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The Vacation Schedule I’m Not Maintaining

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Trigger Warning

 

“I couldn’t believe it, because they actually did it.  The court actually took a constitutional right that has been recognized for half a century and took it from the women of America — that’s shocking when you think about it.”     [1]

*   *   *

Department Of It’s Baaaaaaaaack….

Attentive and longtime readers may have noticed that for the past eight weeks this disclaimer opened my blog posts:

Thanks for checking in, so to speak (…er, write).  I am taking moiself  on holiday.  From this Friday and through June, I will be posting blogs from the same time period of eight years ago (late May-June, 2014).  New posts will return in early-mid July.

That was due to the “exotic” travel schedule of MH and moiself, which began in mid-late May with a trip Florida.  [2]

Here is what our schedule was supposed to be:

* visiting MH’s mother in Florida for several days;

* on to Stockholm, a couple of days to acclimate ourselves to the time change (and all those Swedish meatball variations) before joining….

* a 14 day Rick Steves Tour of Scandinavia, starting in Stockholm and ending in Bergen;

* six days of touring Norway on our own, from Bergen back to Oslo;

* catching a train to join our Swenadian  [3] friends and spending a short week in their Swedish country stuga (cabin), then traveling with them to Gothenburg and vicinity;

* six days in Iceland “on the way back” to Oregon.

 

Here is what actually happened.

All went as planned until Day 13 of the tour, when MH awoke under the proverbial weather and tested positive for COVID.  The next 5 days were spent cancelling and rescheduling train-car rental-ferry-hotel bookings, trying to find a place to lay low for several days while we   [4]   recovered.  Our dear Swenadian friends, rightfully cautious due to their respective health concerns, came to visit us after we’d recovered.  While the afternoon walk we made around the parks of a Swedish town was a far cry from the longer time we’d hoped to have with them, it was good to have at least those two hours together.

What the what – if nothing else, travel teaches you to be flexible.  MH and I enjoyed some final days in Oslo and then Stockholm before flying on to Reykjavik, where our Iceland adventures were not impacted by the previous schedule rearranging. Also, there was the  blissful ignorance of being removed from everyday news reporting – moiself  had remembered that there’d been a pesky leak of a supposed/certain SCOTUS memo….

 

“I suppose I’ll have to be the one to say something to her.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of That Which Should Not Have To Be Mentioned

Our return flight last Thursday left Reykjavik a little before 5 pm and arrived in PDX ~ 6 pm. What with traveling east to west, we went back in time 7 hours….  Little did I know the news that would greet moiself  upon our return: my country’s legal system had gone back (what seemed like) more than a hundred years.

Really and truly, I knew nothing of this until I checked FB last Friday morning, and saw this post from my beloved nephew, who has been celebrating Pride Month with a series of personal reflections on what “being gay” means:

Being gay is…

…thinking that maybe you should get married on a sooner timescale than you’re ready for, because given how the Supreme Court’s minoritarian rule is going, your current right to do so might have an expiration date.

Sorry to steal the stage from today’s news. Fuck the Supreme Court majority that is not representative of majority public opinion.

 

 

 

Thus, my first FB post after stepping onto Oregon soil:

“Keep our nation on the track
one step forward, three steps back….”  [5]

I just returned last night from 6+ weeks in Europe, to find that certain intellectual, social and moral cretins who unfortunately hold positions of power in this country have effectively decided to turn back the clock, and I’m not talking the end of Daylight Savings time.

SCOTUS justices Thomas; Alioto; Gorsuch; Kavanaugh; Barret – I’d like to do a wire coat hanger D & C on their respective cranial contents.

*   *   *

As moiself  writes this it’s day five for me, back in Oregon, and I’m still in a fog. It’s not the time zone difference that has me discombobulated; rather, it’s the time travel thing, where I returned to find that my country’s legal/human rights system has warped back to the Dark Ages.  In case y’all haven’t guessed by now, I refer to the recent SCOTUS decisions involving guns, school employee-led prayer, and of course, Roe v. Wade.

