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The Subjects I’m Not Avoiding

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Department Of Are You Mortal?

Moiself, too.  So, why do we act as if we think are not?

I highly recommend the latest edition of the podcast Clear + Vivid. In a moving and candid conversation – frequently seasoned by laughter (which might be surprising to some, given the subject matter) – podcast host Alan Alda talks with his guest, author and Rabbi Steve Leder,  about the inevitability of death, and grief. These are subjects people usually avoid, which, Leder says, only adds to the losses people inevitably face in life.

At one point in their conversation, as Alda and Leder discussed the importance of acknowledging our mortality, Alda said,  “Talk some more about this. ‘Cause you still haven’t convinced me to die.”  Leder’s response, which prompted laughter from both men, was, “Well, I don’t have to.”

Leder has written a book (“The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift”) which Alda describes as “…a moving, inspiring and often funny book about the loss of loved ones.”  Although Leder has officiated at more than 1,000 funerals, he found his own preconceived notions of grief – what it is and “how” to do it – challenged when his beloved father died.

I love it when Someone With Experience And Authority ® confirms a suspicion I’ve had for years.  Thus, thank gawd (sez the atheist) that Leder disagrees with the “Five  [1]   Stages of Grief” mythology.  Leder says we have “been done a terrible disservice” with this idea that there are stages or phases of grief, which implies that grief is a linear process (“First you will deal with Stage A, then you will feel Stage B…”).

Grief is non-liner; Leder declares. It is much more analogous to waves:

“They come very close together and are very large at first. They do spread out, and sometimes you even get beautiful, calm seas for a day, a week, a month, a year…. And then sometimes, when your back is turned, there can be a massive wave of grief that takes you down.  And that is not ‘stages.’

Before my father died, what I used to say to people is, ‘Look, the most honest and helpful think I can say to you right now is that it won’t always hurt so much.’ And I don’t say that anymore.  Now I say, ‘It won’t always hurt so *often.*’ Because when it hurts, it hurts every bit as much.”

 

 

*  It’s who we have, not what we have, that matters.

*The beauty of the flower is that it fades.

*The meaning of life is that it ends.

* Understanding the ephemeral nature of life – choosing to acknowledge that we don’t have forever – makes things great and small (our children and friends; a hot fudge sundae) more precious, not less.

These and other observations which Leder shares and expounds upon are no less profound for their relative simplicity.  Check out the entire interview:  “Make the End a Beginning” Clear + Vivid.

 

Alda and Leder also have an interesting chat about what is revealed by what people put on their gravestones.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Reality Checks

As in, my attempt to provide one.  No doubt I will need one as well, if moiself  thinks that my feedback will either get a response (I doubt it/am not expecting it) or make a difference (I hope it will).

The following feedback was sent by moiself , earlier this week, to Shankar Vedantam, the science journalist and host of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain.

Dear Mr. Vedantam,

Love your show; regular listener here.  As per your interview on “Useful Delusions,” re your upcoming book of the same name, I cringed to hear you give credence, even in the context of how people respond to stress, to that  “…old proverb, ‘There are no atheists in the foxhole’….”

Yes, it is an old proverb. Old, insulting, and lousy – as in, inaccurate.

I wish you’d do a story on that.

An atheist-themed festival drew hundreds of people to an Army post in North Carolina on Saturday for what was believed to be the first-ever event held on a U.S. military base for service members who do not have religious beliefs.
Signs in support of atheism are seen during the “Rock Beyond Belief” festival at Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina March 31, 2012. The atheist-themed festival drew hundreds of people to Fort Bragg on Saturday for what was believed to be the first-ever event held on a U.S. military base for service members who do not have religious beliefs.
Organizers said they hoped the “Rock Beyond Belief” event at Fort Bragg would spur equal treatment toward nonbelievers in the armed forces and help lift the stigma for approximately 295,000 active duty personnel who consider themselves atheist, agnostic or without a religious preference.
Defense Department policy holds that all service members have the right to believe in any or no religion. But those gathered at the event described being ostracized and harassed in the military community for not believing in God and worried about getting passed over for promotions if their secularist stances were widely known.
( “Military nonbelievers’ event shows there are atheists in foxholes.” (Reuters)

Not only have there *always* been atheists in foxholes, the FFRF   [2]  periodically bestows an award, “Atheists in Foxhole,” to commemorate that fact:

“This award was suggested by Vietnam War vet…Steve Trunk, to combat the ridiculous myth that there are no “atheists in foxholes,” and, in particular, to recognize activism to defend the constitutional principle of separation between state and church which every soldier takes an oath to uphold.”

To repeat: there are and have always been “atheists in foxholes;” however, they often have compelling reasons to remain in the foxhole/closet while they serve in the military. Religion-free soldiers can feel that they face an equal or greater danger from their fellow soldiers and commanding officers than from enemy fire, if their religious comrades discover that they are not religious believers.

“When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.
But minutes into the talk, the officer…began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism….
Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them….
Specialist Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, filed suit in federal court in Kansas, alleging that Specialist Hall’s right to be free from state endorsement of religion under the First Amendment had been violated and that he had faced retaliation for his views. (Specialist Hall) was sent home early from Iraq because of threats from fellow soldiers.
( “Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats,” NY Times )

Staff Sgt. Richlin Chan, who served in Afghanistan, is an “Atheist in Foxhole” who was profiled in the FFRF’s newsletter, Freethought Today (June/July 2010). Chan told this story:

In 2007, a soldier named Jeremy Hall was threatened and persecuted by fellow soldiers and a higher-ranking officer for holding an atheist meeting in Iraq.  After a firefight in which a protective screen deflected enemy fire, his commander later asked him if he believed in god.  Jeremy responded, “No, but I believe in plexiglass.”

If you’re interested, other resources include the MAAF (Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers); “I was An Atheist in a Foxhole,” (American Humanist Association) ; “The US Military Has a Problem With Atheists,” (The Week);  “Military atheists seeking the rights and benefits offered to religious groups”(Stars and Stripes).

Yours in the never-ending battle to temper inaccurate proverbs with reality checks,

 

 

*   *   *

Lest you think my picking that certain nit   [3]  spoiled the podcast for me, it did not.  I found the (rest of the) episode (Hidden Brain: Useful Delusions) quite enjoyable.  Of particular interest to moiself  was Shankar’s exposition on the adaptive or “useful” effects that delusional thinking can have, as well as the phenomenon of “naive realism.”

Naive realism allows us to judge others for engaging in what we’d call delusional thinking, while we convince ourselves that we, even in the same position as a desperate person, would never, say, vote for a demagogue or buy a snake oil potion/miracle cure, etc.  Vedantam illustrates this with a personal story of his own.  Several months ago, while travelling several hours from his home, Vedantam suffered a retinal detachment.  He had to seek emergency medical care, without having time to check reviews or get recommendations for a doctor or weighs pros and cons of treatment options. He found a doctor who was willing to open his practice up at 9 pm and see him. The doctor said Vedantam had to have emergency surgery ASAP or he would lose his eyesight. And so, Vedantan did….

“…what all of us do, in positions of great vulnerability: I put all my faith and trust in this doctor. Now, as it turned out, he was a brilliant surgeon and he ended up saving my eye, for which I am profoundly grateful. But imagine for a moment that he had not been a brilliant doctor; let’s imagine if he had been a charlatan. Would it have been any less likely for me to put my faith in him? And I would argue the answer is no, because my faith in him did not arise because of what *he* did, my faith arose because of what *I* was going through.

I was going through a period of great vulnerability, a period of great fear. Trusting him made me feel better…. Expand this in all kinds of ways, and you can see why people sometimes gravitate to beliefs that are false, to demagogues and false prophets. It’s not so much because of the demagogues and false prophets, it’s because of their own vulnerabilities.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of My Favorite Euphemisms

Dateline: last weekend, listening to a podcast in which anthropologists discussed the DNA sequences found from human bodies in caves in Siberia, Spain, and Croatia.

What the anthropologists found shows evidence of human-Neanderthal interbreeding as far back as 100,000 years ago. What I found was a delightful, heretofore-unknown-to-moiself, synonym…genteelism…rewording.

According to scientists, early humans and Neanderthals engaged in

“gene flow events.”

Aka, sex.

This substitute term should be a relief to teens everywhere. Despite their legendary taking of delight in shocking their elders by singing along to salacious pop song lyrics, teens are notoriously squeamish, to the point of disgust, when it comes to even thinking about the fact that their parents might have hooked up with one another in order to produce their offspring.  Chill, Ethan and Emma: your mother and father didn’t get it on. They merely engaged in a gene flow event.

 

 

*   *   *

Department of, Bingo!

But when Abby and I announced our relationship, the first article…said, “Abby Wambach in love with Christian mommy blogger.”…So the rest of the world picked up that one  — and now on my tombstone, no matter what else I do, it’ll say Christian mommy blogger…. I feel like it’s the most misogynistic, ridiculous title ever. Because no male activist or New York Times bestseller is described as a daddy…or by his religion.
( Glennon Doyle, from the podcast, Sway, 2-25-21)

I’m somewhat new to Sway, but after listening to a few episodes I’m impressed with the variety of guests and topics.  Hosted by Kara Swisher, “Silicon Valley’s most feared and well-liked journalist,” the podcast’s focus is “power: who has it, who’s been denied it, and who dares to defy it.” In the episode whence the above quote, Swisher interviews Glennon Doyle, best-selling author and activist previously best known – or rather, labeled – as a Christian-LGBTQ-friendly blogger and “confessional” writer, and most recently getting (unwanted) tabloid-type attention in the past few years for divorcing her (cheating) husband and marrying US soccer star Abby Wambach.

The reason for Doyle’s interview On Sway was Doyle having been named by many of Joe Biden’s campaign strategists as the person whose campaign endorsement, they believed, would influence women the most. The part of the interview that interested me the most was when Doyle shared her reactions to the male-values-dominated worlds of publishing and book reviews and publicity.   [4]   Doyle rejects the labels that have been put upon her, including “self-help expert” and “mommy blogger,” as reductive and misogynistic. 

Doyle:
“…I think that it’s very often the case that when a man puts work out into the world, the world looks at the work and says, ‘Is this work worthy?’ And I think that when a woman puts work out into the world, the world looks at the woman and says, ‘Is this woman worthy of putting out work?’
For example, the first big article that was put out about (her new memoir) in a big newspaper, the headline was, ‘Glennon Doyle writes third memoir?’ Question mark, question mark.”

Kara Swisher:
“As if you shouldn’t have many memoirs in you. That’s the suggestion.”

Doyle:
“Like, ‘Jesus Christ, this woman is going to say a *third* thing? We already let her say two things. She said two things, and then she’s going to come back and say a third thing. Who does this person think she is.’  Right?’
Sedaris came out with his new book, and it was like, ‘David Sedaris releases 158th memoir.’  Not, question mark, question mark.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of It’s Not My Fault; My Mind Just Goes To These Places

Apropos of nothing I can think of, while coming back from a walk the other day I mused about ways to get junior high school aged students interested in “classic” works of literature. I’ve heard many a teacher say that engaging that age group (particularly for the boys) will determine whether reluctant readers will show interest in, for example, the plays of William Shakespeare.

So, considering the age group, I humbly suggest this approach:

֍   Shakespearean Gas Theater   ֍

English, literature, and drama teachers can search the internet databases for well-known Shakespearean lines which can be altered and/or…uh, illustrated…as per the theme.

From Twelfth Night, the name of character Sir Toby Belch fits right in with those certain enhancements which tween actors could give to the delivery of Sir Toby’s classic lines:

”Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous,
there shall be no more cakes and….Baaaaaaaarrrrrrraaasaaaapppp…ale?

 

And, let’s face it, few 12-year-old boys want to play the lead male role of Romeo and Juliet‘s 14th century lovestruck Italian teen.  But when the line Romeo calls out to Juliet (in the famous balcony scene) is transformed, boys will be jostling for the opportunity to raise their arms in supplication and cut the cheese with romantic gusto while reciting,

“What wind thorough yonder window breaks.”

Then again, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t pursue a career as an Arts in Education consultant.

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

When a road construction worker farts, don’t blame him – it’s his asphalt.

 

“I want no part of this juvenile humor.”

 

*   *   *

May you write as many memoirs as you have in you;    [5]

May you appreciate the beauty of that which will fade;

May you be lucky enough to have an atheist beside you in the foxhole;

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Or nine…or seven…or twelve.  Different self-appointed grief experts have different numbers, but most people are familiar with psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘s five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

[2] The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1978, is the nation’s largest association of Atheists, Agnostic, Freethinkers, Humanists and Skeptics .

[3] This particular issue is more the size of a glacier than a nit, as the number of the non-religiously affiliated and atheists – and thus the number of people insulted and mischaracterized by such inaccurate adages – continues to grow/be revealed.

[4] A subject about which I have both opinions and experiences, as regular and/or long time readers of this blog may know.

[5] Well, maybe not 158.

The Inflated Modifiers I’m Not Acquiring

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THE  ABSOLUTELY  GRIPPING  AND  TOTALLY  HEART-RENDING,  PAGE-TURNING  STORY  OF  SHOOTING  MYSELF  IN  THE  FOOT

Sub Department of, From The Publisher’s POV,
“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things…”

Admission: technically, I’m not shooting moiself  in the foot by writing what follows, as my foot is not in this particular door (although it’s sooooo tempting to try to jam it there). Also, it’s just not an apt use of that idiom. But such a hyperbolic statement is apropos, here.  The door I’m referring to is submitting a manuscript to a certain publisher.

In December, after a hiatus of ~ four years (which I may return to), I started re-researching publishers and sending out feelers re some of my unpublished fiction.   [1]  Researching, querying, and submitting material has reaffirmed the reasons why I stopped doing so in the first place,  [2]  with one major exception.  I received a stunningly personal note from a publisher who is one of the few of his ilk who “got” what I was doing with the narrative structure of my manuscript.  Even though what I suspected when I queried him was true – that his imprint’s audience is more avant garde than what my story’s audience would be – ’twas highly gratifying to get his feedback (read: insightful praise).

Little did moiself  know, the best – if by best I mean most unintentionally entertaining, and apparently I do – was yet to come.

 

 

I discovered a new-to-me outlet, a successful, worldwide digital publisher that had been recently acquired by one of the world’s largest traditional publishers.  This publisher, which I’ll call *PubliGush* for reasons that shall soon become clear, was hitherto unknown to me because they specialize in genre works.  As I researched them further I also saw that they are something called a Bespoke Publisher,  [3]  which, depending in your POV, is one step up from self-publishing or merely a new(er) label for hybrid publishing.    [4] 

Obviously, PubliGush is not for me.  For the heck of it, I decided to peruse their titles on internet book selling sites, which confirmed that they are strictly genre.  However, even knowing that my work wasn’t right for them, moiself was tempted to query anyway, just for the chance that, if I fooled ’em for a moment, they might try to offer me a deal with their services of (as per their website):

“quality of editing, packaging and marketing….

