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The Mission I’m Not Volunteering For

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Department Of Roads Not Taken

Dateline: May 1.  A social media post caught my attention: several pictures of our friends’ daughter, who attends a university overseas.  She and her fellow undergraduates, clad in their distinctive red academic gowns, were preparing for one of her school’s traditional activities: the May Dip[1]    Everybody into the North Sea!

It was all so gorgeous.  Romantic, even.  I visited the school’s website, and was entranced by the many pictures: of the academic gowns (students can chose to wear them for formal occasions, or all the time); the other traditions of the centuries-old institution (you gotta love an event called, “Raisin Weekend”); the beauty of the campus and the landscape….  Some of the pictures on the school’s website had moiself  thinking, “That place *has* to be the inspiration for Hogwarts.”

 

 

 

My vicarious joy for my friends’ daughter’s college experience surprised me when, later that afternoon, it resurfaced in the form of an unexpected spasm of a wistfulness at the realization:

҉    There are some things you cannot do over.    ҉

Not complaining.  I was able to attend and graduate from college – an opportunity denied to many around the world.  I received a good education (and, for the most part, had a helluva good time) at the college which was my #1 choice, one of the top schools in The University of California system, (which was at the time) the highest-rated state university system in the nation.

Still, contemplative pangs plagued me the next few days, and I felt drawn to revisit that overseas college’s website, and do the what-if ? thing.  Speculating on alternative realities.  I shared these speculations with friend LAH and son K, who joined MH and I for dinner Sunday night.  Did they ever have similar thoughts/feelings, even regrets, such as wishing they had sought an adventure by going to university out of the country, or ___  fill-in-the-blanks?

The adventure that entices me now is one which never occurred to me to pursue at the time I was applying to colleges.  Sure, I’d heard that some universities   [2]  had semester-study-abroad programs, but to do your entire undergraduate degree oversees?  No teacher or guidance counselor ever mentioned that to me; I didn’t know that that was an option.  And, realistically, it wouldn’t have been, for moiself.

Despite my high GPA and SAT scores in the 90th percentile, what with my family’s finances I would’ve needed a full scholarship to do four years of college abroad.  Given my mindset then (and now), I *never* would have taken out a student loan.  My parents were able to pay for one year of college; I put myself through the rest by doing something that isn’t possible for students today, given the exponential rise in the cost of a college education over the past 30+ years:  While being a full-time student I worked approximately half-time hours at various student jobs   [3]  during the academic year (and full time during the summers).  Working at a student job, even finding a job, is not always an option when you are a “foreign” student.

MH, LAH and K’s responses to my “do-you-ever-look-back?” questions/speculations were generally…nah.  Like me, going overseas for college hadn’t occurred to them (although, with the encouragement of our Swenadian  [4]  friend, K investigated a few Canadian universities and made an on-campus visit to one of them).  And, as MH reminded me, the young woman whose European college adventures I was so smitten with is the daughter of two scientists/academics, who have traveled much overseas (ofttimes with their offspring) and who have more knowledge of/exposure to those kinds of academic possibilities.  K did express mild regret at not being more adventurous at the college he had chosen, in terms of getting more involved in intramural sports and games, and exposing himself to different kinds of art….

 

 Not in that particular way.  [5]

… and music and other activities which were out of his comfort, or even interest, zones.  I would have liked to have heard daughter Belle’s answer to the same question, and may pose it to her, when I next see her in person.

Moiself  came to the conclusion that these longings are my subconscious reminding me that I need to get out more. Preferably, out of the country.  MH’s and my second vaccine doses are next week, and I’ve been having dreams of having the opportunity to, say, sip New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc   [6]   in an Irish pub while listening to a Canadian using a Spanish bagpipe   [7]  to play Celtic music….

*   *   *

Department Of Surprises That Shouldn’t Be Surprises

The light. As in, Hey, there’s so much more of it!

Yes, this happens every year. Lighter in the morning; lighter in the evening; here comes the summer solstice.  Still, I am, once again, surprised by and appreciative of the phenomenon.

 

Not so appreciative that I would devote my life to building one of these, but yeah, the light is nice.

*   *   *

Department Of Answer This Burning Question, Please

What is a Mom Joke, and why is that not a thing?

We all (think we) know what Dad Jokes ®  are, right? Quintessential examples:

What kind of noise does a witch’s vehicle make?
Brrrroooom, brrroooom.

What time did the man go to the dentist?
Tooth hurt-y.

Me: “Dad, make me a sandwich.”
Dad: “Poof, you’re a sandwich!”

Why is there no Mom Joke category? Is it because Dad is the ultimate Mom Joke?

 

 

*    *   *

Department Of Pleasant Thoughts To Meditate Upon Before You Go To Bed

Just when the general public seemed to be paying attention to our excessive (and usually/totally unnecessary) use of hand sanitizers and “anti-bacterial” soaps and wipes, enter, COVID-19 and “germ” hysteria.  I wonder how many super bugs have been incubating during this pandemic?

 

“Good night; sleep tight; don’t let the bedbugs bite….”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Other Things I Think About At Night:  The Mars Problem.

 

 

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”   [8]

You might not even think there is a Mars Problem ®  (except inside my tortured brain). Read on, you glutton for punishment, thoughtful person.

In order for people of all nations – including the folks who live next door – to be enthused about missions to Mars, and to feel that the gazillion hours of research and the gazillion $$$$ required to do so are time and money well-spent, what do we need?

Thanks for asking:  we need to send humans to explore Mars (and other planets and/or moons), not just more probes.   

We’ve already had a glimpse of the future of space exploration, which will entail a mixture of government and private funding – it won’t all be NASA or other governmental agencies.  Even the corporations and gazillionaires willing to entertain such a partnership also need motivation (other than their self-aggrandizement).  And psychologists and behavioral scientists have figured out that human activities are what attract the most human interest (and thus, human investment).

Yep, manned space exploration is horribly expensive, and dangerous…as were earlier explorations in their day.  Homo Sapiens evolved as explorers. The reasons we have for exploring our solar system correspond to the reasons that prompted our ancestors to risk “sailing off the edge of the earth” to explore new (to them) oceans and lands on Earth. In sending a manned mission to Mars, we would be continuing a tradition, exercising a defining “trait” even, of human beings: exploration.

There are sound economic reasons for sending probes (or robots), vs. humans, to Mars. I won’t take issue with the naysayers, except to say my own version of nay.

 

Did I hear, neigh-sayers?

