s kitchen, doing cleanup after coffee hour. K and Belle were playing with other children outside, in the church’s courtyard. Belle found a hypodermic syringe (“A shiny toy,” as she later described it to me) on the grass under the bushes next to a play-shed in the courtyard. She picked up the syringe, which was capped, but the syringe’s needle — which was sticking out at an angle from under the side of the cap — poked her in her right thumb. She dropped the syringe and walked away.
K had seen Belle pick up something and then quickly drop it. He went over to where she had been, saw the syringe, and picked it up. He intended to take it upstairs to MH and I, to show us what Belle had touched…then he also got stuck by the needle (in his left thumb) when he picked up the syringe.
K came into the kitchen, holding the syringe. He told us that he’d found “this thing on the grass” and that he’d accidentally stuck himself with it. Before K had finished his sentence MH whisked the syringe from K, and recapped it (K said he took the cap off *after* the needle stuck him, as he wanted us to see exactly what it was that had stuck him, but that the syringe had the cap ON when he picked it up).
I rushed K to the sink, quickly but thoroughly washed his thumb, and told MH to get Belle and meet us at the hospital. We had our two cars with us; I wrapped the syringe in several paper towels and ran down the back stairs of the hall with K in tow, telling him that we were going to the Tuality Hospital ER (which is less than half a mile from the church).
At this time MH and I did *not* know that Belle had also – and first – been stuck by that same syringe’s needle.
MH found Belle standing in the entrance to the Fellowship Hall, crying and holding her thumb, which was bleeding. MH asked another child, who was lying on a couch in the entrance, what was going on. The kid glanced at Belle and casually replied, “Oh, she cut herself.” MH asked Belle what happened; she said that “a knife” she found in the courtyard had cut her finger.
I’d parked on the street by the entrance to the Fellowship Hall. Just as I was about to pull away from the curb MH ran to my car, pounded on the window, opened the door and practically threw Belle in the back seat, next to K. MH told me about Belle’s thumb as he strapped Belle into her car seat; we tried to get more out of her, but she was very upset. She didn’t want to say that it was the needle which had cut her, but K said that it was, and then Belle confirmed this.
All of this — from the moment K came up to the kitchen with the syringe to MH running with Belle to the car — took place in less than two minutes. I squeezed Belle’s thumb to get more blood out, gave her a tissue to hold over her thumb, and drove to the ER, with MH arriving in our other car about four minutes after the kids and I did.
The bad news:
…was what had happened. Of particular concern was the fact that the syringe was from an “unknown source,” which is hospital jargon for, “We don’t have the syringe’s user to test.” However, as the hospital personnel  – and our own instincts and experience told us – as far as what the syringe had been used for, we should assume the worst. Translation: the syringe had been used to inject a person or persons with illegal drugs; it had not been left there by a diabetic who on the spur of the moment decided to adjust his blood sugar/insulin ratio in our church’s courtyard’s bushes. (Coincidentally, earlier that morning I’d been told by the church groundskeeper that the previous day, members of our church had done a cleanup of the church grounds, removing beer cans and trash from under and around the bushes in the courtyard, where the groundskeeper had occasionally found “vagrants and street people partying.”)
Hospital personnel told us the syringe was likely used to inject its user(s) with a certain kind of heroin (“Mexican brown”) and/or methamphetamine, which, for “street users,” were the injectable drugs of choice both the hospital and the police were seeing at that time. Although we brought the syringe with us (and could detect a micro-microscopic drop of fluid inside of it), we were told that there was nothing the hospital could test it for. In fact, it was hospital policy notto test it, for among other reasons, the false reassurance of any false negative results (which they would likely get, as there was no way to determine how long the syringe had been there).
The relatively good (or at least, less bad) news:
-Both kids’ immunizations were up to date, including for Hepatitis B.
-Although there were no vaccinations for Hepatitis C and the other rare strains (D, E, F), risk of transmission for those infections, in that kind of possible exposure, were negligible… Also, those strains of hepatitis were rarely seen in Oregon at that time (Hepatitis A is not transmitted via needle sticks).
-The syringe had a small gauge needle; thus, the possibility of a significant “viral load” transmission was small.
-HIV, the big fear factor at the time, is a very fragile virus. Despite its many mutations it can survive only a few hours (if that) outside a host body.
The children were seen by P.A. ____, who examined them and then spoke with us about what happened. Over the next three-plus hours, the P.A. consulted via telephone with Drs. E___ and L___ at Emmanuel Hospital’s Infectious Disease and Pediatrics Infectious Disease departments, with our pediatrician’s on call group, and with other physicians at the CDC. 
We were told (by the P.A. and a Tuality ER physician) that HIV prophylaxis treatment was something we should consider, for both K and Belle. We did, and decided against it, with the following information in mind:
– None of the doctors consulted would strongly recommend that we start either K or Belle on prophylactic treatment for possible HIV exposure, given the parameters of the particular accident/incident, nor was such treatment the recommended protocol for that kind of possible exposure.
– MMR (Morbidity & Mortality Report) statistics showed no transmission of disease had been recorded to have occurred in “this kind of injury,” in Oregon.
– Risk of transmission of HIV was estimated to be less than 1%; risk of side effects from AZT or other prophylactic HIV treatments definitely exceeded 1%.
K and Belle had blood drawn at the hospital for baseline HIV and Hepatitis titers, and we were given scripts to have the tests repeated at intervals of two, four, and six months. The P.A. suggested, for our own peace of mine, that we do another test at twelve months (although that was not the official recommendation).
Department Of The Aftermath
At one point, sitting in the ER exam room with MH and the kids, I remembered noting the date and thinking, “If only this were an April Fool’s joke….”
The above was the Dragnet (“Just the facts, ma’am”) version of the incident, which I sent to family, and wrote for our own records. I left out the emotions experienced by K, Belle, MH, and myself, which you can probably imagine (and which took me months to forget).