Their services, as I examined their books’ listings on Amazon, translate thusly:

PubliGush will give you adjectives!  And, adverbs!

I couldn’t help but wonder, what hyperactive modifiers might they offer to moiself ?

It appears that one of their marketing strategies is to hyperbolize their book blurbs to the max.  I refer to the vocabulary employed to do so, which turns out to be rather manic and somewhat, er, repetitive.  Their “jacket” blurbs run the gamut from…well, from:

* An absolutely jaw-dropping…

* Gripping!

* A real page-turner…

* A gripping emotional page turner!

* An Absolutely Heartbreaking tale of ____!
* Gripping and heartbreaking!

* Beautiful and gripping…

* An absolutely gripping and suspenseful…

* An absolutely gripping and emotional…

* A completely gripping and emotional…

* An utterly heart-wrenching and gripping…

* A gripping emotional page turner…

* An absolutely heartbreaking and gripping emotional page-turner…

* An unputdownable and absolutely gripping psychological thriller…

 

The Dowager Countesss does not approve of all these commoners and their gripping.

 

And, lest there be doubt about the amount of gripping and heartbreak involved:

* A totally gripping and absolutely heartbreaking…

Also, asthmatics be forewarned re this title:

* A gripping emotional page turner with a twist
that will take your breath away…

It was all so amped-up – moiself  felt in need of a sedative after merely perusing these title descriptions.  My pulse was actually racing; I guess you could say I needed to get a grip (absolutely, completely, utterly….).

Moiself’s favorite description of any book, even from publishers and reviewers less prone to hyperbole, is that it is “a page-turner.”  Now, by definition, isn’t every book a page-turner?  Whether you loved a book from intro to index or stopped somewhere in the middle with a, “Meh; I’ve read better,” the prose didn’t just present itself to you all at once.  You had to…ahem…Turn. The. Page. (even with ebooks) to get there.

 

“Are you sure that’s how this thing works?”

 

*   *   *

Department Of What We Talk About When We Talk About Grief And Loss

” ‘Sometimes I’ve heard people talk about losing a child and people say it’s like losing a limb. And as someone who’s lost both things, I just want to say, the realities are very different.’
Musician and writer Christa Couture has experienced way too much of people trying to convey sympathy and instead expressing their discomfort about disability and death.”
(The Allusionist, intro to 3-12-21 episode )

Grief; loss.  I’ve tried to be as direct about the subjects as I can in my own life (no doubt failing spectacularly in certain instances). Thus, I’ve had my share of trouble using the societal conventions some folks prefer. For example, when someone asks me about my parents, I use the terms death or dead to impart the reality of the situation, rather than euphemize with phrases such as, “My mother is no longer with us.”  [5]

I had an odd conversation several years ago, with a fellow parent at a meet-‘n greet event at my son K’s college.  We got to talking about our respective families; she said that her son had recently “lost” his beloved grandfather, then asked about K’s grandparents – were they still living? Only she phrased it as, had any of his grandparents “passed.”  I answered that my mother was alive but in precarious health, which began “when my father died…” She interrupted with, “Oh, when your father passed….”

At least twice more, while eliciting information about what happened to my family after my father died, she steered back to the term, passed.  She seemed uncomfortable with any of the D-word triumvirate (died/dead/death); of course, it was fine for her to use other terms.  Meanwhile, I was deriving petty amusement from her passive-aggressive attempt to steer the speech of a person she’d just met – that would be moiself – toward using a word that *she* preferred, regarding another person (my dead dad) she’d never met.  I remember suppressing the urge to say something along the lines of,

“When my father passed? – Oh yes, that’s right, when he passed the LSAT we were so proud!  No wait, he wasn’t even studying for that. Anyway, we were thrilled when he passed the AP English exam, but when he passed gas, well, that’s another story….”

 

 

I told you Captain Picard, I *suppressed* the urge to respond in that manner.

Once again, I digress.

The subject came to mind as per the thought-provoking reflections on grief and loss I heard while listening to a podcast last week.  The most recent episode of The Allusionist, “Additions and Losses,” consists of an interview with writer and musician Christa Couture, whose book How To Lose Everything: A Memoir about Losing My Children, My Leg, My Marriage, and My Voice has just been released.

Couture might be described as an expert on grief and loss, considering her life experiences, which include:

* developing bone cancer in her leg when she was 11 years old

* the amputation of her leg after two years of grueling chemo treatments

*her first child’s death on the day he was born

* her second child’s death at age 14 months, not long after he had a heart transplant

* her divorce “born of grief”

* undergoing surgery which endangered her career as a professional musician

However, I gathered from the interview that the good-natured, intelligent, and subtly self-deprecating author wouldn’t describe herself as an expert on anything, except that of her own feelings.

Couture admitted to experiencing both sides of the uneasiness which comes from being either the receiver, or the giver, of comfort after death and loss. She and the podcast host mused about those face-palming moments when we, as flawed human beings, employ certain well-meaning if ham-fisted strategies in our attempts to relate to or express sympathy for someone’s tragedy.  One of the more common is, “Scrolling through a Rolodex of doom,” which I found to be a wonderful term for the situation we’ve all either been in or witnessed (e.g., while visiting her friend who is hospitalized after a car crash, well-intentioned Debbie blurts out, “I know what this is like – my uncle Joe died in a car crash, and my college roommate Freda had her arm amputated after her Toyota was t-boned by a drunk driver….“).

 

 

Couture, who identifies as Indigenous, queer, and disabled, talks about person-first versus identity-first language. It is a subject about which she has clear opinions, even as she notes that her thoughts on this and other matters are not shared by everyone, and that she is not “the ambassador for the disabled.”  She’s no language cop – she doesn’t insist that everyone must stop using terms that “the disabled community” finds offensive. [6]   She does have some good suggestions for certain word usage and choices, all presented with her calm, generous, good-humored perspective.  She’d prefer if you don’t use terms she finds “silly” in that they are euphemistic – e. g., “differently-abled” and “handi-capable”  [7]  instead of “handicapped.”

She and podcast host Helen Zaltzman acknowledged the difficulty of knowing what to say:

HZ:
“…the shiftingness  [8]  is one of the things that makes people struggle with it…’I don’t know what to say now, because ten years ago I was told to say this other thing that I’m now not allowed to say. So I’m terrified to say this thing, and now I’ve made this conversation very awkward, and the wrong word has escaped my mouth because I’m so stressed.’ “

Couture:
“Right. And I’ve been that stressed out person, who’s gone, ‘Oh wait, I said the thing and I know or I didn’t know…’ ” Yeah…that speaks to the power of language as well…the impact that it’s having on people or, you know, where people have asked us not to use those words, and then us being afraid of being shamed by them.”

 

 

The most poignant part of the interview for me was when Couture spoke of an existential crisis for her, one which arises almost daily and which she still has not fully resolved:  how to truthfully yet self-protectively respond to the questions which naturally arise when people want to hear about your life.

For most people, “Do you have any children?” is a basic inquiry.  But, two of Couture’s three children died. And when people who don’t know about the deaths of her two sons see her with her daughter, they often ask, “Do you have any other children?”

She still struggles with those questions.  She still doesn’t have a pat response…

“…because it depends on the context, who’s asking. But I don’t feel guilty in the way that I used to about saying, ‘No,’ or, ‘I just don’t want to get into it.’

Sometimes I’ve had to go back and be like, ‘Remember that time I said I don’t have other kids? I now actually want to tell you: I have two sons that died.’ You know, from becoming friends with someone or something, a colleague or something like that. But it’s an interesting choice, when it’s a colleague or at work, because it’ll come up or they’ll hear about it somewhere else, and then I sort of wish that *I* had been the one to tell them….

So, yes or no, do I have children?  It’s a loaded question. I try to never, ever, ever ask it, and not because someone else might have lost a child – maybe they have, but maybe they wanted children and didn’t get to, and that sucks. Or maybe they never wanted kids and they’re so tired of having to justify their decision.

Whatever it is, there’s all of these complexities around kids. And I just feel that’s a question that we shouldn’t ask. It’s a conversation to have with people who want to have it. But…I try to follow other people’s lead on that.”

Also useful to hear is Couture’s take on why she and (most) other disabled people do not view themselves as “an inspiration,” and why you shouldn’t, either (ever heard the term, inspiration porn ?).  But, don’t take it from moiself – listen to the interview and/or get her book…or at least appreciate the picture of her prosthetic leg, which is, as the host noted, the most “glorious” prosthesis you might ever see.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Nomination For Arguably The Worst Lyrics Ever

One of the perks of having one of my car radio’s auto select stations set to the local FM oldies station is getting to occasionally hear the amazingly-cringe-worthy crap so-called classics I’d long forgotten.  Prime example: “Music To Watch Girls By,” which, apparently and inexplicably, was a hit in 1967 for that favorite of your grandparents, the whiter-than-mayonnaise crooner, Andy Williams.

♫ The boys watch the girls
while the girls watch the boys who watch the girls go by
Eye to eye, they solemnly convene to make the scene

Which is the name of the game,
watch a guy watch a dame on any street in town
Up and down and over and across, romance is boss… ♫

 

 

Yeah, I know.

Imagine the poet laureate who was drugged and bribed to come up with,

“♫… they solemnly convene to make the scene. ♫” 

If the lyrics themselves aren’t enough to send you running to the regurgitron, try scalding your cornea with these images. It was 1967, but the leering, camera-on-the-female-ass fixation would give the most booty-obsessed rapper a run for his raunchy money:

 

 

 

*   *   *

And Now, From Bad Songs To Bad Puns About Songs

My husband hates songs by Britney Spears and asked me not to sing them.
But oops, I did it again.

I’m writing a song about how much I adore seesaws.
It’s called 50 Ways to Love your Lever.

 

 

*   *   *

May you never be viewed as “an inspiration” for anyone…but if you are…
May the inspiration you provide be Utterly, Completely, and Totally Gripping;
May you not find yourself waking up at 4 am with the earworm, “Music To Watch Girls By” infesting your brain;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] My second and third short story collections and second novel.

[2] Nutshell summary: the publishing business sucks.

[3]  Bespoke Publishers use POD (print-on-demand) technology to adapt an existing title to create a “bespoke book” marketed toward specific readership and uses. This is more common in nonfiction but is also used in fiction, to change, say, the book’s foreword, cover artwork, even some content, to target certain audiences.

[4] Aka author-assisted publishing, indie publishing, partnership publishing, co-publishing, hybrid publishing involve the author paying for some or all services (usually in return for higher royalty rates). Translated, “Hybrid publishing,” is another a form of self-publishing, wherein the author pays for the publication of their book. However, unlike self-publishing and vanity publishing, a hybrid publisher will not accept *every* manuscript presented to them – they do have editorial standards.

Traditional publishing is where the publisher assumes the entire financial burden of bringing a book to market, from editing to cover design to marketing, promotion, distribution…for which they (rightfully, considering their investment) receive the majority of the profits. Traditional publishers pay authors an advance (usually; this varies with the contract), then royalties after the advance has been earned back, in exchange for the exclusive right to publish their work.

[5] Which always makes me think things like, “But hopefully she’ll be back in 45 minutes, with pizza!”

[6] She does use term disabled community, a term which implies a commonality of experience, but not necessarily of not thought and opinion…which reminds me of what I’ve read and heard from members of “the black community” and “the LGBTQ community,” many of whom object to the groupthink implied by such broad labels.

[7] I didn’t even know that was a thing.  I’d be cringing, too. ” Handi-capable”…sheesh.

[8] I love that word – it’s another term the world needs. I hope it makes it into the OED.

The *This* I’m Not Freely Choosing

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Department Of Not Watching The “Royal” Interview

Even in these pandemic times of social isolation, you’d have to have been in a prison secure enough for Hannibal Lecter to *not* have heard that a certain royal couple was recently interviewed by Oprah she-who-needs-no-surname.

 

“Quid pro quo, Clarise. You let me watch Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan and I name the killer.”

 

I’ve been a lifelong anti-monarchist –  lifelong as in, when I was old enough to understand the concept of royalty, my five-year old self was like, “WTF is this classist, elitist, endemically racist, anachronistic institution doing in the 20th  (and now, 21st ) century?”  Thus, I had no interest in watching The Recent Royal Interview ®.  From what I saw on FB, the Average Person’s realizations, after watching the interview, were almost hilariously non-spectacular:

“After hearing about Harry’s and Meghan’s experiences, I’m convinced the monarchy is out-of-date and racist!”

 

 

Moiself  was delighted to see the interview produced in op-ed pieces from around the (western) world). I gravitated toward reading articles with titles like, Down With the British Monarchy, whence the following excerpt :

“The existence of a monarchy is an admission that a government can’t, or doesn’t care to, solve people’s problems. Instead, it offers spectacle. It has always been easier to elevate one family to a fairy-tale life of luxury than to do the dreary work of elevating every single family to a decent standard of living. The common people fund the lifestyle of a tiny, exalted and thoroughly unworthy elite, rather than the other way around. Any nation that still has a monarchy in 2021 is proving itself to have a mortifying lack of revolutionary gumption.

America is guilty of many crimes against humanity, but this is one thing we got right. Our presidents may be national embarrassments, but at least Americans are not required to scrape and bow before some utterly random rich wastrel whose claim to legitimacy is being the child of the child of the child of someone who was, centuries ago, the nation’s biggest gangster. Yes, we have our own hypnotic capitalist addiction to celebrity, but monarchy is something altogether more twisted — as if the Bush family, the Kardashians and the Falwells were all rolled into one bejeweled quasi-religious fame cult, topped off with a bracing dose of imperialism.”

I mean, how much right-on fun is that?

 

 

Leave it to the Irish to nail the situation in the most amusing (and snarky) manner:

“Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories.
More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.
Beyond this, it’s the stuff of children’s stories. Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state. What’s the logic? Bees have queens, but the queen bee lays all of the eggs in the hive. The queen of the Britons has laid just four British eggs, and one of those is the sweatless creep Prince Andrew, so it’s hardly deserving of applause….
The contemporary royals have no real power. They serve entirely to enshrine classism in the British non-constitution. They live in high luxury and low autonomy, cosplaying as their ancestors, and are the subject of constant psychosocial projection from people mourning the loss of empire. They’re basically a Rorschach test that the tabloids hold up in order to gauge what level of hysterical batshittery their readers are capable of at any moment in time.”
(“Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is complete,” The Irish Times)

cosplaying as their ancestors.  I wish I’d thought of that line.