 

Regardless of whether “life” (or even enough usable mineral resources to, say, to make a tin can) can be found beyond our own planet, Mars exploration would boost our citizen’s pride in their country, spark renewed interest in the science and engineering necessary to achieve such a feat, and help lift the U.S. image abroad (Uncle Sam is in need of a face lift, after the worldwide embarrassment that was the  #45 administration).

Alden Munson, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, noted that,

A lot of the warmest feelings people have had around the world have had to do with the space program. It’s hard to put a value on that.”    [9]

We need humans in space because what interests most humans *about* space is humans *in* space.  The whole world would be rooting for the first earthlings on Mars, just as they did for the Apollo moon landing.  And we’ll want (and need) the rest of the world to get involved in research, designing, tracking, and maybe even the funding, of a manned Mars mission.  The human appeal – yes, even (or especially) re the dangers involved – tugs at our intellectual and emotional strings in ways that seeing a robot or probe – as cool as that is! –  does not.

 

 

Also, human explorers can do things that robots/AI devices cannot, including playing hunches, making last-minute decisions in emergency situations, and noticing objects and phenomena that can turn out to be significant, but which missed the programmers’ viewscreens, so to speak.

The most important factor of any manned space mission is the human factor.  Our behavioral science knowledge points to the fact that the most difficult part of any space exploration will likely be the crewmembers, getting along with one another, in the years-long mission (at least 7 months there/7 months to return, and a stay of…months/years?).  

Thus, the rigorous psychological profiling and testing required for astronaut candidates.

So, we come to (my version of) The Mars Problem.   [10]  Moiself  be thinking: you need a crew with a mix of temperaments, interests and skills.  You don’t want carbon copies, not at all Type A/gung-ho Marines on the one hand or all introverted science geeks on the other hand; you need a mix of diverse but also stable personalities.  A mission as fraught as going to Mars will involve years of commitment, not only to the training beforehand, but to get there, stay there, then return…or, not?  Many of Those Who Know What They Are Talking About ® suggest that mission-to-Mars astronauts who volunteer for the program should assume that they will not return. 

 

There goes the neighborhood.

 

““How can you leave forever?” “What does your family think about this?” “Your husband’s O.K. with you leaving him?”
These are the questions I’m peppered with when I tell people this is a one-way trip. And these are reasonable questions, perfectly understandable, and they deserve well-considered answers.”
(Sonia Van Meter, Mars 1 candidate, “Why I’m volunteering to die on Mars” )

This kind of trip will be unlike any before it.  Not just crossing an ocean to a land you heard of (no matter how stormy the seas, you can stick your head out of the porthole for some fresh air) and much farther than humans have ever attempted. Thus, you need a crew who are, essentially, willing to volunteer for a suicide mission. Are well-adjusted humans really capable of this (even though we who will volunteer will say that we are) ?

Other than someone who’s already under a death sentence   [11]  (“What the heck, my oncologist gives me another seven years”/”I’ve nothing to lose – Huntington’s disease will get me in a decade”),  who’s gonna think this is okay?  What kind of person is willing to say, this is somehow worth it, to die for this mission? What kind of person could prioritize that ‘”mission” abstraction over the reality of the loss that will be experienced by their loved ones – spouses and children, family and friends –  who will be 34 million miles away?

How does being able to parse that death/loss/grief v. mission equation mesh with being psychologically healthy? So, you’ll need a crew composed of people who are intelligent and skillful…and are in denial about statistics and reality in terms of their chances of survival…or who simply don’t give a flying fuck.

My conclusion:  For such an undertaking, you’ll need a sane, insane crew.

Just wondering out loud.

As should be obvious by now, moiself  fully supports a manned mission to Mars.  In my younger days I’d have considered volunteering for it, but only, if I’d been unencumbered by family and friends –  people who loved me.  I would have volunteered if I’d had no one who loved  and/or cared about me…which would have meant that I was, what?  An isolated jerk.  Just the kind of person you’d want to share limited space and resources with for a couple of years, eh?

OK, all y’all who think you are smarter than moiself – Elon, for the last time, put your hand down and return to your desk! – figure it out and get back to me.

 

The perfect space crew? Just clone me five times!

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day: Space Exploration Edition

Did you hear how NASA recruited the first cow astronaut?
They told her she could land on the mooooooooooooon.

My astronaut friend divorced her astronaut husband.  She calls him her SpaceX.

 

Please don’t waste our precious oxygen supply by laughing.

 

*   *   *

May you enjoy the extra light, whether or not it surprises you;
May you be loved enough that you would never volunteer to die on Mars;
May you be inspired – but not haunted – by roads not taken;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

[1] At dawn on May Day, after staying awake all night, students run into the North Sea as they are serenaded by madrigals sung by the university’s Madrigal group.  

[2] Those tended to be the wealthier/private schools, or so it seemed.

[3] Including typing other student’s reports and term papers. I charged those engineering students – for some reason, their reports were always a last minute/emergency thing – twice my per page fee when I had to work past midnight.

[4] Longtime readers will recognize that appellation as my friend the Canadian, married to a Swede.

[5] Many people are unaware that, in this infamous poster, the “flasher” is Bud Clark, the eccentric and beloved former Portland mayor.

[6] I’m not a beer drinker; thus, no Guinness or Harp for me.  It seems that the pubs of Ireland have some sort of deal with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc distributors, because that is the wine I found in every Irish pub MH and I visited, when we were there four years ago.

[7] That happened to us, in the wee town of Kinsale.

[8] No money, no space travel. The phrase comes from The Right Stuff, a movie about the beginnings of US space exploration…. “Buck Rogers” was a space-traveling comic strip character in the early 20th century. (The Free dictionary)

[9]Is Exploring Mars worth the Investment?“)

[10] It would be a similar problem re a mission to Europa, or another planet, but for discussion’s sake, I’ll stick with the closest target: Mars. 

[11] Which, you’d think, would disqualify them on medical grounds.

The (insert your organization’s name here) Of The Year Award I’m Not Winning

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Department Of A Rhetorical Question Which Is Going To Be Answered

Dateline: Sunday morning, returning from walk, listening to The Go-Go’s album,  Talk Show.  It’s one of my faves, except for the chorus of the song, Forget That Day. The song’s narrator laments what seems to be a tryst at a no-tell motel, with a lover who is already involved with someone else.  In the chorus, she laments the consequences…over and over and over….