We were at that ER for hours. We waited, while the P.A. consulted with various specialists and/or waited for them to return his calls and periodically came into the exam room we occupied, to update us. All the adults were (trying to be) calm. The ER seemed understaffed, to me (a hospital staff member later told me it was unexpectedly busy “for a Sunday afternoon”). Even so and speaking of the afternoon, I wish one of the staff would have thought to offer our kids some food. It was lunch time when the accident happened, and a little after 4 pm when we got out of there. MH and I were too adrenalized to be hungry and, in our state of shock and with possible scenarios and outcomes running through our minds, we forgot that the kids, of course, were hungry ). I finally had the presence of mind to realize this, and got someone to bring them some sugary drinks, which made them both happy.
Waiting, waiting, waiting…. We bummed drawing supplies (paper and pens) from a nurse, to keep the kids amused or at least distracted, while hospital staff checked with one another and called various experts. We shut the door to the exam room we were in and talked loudly to the kids when an accident victim with a fractured femur was brought into the ER (we were mostly successful in muffling the victim’s cries of pain, which echoed down the ER hallway).
MH’s cousin is a pediatrician and her husband an epidemiologist; MH used some of the waiting time to call her (she lived on the East coast). She was very reassuring. She told us that, to her knowledge and after checking her sources, there were no cases of someone “sero-converting” – i.e., going from a negative HIV test to a positive – after having “that kind” of accident (being stuck with a needle which had likely been used and discarded several hours before the stick-accident).
Okay; yes; this is good. But, if this is common knowledge, why is this taking so long?
Why all the consults – are they preparing detailed information for us,
for a prognosis we don’t want to hear?
We had plenty of time, sitting/waiting/pacing in that exam room, to imagine the worst. I had worked for nine years in the women’s reproductive health care field but been away from the medical world for almost as many years and hadn’t kept up with “things.” HIV, despite its ability to mutate rapidly, was – or had been – a very fragile virus. Perhaps new strains had developed, which I was unaware of – new mutations which could survive hours outside a host body? I thought that unlikely, thus; actually, my main concern was not HIV.
I was more troubled to think that the kids might have been infected by one of the new strains of hepatitis that seemed to be cropping up left and right. When I’d worked at Planned Parenthood, just before MH and I moved up to Oregon, I’d had a needle stick accident,  and had to go through the routines of initial HIV/hepatitis blood tests, getting the Hep B vaccine series,  then follow-up HIV and hepatitis tests at two, four, and six month intervals.
Meanwhile, back in the ER…. Finally, a little before 4 pm, the ER staff attending to our case had documented it to their satisfaction. We needed the kids to each have their blood drawn for the first round of tests, and then we could go home. MH and I and the hospital personnel tried to be as straightforward – and as nonchalant – with the kids as possible. “Everything is going to be all right, we just have to do one test (which…er, yeah…will involve another needle stick)….”
K tried to be brave. He was old enough that we could explain the hospital procedures to him, how they’d need to draw a small amount of blood for a test. Did he think he could cooperate? His lower lip trembled as he nodded yes. He sat in my lap, I hugged him, and he hid his head under my arm when they drew his blood sample. For each of the subsequent, follow-up blood draws (at two, four and six months after the incident), K got better at handling the needle poke (he even watched the last one, instead of turning his head to the side!).
Belle’s reaction was…almost feral.
What a difference three years makes, especially for younger children, in terms of experience and comprehension. Looking back, I realize that Belle was also being brave, in a different way – in defense of herself. She did not understand why she had essentially been held captive for hours; she did not understand the need for the tests the adults were trying to explain to her. She understood that she had already been injured by one needle, and she was determined not to let that happen again.
The hospital personnel were kind and patient with her, but despite their assurances that they would use the tiniest needle possible (“The size we use on preemies,” a nurse told me) Belle became unhinged. Even her beloved daddy could not get her to cooperate, nor could he restrain her. Finally, in order to safely draw her blood, the hospital staff put her in what I can only describe as a full body straitjacket. It was a device/garment I’d never seen before,  and it provided me with one brief moment of levity in that dreary afternoon (I had to leave the exam room for a moment, to stifle my giggles).
The follow-up blood draws were, for Belle, not much better (although full body restraints were not necessary). For years after that ER visit Belle maintained a visceral fear of needles. Routine vaccinations were…stressful, to put it mildly, for Belle, her parents, and her pediatrician.
Despite Belle’s fear of needles (which had not been present before the trip to the ER), neither she nor K seemed to carry any long-term trauma from the needle stick accident. They also barely displayed any short-term distress. By the morning after they seemed to have accepted what the adults had told them (it was an accident; everything is going to be fine), and it was almost as if the accident hadn’t happened.
The night we came home from the ER they both fell asleep even quicker than usual (fatigued from the excitement, was my guess). Oh, to have that short term memory dump capability, I remember thinking. Meanwhile, as our children dozed in blissful ignorance, MH and I sat upright in our bed, eyes abuzz from our respective adrenaline overdoses.
“What just happened?”I said to MH. “I feel like – like I should attack something. I’m all geared up for battle, but there’s no one to fight.”
* * *
When the option for prophylactic HIV treatment had been offered to us, I thought:
Is this the day our lives change forever?
I hoped the medical personnel were going to advise *against* such treatment; instead, they’d presented the pros and cons, and left the decision to us.
I’d already decided that, unless there were compelling evidence to do so, no way was I going to agree to poison my kids to play the odds. During some of the down time in the ER exam room I’d chatted with the kindly if seriously-demeanored P.A., and discovered that he too was a parent. After he and a hospital physician had presented the HIV treatment option to MH and I, I waited until the physician left the room, then asked the PA,
“What would *you* do, if this had happened to *your* children?”
He paused, and I continued.
“I know you’re not supposed to answer that kind of question, but please?”
The P.A. nodded at me, in a way I can only describe as respectful, and I saw the brief flicker of a smile cross his eyes for the first time since he’d met us. No, he said, if it were his children, he would not opt for the HIV prophylaxis.