*   *   *

Speaking of anachronistic institutions still existing in the 21st century…

Department Of “Free To Be You And Me”    [1] … Or Not

Dateline: Tuesday; out for a walk; 7 am-ish (not amish); listening to the latest Clear + Vivid podcast: “Ash Sanders and Sarah Ventre – Life in a Cul‪t.” In this episode host Alan Alda interviews journalists Ventre and Sanders about their podcast series, Unfinished: Short Creek. The two journalists researched their story for four and a half *years,* including embedding themselves in a fundamentalist Mormon community, Short Creek (a town on the border between northern Arizona and southern Utah), and “…wove together the stories of both those in thrall to its all-powerful prophet and others seeking escape.”

Moiself  hasn’t yet decided whether I will listen to the Short Creek podcast. Given the subject matter, it sounds both compelling and repellant. The latter emotion arises in me from the simple/depressing fact of the continued existence of such abhorrent ideologies in the 21st century, and of hearing about how difficult it is for people born into such a life to escape it, and how reluctant too many outsiders are to confront it (“Hey, it’s their religion/their choice…”).  I do know, from the podcast interview, that there is at least one woman who got out, and her story is featured, so that may sway me. Something hopeful to look forward to.

 

 

Halfway through the C+V podcast I flashed back to a conversation I had years ago with an “Exmo” (former Mormon).  Exmo Man   [2]   talked about the “misunderstandings” he felt that outsiders had about his (former) faith. He said that even while he was growing up in a (mainstream, not fundy) Mormon family, with only other Mormon kids allowed to be his friends and playmates, he was told by both his family and church officials that he had “the freedom to choose this.” Emphasis on *this.*  He was assured (by the Mormon adults around him) that all Mormons had freely chosen their beliefs. And he did make his choice, eventually to leave the LDS religion.  He also chose to (well, he attempted to) redirect my questions, when I gently but persistently tried to discern whether or not his choice meant that he lost family and friends, or had such relationships compromised, by his decision to leave the church. His not-so-skillfully avoidant answers indicated to me that, due to his choice, he had been essentially shunned.

A week or so after that conversation I read an article by a Muslim-American Woman who wrote about her freedom to choose whether or not she wore the hijab   [3] (veil or scarf; niqua; burka; or any of the varieties of face or full body coverings prescribed for Muslim women).  Although she considered herself to be a liberal/feminist re many other aspects of her life, this MAW said she chose to wear a head scarf as a symbol of her culture and faith… and also, I gathered from what she wrote, to proclaim identity politics and give a defiant FU to her friends and colleagues (whether Muslim, of other faiths, or religion-free) who were anti-hijab. Within days of reading her essay I came across the social media posts of another MAW, this one in the entertainment industry, who supported Muslim women’s “right” to wear head coverings, even though she herself does not do so.

The Exmo man and the MAWs each spoke of how they had the freedom to choose their own  *this* ( for Exmo, life as a Mormon; for the MAWs, wearing a hijab).  In doing so, they missed the entire fucking point, in moiself’s  opinion, which is that there was only one *this* presented to them as the correct choice.  And a choice of one is no choice at all.

Exmo may have been told he was free to choose *this, * i.e. remaining in Mormonism, but of course his LDS family and church elders and officials seriously didn’t think he would make another choice.  And when he did choose to leave The One True Faith,  [4]  he paid for it with the estrangement from his family and support group.

“You are free to choose *this*” translates as, You are free to choose – and here is your (one) choice.”  I am reminded of the old joke about Russian elections; specifically, a Communist party official countering Western claims that his country’s elections are not open and fair and certainly not democratic:

“Of course our people get to choose their leaders!  They may vote for whomever they chose!” crows the election official, who hands a voter a ballot with pre-selected candidates. “And here is the list of whom you may choose, comrade!”

 

 

If you are a Muslim female who chooses not to don the veil and you are living in a culture/country which requires it,  [5]  you may be considered as immodest and immoral, labeled an apostate or heretic…or worse.

“Iranian Police released an official statement saying that any women found protesting Iran’s compulsory veiling code would be charged with “inciting corruption and prostitution,” which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.”
(“Dozens of women ill-treated and at risk of long jail terms for peacefully protesting compulsory veiling,” Amnesty International)

It’s your choice, you may be told, but know that Muslim men and boys – even members of your own family, and even if you are living in a non-Muslim country – can feel justified in attacking you, verbally and physically for not wearing a veil. You may even be assaulted if you are wearing it, but not “properly.”

“The devout Muslim father of a 16-year-old girl, whose friends say was killed for not wearing a hijab, has been charged with second-degree murder….
Aqsa Parvez died on Monday night in hospital after being attacked in her home in a suburb of Toronto….the girl’s friends said Parvez frequently clashed with her estranged family over her reluctance to wear a traditional Islamic headscarf, or hijab.”
(“Muslim Dad Murders daughter over hijab,” The Age)

“…a woman has been …assaulted by a vigilante for wearing a loose hijab.
(video footage) shows a woman crossing path with a man, who then follows her down the street and appears to threaten her. He then grabs her by the arm and kicks her in the stomach twice, propelling her onto the road….
the police refused to arrest the attacker as he claimed to be “voluntarily enforcing morality codes.”
(National News Opinion, 3-12-20)

“Ruqiya Farah Yarow was killed outside her hut near the southern Somali town of Hosingow….militants had ordered her to put on a veil, and then killed her after returning and finding she was still not wearing one….”
(“Somali woman killed for not wearing veil,” BBC News )

 

Cool story, bro.

 

Yes my dear, you are *free* to choose *this* (the veil).
If you choose *not this* you may be harassed, slandered, discriminated against, assaulted,  even killed.
But hey – don’t listen to  critics and cynics – you are free!  The choice is entirely yours!

If a “choice” I am “free” to make carries with it the very real threat of physical and emotional harm, I am not truly free to make it.  If you are told you are free to choose *this,* but then by not choosing *this* you may be emotionally or literally and physically isolated or estranged or kicked out of your family and/or community (which also affects your ability to earn a living)…well,  a person using those terms in those circumstances has very different ideas from moiself  as to what constitutes freedom, and choice.

It is understandable (although abhorrent) to moiself , to see how someone raised in those kinds of intellectual thought-silos can misunderstand and misuse words and concepts like freedom and choice. And if you would seriously attempt to engage moiself about whether or not, say, most Muslim women are free to wear or not wear the hijab, I’m not even sure we could have a conversation lest we first get out our dictionaries (would you even be allowed to look at all available dictionaries, or would there be one you would be steered toward?) to first establish the vital, common references at issue: namely, the definitions of the words freedom and choice.

*   *   *

Department Of The Take Away Of The Week…Month…Year

This excerpt from the Clear + Vivid podcast applies not only to trying to understand and communicate with someone in a fundamentalist religious life, but also to bridging our current/fractured political divide.  The journalists were speaking about the main challenges they faced in doing their interviews – which are also the challenges when entering into a dialogue with anyone:

How do you balance empathy and accountability?

“…In order to have a conversation with someone, especially someone who you want to come to some kind of understanding with, if you can’t start on the solid ground of accepting the most basic facts with one another then…it’s really hard to get to that point.

How do you listen to somebody, and understand why they believe what they believe, but hold them accountable to facts, hold them accountable to maybe what they’ve done, or to what their beliefs are and the impact of their beliefs – how do we do that?…

What role does forgiveness play; what role does justice play?  How do we do that in America? 

We can tend to go from one extreme to the other, and tend to say, “Oh let’s just empathize,” and not admit the injustices that have happened, or “Let’s only talk about justice,” and not the repair that needs to be done. “

I don’t know about y’all, but I was reminded of a certain issue our country needs to deal with….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Question That Might Take You Years To Answer

At the end of every Clear + Vivid podcast, host Alda asks the guest(s) “Seven quick questions,” all of which relate, on some level, to the subject of interpersonal communication. Question #3 is,

“What is the strangest question anyone has asked you?”

One of the journalists, herself an ExMo (mainstream, not fundy) chose a question she was asked when she was in college, while she was leaving Mormonism. It was not the typical question people considering leaving their religion in general and Mormonism in particular might expect to field (“Why do you believe what you believe?” or “Do you believe in the Prophet“). Rather, this person asked her a question that has “stuck with’ her, one she is still working out.  It was a question I think is relevant for everyone, whether or not we believe in any kind of patriarchal or hierarchical worldview,   [6]  or structure, or monarchies….

This one query, composed of a mere eight words, packs a novel’s worth of existential introspection potential:

Why do you believe in leaders at all?

 

Fascinating.

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Last Three Stanzas I Can’t Stop Thinking About

I’d like to think that someone will read them at my wake, even if I’m not sure that moiself  is worthy of such stirring imagery.  The stanzas are from a Syrian-American poet, Mohja Kahf, whose collection of poetry (Emails from Scheherazade )   [7]   was recommended by journalist, teacher, and fellow blogger George Rede.  Check out Rede’s blog here.  It’s always thought-provoking, personal, and finely written (and as compared to mine, free of those juvenile fart-jokes which far too often sneak past my editor  [8]  ).

The stanzas to which I refer are the closing verses of  Kahf’s The Marvelous Women

Come with me, come with poetry
Jump on this wild chariot, hurry–

Help me with these wayward snorting horses
Together we will pull across the sky
the sun that will make the earth radiant—

or burn in its terrible brilliance,
and that is a good way to die.

 

*   *   *

Puns For The Day – Monarchist’s Edition

My dentist told me that I am a royal descendant. I get my crown next week.

If Harry decided to take up painting now that he’s stepped back from the royal family,
he would be the artist formerly known as Prince.

 

*   *   *

 

May you never be deemed worthy of an Oprah interview;
May you know that if you burn in life’s terrible brilliance, that is a good way to die;
May you learn to balance empathy with accountability;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Apologies to the popular and ground-breaking children’s entertainment of the early 1970s, Free To Be You And Me, by “Marlo Thomas and Friends.” The book and record series (and later, tv specials) were an effort to counteract the gender stereotypes in the children’s books of the times.

[2] Pun almost intentional.

[3] Hijab is both a specific and broad-spectrum term, referring to both a particular style of covering and the general principal or religious code behind wearing it.

[4] Of course this is not exclusive to Mormons – many non-Catholic Christians kiddies first heard that phrase (that we were not part of “The One True Church”)  from their Catholics friends or neighbors, and 99.99% of religions proclaim exclusivity of some kind as to why they are the only, or the only “right’ way, to find ___ (god; the afterlife, truth, nirvana, your car keys….).

[5] Head and body coverings for Muslim females vary according to country and culture, in some cases being required by law. Meanwhile, some modern Muslims believe that the Qur’an itself does not mandate that women wear any form of hijab.

[6] Sorry; no footnote here.

[7] After reading that poem, I bought the book…and so should you.  Please always remember to support the author if you read something you enjoy – she receives no financial compensation from her work being shared on the internet.

[8] Which would be moiself.

The Moral Concerns I’m Not Having

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Department Of They Still Won’t Ordain Women
Yet Still Keep Dressing Like Them

 

And one more thing.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is speaking out against the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine because it was developed using cells from an aborted fetus.
“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production,” a statement from the conference said.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was “developed, tested, and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines raising additional moral concerns,” it continued.
( Bishops urge Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if possible because it was developed using cells from an aborted fetus   3-2-21 )

 

“Do they hear themselves when they speak?”

 

Excuse me, Catholic bishops: how are y’all able to take time out of your busy schedule –  of continuing to cover up priest child rape and discriminating against women and the LGBTQ community while shuffling parishioner funds to pay off sexual abuse lawsuits – to stick your pointy hats and noses into the public health arena?

Here’s an idea: STFU and go diddle yourself into oblivion with your rosary beads. Y’all have no business proclaiming anything about “moral concerns” ever ever ever EVER. 

*   *   *

Department Of Men are Verbs; Women Are Nouns

Did you ever wonder why the documentary about entertainer Britney Spears – who lives under a court-sanctioned conservatorship established when she was age 26 and who now, at age 39, is in a court battle with her father over who should control the fortune *she* has earned – relates to society’s the policing of women’s bodies, our achievements, and our mere existence?

Moiself  neither.

Until I read Kasia Urbaniak’s right-on essay, Britney Spears and The Good Girl Double Bind.  A distillation of the frustrating reality Urbaniak describes and analyzes:

“We’re so used to talking about who women are being
than about what they achieve.

And we’re so accustomed to putting attention on what men can achieve (or are perceived to achieve) versus who they are being.

We take this state of affairs so much for granted, that it’s almost invisible. Just think how much a woman running for office is scrutinized for how she speaks and dresses versus what she’s achieved in her decades-long career.

Meanwhile, a man can be a genuine predator, yet what he has done and what he’s perceived to be able to get done comes first and foremost
in how he’s evaluated.

We are obsessed with what men *do* and how women *are*.

Men are verbs; women are nouns.”

( “Britney Spears and The Good Girl Double Bind,”
Kasia Urbaniak, author and founder of The Academy — The School of Power for Women )

*   *   *

Department of Ick…just…Ick.

Here is how the afore-mentioned essay opens: 

Britney Spears is 10 years old, Ed McMahon is 69.
She has just given a jaw-dropping performance in a TV singing competition. He approaches her.
He comments on the 10-year old prodigy’s “pretty eyes,” rather than her powerful voice, and then asks: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, sir” she retorts politely. “Why not?” presses Ed.  “Because they’re mean,” insists little Britney.
He leans over her.  “But what about me?”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Dressing Up At Home

Dateline: Last Sunday eve, watching the Golden Globe Awards.  ‘Tis our family tradition (previously mentioned in this venue, including here and here) of having a movie awards watching party (not any old awards show – just the “biggies,” as in the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and Tonys…and two of those don’t involve movies, but you get the idea) whilst consuming “movie food,” which is defined as hot dogs,   [1]  popcorn, chips & guac,  Skittles and Junior Mints and Red Vines licorice and/or your favorite movie theatre candies and snacks, washed down with liberal amounts of a sparkling beverage.

Due to the you-know-what-19 pandemic, this year the party was toned down, both on our viewing end and on the GG presenting end.  Friend LAH has been part of our tradition for years, and she joined MH and I for our distanced and masked celebration, along with our son, K (who is full vaccinated – we are all jealous, but that’s what working in medical research gets you).

The GG’s toned-down format was regretful. Part of the fun of watching the GGs is that the nominees are seated at tables, drinking and eating and drinking and chatting and drinking, and did I mention drinking? Thus, the atmosphere – and the acceptance speeches – tend to be looser (read: funnier and drunker) than the staid-by-comparison Oscars.