♫  Why’d you say you loved me
That day, that day
When you knew you wouldn’t have me on
This day, this day…

What do you mean *why?*

Because it worked. Because he wanted you to fuck him, and you did.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Best Kind Of Spam Call

MH called me into his work-at-home office. When I entered the room to find out what had put the impish lilt in his voice, he held up his cellphone for me to see the caller ID for the call he’d just received (but did not answer).  “I knew you’d like this,” he said, when moiself  raised my hands with gratitude to unknown cosmic pranksters when I beheld the call’s destination:

Unknown
Athol, Maine

Hopefully, fans of the romcom Made of Honor will also one day have the opportunity to say that you got a call from some anonymous athol.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Well, There Goes My Award

Dateline: Tuesday, noonish.  MH comes downstairs, holding his phone, with yet another bit o’ impishness about him – this time, in his expression.

“What?” I ask him.

“Did you hear that Richard Dawkins got his Humanist of the Year Award taken away?” he says.

I didn’t even know that Richard Dawkins – evolutionary biologist, author, professor, atheist activist, religion-and-supernatural-thinking debunker, and equal opportunity offender when it comes to towing *any* group’s party line – had even received a Humanist of the Year Award…but him being bestowed with that title wouldn’t surprise me. I knew Dawkins had received the prized, “The Emperor Has No Clothes” award from the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation), as well as a variety of other accolades for his advocacy of science and critical thinking. 

“No, I didn’t,” I replied.  “Why was it taken away – wait; let me guess.  He said something ‘offensive’?”

“It was taken away for, ‘transphobia.’ ” MH scrolled through the news feed he was reading.  “Something he tweeted.”

“Oh dear,” I giggled.  “Did someone get their trannie panties in a knot?”

 

 

*   *   *

Department So Of Course I Got Curious

Moiself got to be wondering: when was the award given, and when and what did Dawkins tweet? The answers were just a google search away.

The award was given in – holy crap – 1996?  Twenty-five years ago?  Yeah, he’s gonna be missing that…certificate…trophy…framed plaque…engraved toaster, or whatever prize is bestowed upon a Humanist of The Year.

“Mr. Dawkins sparked a backlash on Twitter after he tweeted on April 10: ‘In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black. Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss.’

Several hours later, Mr. Dawkins clarified he was asking the question for academic purposes and not stating his own opinion on the matter.

‘I do not intend to disparage trans people,’ he wrote. ‘I see that my academic ‘Discuss’ question has been misconstrued as such and I deplore this. It was also not my intent to ally in any way with Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue.’ ”
( “Richard Dawkins loses ‘Humanist of the Year’ award after comparing trans people to Rachel Dolezal,”
The Washington Times, 4-20-21 )

Okey-dokey. So: Dawkins didn’t call anyone names; he didn’t call for anyone to be marginalized or vilified. He merely stated several verifiable historical, biological, cultural and social commentary data:

  1. In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black.
  2. Some men choose to identify as women.
  3. Some women choose to identify as men.
  4. You will be vilified if you deny that they (the men and women in points B and C) literally are what they identify as.

Richard Dawkins is a scientist.  He views the world, even the “social constructs” of the culture wars, through the lens of scientific critique and investigation.  Here is another thing he said, in 2015 when the Rachel Dolezal brouhaha was going on:

Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic.
If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-identification, yes.
I call her “she” out of courtesy.
(Richard Dawkins, @RichardDawkins, Oct 26, 2015 )

I call her she” out of courtesy (my emphases).  Whether you are a scientist or a sociologist or a dinner party guest, you call people what they want to be called; it’s a simple courtesy.  Dawkins reinforces that, by using the preferred pronouns a trans woman would use.  Were any of his critics paying attention?

In terms of the reaction to Ms. Dolezal, Dawkins stated the facts that had many people on the many sides of that wild rumpus wondering, “Wait a minute – how is this is this different from that?” (including moiself , who, deep down inside, identifies as Scarlett Johanssen, no matter what moiself looks like from the outside).

 

“Yeah, right – don’t drag me into this dumpster fire of an issue, bitch.”

Ahem.

Such questions ( “Can we talk about how or why this is, or is not, different from that?”)  can lead to illuminating dialogs.    [1]   Dialogs; you know, as in talking about the issues.  As in, “discussions.” 

Nope.  “Discuss” translates into – Dis-and-react.  As in (attempt to) shame, shout down, demonize,   [2]   and “cancel.”

It often seems that, in the censorious here and now, we cannot merely discuss any hot button topics.  This, regrettably, gives ammunition to those on “The Right” who say that “The Left” is composed of thin-skinned, self-righteous, free-speech fascists/crybabies who cannot abide the examination of their sacred cows without hiding behind the skirts of The Rhetoric of the Oppressed (“You offended me!  WAAAH!”). 

Dawkins, of course, should’ve expected this reaction.  Or, perhaps he anticipated it? He seems to enjoy putting the proverbial burr under the saddle – any rider’s saddle, including those of his own cavalry.

 

“Tell her she can stop right now with the horseback-riding metaphors, okay?”

 

Also, after decades of being threatened with the torments of hell by the (Christian) religious right for his pro-evolution/anti-creationism campaigns (Dawkins has likened the teaching of creationism in schools – which can be found hiding behind the rhetorical skirts of “intelligent design” – as “educational debauchery”), I don’t think Dawkins is going to lose any sleep over the retracted prize.

And so it is that I dust out the Asshat Of The Week award.  [3]   It seems fitting to give the award to The American Humanist Association, to dishonor their sanctimonious revocation of their 1996 award to Dawkins.  [4]

 

American Humanist Association, this Ass Hat is for you.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Everything Is Going To Be All Right, Trust Me

You know how some people contact a famous person and request birthday or other greetings for their friend, their elderly mother, a child dying of cancer, etc.?  Apparently, not all such requests are on the up-and-up, as Former Member of Parliament Nigel Farage discovered when he fell for a prank on a video-sharing app wherein fans pay celebrities to record personalized messages.

Serves him right, sez moiself.  Farage, a Brexit party leader , anti-semitic conspiracy theorist, right wing German anti-immigrant party supporter , long-time #45 defender and all-around enema bag, participates on this greetings-for-hire site (and reportedly charges £75 for each recording).  But money can’t buy a petty thrill as delightful as the one that comes from knowing that Farage’s petty greed and/or ego led to him being seen and heard around the viral world, wishing a happy birthday to a “Hugh Janus.”

“Happy birthday Hugh Janus, I’ve heard you’re a massive fan,” Farage said.

 

They also think it’s hilarious….and they don’t even speak English.

 

You can see the video here.

*   *   *

Department Of 7 Am Reflections On The Meaning Of Life ®

On a walk, blissfully solitary except for the early risers   [5]  taking their canine companions for a morning piss stroll, I find moiself  thinking,

Dogs are amiable, furry, quadrupedal structures enclosing gallon-sized bladders.