* * *
Thanks to the merciful element known as “the passing of Time,” the distress of that day has morphed, for me, into having an impassive remembrance of what happened without having to relive how it “felt.” Years will pass without me thinking about the accident, and then something will remind me.
One such reminder came via a local public television show I saw a few years ago, which featured an interview with an activist who “represented” an encampment which homeless people had been setting up in a Portland neighborhood. The encampment was in an area which had been designated as a wildlife corridor; homeowners living near the corridor were disgusted and alarmed by the encampment’s accumulating trash, habitat destruction, and crime. The activist/representative said that the camp occupants were policing themselves – she looked directly into the camera and declared that they had a strict, no drugs/no alcohol policy.
Local news reported that within days of authorities evicting the campers, the encampment resembled an EPA-declared toxic waste dump. City employees and volunteers who cleared out the hundreds of pounds of garbage the campers had left behind had to wear special gloves and protective garments, as the trash included – surprise, “self-policing” activist/representative! – drug paraphernalia, including contaminated syringes and needles.
When I read that follow-up story I was right back to that day – back to the moment when MH ran up to my car, carrying our frightened five-year-old in his arms; back to the moment when I realized that *both* of our children had been stuck by a hypodermic needle; back to the moment when, as surely as I could sense my own pulse hammering in my carotid artery, I felt as if my “spirit” were draining out of my skull, down through my chest and gut and legs, and exiting my body through the soles of my feet. And no, this is not a florid way of saying I peed my pants (which I didn’t). The sensation was so vivid, I later checked my car’s floormat for…something (I didn’t really know what I was looking for).
Several months passed before the needle stick accident wasn’t the first and last thing I thought of every day. Some mornings with stoic acceptance and some nights with fierce, Samuel L. Jackson-style defiance (“C’mon, just try and hurt us again, you needle-discarding, muthaF#&%?! ass#@&%* !”), I’d contemplate the fact that there are so many things out of a parent’s control. Seemingly apropos of nothing, I would find myself ruminating on the plethora of shit, be it circumstantial, biological, genetic, or whatever, that I could neither anticipate nor control, but which could harm K and Belle.
I eventually made peace with the reality that generations of parents before me had recognized:
Your life can change in an instant;
your love for your children may be river deep and mountain high,
but it cannot protect them from everything that might harm them….
including random fate and their and other peoples’ (and your own) mistakes.
One day, several months after the NS accident and after things had returned to the proverbial normal, I was out running errands with Belle. We were at a crafty-type store, getting supplies for her preschool project, and she had to pee. The store’s restroom was a fairly large, handicapped access room. After Belle flushed the toilet and began to move to the sink to wash up, she exclaimed, “Look!” and reached for a shiny object lying on the floor, to the side of the toilet.
I had my first ever out-of-body experience: I watched as a hand (that was apparently my own) reached out with lightning speed and slapped Belle’s hand just before she touched the object; I heard a banshee’s voice from the bowels of the hells I don’t believe in bellow from my mouth:
” NO NO NO NO NO !!! Don’t EVER pick up ANYTHING when you don’t know what it is – didn’t you learn ANYTHING from the accident ?!?!? “
It took a stunned two seconds for first Belle and then me to burst into tears, and a nanosecond after that for me to apologize to her.
* * *
May you never have a similar story to tell; May you make peace with life’s realities but do your damnedest anyway; May you remember to ask for something to eat and drink when you’re stuck in an ER room for hours; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Thank you for the inspiration, Samuel L. Jackson.
 One of the more (if not most) liberal of the Protestant denominations. Yes, this foulmouthed expressive atheist and her family were active church members.
 The P.A., doctors, and nurses we saw during our ER stay.
 He had also spoken with at least two other Tuality hospital physicians, one of whom, along with the P.A., presented the HIV prophylactic treatment option to us. We also had several nurses (in and out of the exam room where we and the kids waited) who never introduced themselves.
 Although, oddly enough, neither of them said anything to us about it…which I attribute to them being intimidated by the surroundings.
 This happened as I was doing a finger poke blood draw from a high-risk (multiple sexual partners; IV drug user) patient: I poked myself with the same lancet I’d just used on the patient, as I was transferring the lancet to the sharpie container. It was a move I’d done a hundred times, only that time I somehow managed to stick myself as I grabbed the sharpie container. To this day, I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ll never forget how the patient looked at me and said, “Uh oh.”
 Which I should have had anyway…but I’d kept putting off for time/scheduling reasons.
 Then a few months later, in a veterinary setting, I saw a similar garment used to restrain a fractious cat!
Department Of The Fail-Safe Therapy Tool For Kids Of All Ages
Before I commence to deal with some Serious Subjects ® , I’m going to play for a few seconds with the farty putty (aka, “noise putty”) device MH got me as a Christmas stocking stuffer. ‘Tis such a primal amusement, and also an effective stress reliever. I think the American Psychological Association should recommend it to their counselors, to have on hand for sessions that get really intense: “It’s time for a farty putty break.” 😉
Lest you think moiself jests about its therapeutic applications, feast your eyes on this, from the National Autism Resources website (my emphases):
“Kids of all ages love to play with noise putty! It has an unusual squishy texture that you can squeeze between your fingers. Push it back into its jar and listen to it make funny, gastronomical sounds. Use it to work on fine motor skills….”
And not to worry, for y’all who consider yourselves to be technically-challenged. It even has handy-dandy instructions:
* * *
Department Of Not Up To Their Previous Standards
Moiself is referring to the latest installment of Serial, the Peabody award-winning investigative journalism podcast (developed by This American Life) which made a name for itself in the past ten or so years with its episodic, documentary-style presentation of compelling non-fiction stories. Past seasons included an investigation of the 1999 murder an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, and an in-depth look at what happened to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, an American Army soldier who was held for five years by the Taliban, then charged with desertion.