One bonus of this year’s show was getting to see many of the nominees in their homes (in some case, with their kids,who were so excited about Mom or Dad winning an award, which was adorable). Their attire ranged from Jason Sudeikis’ excessively casual, I’ll-never-win-so-I’m-going-to-be-comfy sweatsuit hoodie, to others who dressed as if they were headed for the red carpet interview (when we know they are in fact home, alone, counting the minutes until they can cover their Zoom screen and dash to the kitchen to scarf a fistful of Doritos during the commercial breaks).

In the latter category was Rosamund Pike, winner for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for I Care A Lot.  Pike unexpectedly supplied us with a great GG moment – not as great as the likely-never-to-be-equaled Best Acceptance Speech Ever ®  (given by Sacha Baron Cohen, 2007 winner for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, which can be seen in its glorious entirety here), but we still appreciated it.

 

 

This picture doesn’t do justice to the delightfully bizarre, horizontally expansive dress worn by Pike.  I’m wondering if she would have worn it had the GG’s been in their usual venue – she would have had to sit at a table by herself, as there would be no room on the sides for anyone else.  MH and I were reminded of  The Nutcracker Ballet’s Mother Ginger, the character who…well, for a moment we expected a bunch of polichinelles  [2]  to come scurrying out from under Pike’s voluminous hoopskirts….

 

 

Although I enjoyed the comic relief supplied by Pike’s dress, moiself  didn’t want it to distract from why she won the award.  So MH and I watched “I Care A  Lot.”  And you should, too. A perfect performance by Pike in a perfectly peculiar and entertaining film.

*   *   *

Department Of Dialog Which Causes Me To Spit Out What I Was Chewing
And Guffaw Aloud, Alone, At The TV

Dateline: a weekend ago, having dinner by moiself, watching the streaming show, Resident Alien.” As per the show’s website, RA is about an alien who

“…crash lands on Earth and must pass himself off as small-town human doctor Harry Vanderspeigle. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life…but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world.”

Harry is played by the marvelous Alan Tudyk,   [3]  who gives Harry hard-to-describe verbal and physical mannerisms which are, IMHO, totally believable and consistent with what you might expect from a character who is the equivalent of the offspring of the proverbial fish-out-of-water and a precocious adolescent with Asperger’s syndrome…in other words, an ET who gets his ideas of human behavior – and a doctor’s “expertise” – from binge-watching episodes of Law and Order and consulting his cellphone for medical information.

 

 

The dialog to which I refer comes from episode two, during Harry’s first day at the town’s medical clinic.  Standing outside the clinic’s exam room, reading the chart of a patient he is scheduled to see, Harry thinks, “I was a scientist on my planet so this is easy for me,” referring to his conception of human doctors spending years in medical school to learn a procedure as simple as burning off a wart.  “All I need is the internet and I can graduate in five minutes.”

Harry enters the clinic’s exam room, staring at the chart in his hands. A woman is lying on the exam table, her feet in the stirrups.  He doesn’t even look at he as he sits down at the exam stool at the end of the table, by her feet. “Okay, let’s take a look at that nasty thing,” he says, as he lifts the paper sheet covering her from the waist down.  He drops the sheet, stands up, and blurts out, “You’re not a 12-year boy with a wart.”

The patient, a sardonic woman (who how you say, probably gets around), chuckles, “Well, I’m not a 12-year-old boy…”

The clinic’s nurse quickly apologizes, grabs the chart from Harry’s hand, and replaces it with the female patient’s chart, whom, the nurse tacitly explains to Harry, is in urgent need of a pelvic exam  (“We had to move her up from tomorrow.”).

Harry had googled wart removal, not pelvic exam. “Pelvic exam…”  Harry repeats, stalling for time.  Both the nurse and the patient urge him to hurry things up; we see his head disappear beneath the sheet; he takes a look and triumphantly announces,

“Oh, okay, I see your problem – you sat on an earring!”

The patient flinches as Harry tugs at (what we assume is) her labial piercing.  “No – ah, no!” she gasps, “That’s – that’s supposed to be there.”

 

 

You sat on an earring.  I’m still dying, a week later.  [4]

*   *   *

Pun For The Day, Alien Doctor Edition

I heard a joke about amnesia, but I forgot how it goes.

*   *   *

 

May you never have cause for a doctor, or anyone, to think you sat on an earring;
May you disregard the unsolicited advice – about anything – from men wearing medieval cassocks and quoting Iron Age scriptures;
May you fantasize delivering an acceptance speech to rival Sacha Baron Cohen’s;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Yes, that doesn’t qualify as “food,” and I have the plant-based version.

[2] Little children/clowns, depending on the production of the ballet.

[3] Any Firefly fans out there?

[4] The perfect reaction from an alien, as in, it’s not like anyone in their right mind would purposefully do that to themselves, so how else would you explain it?

The Ingredients Lists I’m Not Reading

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Department Of, And Yet Another One

I wrote about this recently – was it only two weeks ago?

I was going to title this segment, Department Of No Comment…except that –  surprise! – moiself  be commenting.

Gender Reveal Device Explodes, Killing Man in Upstate New York
A man who was expecting his first child was killed on Sunday and his brother was injured when a device they were preparing for a gender-reveal party exploded in a garage in the Catskills in New York, the authorities said….(another) brother, called what happened “the freakiest of freak accidents…”
What set off the explosion remained under investigation…. The device consisted of some kind of pipe that was intended to be used at a gender-reveal party, but the nature of its explosive material was not yet known….
( Gender-Reveal Device Explodes, Killing Man in Upstate New York,
NY Times 2-22-21 )

Apparently, my sarcastic rebuke wise warning words re the foolhardiness of the gender reveal party phenomenon was not significant to the expectant father/now existent cremation candidate.  He, of course, like 99.9999999% of the population, doesn’t (uh, didn’t) know or care that I exist, nor what I write about. Common sense, along with any sense of proportion and propriety wasn’t enough, either.  Nor was Learning From The Mistakes Of Others. ®    [1]

As for the description of the incident as, “the freakiest a freak accidents…”

 

 

Public Service Announcement:  it’s not a freak accident when an explosive device explodes. That’s what explosive devices are designed and constructed to do.

Ask fire fighters or EMTs or hospital ER personnel: their collective “Can you believe this?!?” arsenal of stories is replete with tending to people injured by explosive devices which unintentionally exploded – people from munitions “experts,” to the schmuck who volunteered to shoot his high school’s pep rally confetti cannon.

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

Different as in, something which restored my optimism about humanity.

Department Of: This.

Dateline: Tuesday morning; circa 7:30 am. I am on my morning walk, headed toward a light rail station. As I turn onto the bike/walk path which parallels soccer and baseball fields I see a young woman walking on the path ahead of me.  She hears my footsteps as I close the gap between us, or so I assume because she does (and then I do) The Right Thing® : she scooches all the way to the right and I to the left, and we both raise our masks.

I call out a good morning to her; she greets me in return, and although my pace is quicker than hers for a moment we are side-by-side (if 10 feet apart).   She says something else which I can’t understand due to both her mask and her heavily accented English. I politely ask her to repeat herself; she asks how I am doing…but not in that casual way where people say, How are You?  in lieu of Hello or Good Morning. She means it.

I hope she sees the smile beneath my mask which makes it up to my eyes, when I reply that I am doing very well, thanks, and that I hope the day will be good for her.  “Yes, yes it will be,” she says, as we both reach the point where the path ends. She begins to head right, toward the light rail station, and I am headed left.

I stop, turn to face her, and call out, “By the way, thank you for asking.” She gives me a cheerful wave and we go our separate ways.

And I was…content. I had the proverbial warm and fuzzies, which lasted all day. Two strangers made a connection, brief yet significant, heartfelt if ephemeral, with the subtext of, in these stressful pandemic times, intentionally acknowledging a passerby beyond the usual, “G’morning.”

It takes no time at all and only a few kind words to acknowledge a fellow human being.  “Hi there – I’m here; so are you. I wish good things for us both.”

 

“If she starts singing ‘Kumbaya’ I’m gonna stop reading her insipid blog and turn on a WWF match.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Something New To Do When You’re Bored

Take out your canned food, your cereal boxes, your condiments and beverage cartons from the frig, your vitamins/nutritional supplements, and line them up on the kitchen counter.  One by one, read the items’ ingredients list, out loud, and wherever it lists “extract” substitute the word, “urine.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Just Wondering

Moiself  is imagining something of a sticky wicket situation for women in science.  Specifically, in the branch of biology known as zoology.

Say you’re a female British ornithologist curating your university’s natural history museum. A visiting American professor of ornithology wishes to review your collection of native European bird species.  You invite him to the museum to do so.

Now, are you technically responsible for his reaction, when he sees your display case of Parus major specimens and exclaims,

“Wow!  You have great tits!”    [2]

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yet Another Reason To Never Fine-Tune
My Cellphone’s Voice Typing Feature

Dateline: Sunday; MH and I both away from home, separately running errands.  As I’m entering a grocery store I receive a text from him, alerting me to the fact that we are out of hairball chews  [3]   and asking if moiself’s  errands are taking me anywhere near a pet supplies store which might have them?

I reply in the affirmative. Except, dictating through my mask (and, as always, sending it before proof-reading), my text comes out thusly:

I will go to PetSmart to get the hairball truth.

When I read what I’d sent, moiself is transported into existential-mode.  First, I follow up that text with

Chews! I will get the chews! That’s the truth.

But I can’t stop thinking about it.  What *is* the hairball truth? Is it something that can be gotten, or comprehended – or merely contemplated – by mere bipeds?

 

 

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE HAIRBALL TRUTH !

 

*   *   *

Department Of Did You Know About This?

Woman in Motion is now available for streaming.  And you are going to watch it, right?

I knew that actor Nichelle Nichols, best known as the iconic Lt. Nyota Uhura from Star Trek’s original series, is quite beloved by the sci-fi aficionados for her knowledge of the genre and passion for space travel, the latter of which included working to recruit astronauts for NASA.  I did not know of the extent of her involvement.

“Woman in Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA,” tells the story of how Nichols, in the late 1970s, led recruitment efforts at NASA to bring in more women and people of color. According to the film’s synopsis, “In 1977, with just four months left, NASA struggles to recruit scientists, engineers and astronauts for their new Space Shuttle Program. That is when Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, challenges them by asking the question: Where are my people? She embarks on a national blitz, recruiting 8,000 of the nation’s best and brightest, including the trailblazing astronauts who became the first African American, Asian and Latino men and women to fly in space.”
(Daily Star Trek news 2-8-21 )

 

“I am so much more than ‘Hailing frequency open, Captain,” and don’t y’all forget it.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of What I Aspire To (Metaphorically. If Not Literally)

You’ve seen your pet  [4]  do it:  find that sunny spot on the rug or floor or windowsill or bed (or, if it’s your cat, your computer keyboard), plop down atop it, and bask in the simple pleasure of basking.  They’re not trying to figure out where the coveted sunny spot came from, what causes it, or where it’s going. they’re just…there.

Moiself aspires towards, at least occasionally, achieving an equanimity akin to the cat-on-the-sunny-spot-on-the-carpet  moment.  And when the spot “moves” I’ll move with it, or realize that what I had was enough, and get up and go on with whatever.

 

Sometimes, just the paws are enough.

*   *   *

Department Of Huh?

Dateline: Sunday 2-21. I am posting a for sale notice on a classified ads internet site.  MH suggests I also post on the FB marketplace, so I check it out. I find several local/neighborhood groups, and request to post on four of them.  Two of these groups have questions you must answer before you can be “‘approved” to join (and thus post on) them.

The first group has only one question: Are you advertising for a business?  The second group, for my city, has two questions: What is your zip code?  (I assume to make sure you really live in Hillsboro, and/or weed out scammers), and:

“What is your favorite thing about Hillsboro?”

That question strikes me as odd. It’s not relevant to my intent, nor the intent of others posting on the group who, I assume are, like moiself – listing items we wish to sell to anyone who might wish to purchase them, regardless of what they like (or don’t like) about the city.

My answer:

“The capital H!”   [5]

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

My musician friends formed a quartet called “Duvet.” They’re a cover band.

 

“A-one and a-two and a-nobody laugh.”

 

*   *   *

May all of your food item’s extracts be bona fide extracts;
May you exchange greetings with amiable strangers at every opportunity;
May you find your sunny spot on the rug;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] “Celebratory Cannon Salute at Baby Shower Ends in Death,” (NY Times 2-7-21); “…An Iowa woman was killed when her family inadvertently built a pipe bomb as part of their gender-reveal party” (The Atlantic 11-11-19); A fire sparked by a “pyrotechnic device” during a celebration meant to debut the sex of the hosts’ baby-on-the-way has scorched more than 10,000 acres of Southern California (The Washington Post 9-10-20)

[2] The great tit is the actual name of a species of bird in the songbird/perching bird family known as the tit family (Paridae), which includes chickadees, tits, and titmice.  I think it is safe to assume that some British dude is responsible for the name.

[3] For one of our cats, who really needs them.

[4] Or someone else’s, if you’re not a pet person.

[5] Hell yeah my request was approved.

The Rovers I’m Not Naming

Comments Off on The Rovers I’m Not Naming

Department Of This Is Why I’m Not In Charge Of Such Things

Dateline: Thursday (yesterday), 2-18-21, 12 noonish; watching coverage of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars.  [1]  There was plenty of time to consider the ground-breaking implications of space exploration for humanity while all the TV talking heads filled the time until the actual landing.  Thus, I got to wondering: what is it about the names of these planetary probes – who gets to choose them, and what are the guidelines?

Spirit; Opportunity; Curiosity; Pathfinder; Perseverance

It seems NASA’s Mars program is partial to names denoting desirable/adventurous personality traits.  The launch and landing stages of the probes are certainly WOW events. But I’m thinking of the decades of the less glamorous work behind the scenes to get these devices to those stages.  What about honoring the less flashy but essential characteristics necessary for progress and harmony, when you’re working for years with a team of people, sometimes under stressful circumstances?

I humbly submit my nominations for the names of future Mars (or, Jupiter or…?) rovers:

Diligence

Reliability

Punctuality

Maturity

Tolerance

Composure

Sufficiently Caffeinated

Respectful Personal Hygiene

 

Introducing NASA’s next Mars Rover, “Fiscal Responsibility”

 

*   *   *

Department Of More Lists

I overheard a conversation in a grocery store between two employees, something about “…best inventions of the century.” We’re only one fift  into the 21st century, but of course (as moiself  discovered when I returned home and Googled the concept) individuals, news organizations and other companies have already started compiling lists.