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

I keep asking wat LGBTQ stands for,
but I can never get a straight answer.    [6]

 

 

*   *   *

May Those Who Bestow Such Things ® have a helluva good reason before they take away your award;
May you refrain (sorry) from writing songs with stupid questions in their choruses;
May Mr. Hugh Janus record a birthday greeting for you;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] If cool heads reign.

[2] Which is a failing strategy, when applied to an atheist.

[3] Which actually has not been bestowed, by moiself, in several years.

[4] Who will likely lose little sleep over the issue.  “Dawkins, 80, claimed that the loss of the award would have little practical effect on him because he had never used it. ‘Apparently the honour hadn’t meant enough to me to be worth recording in my CV,’ he said.”  (The Times)

[5] Now, why would you think there would be a footnote here?

[6] And the answer is “Let’s Get Bubble Tea Quickly.”

The Songs I’m Not Re-Writing

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Department Of Actually, It *Was* You.
Atone and Move On, But Don’t Deny, Minimize, Or Forget.

Re: the recent Fresh Air interview with singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile.  I tuned in eagerly, as I’m a fan of both the show and Carlile’s music (and am currently reading her memoir).  I’m sure I must have previously heard the BC song “That Wasn’t Me,” but I’d never paid attention to the lyrics until FA host Terry Gross and BC began discussing it.

Carlile had a tumultuous childhood, with a myriad of family challenges, including poverty, coming out as gay as an adolescent (and being publicly refused a baptism because of it), and her father’s alcoholism.  Carlile spoke of being influenced by the mindset/jaron of Al-Anon and Alateen in terms of her composing  That Wasn’t Me, which is sung from the POV of an addict or “misbehaver” of some kind.

The song is written in sympathy, or at least that’s moiself’s  interpretation, as the addict/narrator is not called out for his self-deception which prevents him from full-on owning and/or apologizing for the pain he has caused.

♫  Tell me did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you see, that wasn’t me
That wasn’t me, that wasn’t me  ♫
(excerpt from “That Wasn’t Me,” Brandi Carlile)

“That wasn’t me?” I disagree.  Ginormously.

A second listen to the lyrics and I was still clenching my jaw.

 

 

I assume the song is Carlile’s way of trying to show love/empathy/forgiveness for her father – all laudable emotions and goals. Still, I loathe the way she did it, as in, the lines she gave him.   [1]

Whatever you see, that wasn’t me.  Uh, actually, it *was.*

It was you, using drugs or whiskey or whatever, but it was still *you* on drugs or whiskey, not Mel Gibson or anyone else. Not all addicts do the particular, specific things you did; thus, the whatever-it-is-you-did-that-you-feel-the-need-to-mention,  it *was* you.  It may have been difficult, even-heart-breaking, for the little girl to see you, her daddy, do the things you did, but you did do those things and she saw you do them.  It was you; it wasn’t someone or something (“the needle” or “the bottle”)  else.

 

 

No matter how lyrically or artfully it is phrased, a statement which uses the format of a question for listing the consequences, for others, for your behavior (“did I go on a tangent/lie/cause you to stumble/bring shame on my family…?”) is not an *acknowledgment* of those consequences.  Sans acceptance of responsibility, such an anemic non-apology is arguably even more damaging (to the one being addressed) than a denial.  Especially, in moiself’s opinion, when such statements are aimed at a girl-childs.

From sexual harassment and abuse, to academic, political and workplace discrimination, to family dysfunction and every dynamic on the planet, girls and women are taught, socialized, and pressured to *not*  believe their own eyes and ears, nor to trust their own experiences. “It’s *your* interpretation of what happened that is wrong,” females are told, it’s not that what happened to you is wrong.    [2]

* You’re six years old, and just before another holiday gathering you tell your mother about how the behavior of a certain extended family member creeps you out.  But your mother pooh-poohs your request to stay far away from him.  “Oh no, that’s just your Uncle Buck!  He’s so friendly – Buck loves everybody, and he’s always been a big hugger.  Now, don’t be shy or hurt his feelings when he’s around, you know how special he thinks you are….”
Months or years later, Uncle Buck molests you/your sister/cousin/friend, and/or you find out he’s been arrested for child sexual abuse….

* Introverted, awkward, 7th grade you finally gets up the nerve to complain to your teacher and your parents about your classmate Billy.  Billy constantly looks for opportunities to tease you in the school hallways; he has “bumped into” you several times, jamming his elbow in your ribs (so hard that it once left a bruise); he even tried to push you/trip you down the stairs the other day.  Although you are annoyed by and even growing fearful of Billy, the adults tell you that you should “laugh it off,” and that Billy “…does this because he likes you…and you want boys to like you, right?”

* Your high school guidance counselor tries to discourage you (and another female A-student you know) from applying to a certain university because, he warns you, it is known for being “…a very competitive school, academically rigorous, with all the students vying for pre-professional majors.”  Two male friends of yours, who want to apply to the same university, are told by that same counselor that the school would be an excellent choice for them, as it is “…a very competitive school, academically rigorous, with all the students vying for pre-professional majors.”  This is despite the fact that both your and that other female student’s GPAs and SAT scores are higher than the same of those two boys.   [3]  When you bring this incongruity to the attention of a trusted teacher and/or your parents, you are told that there is no sexist bias, overt or subliminal.  “That’s not like him, no way! The counselor was just encouraging students to follow their natural interests….”

* Your colleague keeps claiming credit for your ideas and work, and/or interrupting you during meetings and/or touching you and speaking provocatively/dismissively to you. He never shows such behavior with his male coworkers. When you bring this to your boss’s attention you are told, “That’s not what’s going on; that’s just Jake.  He doesn’t mean anything personal; that’s his M.O.  Why are you putting that interpretation on things, when no one else has a problem with him?”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of My Brain Just Does This
Number 949 In A Never-Ending Series

Speaking of Fresh Air, Terry Gross is one of the best interviewers ever. And she says something at least once during every FA interview which never fails to amuse me. After TG announces a pause for the obligatory station identification break, she continues with,

“For those of you just joining us, my guest is Brandi Carlile (or whomever.)”

Immediately, every damn time, my brain does a riff on taking that phrase literally, ala

“And for those of you *not*  just joining us, my guest is _______”    [4]

 

*   *   *

Department Of What Is The Sound Of Asparagus Screaming?