The Trojan Horse Affair,Serial’s latest installment, claims to take a closer look at the 2013 scandal in England which involved claims of a conspiracy to introduce Islamist tenets into several schools in Birmingham – claims which were set out in an anonymous letter  sent to Birmingham City Council. TTHF is hosted and reported by American veteran producer Brian Reed and a novice journalist, Hamza Syed, a British doctor-turned-reporter from Birmingham, England.
“This is my first story as a journalist. I don’t plan for it to be my last story as well, but given what’s happened in the years I’ve been working on this, it probably will be.” ( Hamza Syed, from his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air 2-15-22)
Syed’s provocative quote, and my enjoyment of Serial’s previous installments, got me interested in listening to the series. After having done so, I’ve concluded that if, indeed, TTHA turns out to be Syed’s last story as a journalist it won’t be because of his concerns, both overt and implied, of anti-Muslim prejudice against him. It will be because he proved to be a lousy reporter.
Besides displaying a rather volatile temper, Syed made a major faux pas which cast doubt on the integrity of his methods and motives, and on his ability to distinguish between his personal identity and an investigation’s subject matter.
“Long story short” territory: In a latter episode of the TTHA series (# five or six, I think, of eight total episodes) it was revealed that, at one point in Syed’s and Redd’s investigation, Syed, frustrated with being unable to get sources to confide in him, played the Muslim card:  Syed wrote a letter to a potential interviewee (a Muslim man), saying he has never believed the accepted narrative around the case, nor many of the people involved in the investigations around it, and that his (Syed’s) identity as a Muslim takes precedence for him in his investigation.
MH and I each (separately) listened to the podcast, and each of us had similar, jaw-dropping reactions to what Syed had done. Given the opportunity to provide feedback to Syed, I’d have phrased my reaction thusly:
Why should I take *anything* from you seriously, when you’ve just admitted that you do *not* have journalistic integrity at heart, in a story that especially demands it?
Like the evangelical creationist who admits he views science through the lens of how he interprets Christian scriptures, you have told a person – from whom you are trying to get information – that, like him, you are ultimately and firstly a Muslim.
Now, were you lying to get him to trust you? Or were you telling the truth? Either way, I can take nothing you say or do as if it were coming from a serious journalist striving for truth, integrity, and objectivity.
Despite our respective shock and disgust at what the reporter had done, both MH and I found the TTHAstory intriguing, and continued to listen to the rest of the series. But we weren’t the only ones to have an issue with it, and with more matters than its rookie journalist’s whopping boner of a tactic. There was also the assumption the series seemed to take, from the beginning of the podcast: that anti-Islamic sentiment was behind and/or ultimately responsible for *everything* in the scandal. Accusations (including incidents of verifiable and disturbing behaviors  ) about sexism, anti-LGBTQ teachings, and child abuse on the part of some Muslim men – alarms raised by Muslim women – were mentioned in several TTHA episodes, in marginal ways, then dropped.
We weren’t the only ones who were disturbed by this. To quote only one critique:
“The Trojan Horse Affair presents a one-sided account that minimizes child protection concerns, misogyny and homophobia in order to exonerate the podcast’s hero… In doing so, it breaches the standards the public have the right to expect of journalists, with cruel consequences for those it uses and abuses along the way.”
Nope. The WAPO writer refers to a documentary (among five nominees for this year’s Academy Award for best documentary feature) which takes place in India.
Indian politicians would have you believe that their country is a major power in the modern, 21st century world, yet they do the bare minimum to change aspects of their culture which hark back to 1500 BCE, when the caste system was established.
The good news: in India, one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism,  there is an astoundingly brave and persistent group of reporters committed to the ultimate tenet of good journalism: holding the powerful to account. What’s amazing about this group is that is it composed of people with inarguably the least amount of power in their country: Dalit (the lowest caste, aka “untouchables”) women.
“Writing With Fire“ is the documentary which tells the story of these reporters and their newspaper/news outlet, Khabar Lahariya (translation: “News wave”). Moiself urges you to see it (streaming on Amazon, and available via other venues).
” In India’s millennia-old caste system, Dalits fall entirely outside the structure. Once pejoratively referred to as ‘untouchables’…over centuries Dalits have remained oppressed by tradition and the rest of Indian society.
‘I tell my daughters, their caste identity will always follow them. This is how our society is structured, but it’s important to keep challenging the system,’ says Meera Devi, the outlet’s chief reporter who is the main protagonist of the film.
But day after day, the women defiantly expose sexual violence against women and the corruption of illegal mining operations in rural India.
‘We don’t trust anyone except you. Khabar Lahariya is our only hope,’ the husband of a woman who has been repeatedly raped by a group of men in their village tells Devi in one of the rare moments in the film in which a man acknowledges the organization’s value and impact.”
Writing With Fire has a bajillion  story levels to it (other than that of the newspaper itself and the stories it covers), including the reporters’ uphill battle against centuries of patriarchy, and gender and caste prejudice. It’s also an excellent briefing on what makes a good journalist, in any culture.
Some standout moments of the film, for moiself, include:
* Two of the reporters, while preparing a meal, are discussing questions they will be asking of participants in an upcoming election. One reporter asks the other,“Tell me something honestly, why do we call our country ‘mother India?’ Why celebrate the country as a mother?…. I get very irritated watching the celebrations on TV glorifying our democracy. But where is the democracy? Neither are we a democracy, nor are the women free.”
* Later in the documentary one of the more the most promising young journalists of Khabar Lahariya is interviewed about her having to leave the newspaper. She’d spoken earlier about not wanting to succumb to the pressure to get married, and about what happens to women in her society. And then…
“What can I say? At one point I thought of not getting married at all. Many things were on my mind. So I thought, why get married? But I’m under a lot of pressure. I need to protect my parents, because being a single woman is not an option here.