Most of them overlap; “best” is of course a subjective rating; some of the entries, it could be argued, span both centuries (do you count an invention as being of this century on the date it became available to the public/was put into use, or the date when someone first started working on it?) .  [2]   All that considered, the more common entries include

*  Smart phones
*  Online banking
*  3-d printing
*  CRISPR  gene editor
*  The contraceptive patch
*  Augmented reality
*  Blockchain platforms
*  High density battery packs
*  Online streaming

After scanning the fifth such list, I noted a glaring omission common to all of them:

Where was the inclusion of Poo-Pourri ?!?!?!?     [3]

Not only it is a great product, the makers of Poo-Pourri are responsible for arguably The. Funniest. Product. Commercial. Ever.   [4]   If you have never seen this commercial, then you obviously have a more fulfilling and important life than I do need to inform yourself as to this cultural milestone of marketing:

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Bill Gates Please Save The World

“Gates isn’t just looking to cut future carbon emissions, he is also investing in direct air capture, an experimental process to remove existing CO2 from the atmosphere. Some companies are  now using these giant fans to capture CO2 directly out of the air, Gates has become one of the world’s largest funders of this kind of technology.”
( “Bill Gates: How the world can avoid a climate disaster,” 60 Minutes 2-15-21 )

Three times in the past three weeks I’ve encountered the term direct air capture, used in relation to our global warming crisis. Each time, the part of my heart that is still 12-years-old jumps for joy.

Direct air capture (as per Wikipedia):
Direct air capture (DAC) is a process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the ambient air (as opposed to capturing from point sources, such as a cement factory or biomass power plant) and generating a concentrated stream of CO 2 for sequestration or utilization or production of carbon-neutral fuel and windgas. ….DAC was suggested in 1999 and is still in development….

Actually, a form of DAC was suggested by moiself, over two decades earlier than 1999.  I, like, invented DAC.  In your dreams, you may say. Well, literally, yes.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (Southern California, early 1970s) we had smog alerts several times during my 7th grade year, when the air quality got so bad it hurt to breathe, and PE classes were cancelled.

 

You’re not supposed to “see” the air, right?

 

During that PE downtime I would think about why we weren’t doing our 800 yard run trials.  Air pollution – not only do we have to stop adding to it, we need to get that existing gunk out of the air.  What about some kind of sieve or filter – which work for liquids, so why not tweak the concept to strain the air?  I would dream about it at night; I had dreams about enormous fan-type devices which would suck in air, filtering out the pollutants and spewing out clean air while compressing the particulate matter into bricks and other building materials which could be used for housing, road surfaces, bridges….

Yes, dreams, as in plural. It was weighing heavily upon my mind. For a period of several weeks I thought about it a lot, even confiding in my math teacher after class one day.  I asked him if he knew some science teachers, maybe in high school,   [5]  with whom I could talk to about my idea. He laughed at me – not cruelly, but certainly patronizingly, and said that I had no concept about the complicated technology which would have to be involved – which would have to be invented – for such an undertaking.  [6]

My school stopped having smog alerts and I stopped having those dreams.  Moiself  looks forward to not having to dream about such things, ever again, in the very near future.

 

How complicated could such an invention be?

 

*   *   *

The Commercial I’m Not Filming

Yours truly came across the following ad recently.

 

 

Imnagine that, an ad for yet another product or regimen to stop/reverse “the aging process.”   [7]

Moiself  fantasized about shooting a commercial for *my* secret tips to stop the aging process.  Seven seems an excessive number, so I’ll cut it down to five.  The commercial will open with scenes of people sending me money for my secret/sure-fire tips to stop the you-know-what process, followed by scenes of my anti-aging goon squad who show up at said people’s houses or surprise them on the streets, and stop their aging process via:

  1. pushing them in front of a bus
  2. running them over with a bus
  3. dropping a bus on top of them as they stand at a bus stop
  4. lacing their morning coffee with arsenic
  5. slipping a sedative in their dinner wine and setting fire to their house while they sleep

The final scene shows friends at the deceased’s open casket funeral, murmuring enviously to one another, “She doesn’t look a day older than yesterday.”

 

“Did you see her – she’s actually dead!”
“Yes, but at least she’s not getting any more wrinkles.”

 

 

*   *   *

“One of the things that Teller and I are obsessed with, one of the reasons that we’re in magic, is the difference between fantasy and reality.”
(Penn Jillette, of the magic duo Penn and Teller)

“It isn’t automatic that if you learn magic you’ll become a skeptic of the supernatural,” said D.J. Grothe, president of the Virginia-based James Randi Educational Foundation, which debunks supernatural claims and was founded by Randi.
    “But knowing magic does give you a leg up on how the mind works and how easy it is to be deceived. And from there, skepticism can be a fortunate result.”
(“Magicians say their craft makes them see faith as just hocus-pocus,”
The Christian Century, 10-27-11 )

I have long been drawn to the philosophy of modern-day magicians, even though the what-they-do part – the actual “magic” –  doesn’t particularly hold my interest.  It has been years since I’ve been to a magic show, and although I avoid Las Vegas like the proverbial plague (I think moiself  is allergic to neon), if I were there, The Penn and Teller show is the one show I’d try to get tickets to.

 

Well, that and a show featuring Amazonian-stature women dressed as roosters.  Because, you know, culture.

What interests me is (something which magicians themselves have pointed out) the similarity of “tricks” used by magicians and politicians and religions.  Magic acts, religious leaders and texts, and extreme political ideologies are similar in that they employ physical and psychological methods to fool people into believing something that they otherwise would have/should have known is patently untrue ( The man did not pull a quarter from your nose…but gosh darn it, it sure looked like he did).  Ultimately, magicians and demagogues and priests don’t have to fool people, because by using a combination of visual, oral, and intellectual illusions, they get people to fool themselves.

 

 

I recently tuned into my favorite podcast on communication and science, Clear + Vivid , and was pleased to hear that C+V host Alan Alda’s guest was Penn Jillette (aka “the talking half “of Penn and Teller).  In Magic, Tricks, and Us, Penn explored this question:


When we see a magic trick, is the magician fooling us,
or are we fooling ourselves?

 

 

Jillette’s thesis is that “magic tricks” are a test of how we process reality:

“If you’re lying to somebody, they’ll catch you. But if you get someone to lie to themselves, you’ve got ’em.  And that is what we’re (magicians) always trying to do: get people to make assumptions…because they’ll put up a wall around me, but if I can come around the edge, we can fool ’em that way.

He talks about illusions v. tricks, and how he prefers the latter:

“Tricks are ideas that you get someone to…to lie to themselves. Because the trick, instantly, deals with one of the most important subjects we can deal with, which is how we establish what’s real; how we agree on a reality.  For me, doing magic is a playful epistemological experience. We are playing around, in a safe zone, with how we establish what’s true.  We’ve seen what happens when truth is played with on a real stage, in the real world…and it’s horrific.   If you come to see a Penn & Teller show and you say, if these two guys can make me think something that’s patently not true, what can people with a real budget, and a lack of morals, do?”

Penn, an atheist and advocate science and of reality-based thinking, briefly addressed criticism that atheists don’t accept or appreciate “mystery” in the world.

“Atheists are often accused of ‘not accepting the mystery,’ and it’s exactly the opposite. Atheists are very happy going, ‘Hmm, I don’t know.’
Reality-based thinking is actually more in love with mystery than magical thinking.  When scientists said, ‘I don’t know,’ they had more love of the mystery than someone who said, ‘I do know, and it’s god.’
The three most important words of the scientific method are, ‘I don’t know.’ Those were not said until 500 years ago. Priests and rulers and kings, they always knew. Scientists came along and went, ‘I don’t know.’  Those three words are to me the scientific method.”

What spurs scientific investigation in the first place is recognizing and admitting what we don’t know, followed by harnessing the curiosity and freedom to investigate. We all benefit from the science that springs from admitting what we don’t know about a natural phenomenon, rather than being “given” incomplete, incorrect, or simply nonsensical non-answers (“Allah willed it;” “Jehovah did it,” “Pele/Isis/Jesus sent the plague/rains/tornado/volcanic eruption to punish/reward/bless/remind us….”)

 

 

“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.”
“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
( Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist, professor, and avid bongo player )

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

Harry Houdini used to use lots of trap doors in his magic act.
He’s stopped that now; he was just going through a stage.

 

*   *   *

 

May you appreciate the difference between questions that can’t be answered
and answers that can’t be questioned;
May you be careful what you wish for when it comes to “the aging process;”
May we all realize how truly cool it is that we have another rover on Mars;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Did you see it?  The announcers did a great job of transmitting the NASA/JPL team members’ “Seven Minutes of Terror,” as you think about how butt-frostingly complicated such a mission is, and how many things can go wrong….

[2] Foer example, the contraceptive patch was first available to the public in 2002 but had been in development and testing long before then.

[3] Aka, “The before-you-go toilet spray.”

[4] Yes, of course, that’s in my opinion. This is my blog; whose opinion were you expecting?

[5] Solving the world’s air pollution problems might be too ambitious for junior high, I reckoned.

[6] Neither did he, of course.  I often wonder if I’d been a 13-year-old boy instead of a girl, and come to him with the same idea, would he have encouraged me to study engineering and solve that problem?

[7] As in, wrinkled skin.

The Songs I’m Not Censoring

1 Comment

Gung hay fat choi!

Happy Lunar New Year to my Chinese friends and family, and all who celebrate it.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of At Least They Didn’t Start A Forest Fire

“A 26-year-old Michigan man died on Saturday after he was hit with shrapnel from ‘a small cannon type device’ that exploded when….”

This is how the news article began. What words, would you think, could possibly complete the article’s lead sentence?

“… it was fired in celebration at a baby shower….

 

 

Because celebrating babies and pregnancy and impending parenthood – one immediately thinks: Ah, yes: armaments!

“A cannon type device.” As in, a cannon? It was a friggin’ baby shower; it was not a Civil War reenactment, nor battle enactment of any kind…although – WARNING: BAD PREGNANCY PUN AHEAD – many a woman in her ninth month of gestation has felt like she is personally fighting the Battle of the Bulge.

 

The story continues:

“The man, Evan Thomas Silva, a guest at the party, was about 10 to 15 feet from the device when it blew up in the backyard of a home. Metal shrapnel hit Mr. Silva, three parked cars and the garage where the shower was being held, the police said…..
The night Mr. Silva died, he was among the guests…attending a baby shower — not a gender reveal party….”
( “Celebratory Cannon Salute at Baby Shower Ends in Death,” NY Times 2-7-21

Interesting that the article took pains to mention that this was *not* a gender reveal party, as per the idiotic trend in which celebratory pyrotechnics employed by excited parents-to-be inadvertently yet efficiently caused *more than one* wildfire in the past year (a trend which yours truly had mocked in a previous post).

Attention, expectant parents: stop this. Right now. Stop throwing such events for yourselves and stop attending them in your “honor.” Your friends and family will thank you:  no matter what they are saying to your face, under your nose and behind your back they are embarrassed and appalled that you apparently find the fact of *your* impending parenthood – an event so ordinary that it happens worldwide, 385,000 times PER DAY  – to be so special that it is the cause for the type of celebration usually reserved for a nation’s liberation from a dictator or the opening of yet another Disney theme park.

Have a party if you want to, of course!  Keep it simple – those kind of celebrations are remembered most fondly, and are less stressful to plan *and* attend. Do the potluck thing, play music and silly games.  [1]  But have some perspective, puuuuuhhhhllleeeaassee.  NO cannons, no fireworks – nothing which intentionally or otherwise explodes… with the exception of your Uncle Beauford’s mouth (and other orifices) after his third helping of your elderly neighbor’s double-chili-bean-cabbage-beer-garlic casserole.

 

“We’re so excited about baby’s first artillery!

*   *   *

Department Of What To Serve At Your Baby Shower
Sup-Department Of Maybe Reconsider The Chicken Wings

“Torture a single chicken in your backyard, and you risk arrest. Abuse tens of millions of them? Why, that’s agribusiness.”
( “The Ugly Secrets Behind the Costco Chicken,” NY Times, 2-6-21 )

 

 

Selective breeding by agricultural scientists for larger overall size and enormous breasts – the white meat consumers prefer – has produced  “exploding chickens” that put on weight at a monstrous clip….The journal Poultry Science once calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as these chickens, a 2-month-old baby would weigh 660 pounds…. The chickens’ legs, unable to support the weight of their out-of-proportion bodies, often splay or collapse, making some chickens topple onto their backs (and then they cannot right themselves) and others collapse onto their bellies, where they lie in mounds of feces and suffer bloody rashes called ammonia burns – the poultry version of bed sores.

*   *   *

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Memory Sparking

The film class moiself  had in college: I hadn’t thought of it, nor of the class’s professor, in years.  Now, twice in the past two months both have come to mind (and thus, to this blog).

The first time was two months ago, during the brouhaha manufactured by a Wall Street Journal columnist who chided Jill Biden, who holds a Ph.D. in education, for using her professional credentials. I’d remembered how I’d gotten a kick out of how Robert Miller, my film class’s professor,  [2]  made his point as to how he wished to be addressed.  Miller, who had a Ph.D. in literature, introduced himself as “Professor Miller.” When a student speaking in class prefaced their remarks with, “Dr. Miller…” Miller would interrupt with, “Yes, nurse?”

The second time was last week, when I was listening to a recent Fresh Air interview with former writer  [3]  and current professional observationist  [4]   Fran Leibovitz.  Leibovitz was promoting a new Netflix docuseries, “Pretend It’s a City,”  in which the series’ director (Leibovitz’s longtime friend, Martin Scorsese) talks with Leibovitz about…well, about Leibovitz, and whatever Leibovitz thinks about any and every thing she thinks about.   [5]

In the Fresh Air interview Leibovitz talked about her “career” background. Before enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame as a writer in the 1970s  [6]  Leibovitz held a series of menial/odd jobs. She claims she took housecleaning jobs and drove a taxi because, “I don’t have any skills. I didn’t know how to do anything else.”

“I also didn’t want to do the job that most of my friends did, which was wait tables, because I didn’t want to have to be nice to men to get tips or to sleep with the manager of my shift, which was a common requirement then for being a waitress in New York.”

My film professor, who was a writer as well as a teacher, didn’t (to my knowledge) require any of his students to sleep with him – that’s not why this memory was sparked.  He *did* do something which I thought was an abuse of power, although at that time I hadn’t the emotional or intellectual context to frame it as such, given its complexity.

One afternoon in class the topic was screenplay adaptation.  As an example of how you would turn a literary story into a cinematic one, Professor Miller announced that our next assignment, due the following week, would be to write up a proposal for adapting a piece of short fiction he would give to us.  We’ll spend the rest of the class time discussing the assignment, Professor Miller said.  He began passing out photocopies of – I stifled a gasp when I read the byline – a short story *he* had written.

 

 

I remember thinking, “Uh, this a good idea?  HELL NO.”