Consider this:

SCOTUS Justices Who Voted to Overturn Roe v. Wade (the justice’s religion)

Samuel A. Alito, Jr. (Catholic)
Amy Coney Barrett (Catholic)
Brett Kavanaugh (Catholic)
Neil M. Gorsuch (Catholic)   [6]

and…wait for it…
Clarence Thomas (Catholic)

The fact that a practicing Catholic SCOTUS justice – or judge, of any court – is allowed to vote on this issue; i.e., is not legally and ethically *required* to recuse him or herself on any abortion case, as per their the Catholic sheep daddy Pope’s decrees on the matter…

 

 

“…. Roberts was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral. Roberts is a devout Catholic and is married to an ardent pro-life activist. The Catholic Church considers abortion to be a sin, and various church leaders have stated that government officials supporting abortion should be denied religious rites such as communion….
Renowned for his unflappable style in oral argument, Roberts appeared nonplused and, according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.”
(“The faith of John Roberts,” The Los Angeles Times)

Another butt-frosting fact: there are SCOTUS justices who adhere to the judicial philosophy of/refer to themselves as originalists   [7]  but who are also Catholic and/or female (hmm, what’s that musty odor, Amy Coney Barrett?), something the original founding fathers would never have imagined nor permitted.

And then, there is the festering turd atop the crumbling cake:

“In nearly 28 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas has been its most unwavering ‘originalist.’ That means that he reads the Constitution as meaning today what he believes those who wrote it meant back then, no matter how conditions may have changed in America in the meantime.”
(“Justice Thomas, originalism and the First Amendment,” National Constitution Center)

Clarence Thomas is an originalist. All righty then:  “Justice” Thomas – you should be a slave.  And counted as 3/5 of a person, as the Originals intended.

 

 

But I have to stop going there. Moiself  has to stop applying rational arguments to irrational situations.  Therein lies madness.

*   *   *

Department Of Stories That Need Retelling

This, from my blog post of 5-24-19 (“The Two-Faced, Sanctimonious, Festering Turd-Of-Hypocrisy I’m Not Strangling”)

From the early 1980s – 90’s I worked for (several Planned Parenthood clinics)… and a private OB-GYN practice in the Bay Area….

We (The Practice’s Doc, Nurse Practitioner, and I) developed a personal relationship    [8]  and had many interesting conversations on issues re women’s health care. Doc and NP were both staunchly pro-choice, Doc in particular due to his knowledge of what things were like before Roe v. Wade.  He told me stories about The Bad Old Days, about how (surprise!) the rich could always get safe care, no matter what. Back in the late 50s – 60s when abortion was illegal, a Japanese airline had a clandestine (but procurable, if you knew the right people) package deal: the fare included flights to and from Tokyo from West Coast airports, overnight lodging in a Tokyo hotel, and the fee for an abortion performed by a Japanese doctor. Sympathetic American doctors whose desperate patients had no safe local alternatives would refer their patients to someone, who would refer them to someone else, who would refer them to….    [9]

One of The Practice’s OB patients, after a routine exam, asked Doc if he ever performed abortions. Although it was none of her %&!$ business (and moiself wanted him to tell her so) he answered honestly, while tactfully letting her know that he would not be steered down the anti-abortion harangue road she was heading for.  After she’d left, Doc signaled to me to follow him to the office’s back room, where old/inactive patient files were kept.

As Doc searched through the files he told me about a former patient of his who’d sought an abortion, back when the procedure was illegal except for “medical reasons.” This woman had had to go before a (male, of course) judge to get approval to have an abortion. Her physicians had to testify as to her mental and physical well-being, and they had lots of material: she had chronic health problems; was depressed to the point of suicide; her husband had left her and their three children…. She’d wanted to get her tubes tied after birthing her second child but could not find a doctor to do so – as per the standards of the time, hospitals would not book a sterilization surgery for a woman unless she met this weird algorithm (criteria included her age, the number of children she had, and other factors I can’t recall).  She also needed her husband’s permission for the surgery, which he’d refused.   [10]

The woman won her petition. At this point in the story Doc had found the patient’s chart, and showed me the transcript from her day in court.     [11]  I will never forget the sad yet determined look in his eyes as he said,
“Don’t ever let it go back to that.” 

And I will always remember how foolishly optimistic it was of moiself  to think, “It could never go back to that.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Business As Usual

Of course, no matter the legal restrictions and whatever else happens in the upcoming months, those with money and connections will always be able to wrangle safe medical care.  The trail of naïve, drugged and/or abused girls and women knocked up, intentionally or otherwise, by the Brett “I Love Beer” Kavanaughs of the world and their eternal frat bro contingents will always have an out, as powerful men do not want their mistakes publicly aired.  The poor and not-so-well connected will have to resort to measures of desperation – unless whatever choice they happen to make involves using a gun.

 

*   *   *

Department Of  And Yet One Never Fully Goes Back To The Past

There is too much water – and blood – under this particular bridge of human history.  Just as in the past, women and men will rise up to help those who need help (“Call Jane”).