The Food Editor of the NY Times apparently knows, as per this recent headline:

16 Asparagus Recipes That Positively Scream Spring

I made one of the recipes (“Turmeric Black Pepper Chicken With Asparagus”), “trading”  [5]  crumbled tempeh for the chicken.

Moiself  heard no positive (or negative) screaming, nor vocalizing of any kind, from the asparagus stalks.  The asparagus tips, however, were another matter.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Perfect Shell

  1. The perfect shell does not exist.
  2. Even if it does exist, it is unlikely that I will find it.
  3. There is no third thing.

That said, something about the symmetry and simplicity of the lines and coloring made me think that this shell is close to perfect. 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Doing My Part For Public Health

What from I’m been seeing on social media, apparently, the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccination approaches 110% if you post a picture of your proof of vaccine card.  Not wanting to dis science or anything:

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Nit-Picking Yet Another Podcast-Related Song

Don’t Ask Tig (“Comedian Tig Notaro doesn’t have all the answers, but that won’t stop her from giving advice on…”).  The podcast is bookended with Edie Brickell songs – new songs, apparently written for (and owned by?) the podcast.  The theme/opener seems to be “We Got a friend in Tig,” and the closing song, I’m calling, “That’s What Your Heart is For.”   [6]    The closing song reminds me of the podcast itself, in that I like a lot of things about it but there are parts of it I want to change.

♫  Ooooh, my sweet child/There’s so much I want you to know
Ooooh, my sweet child/There’s so much I want you to see
I wish that I could give you the answers
I wish that I could make you believe
I wish that I could put you on your path and set you free…

That’s what your heart is for
That’s what your heart is for
That’s what your heart is for
Listen to your heart….  ♫

It’s a sweet tune; a lovely melody, a song about a mother (the sentiments, of course, could be the same for a father) expressing her love and hopes for the life journey her child will be taking.  But, when it comes to the chorus I want Brickell to add another line

♫ …That’s what your heart is for
Listen to your heart….
Then check in with your brain.  ♫

Listen to your heart is considered by many folks to be classic advice. But unless tempered by your head, listening to your heart can be horrible counsel.  The latter because…

 

 

Step back and look at your own life and decisions, as well as those of your family and friends.  “Follow your heart” is a strategy which *never* leads us astray, does it?  We always, consistently, want and crave what is ultimately best for us, right?

It seems every week I run across a news story about how someone, from an average Joe to a Famous Person, needs to take out an order of protection (aka, restraining order) against some other person who is stalking them. this is because Stalker’s heart has told them that their primary mission in life is to be with average Joe/celebrity, even when the object of their obsession vehemently thinks otherwise.

In the case of the Famous Person, oft times the celebrity is being hounded by someone they have never even met. Yet that Someone is absolutely, 150% convinced, “in their heart,” that they and the famous Person are meant to be together.

Lovelorn fanatics aside, there’s also a small but significant number of people whose hearts (and heads) can never (or rarely) be trusted to give them reliable guidance or even feedback, due to mental illness and related disorders.

Perhaps I’m overthinking this.  I like the song; still, if you’re gonna listen to your heart, please remember to run whatever your heart is saying past your brain.

 

*   *   *

(Visually Assisted) Pun For The Day

From a day last month, actually. I’m just seeing it for the first time.

Backstory:  Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Julia Marcus tweeted a picture of a graph (a screenshot from a slide presentation on an FDA website) which showed how the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine increased over time.  The image, a faint black line amid gray shading, resembled something that the good-humored doctor thought was worth celebrating, as per her caption,

J&J vaccine is rising to the occasion.”

 

*   *   *

 

May you rise to the occasion and get your COVID vaccination;
May you uncover the beauty and mystery of screaming asparagus;
May your heart always check in with your brain;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Or, perhaps those are the lines he gave himself?

[2] The following incidences I site as examples, each and every one of them unfortunately common to “the female experience” worldwide. These particular ones were all experienced by girls and women I know personally.

[3] Which you know because you asked them, after you found out that they were interested in applying to the same school and you asked about their conversation with the guidance counselor, mistakenly assuming that he (the counselor) also tried to discourage them, like he did with you and the other girl.

[4] Victor Lazlo, or, _____?  We who’ve listened from the beginning of the show get someone else.

[5] Their term, not mine, for substituting other protein sources for the chicken…which we plant-based folks are known to do.

[6] I’m having a hard time doing a search for the song titles.

The Vaccine Appointment I’m Not Scheduling

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If even for a moment you think that this week’s blog title means that moiself  is an anti-vaxxer, you must stop reading right now, go to your bathroom, and somehow administer yourself a swirlie.

 

 

Moderna; Pfizer; Johnson & Johnson – when referring to the three currently available (in the USA) COVID-19 vaccines, the nomenclature seems to be, “The Vaccine.” As in,

* Have you had the vaccine yet?

* Have you scheduled your appointment for the vaccine?

It is *THE* topic of conversation, especially among People of a Certain Age.®  Ahem.

Gawddammit, it seems that being this old  of or near a certain age should be good for something, besides obtaining the wisdom we’ve accumulated over the years which we impart to appreciative youngsters at every opportunity.

 

 

But in my state (Oregon), having no “predisposing” conditions and not being in occupations deemed frontline/essential…and being oh-so-close to that magic cutoff age, yet not actually turning 65 until December, means that I, (and MH, who is 5+ years younger than moiself  ) will not be eligible until the vaccines are opened up to the very last group – everyone above age 16 (May 1).  Judging from the experience of others when “their group” became eligible, this means we will be part of a massive online stampede, the scheduling systems will be overloaded, and some baggy-ass pants-wearing 17-year-olds will get the first appointments and we’ll still be two weeks out.

 

 

Reality check: I am grateful for my good health, and for not having the health conditions which would qualify moiself  for The Vaccine ® ahead of others.  And although the first reports I heard about people gaming the system (read: cheating/lying, to get a vaccine) frosted my butt, I’m getting philosophical about it.  As in, I’m trying to keep the larger point in mind:  we need as many people as possible to be vaccinated, for the health of us as individuals, for our country, for our economy, for the world….

Sure, I clenched my jaw when I read a young woman’s brag on social media of how, because her parents (who are in their mid-40s with no health problems) came to visit her for three weeks, she decided to check her state’s vaccine box of “Living in a multigenerational household”  [1]  and thus she, who is in excellent health and works from home in a non-frontline occupation, got the vaccine at age 23.  Besides being deceitful she arguably jumped the line/took the spot of someone else…but, okay.  I’m gonna look at it this way: that’s one more person who is vaccinated.  My turn will come.