Would any student dare say, “This story is not adaptable,” or, “There’s no way I would want to adapt this even if I thought I could because I just don’t like it.…” or express any other critique, from mild to scathing, knowing that it is the professor’s own work?

I tried to stifle my instinctive, lip-curling expression as I read the story, which was a Mailer-Hemingwayesque male fantasy, about a backpacking trip taken by an Older Man ® (an artist-teacher of some kind) and the Much Younger Woman ® he is mentoring and – surprise! – fucking dating.   Meanwhile, Professor Miller read aloud from the story’s campfire scene, a scene which, he told the class, would be particularly visually appealing for a screenwriter (the following is my summation of the scene):

OM and MYW are sitting around their campfire, their conversation terse and tense. There is a sense of growing strain between them for a variety of reasons, including the status of their relationship, and signs of bear activity in the vicinity. When MYW excuses herself  (presumably to go behind the tent to take a pee break),  OM ruminates about how their relationship will likely be coming to an end, as he is older, more educated and world-wise, and she is…well…she is what she is (young and beautiful).

MYW returns, tossing an item into the campfire as she sits down; OM sees a tampon briefly blaze before the flames incinerate it. He begins to panic…. 

Already feeling nauseated by the retch-worthy cliché of the older male teacher/younger female student predatory romantic relationship scenario, I had another thought that made me want to puke in class: he’s not going to incorporate the macho woodsy myth about bears being attracted to menstruating women in his story, is he?   [7] 

OM starts asking MYW about why she didn’t tell him she was having her menstrual period – they’re in bear country, FFS! That explains his feeling that a bear has been stalking them.  Now, they are in danger….

Several students (all male) took turns praising the scene and shared their ideas as to how they would script it.  I remember Professor Miller looking at me several times, as if he expected my feedback – me, who remained silent, despite usually speaking up in class discussions; me, the one student (or so the professor  told me a week earlier, when he’d returned an assignment of mine   [8]  ) whom he allowed to turn any assignment into a prose-writing opportunity.   [9]

I remember looking around at the class, paying particular attention to the expressions on the other female student’s faces, and having a click-worthy moment of realization:

Oh, so *this* is how women learn to fake orgasms.

 

“Do tell?”

 

Up until that moment, the class as a whole had had little problem tearing into films we had been told were “classics” but which one or more of us found poorly made, reductive, or just plain boring.  But for this assignment, what choice did we have, other than to act as if we liked the story?  He was our professor; it was his story. We had to pretend to like or at least approve of it in order for us to succeed in that situation.

Somewhere near the end of class time moiself  raised my hand and asked if we had other options for the assignment – for example, adapting works of…other authors.  I remember phrasing my question as delicately as I could, and squeezing in some (faux) compliments of his story, compliments which were bland enough that I didn’t hate myself for wimping out on what I wanted to do, which was to object to the inherent hubris of him assigning his own story.  Fortunately for me, several of the professor’s suck-ups acolytes weighed in on the subject, and my tacit criticism of his self-indulgent ego trip of an assignment didn’t seem to register (or at least not for long, as I got an A in the class).

*   *   *

Department Of Sometimes I Miss The Good Old Days Of Censorship

“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better. ”

“I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.”

― Mae West

 

The Good Old Days ® of any kind were usually not-that-good, just old.  I am not condoning censorship; continuing with this post’s cinematic theme, I am remember the day in my film class where we learned about the Hays Code, aka the Motion Picture Production Code.  The Hays Code was used, for almost four decades, by film studios to require that their pictures be “wholesome” and “moral” and free from a list of no-nos (e.g. nudity, overt violence, sexually suggestive dances, discussions of sexual perversity, characters which engendered sympathy for criminals, unnecessary use of liquor, making fun of religion, interracial relationships, “lustful kissing,” ridicule of law and order….)

A lively class discussion about the Hays Code ensued.  Several students, and the professor, gave reasons for favoring some kind of code or guidelines (although not outright censorship), due to the artistic ingenuity such guidelines inevitably inspired.

This idea that “guidelines up the game” is one which crosses artistic genres. I recall experiencing a joy I don’t think can be replicated today, when I realized that 13-year-old moiself  “got” The Kinks’ song, Lola, and my parents   [10]   and the radio censors didn’t.  Presently, pop vocalists can call for the execution of people they don’t like, can call each other obscene and racist epithets, can brag about the…uh, humidity level of their intimate parts….  There are few if any lines to subversively read between. 

 

A fun factoid about “Lola” is that the word “Coca-Cola” in the original recording had to be changed ( ♫ “I met her in a bar down in old Soho where you drink champagne and it takes just like Coca-Cola…” ♫ ).  Singer Ray Davies dubbed in “cherry cola” for the song’s release, due to the BBC Radio’s policy against product placement.

 

Son K and I had an interesting IM session about the subject of censorship when, apropos of what-I-cannot-now recall, K came across some info about the Parents Music Resource Center, asked me some questions, and began searching for and then watching videos of the PMRC’s congressional hearing.

[ The PMRC, as some of y’all may recall, was an American governmental “advisory committee” formed in the 1980s which sought to increase parental control over children’s access to music with violent, sexual, and drug-related themes. The PMRC lobbied the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)  to develop a music labeling system, ala the MPAA’s film rating system.  Because the PMRC was founded by four women whose husbands had political connections (including Tipper Gore, married to Senator and later Vice President Al Gore) the group was sometimes derisively and dismissively referred to as “The Washington Wives.” ]

K: man so reading about the PMRC. what was tipper gore’s problem

Moiself What made you read about the PMRC?
Some say Tipper Gore was looking for a “cause,; others, including herself and her husband, say she was a concerned parent who became shocked when she listened to the lyrics of one of her daughter’s favorite songs…and then started acquainting herself with other lyrics to popular music.
I think it’s probably a combination of both motivations.  The PMRC was actually a milder version of other parental groups at the time which were calling for censorship – the PMRC wanted parental warning labels as to content….

I gave K a brief history lesson: at that time, many kids didn’t buy their own records – their parents or grandparents did.  As a parent and “consumer,” I wouldn’t want to spend my money on songs that used racial epithets or promoted homophobic or misogynistic viewpoints to my kids. And in the ’80s lyrics were getting really explicit, which made me actually wish for the days of radio content restrictions…because then singers and songwriters had to be clever.  It was so much fun when, ala my “Lola” reference, you knew something was slipped by the sensors – you caught a reference that even the supposedly hip radio programming directors, as well as your own parents, didn’t “get.”

K: just looking through it, (the PMRC hearings) all comes across to me as one of those bullshit moral crusades. a need to either feel self superior, or a need to control anything that doesn’t appeal to X person’s personal tastes, or both.
it just reminded me of a milder version of McCarthyist witch hunting.
demonizing something for political gain

Moiself: Yes, but the latter is a proven technique.

Later on, in an in-person dialogue, I shared with K my opinion that any form of guideline or structure-free art risks…well, think of the criticism of free verse poetry as playing tennis with the net down.  I’m not lauding censorship per se, but, to reiterate, IMHO guidelines can actually make people more creative – or sneaky, which has a strong element of creativity to it. Because when you can’t just come out and say Certain Things ® you have to be subtle and sly, employing cheeky imagery and evocative dialogue.  You have to be more poetic, in a way.

A movie critic once asked the late great writer/screenwriter/director Nora Ephron if Ephron agreed with the critic’s observation that there seemed to have been stronger roles for women actors, and better plots and dialog, in the earlier days of cinema. Ephron agreed, and lamented contemporary movies’ lack of witty dialogue and snappy repartee – and distinctive, self-assured female characters – which were found in the movies of the 30s and 40s and even 50s.  Beginning in the late 60s, along came the “New Cinema” movement, which emphasized so-called gritty realism. You no longer had to employ clever camera angles and witty, double-entendre laden repartee – now you can just show (instead of imply) a graphic murder, have the protagonists jump into bed together (which had the effect of valuing, defining – and casting – female actors as per their sexual appeal)…and then what?

In an atmosphere where nothing is considered to be off-limits, you will never have the delightful shock value of experiencing, say, the judicious use of “strong” language.  I fondly recall my mother telling me about her most memorable movie experience, when as a child she saw Gone With The Wind. She said she’d never forget how she was both scandalized and thrilled – and how “the entire theater gasped” –  when Rhett Butler delivered his infamous parting line:

 

 

 

*   *   *

Pun(z) For The Day

Moiself : Did you hear about that actress, Reese, who just stabbed a guy to death?
Innocent bystander: Witherspoon?
Moiself : No, she used her knife.

  1. Q.  How does award-winning actor Reese eat her Cheerios?
  2. A.  Witherspoon.

I suppose I have to be a good sport about this.

*   *   *

May you shun any event mixing pyrotechnics and babies;
May you neither actively nor passively contribute to “exploding chickens;”
May you challenge yourself to both follow and subvert the guidelines;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Of course, have these events safely, distanced/outdoors, and masked until this damn COVID-19 thing peters out …do I really need to say this? Apparently.

[2] A pseudonym.

[3] Leibovitz has famously suffered from writer’s block for years, and now seems to get by with having people pay to listen to her talk about the things she used to write about. Not a criticism – she has a keen, sardonic eye, and is quite witty.  I have enjoyed the series, so far (haven’t as of this writing finished listening to all episodes).

[4] I’m not sure if “observationist” is a thing, but Leibovitz seems to be making a living from it.

[5] Which centers around her technophobic life in New York city; specifically, Manhattan.

[6] Using her satirical, NYC-centered wit, she opined on American life in two best-selling collections of essays,   Metropolitan Life and Social Studies.

[7] After class I found a couple of Wildlife Fisheries Biology majors who confirmed that was a myth.  Even so, it was a myth that got a lot of traction, and it wasn’t until in the 1980s and ’90s that biologists did studies proving that bears – or sharks – are no more attracted to menstruating women than to any other kind of human.

[8] storyboarding a dada-esque, vignette-style commercial for the soft drink, 7-Up, which he graded A+.

[9] We’d had and would continue to have various projects over the quarter, from “making” a short films or advertisements or animation. I’d no interest in filming anything or doing animation, and always chose to interpret “making” as doing the screenplay, storyboarding and/or writing portion of the project.

[10] When my friend’s très conservative mother was singing along to “Lola” on the radio while was driving us to the beach, I somehow resisted the urge to ask if she knew she was enjoying an ode to a naïve young man’s romance with a transvestite.

The Mental Note I’m Not Making

Comments Off on The Mental Note I’m Not Making

Dateline: Thursday, returning from my morning walk. A black van slowly drives by my house, then pulls up in my driveway just as moiself  punches in the code to open the garage door.  The car is unmarked; I figure it for a delivery vehicle, and indeed, the driver leaves the motor running as he exits the vehicle and approaches me, carrying a white, pizza-delivery-shaped box and three other items in his arms. He likely cannot discern my confused expression that slowly crosses my face (I am masked) when I see that the “packages” he’s toting all bear the Krispy Kreme logo.

“Excuse me,” I say, “I think you have the wrong address.” His eyes and forehead denote that he is smiling beneath his mask, but I’m not sure he understands me. “Do you have the correct house number?” I ask again.  “We didn’t order….uh, we don’t eat…” I gesture toward his armful. “…any of that.”

He says MH’s name, in heavily accented (Russian?) English, and points to the top of the box, where MH’s first name and last initial are written in black ink. Seeing that I have my hands full (hat and gloves in one hand and walking poles in the other) he leaves the items on the front porch and waves to me as he scampers back to his van.

I enter the house via the garage and tell MH, who is in the kitchen, about the delivery.  He fetches the items from the porch, and tells me that yesterday afternoon someone from work messaged him with the news that there would be a “sweet treat” delivered to him tomorrow, in honor of his 30 years with the company.

“I was hoping,” MH shakes his head, “for chocolates.”

Here is what MH got:  a donut assortment and a bucket of coffee and eight cups and enough creamer to drown a possum (*eight* coffee cups?  Whom do they think he’ll be having over during these COVID social isolation times?).

 

 

MH does not drink coffee (thirty years, and they don’t know this?), and doesn’t eat donuts.

Yeah, team!  Way to know and value your employees!

Even as I type this MH is receiving “very nice” calls and messages from people he works with, regarding his 30 years with the company, and I can tell he is touched by their individual expressions of congratulations.  “The company” as such does have an interesting history of less-than-stellar acknowledgements of significant anniversaries, as moiself  noted in this space, five years ago. What the heck; it all makes for a better story than a gold watch.

*   *   *

Department Of What Have I Ever Done To Deserve This?

Thursday was quite the day.  I awoke Thursday morning at 3:30 AM – a good five hours before the surprise KK delivery – and, as always when I awaken in mid-eve/early am, an earworm was infecting my brain.

This time, the song was a particularly odious one.  I’m not talking Osmond Family odious, but almost.

 

“Oh, did you say something insulting? We’re too busy urging agents of the Mormon church to buy controlling percentages of Proctor & Gamble stock – the makers of the Crest Whitening Strips ® we heartily endorse! – to pay attention to your gentile gibes. ”  [1]

 

It was a Bobby Goldsboro song: The Straight Life.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Stranger’s Post I’m Responding To.
Sub Department Of Why. Do. I. Do. This.

A friend posted the following on Facebook (passing it on, I’m guessing, from someone else’s’ post).  Underneath a faded photo of a baby girl and her adorable sisters (all of whom appeared to be under age three), was this entreaty (I removed the names; other than that, the post is as originally written and punctuated.):

PLEASE HELP!!
51 years ago our mother _ _ ___ (nee ____).     Walked out of these 3 little girls lives ___ &  ___ & ___ (last name) Castle . For what reason were really not sure, we have had several failed attempts to find her this is now our last chance of any hope of finding her.  she could have moved abroad Australia or Canada. She will be 74 now born 9th December 1942. Social media seems to help with good things, life can never be  complete when you  don’t know who or where your mother is. We need this to go WORLD WIDE….. PLEASE HELP ….

I kept second guessing moiself  as I typed my comment.  I don’t know these people; they aren’t asking for my advice….except that they *are,* in that internet way.  By asking for their post to go WORLD WIDE they are seeking a worldwide reaction.

As a citizen of this world, I still feel a keen loyalty to a part of the world with which I have a significant history: working in women’s reproductive health care clinics.  Some of the women and girls I served were mired in the myriad of situations which might cause a woman to “walk out” of her children’s lives and resist any attempts to be found.  Also, I cringed to read the post’s – unintentional, I assume, yet inherently presumptuous  – dis of the lives of adoptees and orphans, and others who may not know their biological mothers but who nonetheless live lives filled with love, fulfillment, and purpose.