People are questioning my integrity as well as my family’s. They were saying that they (her family) want to live off my earnings, ‘…and at night your daughter…’ It tortures the family and creates a lot of tension. So I realize marriage is inevitable. I don’t want to be the cause of my family suffering. Let’s think that whatever will happen will be for the best. Things have a way of working out, and that’s what I’m hoping for….” (She pauses, shakes her head, holds back tears) “I’m finding it difficult to speak anymore.”
The film depicted scenarios both horrendous, and uplifting, depressing and emboldening, What affected me the most? It wasn’t…
* the husbands and families of these brave journalists showing lackluster (if any) support for their work;
* the frustrations of the reporters trying to learn and use digital technologies when most of them have never been able to afford a cell phone, and then, when they are issued smart phones and/or touchscreen tablets by the newspaper, they can’t charge the equipment because their homes lack electricity;
* the rising influence of the Anti-Muslim bigot Hindu nationalist, Prime Minister Modi, and the prevalence of his inflammatory rhetoric using that most unholy of alliances – politics and religion;
* the danger and threats (physical, emotional, and sexual) the women face; nor the way way sexual slurs are used to try to cow and humiliate them and their families…
One small, domestic scene really got to me, probably because I took it to be illustrative of what these reporters, as women in a seemingly women-denigrating culture, have to deal with: with the shouldand should not limitations all women face, in a world still dominated by patriarchal attitudes.
The scene took place early in the morning. Meera Devi, who like her Khabar Lahariya peers has worked all the previous day (and well into the night), is braiding her daughter’s long hair before school. Like all of her married reporter peers, the vast majority (if not all) of household tasks fall upon Devi, even as she works full-time out of the home. Her daughter is insisting on two braids (“plaits”), as Devi wearily (if good-humoredly) grumbles about not having time for that…one plait should be enough. But the daughter pleads, telling her mother that she will be (and has been) scolded at school if her mother doesn’t do her hair in two plaits, “…because teacher says all girls should have two plaits.”
All girls should…. All girls are …. All girls must… All girls should never….
* * *
Department Of International Relations
MH and moiself are doing some much anticipated traveling overseas this summer. For some of the travel we’ll be in a Scandinavian tour group. The tour begins in Stockholm; following savvy traveler advice, I booked us rooms in a Stockholm hotel two days ahead of when the tour begins, so that we can adjust to the time difference and all that pickled herring and Swedish chefs, etc.
Moiself got an English translation while booking online, but the confirmation the hotel emailed to us was in Swedish. It began with a cheery greeting which I was mostly able to figure out, except that I transposed two letters in the fourth word, which made for an interesting impression/translation: “Tak För Din Bokning!”
Me, to Moiself: ” ‘Thanks for the bonking ?!?!? ‘ Wow – this really is an all-service hotel!”
Swedish inventors have created cyborgs which are hard to distinguish from real humans. Critics are concerned about the use of artificial Swedeners.
Why does the Swedish military put barcodes on their ships? So when the ships return to port they can scan da navy in.
My neighbor drones on and on about his notoriously unreliable Swedish sports car… It seems like a great big Saab story to me.
Did you hear about a new Broadway show that combines magic with Swedish pop songs? It’s called ABBA-Cadabra.
Mamma Mia, there she goes again.
* * *
May you enjoy the therapeutic applications of “funny, gastronomic sounds;” May you watch Writing With Fire (then maybe Spotlightand other journalism-themed movies) and appreciate the absolute necessity of a free press to a vital democracy; May you put on ABBA’s “Waterloo” and dance around your living room (you know you want to); …and may the hijinks ensue.
 Over forty journalists in India have been killed since 2014.
 Fortunately, the reporters of Khabar Lahariya, constrained as they are by sound journalistic principles, would never stoop to using such sensationalistic exaggerations as those employed by moiself.
 Later still there is footage of her at her wedding, in her wedding finery. Moiselfwanted to cry; I’ve never seen a more downhearted looking bride…or woman in almost any situation, for that matter. But, in the documentary postscript, it was reported that she had rejoined the newspaper several months after her marriage.
 Uh, that would be, booking, as in, booking a room with them. Nudge Nudge wink wink.
Department Of Sometimes The Blog Just Writes Itself
Dateline: 3-14 (Pi day). First thing in the morning, moiself receives this email (my emphases):
Hi Robyn! My name is Raine 
and I’m an Executive Assistant from Craniumz Magazine. 
I came across your profile and find what you do both inspiring and in line with our topics and audience.
Excusez-moi for this diversion…I just can’t help but pause for a bullshit snort. What I do is sonot in line with their “topics and audience.”
Back to the email:
We’re currently sourcing entrepreneurs for the opportunity to be registered as potential guest writers for free publicity opportunities, or to invite them as contributors for Craniumz Magazine. We’re also looking for inspiring coaches, leaders, and entrepreneurs who could be featured on The Craniumz Global Award List 2022 – a global list that will be released in June, and has featured names like Oprah Winfrey, Robin Sharma and Marisa Peer, to name a few. Is any of this something you would be interested in being considered for?
Best regards, Raine Latte
OMG, my chance to have my name be somehow associated with Oprah’s!! And two WTF people I know nothing about! I, of course, will drop everything, including common sense and any vestige of self-respect, to be exploited by have the honor of working with the Craniumz people who, according to their website, are a
“…Global Media Brand operated by ____ , a branding and digital media brand, with a focus on interviews, articles and information about business, mindset, innovation, leadership and lifestyles.”,
Holy bald-faced and obsequious ignorance. Indeed, if Ms. Raine came across my profile, she evidently didn’t follow it to/bother to check out my blog, which would clue her in as to how little I think of the concept of branding.
Nevertheless, moiself could not pass up the (FREE) opportunity to respond:
What is the compensation for guest writers
and/or contributors to Craniumz Magazine?
And if you came across my profile,
did you note that I am primarily a writer of fiction?
Hi Great to hear from you. My first email serves as an invitation for you to be one of our potential Guest Writers.