 

 

Last week MH and I participated in a Zoom call with MH’s mother, who lives in Florida, to celebrate her 85th birthday.  Her children and their families dialed in; our family was the one most West-est, with daughter Belle participating from Tacoma, MH and moiself  from Hillsboro, and son K from Portland.  There were four callers from the Midwest, three in Florida, and the prize to the Easternmost went to my MIL’s other granddaughter, who joined us from Germany.

The call reaffirmed my distaste for Zoom communications with multiple people.  It reminds me of how much I miss being in the same room with a bunch of people and being able to hear everyone even when everyone is talking “over” and under and around one another.  It’s just…awkward, but what can you do?  Oh, that’s right, I forgot: if we really cared, MH and I could have been in Florida, in person.  It’s totally fine for us to hop on a plane and fly across the country – it’s perfectly safe to travel or do just anything, because, as one of the Zoom participants brayed, COVID-19 is no big deal:

 

“They just makin’ that up and if they get their way they’ll have you scared to do anything for the next ten years…”

 

After that declaration, the (other) callers’ screens went totally silent, for a couple moments of unintentional comic relief masked as uneasy pauses.  I noticed a few faces, like mine, turned downward, in an effort to hide our eye-rolling expressions of bemused revulsion.

The topic of conversation turned to the questions about who has been vaccinated, which is how MH and I found out that Belle had just been able to schedule her first vaccine.   [2]  As happy as we were for her, MH and I had to do our obligatory pouting – Both our kids are going to be vaccinated before us, wah wah wah!    [3]    Belle had a good story –  or perhaps more accurately, an interesting-as-in-an-indictment-of-certain-political-mindsets tale– as to how this happy event came about.

Washington state had just entered “Phase 1B tiers 3 and 4” for their vaccination program, which meant that Belle, as a Kitchen Asst. manager for a McMenamin’s flagship establishment, was eligible, along with her fellow “high critical…restaurant” workers.  But, she said, finding a vaccine appointment proved impossible, until her boss told her a trick: Google a political map of your state, find a county, or a district in your city, that voted “red” in the last election, and that area will likely have more unclaimed vaccines.  She did that, and got an appointment right away.  

That chickenshit, lamebrain, chief bunker bitch esxuce of a former president #45 downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic, costing thousands of lives.  He then quietly got his own vaccine ASAP (in January), even as he did little to quell the anti-VAX anti-science sentiment of his pathetically deluded followers.  But hey, thanks, chumps, if that allowed my daughter to get safer before y’all.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Is It Just My Imagination…

Or do people play less April Fool’s Day jokes than they used to?

Nobody played one on moiself  this year.  Wah.  

Oh well…maybe next year I’ll try something like the following:

 

*   *   *

Department Of Paying Close Attention
Feminist Radar Edition

 

 

“The first lady is often remembered as a genteel Southerner who promoted highway beautification, but author Julia Sweig says archival records show Lady Bird was also a savvy political strategist. “
(intro to the Fresh Air podcast,
Correcting The Record On Lady Bird Johnson” )

As I was listening to the interview with the “Lady Bird” Johnson biographer, I was struck by what biographer Sweig *didn’t* say, when it came to crediting Lady Bird with being smart about exercising power without taking credit:

“They shared their political operation and he (LBJ)  relied on her…because he knew she had her own version of ‘The Johnson Treatment,’ being that ability to twist arms and manipulate and guide. Lady Bird was expert at that….  The difference, of course, is that Lady Bird… was able to let people think that *they* had come up with the idea. She was a collaborative deployer of power; she let people feel that they had some sense of ownership – she didn’t need to take the credit. A very different, approach in a way.”

Here is where the feminist nuances of listening, and analyzing history, should have kicked in.  I waited for Sweig to add the observation as to why Lady Bird got people to do things by making them think it was their idea in the first place.  But the author never did.

Lady Bird Johnson’s collaborative, credit-shunning approach was just not a smart or “savvy” way to deploy power – for a woman, especially of that day, it was often the only way.  That indirect approach was *directly* taught to women (“You cannot – or should not – aspire to the throne yourself, but you can be the power *behind* the throne,” or “the hand that rocks the cradle,” ad nauseum).  It was implicitly stated and explicitly understood that anything beyond a collaborative strategy toward exercising political power would have been considered unseemly (for a woman).

Also, why bother to take credit for an idea or accomplishment when a man – even  [4]   your own husband – will just claim it for his own, and be believed?

 

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

“I’m not getting a COVID vaccine so they can microchip me!”
the man typed into his smartphone,
which tracks his every thought and constantly logs his location.

 

And that was not a pun…but it’s still groan-worthy.

 

*   *   *

May you collaborate for power and still take credit when it’s due;
May you start planning for next year’s April Fool’s Day jokes;
May you claim all the “red” zone vaccines you can;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Which is meant for those serving as actual caretakers for their frail/elderly parents or relatives at home.

[2] Which she had on Monday, yay!

[3] Our son K works in research at OHSU – Oregon Health Sciences University, which vaccinated almost all of their employees during the past two months.

[4] Or especially, in the case of  Lady Bird’s husband, President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

The Temptations I’m Not Eliminating

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Department Of This Should Not Come As A Surprise

“Recent polling shows that 39% of Americans believe that the election that just occurred was rigged…  You may not agree with that assessment, but it is nonetheless a reality for nearly half the country.”
(Senator Ted Cruz, 1-6-21)

“In other words, ‘We have no proof the election was stolen, and you may have verifiable evidence that it wasn’t, but that doesn’t matter. It only matters that we believe it.’

  And that’s when you’re at religion: that you have to respect something just because people believe it. Does that include professional wrestling?”
( Comedian Bill Maher on Real Time With Bill Maher, re the remarks of Senator Cruz )

The fact that many evangelical/conservative Christians believe and promote QAnon conspiracy theories seems to confuse and embarrass Other Christians ® .  Even some leaders of ultra conservative Christian churches and nationalist groups have wondered aloud about the fact that many of their followers are part of a “mass delusion.”

“Why is it our people are so vulnerable to this stuff?”
(Lance Wallnau, self-proclaimed prophet, Christian Nationalist, and
“7 Mountains Mandate” creator, The Washington Post, 1-14-21 )

 

 

The embarrassment of these Other Christians is itself an embarrassment – especially when I hear or read my mainstream/progressive Christian family and friends wondering:

“How can those QAnon Christians believe things that make no sense?”

Y’all ask this…seriously?