So yeah, moiself  had to dive in:

“For what reason were really not sure, we have had several failed attempts to find her….” Do you really think it is wise to pursue this? There are probably reasons your “failed attempts to find her” have in fact failed….can you accept that there are likely reasons she may have, that have to do with her not wanting to be found, reasons that might be painful for you to know and impossible (in her mind, at least) for you to truly understand?
I worked in women’s reproductive health care for years, and the stories I heard and was witness to….would take years to describe. Are you prepared for where this might lead?
I’m sorry for your pain; even as I can’t let a statement like “life can never be complete when you don’t know who or where your mother is…” stand uncontradicted, as it is patently false, given the fact that people all over the world have lived fulfilling lives, having to deal with far more in terms of pain and uncertainty.
I wish you and your sisters – and your biological mother, be she alive or dead – all the best, including peace in this matter.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Calling All Math Nerds

Help me out on this one. Dateline: Tuesday, circa 7 am, listening to a podcast while doing The Morning Walk Thing ® .  The podcast (the name of which escapes me now)  [2]  featured an interview with a guest who was a mathematician.  Mr. Math Man was talking about the “perfect number,” a mathematics concept wherein the divisors of said number add up to the number itself.  For example, 6 is a perfect number because 3 + 2 + 1 = 6.

But wait one darn minute.  Just prior to revealing this Perfect Number equation, Math Man said that the divisors of 6 are the numbers 3 and 2 (3 x 2 = 6), *AND* 6 and 1 (6 x 1 =6).  If you add all of those together you get 12, not 6.  Why was he leaving out 6 when he’d just said it was a divisor – as is 1, and he included the 1 in the “perfect number” equation?

 

 

No doubt there is some, because-we-define-it-this-way-that’s-why explanation that makes the less-than-perfect (IMO) definition of the perfect number more perfect – an explanation that would have to involve the divisors of the number but not the number itself being included in the “perfect” addition equation.

But wait, there’s more!

 

Too late.

 

Since every whole number is divisible by itself and one, that leaves the number one as a partnerless divisor in those perfect number equations…and you could never have a perfect number, using the definition of perfect number which the guest presented, unless the number itself was excluded from its divisors addition – again, which leaves the number one missing its divisor partner.  Which seems kinda lonely, to me. Can any number even be considered a divisor without the action of another number?

Yeah, I could google this.  I’d just rather throw out to the universe this silly rumination of arcane concepts question of burning importance to the very nature of our existence.

 

Make that, the divisor stands alone.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Momentarily Missing The Point

Moiself  has been using a new meditation app. One recent morning in a guided meditation, the narrator instructed me to “…make a mental note in my mind…”

Well…yeah…that is where I would make a *mental* note.

The note I was advised to make had to do about breathing, but instead and immediately moiself  started making mental notes about the delightful redundancy of the suggestion.

Yes, my mind is where I make my mental notes,
as opposed to my elbow or my spleen…
Wow! Am I so ahead of the practice, or what?!?!?

That went on for…way longer than it should have.

Although my investigation of the phenomenon assures me that it is common to all humanity, I’ve always thought that the dictionary definition of monkey mind should include a picture of moiself .

*   *   *

Department Of Silver Linings

The Presidential Inauguration.

As much as I was thrilled for the new Prez and Veep to be sworn in, moiself  girded my loins for the inevitable yet no-less-offensive-just-because-they-all-do-it invocation.  Of all the things that should *not* be heard in a secular democracy’s inauguration ceremony, religious rhetoric of any kind tops my list.  It turned my stomach for a variety of reasons.

I don’t care about Biden’s personal religion – that’s the point, it should be *his* personal business.  A nation based on a deliberately crafted, god-free constitution does not need to hear anything resembling advice or entreaties from a minister when we are installing our head of state – in particular, we don’t need the nonsense from a priest who quotes  the head of state of the worldwide cabal of celibate (ha!) sexists and altar boy buggerers.   [3]  

I was saved from my disgust when I realized what was to follow the putrid  proselytizing invocation.  The Inauguration announcer, who used his Solemn And Important ® voice to announce the Supreme Court Justices, and Harris and Biden, and then the invocation speaker, was also going to use that same voice to introduce she-who-was-to-sing-our-national-anthem.

Mere words cannot describe the petty thrill that tickled moiself  from eyebrows to tootsie-toes when I heard those stentorian tones used for the words I never expected would be part of an inaugural ceremony:

“Please welcome Lady Gaga.”

If only Her Ladyship could have worn her meat dress….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of If I Had My Life To Live Over Again…

…I just might choose a multidisciplinary field of study which would have qualified me to be an “expert” on the recent  Freakonomics podcast I found so entertaining.  “The Downside of Disgust” (Ep. 448, 1-20-21) dealt with the human biological response and reflex known as disgust.

I imagine teaching an undergraduate course in the science and sociology of disgust. I would call moiself , Professor Eeeeeewwwwwwwwww.   [4]

*   *   *

Department Of Blast From The Past

Typing the previous section about disgust led me to trip down the Memory Lane staircase, where I landed spread-eagle on the floor of a recollection I posted about, way back on 10-19-12 (yikes – moiself  has been blogging for that many years?):

October 19, 1945, is the birthdate of Harris Glenn Milstead.  Better known as his stage name, “Divine,” the flamboyant transvestite starred in ten John Waters films,     [5]  and would have been 67 today had he not died 25 years ago from an enlarged heart.

Divine holds a special place in my normal-sized heart ever since we shared an elevator ride in our nation’s capital.  I was in town on a business trip, installing a computer system at WWDC.   [6]  The groundbreaking radio station    [7]   was located in a high-rise office building in downtown D.C. One morning after returning from our daily get-away-from-these-crazy-radio-people fresh air break, my installation partner R and I boarded an empty elevator in the building’s lobby. The elevator stopped at the next floor, and Divine and his PR agent (or so I guessed, from what I heard of their conversation) got on.

Although he lacked his customary stage attire and fright wig, the bald, 300 lb, self-proclaimed “Drag Queen of the Century” was (for me, at least) immediately recognizable. He was in full, eyebrow-elevating makeup, and looked petty much like the picture (below), despite his oddly conservative attire of a Hawaiian shirt, khaki pants and brown loafers.

R and I observed proper Elevator Etiquette and rode in silence, me using the elevator doors as a focal point as I tried to suppress my shit-eating grin.  R stole several furtive/suspicious, OMG glances at Divine, who chatted with his agent about an upcoming promo appearance.

The men exited the elevator two floors before our stop. As soon as the elevator doors closed I turned to R and gushed,
“That was Divine!

R’s cheeks nearly exploded with the force of her sputtered retort:
“That was disgusting!”

Turns out R had no idea who Divine was.

I explained. It didn’t help.

 

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

With great flourish, the Spanish magician exclaimed,
“On the count of three, I shall make myself disappear!
Uno!  Dos!” …and then he vanished, without a tres.

 

*   *   *

May you discover the cheap thrill of using your lowest, most somber voice to say, over and over again, “Lady Gaga;”
May you honor longtime colleagues with appropriate gifts – better yet, just tell them something you like about them;
May your favorite memories be Divine (or at least never disgusting);
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Mormons (usually privately) use the term “gentiles” to refer to anyone – yes, even Jews – outside of their LDS faith.

[2] Gasp – ’tis a podcast host’s worst nightmare, to have the name of their show less memorable than a listener’s random memory of it!

[3] Yes, that would be The Pope.  A fucking pope, the most anti-democratic kind of  “leader” there is…

[4] And on the first day of class, I’d ask Lady Gaga if I could borrow her meat dress….

[5] Most notably in “Pink Flamingoes,” as Babs Johnson, the film’s “Filthiest Person Alive,” dog-excrement eating heroine (just imagine what the film’s villains had to do).

[6] A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for a company that designed computerized “traffic” systems for radio and television stations.

[7] “DC-101” was the first American radio station to play a Beatles song: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” in December 1963.  DC-101 was where DJ Howard Stern was paired with news anchor Robin Quivers and honed his “shock jock” persona.

The Girl Scout Cookies I’m Not Buying

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Department Of Did The Last Four Years Really Happen?

I’m still numb.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Difficult Family Questions

Dateline: earlier this week, listening to a Freakonomics podcast (“How Much Do We Really Care About Children?“), I heard this statistic on U.S. birth rates:

“As of 2019, the total fertility rate was 1.7 — that’s 1.7 babies born per woman of child-bearing age over her lifetime.”

I immediately thought of my two children, K and Belle, both young adults and successfully fledged.  They keep up with politics, demographics and current affairs.  I pondered how moiself, as a Loving and Responsible Parent ®, can honestly respond to them should they run across this statistic, then pose the inevitable question.

How will I decide which one of them is the .7 child?  Should I flip a coin?  Make my judgment based on which one is more likely to visit me in the nursing home (or less likely to put me in one)?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Sometimes It’s Better To Let Your Imagination Run Wild
With The Question And Not Even Care About The Answer

The question I am referring to comes from the previously-referenced Freakonomics podcast episode (“How Much Do We Really Care About Children?“), which posed the question,

To what degree have car seats functioned as contraception?

 

*   *   *

 

“I thought Girl Scouts was supposed to be about making the world a better place. But this isn’t at all making the world better.”
( 14-year-old Girl Scout Olivia Chaffin, quoted in “Child Labor Linked to Palm Oil in Girl Scout Cookies, Snack Brands”)

 

 

Dateline: Sunday afternoon.  Moiself  was backing my car out of the driveway, just as The Cutest Girl Scout In The World ® left a flyer on my porch. She continued on, walking with her father (my guess) and another Scout to my neighbor’s house. I stopped my car, got out and waved, and from a maskless-but-safe-distance her father said the Girl Scouts were doing a different form of cookie sales this year – orders online – and that the information was in the flyer.

After returning from my errand, I googled to see if the reasons moiself    [1]   had boycotted Girl Scout cookies the past few years were still valid.  Sadly, yes.  The Scouts are still using palm oil in their cookies…AND…a report has just been released linking the production of that palm oil to child labor violations.

I have long wished  [2]  that GS fundraisers would involve a community service drive several times a year, akin to the Boy Scouts’ Xmas tree recycling service. I mean, community service – yay!  Besides, look at us Americans – no one should be eating those (or any organization’s fundraising) cookies.

 

 

But it’s the palm oil usage – specifically, the orangutan and other wildlife habitat destruction resulting from the production of palm oil – that has me the most concerned.  People can choose to snack themselves into Type II Diabetes, but orangutans have no choice in the matter of where they can live, and they certainly don’t choose to have their habitat razed to grow a cheap oil so that humans can have smoother ice cream, less runnier lipstick, and crisp cookies and potato chips.

When K & Belle were in the Oregon Zoo Teens program they learned about the problems with palm oil production, and began educating us – their parents, family and friends – on why we should choose products that did not contain palm oil and boycott those that did.  Such education should be right up the Girl Scout’s alley, so to speak, with the organization’s declared belief in “…the power of every G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader) to change the world,” and their manifesto, to build “girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.”

But, according to the EcoWatch article, “Child Labor Linked to Palm Oil in Girl Scout Cookies, Snack Brands,” that ain’t happening.  Excerpts from the article (my emphases):

Environmental concerns first motivated then-11-year old Chaffin to investigate the source of the palm oil in the Girl Scout cookies she sold. Chaffin…saw that the palm oil listed on the cookie boxes was supposed to come from sustainable sources. However, she looked closer and saw the word “mixed”, which meant that sustainable and non-sustainable sources had been combined in the cookie recipe.

She swore off cookie-selling and launched a petition one year ago urging Girl Scouts to abandon palm oil….

Chaffin told The Associated Press that learning about the child labor issues   [3]   made her more motivated to fight for the oil’s removal….

The Girl Scouts did not respond to The Associated Press before the study was published, but did address the article on social media.

“Child labor has no place in Girl Scout Cookie production. Our investment in the development of our world’s youth must not be facilitated by the under-development of some,” the organization tweeted.

They said that their bakers and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) should take action if standards were being violated.

In other words, business as usual. They are shocked – shocked! – to learn about child labor violations (and don’t forget habitat destruction), but not enough to put any political or economic muscle behind their rhetoric.

The Girls Scouts claim to “…offer the best leadership development experience for girls in the world.”  Their girls are inadvertently learning a lesson in politico-speak (express concern, but don’t make any actually changes which may threaten your income stream), which is sadly common to leaders worldwide.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Quote Of The Year, 2021:

“But fuck you for being there.”

Moiself  realizes the year is young, but already there is a comment which so succinctly nails What Happened on January 6 ® that I am hard pressed to imagine what might beat it for Quote of the Year.

It comes from NPR’s January 15 article,  “Meet Three D.C. Police Officers Who Fought For The U.S. Capitol.”  Excerpted here,  the article contains interviews with police officers who were attacked by the pro-#45 mobs who stormed the US Capitol.

Beaten, tased, lying dazed on the steps leading out of the west side of the U.S. Capitol on the afternoon of Jan. 6, Officer Mike Fanone remembered thinking,

“…about the movie Black Hawk Down when the pilot gets stripped from the cockpit because guys were grabbing gear off my vest, they ripped my badge off of me, and people were trying to get my gun, and they grabbed my ammunition magazines.  I remember trying to retain my gun, I remember guys chanting, ‘Kill him with his own gun.’ “

Fanone was tased at least a half-dozen times. He says he considered using his gun to defend himself, but knew rioters would likely turn the gun on him. So he pleaded for his life.

“At one point, I decided I could appeal to someone’s humanity in this crowd. And I said I have kids,” he recalls. “Fortunately, I think it worked. Some people did start to protect me, they encircled me and tried to prevent people from assaulting me.”

Fanone, a 19-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, was found and eventually pulled to safety by his patrol partner. He was hospitalized, and was told he had had a heart attack.

Fanone says he doesn’t want to get into what may have motivated Trump’s supporters, many of whom have long claimed they back police. He’s thankful he got out alive, but he’s angry that that was ever in question.

“The ones in the crowd that somehow appealed to their better angels and offered me some assistance, thank you,” he says. “But f*** you for being there.”

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yes, This.
Reflections After The Inauguration

Although I love watching the Olympics and missed having the opportunity to do so in 2020,  [4]  moiself  did not miss having to listening to the devoted, often over-the-top-and-arrogant, fans of Team USA.  Hearing their strident, hyperbolic chants of, “USA! USA! USA! We’re Number One!” makes me want to do a number two, as I think of how those chants represent many of my fellow citizens’ understanding of our place in the world, both historically and in the present.

When it comes to being a “great” country, we *are* number one…in self-delusion and mythology.  Maybe, just maybe, we could be #1 in potential of across-the-board quality of life, if the majority of us could be honest with ourselves.