Our Guest Writers get FREE access to opportunities that we have in the group such as free articles, podcast hosting, interviews and a chance to be on the list of awards – Craniumz 500 Global List & Global Award. Guest writers are encouraged to participate in the opportunities posted every week for them to get selected for free publicity. They may also opt to submit their proposed topic, quote or article through firstname.lastname@example.org. If the Content Team find it interesting and matched the theme for the month, they will surely approach you for information.
Hope this helps. Best regards, Raine
I couldn’t just leave it at that:
Congratulations on your outstanding job of not answering my questions. Since the proverbial picture paints a thousand (FREE) words,
I’ll express my opinion on this matter via the pictorial presentation of the artist/writer known as The Oatmeal: 
* * *
Department Of How To Spot A Bot
I did not expect a response to the obvious disinterest – and inherent if not overt dis – contained in my last reply. Yet the artist formerly known as Bot program pretending to be a human called Raine sent me one more oblivious/form reply:
“I’m happy to hear you’re interested! If you have a spare minute now, it would be great if you could fill in your information in our contributor form, so that ____  can review your details for the publicity opportunities. It’s just a couple of quick questions….
Once your information has been reviewed, you’ll receive an email within 24 hours with the headline ‘Publicity in Craniumz Magazine’ with instructions and information about the opportunities. (This email sometimes ends up in the spam folder, so don’t forget to check it’s not hiding in there!) 🙂
Just let me know when you’ve submitted, and I’ll try to speed up the process. Looking forward to hopefully seeing more from you, as I think you would make a great addition to the Craniumz community! “
Except that, someone did.
* * *
Department Of St. Patrick’s Day Party Deferred
Dateline: Tuesday 3-17-20. At 6 pm the dinner party, with ten people total,  had been scheduled to commence. Anyone remember what else happened in mid-March,2020?
“I’ll take pandemics for $1000, Alex.”
I left the dining table as it was set – including moiself’s lavish centerpiece (a very large – we’re talking four pounds – potato sporting a green crown) – for many months after, in hope, or defiance? Come Autumn, when This Thing Looks Like It’s Going To Stick Around ® began to settle in my brain, I put away the plates and the cutlery, the napkins and the décor. The centerpiece, by then, had begun to mutate, much like the virus which caused its dethronement.
She took away my crown, so I’m growing my own.
If I were to throw a party now, it would be one to celebrate the foreign troops’ withdrawal from Ukraine. But seeing as how that Tin of Poo in charge of the Russian kleptocracy has an ego as large and skin as thin as those of our own #45…well, odds are he’s not going to leave quietly, ya know?
Moiself is not hopeful for either a quick or peaceful resolution to the mess the Russians have made in the Ukraine. I dread what Putin’s nose-thumbing, ass-licking, face-saving strategies could ultimately entail. But in my dreams, all things are possible:
“Oops, my bad! We’re leaving now.”
In the meantime, in an action about as effective in the long (or short) run as saying to the Ukrainians, “I’ll pray for you,” I’ve done the bare minimum to keep up the consciousness in my ‘hood.
And I hope readers, if you haven’t done so already, will join me in checking Charity Navigator for an above-board relief organization to aid the Ukrainians, and make a contribution. CN currently lists thirty-five organizations funneling relief aid to “The Ukrainian-Russian Crisis.” The organizations are grouped under the following headings: Medical Services; Medical Supplies; Non-Medical Supplies; Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH); Emergency Housing Long-Term Assistance; Other (inc. cash/cash vouchers, logistic supply, animals). 
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* * *
Department Of Nostalgia: Recalling My First Instruction In Deductive Reasoning
♫ Beans, Beans, the musical fruit The more you eat; the more you toot The more you toot, the better you feel So let’s have beans for every meal! ♫
* * *
Punz For The Day Musical Fruit Edition
Why did everyone notice when Bill Gates farted in the Apple store? Because the store didn’t have any Windows.
I didn’t pass gas in front of my husband until we got married. His family wasn’t impressed.
Life is so unfair – I just called the Flatulence Incontinence Hotline, and the woman who answered said, “Can you hold, please?”
Why doesn’t Chuck Norris fart? Because nothing escapes Chuck Norris.
When a clown farts, does it smell funny?
Clowns are NOT funny.
* * *
May you be entertained by bogus offers to link your name with Oprah’s; May you appreciate your first lesson in deductive reasoning; May you accept my belated slaintéon behalf of March 17; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 A real person, according to the magazines website staff listing, (I checked), but not her real name…although I have a feeling she is a bot/creation.
 A supposedly real magazine (I checked), but not its real title.
Charity Navigator is the world’s largest and probably best-known “nonprofit evaluator.” Itself a non-profit, CN analyses the integrity of a non-profit organization in financial terms, focusing on how much of contributed funds are used for the purpose(s) claimed by the charity, with an emphasis on the cost effectiveness (or impact) of the charity, its financial stability, adherence to best practices for accountability and transparency, and results reporting.
Tomorrow is the official day in my state, Oregon (and also Washington and California (Oregon) when the mask mandate is lifted. Excusez-moi; it’s actually/officially lifted “after 11:59 p.m. on March 11.” 
Recently I’ve overheard at least two conversations  wherein people were talking about having a mask-burning party to celebrate the lifting of the mandate. Moiself gathered that these parties were more about embracing reaching certain pandemic milestones, and were light-hearted, akin to the tradition of the celebratory mortgage-burning parties. These intended parties were to be nothing akin to the hostile, the anti-mask demonstrations held in certain areas of certain states during the past year, e.g. Idaho, where mouth-breathing child abusing ignoramuses red-staters taught their children to embrace their parents’ imbecility and anti-science stances:
“Parents cheered Saturday on the steps of the Idaho Capitol building as children threw handfuls of surgical masks into a fire. Far-right groups and some lawmakers held similar demonstrations in more than 20 Idaho towns, seizing on growing impatience with COVID-19 restrictions.
‘Hey fire, you hungry?’ asked one boy as adults watched him toss face coverings into a burn barrel. ‘Here’s another mask!’