Here is the message I recently received from a friend:

“Hope you are holding up with the end of democracy at hand.  Yeah.
Would you mind being a reference for me – I am applying to be a volunteer with the Colorado Abortion Doula Network.  I’m sure you’ve heard that CO clinics are overwhelmed with patients from OK and Tx….”

How proud I was of my friend; how sick to my stomach I was, for the reason for her (and other women and men) having to take that action.

When MH and I have attended NARAL fundraiser events in Portland, the organization’s staff has mentioned how their peers working in other states are “jealous” of Oregon’s long record of supporting reproductive rights.   [12]  Looks like my friends and I may soon be providing the same services, should Oregon experience a migration of patients.

*   *   *

Department Of, And One More Thing….

Don’t y’all be kidding y’alls’ selves that there is, ultimately or sincerely (ha!), *any* reason for the SCOTUS decision, other than that of controlling women and fearing women’s sexuality and autonomy.  I’ve seen firsthand the Scandinavian system and standard of living, and what societies looks like which actually care about children, put people ahead of politics, and relegate theocracy to the governmental dumpster fires of the past.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of, Unfortunately, There Is Always One More “One More Thing” :
The Quiet Part Out Loud

I am so, so, so sorry, my LGBTQ family and friends and fellow Americans…. You do know you’re next, right?

“Vice President Harris said Monday that she ‘never believed’ the Senate testimony of Supreme Court Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch, in which they stressed the importance of legal precedent in cases like Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion.

‘I never believed them. I didn’t believe them. That’s why I voted against them….’

Listen, it was clear to me when I was sitting in that chair as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that they were … very likely to do what they just did….”

Harris also addressed Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, in which he called on the Supreme Court to reexamine cases on LGBTQ rights and contraception. ‘I definitely believe this is not over. I do. I think he just said the quiet part out loud,’ Harris said of Thomas.”

(Vice President Kamala Harris, “Harris says she ‘never believed’ Kavanaugh, Gorsuch would uphold Roe,”  Washington Post )

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
The Death Of Liberty Edition

I was looking forward to returning to this segment of my blog.  However, moiself  –  who looks for the levity in any situation and who sincerely hopes that friends and family entertain me with tasteless jokes should I come down with, say, butt cheek cancer or other dreadful diseases – is at a loss when it comes to being facetious about how religious conservative ideology is raping this country.   So, these may have to do:

A priest, a pedophile, and a rapist walk into a bar. He orders a drink.

Q. How many conservative evangelical Christians does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None. They just sit in the dark and demand you accept that the light is still on.

Q. How do you teach a bunch of kids about god—who he is, and what he does?
A. Gather them all in a classroom. Then never show up.

*   *   *

May you find power in the visualization of male SCOTUS justices who voted to overturn Roe V. Wade having yearly colonoscopies performed by unsterilized wire coat hangers;
May you take constructive action where and how you can to your maintain sanity;
May we all soon return to living in the 21st century;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] (Vice President Kamala Harris, “Harris says she ‘never believed’ Kavanaugh, Gorsuch would uphold Roe,”  Washington Post )

[2] The most exotic place of all, and as foreign as the state sometimes felt, we were never asked to show our passports.

[3] A Swede married to a Canadian.

[4] Yes, we – of course moiself eventually got it as well.  We were both glad to have been fully vaccinated, as our symptoms were relatively mild and followed the same course (fever disappearing in less than 48 hours…frankly, if we hadn’t have tested ourselves for COVID we’d have thought we’d contracted a mild influenza virus).

[5]  One of the rallying cries of the SF-based political activists group LAW [“Ladies Against Women”], who used satire – well, it seemed like satire at the time, and now it seems like prescient  journalism – to critique the religious/conservative right wing’s anti-women’s autonomy  political agenda.

[6] “Although Neil Gorsuch, appointed in 2017, attends an Episcopal church, he was raised Catholic, and it is unclear if he considers himself a Catholic who is also a member of a Protestant church or simply a Protestant.” (Daniel Burke (March 22, 2017). “What is Neil Gorsuch’s religion? It’s complicated.”)

[7] “In the context of United States law, originalism is a concept regarding the interpretation of the Constitution that asserts that all statements in the constitution must be interpreted based on the original understanding ‘at the time it was adopted.’ ” (Originalism, Wikipedia).

[8] Which continued after I left the practice and which exists to this day.

[9] I later heard about this same service from another doctor who was Doc’s age.

[10] Yep, that’s right – he knocked her up a fourth time, and then abandoned her and their children.