 

 

Those ideals in our founding documents,   [5] national anthem and patriotic songs are just that.  They are ideals to which we may aspire, but they are not reflections of either historical or present reality; they are a journey, not a destination.  We are not “there yet” – how could we be, when the codification and implementation of the lofty democratic ideals of our so-called fore-fathers involved the complete exclusion of our foremothers? The omission of political power for over half the country’s population lasted for 144 – yes, that’s one hundred and forty-four ­– years after our country’s “birth”!

We are not there yet.  And how can we ever be, when there is only grudging (if any) acknowledgement from too many of us about the reality of   [6]   the treatment of the original occupants of our land – the native/indigenous peoples, as well as those who did not come here willingly, but who instead were the “…tired, poor,  huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” because our ancestors had enslaved them?

 

 

Make America great again? To anyone who chants that insipid call to political arms slogan: what can you possibly mean by, *again*?

You can’t make American something it never was.  Make America Live up to its great ideals – or tear them down and start over.

So sez moiself.  Thus, it was refreshing to hear Baratunde Thurston give his take on the subject, on a TED talk. Thurston, a writer, comedian, political commentator, activist, philosopher, and “futurist,” is also the producer/host of the marvelously titled, “How to Citizen, a podcast which “… reimagines the word ‘citizen’ as a verb and reminds us how to wield our collective power.”

“I really appreciate the honesty of saying, ‘We haven’t succeeded yet.’ I think we are so good at myth-making, about our greatness and our uniqueness and our specialness, that we forgot we’re not there yet.  We have a big number of us who can say, like,  ‘We used to be so great!’

How could you say that when half the population couldn’t even vote? *When are you starting the clock?*
So, there’s a lot to do. There’s value to the honesty that we haven’t really done it yet, and there’s motivation to the idea that we might get there.  And I think we have to be motivated by the pursuit, not just the arrival.  That we’ve gotten a little bit better; that we’ve reckoned with some of the more painful things, knowing there’s a laundry list of stuff we still haven’t dared to face honestly.  And if we get closer, that’s still good.”

( Excerpts from TED radio hour podcast, “How to Citizen,”
with Baratunde Thurston speaking with TED host Manoush Zomorodi )

*   *   *

Department Of Gut Check – Yep, I’m Still Numb

And just now daring to relax.  The inauguration happened; no one was shot.

When I finally let myself watch part of the proceedings moiself was both mesmerized and comforted by Amanda Gorman’s recitation of her stunning poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of One More Thing

And – hello, New York Times headline on the 20th   [7]    – I never, ever again want to read about #45 and his entire, vile, despotic, rapacious, racist, sexist, nepotistic, cadre of liars and thieves, unless the story has to do with their impending criminal charges, plea bargains, and convictions.    [8]

 

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

Finally it’s, 2021, and now I can truthfully say that hindsight is 2020.

 

*   *   *

May your children all be 1.0 and never .7;
May we work toward making our country great (not “again”);
May we aspire to deserve the voices of poets like Amanda Gorman;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] A former girl Scout, and lover of their Thin Mints cookies.

[2] And have done more than wishing; i.e., expressing to Scout leaders and writing to the national organization (with no response).

[3] “Child labor is another major problem for the (palm oil) industry, according to The Associated Press. The UN’s International Labor Organization estimates that 1.5 million children aged 10 to 17 work in Indonesia’s agricultural industry, of which palm oil is the dominant crop. In Malaysia, a 2018 study found that more than 33,000 children work in the industry, and that almost half of them are between the ages of five and 11.”

[4] On the off-chance you were off-planet, the 2020 Olympics were cancelled due to the pandemic.

[5] e.g. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence.

[6] And never mind the possibility of reparations for….

[7] Who gives a flying fuck if Tiffany tR**p is engaged?  Shame on you for making me scroll past that in order to access my daily mini-crossword.

[8] And hopefully those stories will have at least eight footnotes.

The Terms I’m Not Agreeing To

Comments Off on The Terms I’m Not Agreeing To

“As the coronavirus pandemic has kept more residents at home, it has created such a high demand for adopting dogs that there’s a dwindling supply.”
( “So many pets have been adopted during the pandemic that shelters are running out,”
Washington Post, 1-6-21 )

Since it is likely the physical isolation will continue for some time – i.e.,  until the post-holiday spikes settle down and vaccination distribution reaches the masses – I’ve been thinking of jumping on the COVID companion bandwagon and adding a new pet to our family.  Moiself  is having trouble deciding; I’m torn between two equally compelling options.  What do y’all, think:

 

Or

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Reasons I Hate The Business Side Of What I Do
Part 1,294 In A Seemingly Endless Series….

Dateline: earlier this week, reading the fine print of the publishing contract of an international fiction journal – a journal whose aims/ambitions and unique form of distribution I respected…until moiself  read this part of their contract, in the section,  Grants of Rights (my emphases):

(d) The publication Rights granted in The Furrowed Kneecap Review
[1]  may be exercised in any media now in existence or hereafter developed, including without limit, print media, electronic media, and electronic data bases….

 

Your work belongs to us – now, and in whatever future there can be, bwah haa haw!  

 

Yeah, that frosts my butt (and furrows my kneecaps). But the thing is, in the Wild Wild West of the publishing world, what with digital and other rights being coined and  re-invented within minutes of the appearance of new/online technologies which purport to “broaden a writer’s exposure” (read: steal use your work without compensation), more and more publishing contracts, whether for book-length material or journal articles, have some form of this language.  And no matter what the stipulations, a contract it can turn out to be – like many a domestic violence victim has discovered re restraining orders – “just a piece of paper.”  As one writer friend of mine learned, within two months after his book was published, your work may be scanned and posted on some website – where it can be downloaded and read (as in, stolen) by people all over the world  with no financial remuneration for you.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of We Be Needing Schooling On A Complicated/Simple Word

“An educated person before the scientific revolution could very well believe that there were unicorns and werewolves, and that comets and eclipses are portents of the future – beliefs we now think of as primitive, superstitious, magical, but they were the conventional understanding of the day.”
( Steven Pinker, psychologist and author, focusing on language,
the mind, and human nature and behavior)

Educated.   What do we mean when we say that someone is, “educated,” or that a person “needs to be educated?”

It should be a positive thing, to be to be educated or to be thought of as such.  However, it seems to moiself  that, more and more, I am hearing and reading educated  used as a sort of passive-aggressive pejorative.  As in,

“He just needs to be educated, then he wouldn’t be such a ______ ( racist; sexist; nativist; libtard;  homophobe; fan of ‘The Bachelor’….)”

 

 

Sometimes, that may indeed be the case: the person whom you think needs to be educated is demonstrably ignorant on certain facts, and/or has led a sheltered life sans exposure to different people and ideas, and/or lacks wider world experience and the perspective it brings.  But, here’s the trick: a person can be educated about an issue, just as educated as you are – BTW how are you-who-are-using-the-term-“educated” defining it? – and can disagree with you.

A person can know the facts, and agree with you as to what the facts are (“We both accept the Homeland Security Department’s statistic that 254,595 of the ‘Aliens Apprehended’ in the fiscal year 2019 were from Mexico and 1,368 were from Bangladesh”), but can vehemently and sincerely disagree with you about what the facts *mean.*

Let’s all be careful out there, and not take the ad hominem, patronizing, gettin’-all-educated-on-your-uninformed-ass manner when someone disagrees with us:

“They need to get educated  on  ____ [your pet issue];  then they’d see….”

That person to whom you are so quick to ascribe ignorance may know much more than you realize; beware the unspoken assumption, “If only he were educated in the matter, he would agree with *me*.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Surprisingly, This Was *Not* A Story About Farting

Although when I tuned into a favorite podcast of mine and heard this introduction, I at first thought they were putting a sciencey-spin on a story about SBDs.   [2]

“In 1931 a chemist named Arthur Fox accidentally released a cloud of phenylthiocarbamide in his lab.  A colleague nearby complained about the noxious odor…but Fox didn’t know what he was talking about…”   [3]

 

 

*   *   *

I’m not a fan of body building/weight lifting or MMA fighting, and I absolutely loath boxing, but I was intrigued by the The Game Changers This documentary was produced by and/or featured interviews with major players in the afore-mentioned sports, and also film, including James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton, Novak Djokovic and Chris Paul. 

The Game Changers focuses largely on males, and myths about meat, protein, and strength, and on how such myths got started and are promoted (to us all, but especially to men and athletes and others in “macho” professions, e.g., firefighters).  It features interviews with top athletes in their field who have increased their performances (and the longevity of their careers and their overall cardiovascular health) by opting out of the standard American diet (appropriate acronym: SAD) with its emphasis on meat and dairy products, and switching to plant-based eating.

 

 

The documentary also makes the bigger picture, linking personal consumption choices to global consequences :

And with more than 70 billion animals consumed globally every year, growing animal feed requires vast amounts of land. Which is why the single biggest source of habitat destruction is said to be the livestock sector….in South America, some 70% of former forests in the Amazon are now used to graze cattle, with much of the remainder used to grow feed crops for the cattle. Anti-poaching rangers on the “frontlines” of protecting endangered species see these effects firsthand.


“The actual biggest threat we have is the meat industry and the land that they are continually taking away from what we have left of these natural wilderness areas. Inch by inch, yard by yard, mile by mile.”


(  Damien Mander, founder of The International Anti-Poaching Foundation )

Also, the film is just dang funny in parts…and about parts. The scene where a medical doctor “who wrote the book on the penis” (literally) gets three football players to participate in an experiment showing how their nocturnal erections are greater in both quality and quantity  [4]  after eating a plant-based meal – it gets ten stars on the giggle-meter.

 

One of the things that interested me in the documentary was thinking that it might give me a chance to make fun of AHHHnold Schadenfreude  Schwarzenegger.  Turns out I need to bitch-slap moiself back to the 1990’s for holding that petty thought, as Herr Schw-etcetera actually comports himself quite well.

Oh, and lest you think certain opinions of moiself’s  have changed, although I’m pleased to see him realizing and embracing the personal and planetary benefits of plant-based eating, I still wish Maria Shriver would have gone all paleo on Ahhhnold’s cheating ass.

*   *   *

The Podcast I’m Not…Casting?

Think of all the great, meandering conversations you’ve had with a friend, and how you enjoyed the sometimes linear/sometimes non sequitur give-and-take, because you were a part of it.  Now think how many of those conversations would be interesting for other people to listen to – people who don’t know you and your friend and were not even present during the conversation – for thirty minutes or more.

 

“Who cares if neither of us is talking sense – this is fun.”

 

Regular readers know I am a regular podcast listener. The current list of podcasts I follow/subscribe to includes 20+ feeds, from Clear + Vivid  to the TED Radio Hour.  Five times as long as this list is the catalog of podcasts I have tried for a few episodes – even a few weeks – then deleted from my feed.  Most of the latter are podcasts hosted by Famous People, whose sole subject seemed to be talking with Other Famous People.   [5]

There seem to be a plethora of Famous Folks ® who are either clever or articulate, and who have been convinced by others (read: their agents and fellow suckups celebrity friends) that they are *both* clever and articulate. Thus, these Celebri-pods believe their amiable personae means that merely chatting on mic with their celebri-friends about…stuff…is interesting to others who aren’t directly involved in the conversation.  Wrong.  In my experience, it’s too often….

The fact that anyone can blog used to be touted as an example of the great democratization of our media. Now we’ve devolved from Anyone can blog! to Everyone has a podcast!  So: here’s my idea. With a nod to Abbie Hoffman, I will title my entry into podcast-dom, Turn This Off.

Mine will be yet another foray into the advice podcast genre.  A growing number of podcasts (e.g. Don’t Ask Tig, which I listen to) aim to give columnist-style guidance (think Dear Abby, et al), whether facetious or serious.

By virtue of its title, I figure my podcast will be the one advice podcast where people will actually follow the advice.

Of course, now that I’ve put this idea out there someone’s going to steal it….so this will be the podcast I’m not actually producing.  [6]

 

 

In the podcast I’m not doing, here’s one thing I can guarantee you won’t hear:  the host (that would be moiself ) staying silent when her guest makes a WTF?!  declaration.

Example: a few minutes into a recent celebrity-advice podcast I was listening to, the host’s celeb guest said that “fear should never make you navigate your decisions.”

The following digression is yet another reason why the podcast I’m not doing would fail (for reasons other than me telling people to turn it off) : no celebrities would want to come on my podcast because I wouldn’t let them get away with a statement like that.

Celebrity Guest ® was likely referring to her career decisions; still, she made a blanket statement, and a face-palming one at that. There’ve been books written about why ignoring your fears is foolish.  If you don’t recognize the *value* of fear (one of humanity’s most important survival senses) in making decisions you’ll inevitably make some really poor ones.

Evolutionary biologists tell us that the “rationally fearful” are the ones who survive. I’m not talking about nonsensical fears, like fearing that if you don’t touch the doorknob five times before you leave for work your house will catch on fire, or other phobias or irrational compulsions.  Pay attention to fear (sometimes referred/always related to intuition).  Learn how to analyze a realistic fear (that you may tumble off the cliff if you lean way over trying to get the ultimate selfie) from a momentarily uncomfortable but ultimately inconsequential worry (that you’re anxious you’ll flub your toast to the bride and groom).

In other words, pay attention when your Spidey senses start tingling.

People who don’t pay attention to their fear can end up injured or worse, whether it’s tumbling off of a cliff or being drugged by that “really cool guy” your friend set you up with but whose vibes gave you the willies….

“Intuition is always right in at least two important ways;
It is always in response to something.
It always has your best interest at heart.”

( Security Consultant Gavin De Becker, author of
The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence )

*   *   *

Department Of Partridge Of The Week

Which was actually last week’s, until a mob of racist rightwing Republican-abetted terrorists…current events, shall we say, stole the blog show.  This Partridge in our pear tree will be the last one, until the next solstice/winter/Christmas holiday season:

 

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

I taught my kids how to fart. You could say they were under my tutelage.

 

 

*   *   *

May you pay attention to your fear;
May you follow your dreams
(except for that one where you are naked at work);
May you look in the mirror before you deem that someone else needs to be educated;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

[1] Not the journal’s real name.

[2] Silent But Deadly. Surely, no reader of mine needs that acronym explained.

[3] ( excerpt from Curiosity Daily podcast, Do people think more in words or pictures? )

[4] (consumption of animal products cause inflammation; less inflammation from plant-based proteins = more blood flow to vital, ahem, “areas” of the body.

[5] I discovered these podcasts when I did a search for “comedy” or entertainment podcasts, wanting more laughable-listens in these COVID times, as opposed to shows devoted to news/current events (I have enough of those in my feed).

[6] Although, who knows what 2021 will hold?

 

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