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and state Rep. Dorothy Moon addressed the crowd of more than 100 people, standing behind a lectern on the Capitol steps. Nearby, a banner with the racist phrase ‘Wu Flu’ was draped over a replica Liberty Bell….
Idaho is one of 16 states that have not implemented a statewide mask mandate….
Idaho leads the Pacific Northwest in COVID-19 cases and death count per 100,000 residents. In the Gem State, people are dying at almost twice the rate of Oregonians, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.”
(“Mask burning rally in Idaho fans COVID-19 worries in Oregon” OPB 3-8-21)
Yeah, and not only that, those people are allowed to breed, and vote.
I don’t think moiself will be burning any masks any time soon. Rather, I’m going to pause and take a moment of gratitude for the lives that mask-wearing saved, as documented here and here (and also here and here, and….) and also be grateful for how wearing masks contributed to a record-low flu season during the COVID pandemic.
Nope; not gonna burn, gonna celebrate, I thought to moiself, while I was out walking a couple of “laps” around the movie theater I’d arrived at. I had 20 minutes before the show began, and as I walked I looked at my surroundings, as I am wont to do, and my eyes were drawn to a trash comparison. Walking along the sidewalks of the busy streets by the movie theater, as well as the non-busy back alleys, I noticed one distinctive bit of trash which rivaled cigarette butts in number: discarded facemasks.
When I think of all the excess trash the pandemic brought us, it frosts my butt. It seems like we’d just gotten people to bring their own reusable bags when shopping, and to even consider bringing their own reusable drinking straws and take out containers when dining out…then came COVID and the (unnecessary, it turns out) regressive turn, back to the one-use, discard-after-use, plastic everything. This increase in our trash made me almost as sad as the number of COVID deaths. I’m not exaggerating.
“The amount of plastic wastes generated worldwide since the outbreak
is estimated at 1.6 million tonnes/day. ( COVID pollution: impact of COVID-19 pandemic on global plastic waste footprint, Science Direct, 2-21 )
Moiself is not One Of Those People ® who rant and rave about self-checkout lines at the grocery (or other, but mostly grocery) stores – about how they are evil corporate plots to reduce employment (even though they probably are), or how they are bring us one step closer to Orwellian scenarios, or how they are just inefficient or whatever. I use the self-checkout option, occasionally to frequently, depending on the store. When I have a whole lotta items in my cart I’ll use the regular checkout lines…unless they are quite backed up, in which case I’ll do the time math in my head –
do I have more complex items which will require manual input and/or the self-checkout clerk’s attention – e.g. fresh produce and/or bulk items which require weighting and manual input of codes, wine – or primarily pre-packaged items, which I can scan almost as quickly as an experienced checker –
and pick one or the other.
Midway through the pandemic restrictions, the checkout clerks at New Seasons and I began joking about when the “return to normalcy” would begin, and what that normalcy would look like. The NS clerks always seemed somewhat apologetic about their store’s policy banning customers bringing their own/reusable bags. They were also one of the first stores to return to letting customers bring their own bags, and then one of the first to return to bagging customers’ purchases in the reusable bags.
Most of the other grocery stores I skulk around patronize have both regular and self-checkout options, the latter with no item limits (some still have a “15 items or fewer” option). But I’ve learned, even if there is a line of three carts ahead of me in the regular check outline, if I have a cartload of items it’s ultimately worth it to get in the regular checkout line.
Hmmm, which line….
The checkers are just more efficient – surprise! It’s what they do, all day long. And the logistics of the self-checkout stations…urgh. I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of times they have truly been *self*-checkout (as in, no store employee contact) for moiself, despite my having used the self-checkout option hundreds of times.
It seems like I can’t get through checking out my own groceries without needing the employee in charge of overseeing the self-checkout lines to come over (and input his or her magic code, or whatever) when my self-checkout scanning machine refuses to scan any further because:
* it didn’t register the proper weight of an item
* when I rearranged an already checked item in one of my bags, trying to make room for another item, it thinks I took some items out and didn’t put them back
* I need an age/ID verification for an adult beverage
* I need a verification on the weight of my bags after I checked the “I brought my own bags” option on the scanner and it didn’t register them because my bags are deemed either too light or too heavy
* after I get the okay for my bags and arrange them in the (inadequate) space allowed, one end of one bag slips over the edge of the counter, and thus the last item I placed in it doesn’t get its weight registered properly
* the organic beets I’m trying to buy have no UPC code/tag and are not listed in the “look up item” option on the scanner….
All of these and many more scenarios stop the scanner, and trigger the dreaded hopeful, “Help Is On The Way”message on the scanner’s screen. While waiting for the HIOTW employee to arrive I often look around at my fellow self-checkout-ers.. I see that they are also awaiting the same service; I see one of them shake his head and grumble that he’s been waiting for five minutes to get help because the loaf of the store’s freshly baked bread – FFS, he only has ONE item – lacks a scannable code, and the store’s self-checkout line overseer/employee is helping another customer scan their 985 coupons….
My favorites in the we-are-all-waiting-for-the-help-that-is-on-the-way group are the sweet and petite elderly women who wave their hands in a Yoo-hoo ® manner at store employees, optimistically yet incorrectly assuming that this will expedite the process.
Once again, I digress.
*Most* local stores have returned to allowing reusable bags, but why *all* have not returned to bagging a customer’s purchases using that customer’s reusable bag is a mystery to moiself. After all, this is what we’re all supposed to do – bring our own bags – right? There are a few grocery stores that, if you are in their regular checkout lines, will not bag your groceries if bring your own reusable bags. Yep, I’m talking to you, Albertsons (and Safeway…and since one chain bought the other several years back, I’m assuming this is the parent company’s policy).
At first, I thought it was a staffing issue. The last time I was at Albertson’s I decided to test this notion by going through a regular checkout line. There were two people and their respective cartloads ahead of me, and an employee other than the cashier stood at the end of the cashier stand, bagging the customers’ groceries in the store’s paper bags. So, they *did* have staff available to bag. When I unloaded my cart, placing my two reusable bags along with my groceries on the conveyor belt, the cashier pointed to my bags and asked me if I was “comfortable” bagging my own groceries.