My religious friends, whose hearts and intentions I deeply respect, the answer is simple, and you’re not going to like it:

The reason those QAnon/Trump/Confederate Flag/Proud Boy Christians can believe things that make no sense is because they already believe things that make no sense. Your fellow Christians  [1]  believe such things in the first place *because* of their religious faith, not in spite of it.  Religion has already primed them to accept outlandish claims sans objective proof (other than the “proof” they say they find “in their own hearts”).

The January 6 insurrection was a faith-based initiative, and Trumpism/White Supremacy are Christian nationalist movements.

Freethinkers/Humanists/Agnostics/Atheists/Skeptics have long known this, and while we sometimes tiptoe around this subject with our more mainstream and progressive Christian friends and family…c’mon folks.  Why do you keep acting so shocked?

It’s not a giant leap from believing some major things that cannot be proven – aka, taking them on “faith” – to believing other things that cannot be proven.

During a recent New Rules segment of his show, comedian and magical-thinking eviscerator   [2]  Bill Maher used his incisive wit to point out the overlap between QAnon theorists and (white Christian) religionists.  He pointed out that Christians who roll their eyes at or mock QAnon and its baby-eating lizard people/pedophile pizza parlors scenarios seem not to have read their own Book of Revelation.  Right there, in the Christians’ “holy book,” are bizarre tales of “…stuff you see only after the guy in the park sells you bad mushrooms.”   [3]

It was evangelical Christians like Senators Ted Cruz and Paul Gosar who spouted the unjustifiable claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” from #45. Who is seriously surprised by the fact that most of the senators who objected to certifying the electoral college votes for Biden  – Cruz and Gosar and their frothing cronies, Senators Josh Hawley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, John Kennedy, Roger Marshall and Tommy Tuberville – were fundamentalist Christians?  Not only did each of those senators identify and campaign as fundamentalist Christians, Alabama Sen. Tuberville even filmed a campaign ad equating Trump to Jesus .

The January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol  “…looked like a revival meeting,” Maher quipped.  Watch the videos of the event, and you’ll see the signs that read, “Jesus is my god and Trump is my president,” and “Trump/Jesus 2020.”

 

 

“Magical religious thinking is a virus and QAnon is just its current mutation. That’s why megachurches play QAnon videos. We need to stop pretending there’s no way we’ll ever understand why the Trump mob believes in him.  It’s because they’re religious…they’ve already made space in their heads for shit that doesn’t make sense.

There’s a lot of talk now about how Republicans should tell their base who still believe the election was rigged that they need to grow up and move on and stop asking the rest of us to respect their mass delusion.  But the inconvenient truth here is that if you accord religious faith the kind of exalted respect we do here in America, you’ve already lost the argument that mass delusion is bad.

( Bill Maher, New Rules, 2-5-21, my emphases.
You can see the entire segment here. )

*   *   *

Department Of One More Thing
#379 In An Ongoing Series

In a recent blog post (3-12-21) , re my rant highly nuanced disagreement with the idea that Muslim women are “free” to “choose” whether or not to wear the hijab, moiself  forgot to mention one relevant, veil-related anecdote.

The 9/11 attacks took place on a Tuesday morning, which was the meeting time for a book group I’d been attending for years. The book group met at the church MH and I had attended for years.   [4]   The pastor of the church (which belongs to ” among the most liberal of the mainline Protestant denominations,”) was the book group’s leader.  She, like the rest of us “bookies” (book group members), was stunned by the news,   [5]  even more so because of personal reasons: she had a sister-in-law who was a flight attendant for American Airlines out of Boston,  [6]  and a brother-in-law who was from the Middle East, and she was concerned for his safety re the growing anti-Arab sentiment.

Moving right along….  One by one the group members staggered into our meeting room as our pastor put on a fresh pot of coffee to brew (she’d already downed one entire pot herself).  Glassy-eyed with “WTF just happened?” confusion, we babbled with one another about the attacks (although I’m not sure my opening remarks – “We’re all FUCKED – this is how wars start!” –  count as a babble).  The pastor was, eventually, able to steer us into a half-hearted discussion of the book we were reading.

The next week the pastor told us bookies about the latest news from the ecumenical group of ministers she belonged to. The group, which was mostly comprised of ministers from liberal Christian denominations but also with Jewish, Muslim and Bahá’í clergy,   [7]   had been brainstorming re how to be of support to local Muslims.  The news was filled with accounts of how, across the nation, Muslims (as well as people who were not Muslim but who were “suspected” of being Muslim) were being threatened and even physically attacked.  Because of the hijab, Muslim women’s religious affiliations were more visible than that of Muslim men, and many Muslim women and girls reported being harassed while riding public transportation or at the grocery store – or just out in public.

Another (female) pastor from the ecumenical group announced that, to express solidarity with Muslim women, she had started wearing a veil in public, and she was “inviting” other non-Muslim women to do so as well.  Moiself  expressed the same, immediate, visceral reaction that our pastor said she’d had when she heard Well-Meaning Veil Pastor’s suggestion. It was a reaction my pastor and I vowed to share with everyone we knew who might was supportive of the veil-solidarity gesture:

Solidarity; right on!
Yes indeedy, we’ll be happy to don a veil in support of Muslim women – providing Muslim men and boys first do the same, to show support for *their* mothers/sisters/wives/daughters/cousins/co-workers/neighbors….

Guess what? No takers.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of More Good Clean Fun Brought To You By That All-American Combo, Misogyny And Religion  [8]

Last week a 21-year old man attacked three spas in Atlanta, shooting nine people and killing eight of them, seven of them women (who were his targets; the men were in the wrong place at the wrong time). The alleged suspect told the police that he killed them because he needed to “eliminate the temptations” they presented to him, and that by doing so he would help other men by removing those same “temptations.”

I don’t get it. What could anyone possibly have against The Temptations?

 

 

Ahem. “Temptations,” as in, women.  You know – female human beings.

 

 

If you’ve been paying attention, it’s not the first time you’ve heart this kind of story. In California, Oregon; Toronto…you can Google more, about male killers who target one woman or all women, but it’s too damn depressing. Two years ago, in a refreshing change, a 27-year-old Denver man was arrested on a terrorism charge *before* he was able to carry out his intended rampage. This enabled the press to write “Here is why he said he was going to commit a mass murder” stories, instead of after-the-fact, “The killer said he killed all those women because…” stories:

A 27-year-old Colorado man…arrested on a terrorism charge…cited his virginity as the reason he said he was planning to carry out a mass shooting: “…its is why I’m planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter cause I’m ready to die and all the girls the (sic) turned me down is (sic) going to make it right by killing as many girls as I see.” (sick sick sick).
(“A man cited his virginity as reason he planned to kill ‘as many girls’ as he could, police say,” Washington Post, 1-22-19)

As shocking as most of us find these rampages, moiself  posits that they are also predictable and even inevitable outcomes in our society, due to the mixture of two poisonous cultural ingredients:

*online sexism and incel forums wherein young men commiserate and encourage one another to blame women for their sexual desires and frustrations;

* religious teachings (in particular, “Purity Culture”) which set the stage and fuel the fire for those frustrations by shaming and pathologizing sexual activity – including masturbation, and even the mere *desiring* of sex – outside of heterosexual marriage, and which hold females responsible for male thoughts and behavior.    [9]

 

“Her ankles have caused me to fall!”

 

“It should come as no shock that purity culture is steeped in contradictions:
1) Women hold the sexual reigns and are wholly responsible for any sexual encounter that escalates to something sinful because men lack the ability and should not be expected to control themselves…but
2) somehow, women also hate sex and use it as a punishment/reward system for their husbands…yet
3) women are weak and need the protection
of these feeble-minded, animal-like men.”
(“Freedom From Purity Culture“)

“When Brad Onishi heard that the man accused of a rampage at three Atlanta-area spas told detectives that he had carried out the attacks as a way to eliminate his own temptations, the claim sounded painfully familiar.
Dr. Onishi…grew up in a strict evangelical community…that emphasized sexual purity….
The evangelical culture he was raised in, he said, “teaches women to hate their bodies, as the source of temptation, and it teaches men to hate their minds, which lead them into lust and sexual immorality.”
(“Atlanta Suspect’s Fixation on Sex Is Familiar Thorn for Evangelicals,” NY Times 3-20-21)

 

 

A former roommate of the alleged   [10]   Atlanta shooter told police that the shooter

* didn’t own a smartphone because he feared he’d use it to look at online pornography;
* was ashamed of masturbating;
* expressed suicidal thoughts as per his fear that he was “falling out of God’s grace” and “living in sin” because he had masturbated and visited sex workers.

“…the idea that men’s sexual issues are women’s responsibility isn’t new, nor is it a fringe ideology confined to the internet — it’s a mainstream belief held by many Americans…

These thoughts mirror traditional conservative evangelical Christian teachings about sex and the idea that it’s women’s responsibility to avoid leading men into sexual situations.

This kind of purity culture has a reach far beyond religion. Abstinence-only education classes taught in over half the states across the country tell young people that the onus is on girls not to tease or tempt boys, whose sexual compulsions, they say, are near uncontrollable.

But rather than curb sexual activity, these programs seem to normalize misogynist impulses. A 2017 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, for example, found abstinence-only programs often ‘reinforce gender stereotypes about female passivity and male aggressiveness.’

(“How Many Women Have to Die to End ‘Temptation’?
The Atlanta murders follow a terrible pattern of misogynist violence,” NY Times 3-22-21)

 

I really wish I was both making up this chart, and the organization it comes from.  But…no.

 

And let’s not forget another key ingredient in this toxic stew: the romanticized reporting of violence against women, which often frames murderers as reflexive sad sacks “at the end of their rope” or “having a bad day.”  Various media headlines, and even comments from law enforcement officials, reinforce the sexist idea that the men and boys who hurt women are themselves victims – casualties of their unrequited desires.

Horrific, brutal killings of women by men have been described as being committed by “a lovesick teen,” and the murderers as suffering from “unrequited love.” The lab tech who strangled a pharmacology grad student and stuffed her body behind a wall was referred to in the press as “lovelorn.”  And now, in Atlanta, the County Sheriff investigating the killings said the suspect may have been “lashing out,” and another member of the Sheriff’s office said that the subject had had “a really bad day” and “this is what he did.”

 

No, (real) love doesn’t kill. But when a notorious punk rocker stabbed a 20-year-old woman to death, some media presented it as a Romeo and Juliet story.

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

Department Of Apropos Of Nothing…
And I Know We Have Some Serious Issues Facing Our Country, And The Entire Planet, But This Is Something Which Might Unite Us – Yes, Even Across
Seemingly Insurmountable Borders Of Religious, Political, And Cultural Identity

 

Can we all agree to get rid of the first *r* in February?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Oops I Did It Again

What I did was a whole lotta yoga: 108 Sun salutations, in honor of the Vernal Equinox.

 

Now if only I could find a colorful toucan to join me next time.

 

In a less-honorable tribute to the arrival of Spring, once again, hearing the term *Vernal Equinox* made moiself  think of a Tennessee mother yelling across the fields for her son.

 “Vernal!  Vernal Equinox, you git yer butt back home this instant!”

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

I changed my smart phone’s name to Titanic. It’s syncing now.

 

*   *   *

 

May you try to say February ten times, as fast as you can, pronouncing both rs
(and then agree with moiself  about getting rid of the first one);
May you not be deluded as to why *other* people believe crazy shit;
May you celebrate the arrival of Spring, no matter how you feel about a term like
“Vernal Equinox;”
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] And yes, they are Christians, whether or not you approve of them. You don’t own the term; they claim it too, and spout the theology.

[2] If Maher can have “New Rules” then I can have new words.

[3] Maher’s delightful recounting of one of Revelation’s major stories: “The book of Revelations will tell you exactly where the world ends – Megiddo, Israel. That’s where all of the armies of the world will gather and Jesus will come down to earth on a flying horse shooting swords out of his mouth (Jesus, not the horse), and have a 1000 year cosmic boss battle with Satan, The Beast, and The Anti-Christ. It’s like ten Avenger movies plus ten Hobbit movies plus a night out with Johnny Depp.”

[4] It was also the church I was on the cusp of leaving – not that church in particular, but any church, as in religion in general. I had known I was a non- believer for decades yet stayed “closeted” for complicated reasons.

[5] Our gathering time was 7 am, Pacific time, so we all knew at least something about the attacks on the East Coast.

[6] One of the four hijacked airplanes, the one which crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, was an American Airlines flight originating in Boston; the pastor’s SIL was not working that flight.

[7] Well, representatives, in the case of the Bahá’í, who do not have clergy.

[8] And very likely, racism. Although as of this writing the (alleged) perpetrator has denied a racial motive (he blamed his “sex addiction”),  six of the women were Asian. Others are addressing that issue, including here, here, and here, far better than I could.

[9] To cite just one of hundreds of disgusting examples, the federally funded Heritage Keepers curriculum teaches students that ‘girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.”

[10] I’m not going to patronize either moiself  or y’all by continuing to use that modifier.

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

1 Comment

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

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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.

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