Perhaps noticing the lack of enthusiasm in my, “ ‘Comfortable?’ Uh yeah…downright cozy” reply, the cashier followed up with, “We can’t do that” (indicating my reusable bags) because of “the COVID thing.”
Which is ridiculous.
“I told her I wasn’t going to touch her filthy reusable bags and the bitch done left me with her cartful of items.”
I did not tell her that her company’s policy is absurd, seeing as how she was a rank-and-file employee who was just following the store’s policy. But the other employee, the one who either was the bagger or was temporarily functioning as such, stepped aside, yet remained at the bagging station…to do what? I wondered, as I pushed my cart to the end of the checkout line and began to bag my groceries. So, you’re not going to bag my items, you’re going to…uh, provide them with an escort? Or chaperone me, while I bag them? Dude, what is your function?
Many months ago at the afore-mentioned NS market, when they were still not bagging your groceries if you bought your own bags, the checkers and I joked about how it was understandable to have such draconian policies, two year ago, at the very beginning of the pandemic, when people weren’t sure what COVID-19 was or how it was transmitted. But we’ve known for some time that COVID is an airborne virus. You are not going to get it from my woven grocery basket, nor from my reusable bag made of nylon or another synthetic materials.
I tried and (mostly succeeded) in not berating store employees for following their company mandates, no matter how *not*-based-in-reality such mandates were. There was one notable exception.
Several months into the pandemic moiself tried to donate cans of pet food to a local animal shelter. This is something I did periodically, although this particular trip was in response to moiself’s having read an article about how the shelter was going through tough times and needed donations for food and other basic animal care items. A volunteer at the shelter approached me as I began to lower my bags of canned food into the shelter’s donation bins – bins which were open, and at the entrance to the shelter, just as they had always been pre-pandemic. The volunteer apologetically said that the shelter would not take a donation of cans, “…because of COVID.”
Moiself: “Seriously? You *do* realize that you can’t get COVID from a can of cat food…don’t you?”
I immediately regretted my outburst response, apologized to the volunteer,  adding that I realized he was not personally responsible for such an idiotic, non-science-based overly-cautious policy. 
So, to reiterate: You (store clerk/business employee) are not going to get COVID from my reusable bag unless each component of the following scenario ensues:
* I, infected with COVID, am standing in your checkout line at your store.
* I feel a cough coming on, lift up my face mask, put my bag to my face, and hack and sputter into said bag.
* While bagging my groceries with the bag I brought and just coughed into, you – for reasons fathomable only by a highly perceptive mental health professional – grab that bag, lift your own mask, stick your finger into the glob of moist ejecta I coughed onto the bag, stick that finger in your nostril and inhale deeply and then, just to make sure, lick that same finger before proclaiming, “Just as I thought! Definitely NOT lime Jell-O.”
Neither are you, nor I, *not* are going to catch COVID because you, the checker, obsessively sprayed and wiped your checkstand’s conveyor belt between each customer.  Our mask-wearing, social distance-maintaining, hand-washing; our getting vaccinated and staying home when we’re ill – these are the actions that matter. However, store policies re obsessive cleaning are…well…policies. And when a policy is established, for reasons sound or otherwise, it tends to remain in place. ‘Cause, you know: Science. 
So, Albertsons, answer me this: Do your fellow grocery stores, your competitors – do all those other stores and their employees have a special dispensation or super powers which allow themprotection from those icky reusable bags which are out to contaminate your store’s employees?
Albertsons, hear this: It is safe for your baggers to use customer’s reusable bags. Update your policy. Either that or tell your “baggers” to get off their asses and move away if they’re not going to bag my groceries. I don’t need a chaperone or a witness while I do so. You could at least have them pretend to count the store’s supply of paper bags, or dust shelves or whatever, while I am doing what is supposed to be their job.
* * *
Department Of Sometimes I Amaze Even Moiself
Did I really just write over twenty paragraphs about the pesky  dilemma of grocery store bagging?
* * *
Punz For The Day Pundemic Pandemic Edition
I will tell you a Coronavirus joke now, but you will have to wait two weeks to see if you got it.
Why are four out of five fishermen *not* worried about COVD-19? Because they never catch anything.
What’s the difference between Covid-19 and Romeo and Juliet? One’s the coronavirus, the other is a Verona crisis
What will we call the kids who celebrate their thirteenth birthday
thirteen years after the start of the pandemic lockdown? The quaranteens.
Bonus Chuck Norris has been exposed to the COVID-19. The virus is now in quarantine for a month.
Special bonus Best pickup line, as overheard in a nursing home: Single elderly man says to single elderly woman, “If COVID doesn’t take you out, can I?”
* * *
May you never use “because of the COVID thing” as an excuse; May this post not be your (only) reason for avoiding lime Jell-O; May you remember to bring your reusable bags; …and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Lifted as in no longer mandatory in indoor public spaces and schools. Federal requirements still include masks on public transit.
 Had between apparent friends, in public spaces. And yes, I was keeping proper physical distancing. I wasn’t exactly eavesdropping; they were talking loudly and my mask did not cover my ears. Or, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
 As in, post-pandemic…as in, assuming what we had and did before was somehow “normal.”
 My longtime favorite store. Which does not (yet) have a self-checkout option.
Moiself used to volunteer at that same shelter.
 “They’ll take monetary donations,” he sheepishly responded. The “they,” I assume, meant the shelter staff.
 Now, wiping the belt after the previous customer’s raw beef dripped blood all over it and I’m going to put down my fresh produce on that very belt – YES! Thank you!
Active, reliable, sarcastic, affectionate, bipedal, cynical optimist, writer, freethinker, parent, spouse and friend, I am generous with my handy supply of ADA-approved spearmint gum and sometimes refrain from humming in public.