[11] Yes, that was way before HIPA laws.

[12] “Abortion is legal throughout pregnancy in Oregon – there is no ban or limit on abortion in Oregon based on how far along in pregnancy you are….”  (Abortionfinder.com, Abortion in Oregon)

 

The Elephant I’m Not Ignoring

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Thanks for checking in, so to speak (…er, write).  I am taking moiself  on holiday.  From this Friday and through June, I will be posting blogs from the same time period of eight years ago (late May-June, 2014).  New posts will return in early-mid July.

Until then, I hope y’all enjoy these reruns (or at least gain a modicum of petty amusement from making fun of them, and/or noting how NOT perspicacious my 2014 blatherings observations turned out to be).  Perhaps they may spark some sense of déjà vu in you, or cause you to contemplate what you were doing and thinking in those pre-pandemic, pre-idiocy epidemic times (i.e., before the debacle that was #45).

Moiself  apologizes for the fact that visuals (pictures; video clips) in the original posts may or may not be included.
*   *   * 

 

As promised (threatened?) in earlier missives, a picture of Belle’s tattoo.

She did the artwork herself. The tattooist was pleased at having to do (almost) no alterations to translate Belle’s fine art into body art.  There is, of course, a story behind the design.

Belle included a triangle for several reasons, including her love of the strength and purity of the strongest geometrical shape, and because it is the mathematical operator (delta) ∆, for change.  The cicada also has multiple personal references for Belle.  She is in awe of the cicada’s dramatic emergent cycle (13 – 17 years, depending on the species), and a cicada  symbolizes her years of dedication to the Oregon ZooTeens program.  Last summer Belle and other members of the program’s Leadership Corps travelled to a nature preserve in Costa Rica, where they were serenaded by an abundance of cicadas.

 *   *   *

 Too bad not all things that creep and crawl are as benign as cicadas.

White Guy Killer Syndrome: Can I go ahead and scream yet? It’s time for America to admit what it’s long resisted: White male privilege kills.  (by Brittney Cooper [1])

There have been many articles published this week about the Santa Barbara killings. Cooper’s is one of the more incendiary and thought-provoking.  She writes forcefully about the latest, maddening, frustrating – and worst of all, hardly atypical –  mass killing scenario in the USA.  It seems that “every few years, the American public has to watch in horror as some white kid goes on a rampage, killing everything from babies to old people,” when yet another young white guy decides “….his disillusionment with his life should become somebody else’s problem.”

Cooper rails against the inability of the press, the law, of society itself, to have the conversations  “…about white male pathology and the ways that systems of whiteness and patriarchy continue to produce white men who think like this. ”

(The killer) had been posting strange youtube videos of himself talking about killing people over the last several weeks, so much so that his family was reportedly disturbed enough to call the police and have them come do a welfare check. But “officers concluded that he was ‘polite, courteous,’” and downplayed any difficulties.

 In the manifesto he released he said he was relieved that officers did not push the matter further because they would have found his weapons.

 Can I go ahead and scream yet? A black or brown man would have been violently hauled into a jail and locked up at the first sign of such machinations. His property rights would have been thoroughly violated, and no matter how “polite” and “courteous” he might have been with officers, no reports would have reflected such language.

 These coded terms mean that these officers were incapable of seeing this clearly troubled young white man as a threat. How many mass killings must it take to recognize that white male entitlement is potentially deadly?”

*   *   *

The Department of No, I’m Not Done Yet
Aka The Santa Barbara Killings and Male Defensiveness:

We’re not all like that!”

Who. Fucking. Said. That. You. Are?

If, just one more time, I hear/read one more variation on that comment….

I recently posted a link on my FB page to a Greta Christina blog post that addressed the killings.  The atheist/feminist/LGBTG activist, author and blogger linked to a compilation of excellent blog posts on the subject of why we are, still and again, told to ignore blatant misogynist fanaticism when it is implicated in acts of violence.  “You see,” we are assured/lectured, “it’s just the unbalanced, socially awkward dudes who commit such atrocities, and there is no relation to misogyny…” No matter how many female-loathing manifestos were spewed from the very killer’s mouth/computer.

 “A man who was part of a community of extremists who hate women, wrote a manifesto about his hate for women, then went to a female sorority house to kill women.  But it definitely wasn’t about his hatred of women. Oh, no sir…. “
(Martin Robbins, quoted in Butterflied & Wheels post, What Elephant in What Room?)

 The GC-linked posts show that a whole lotta intelligent, articulate and thoughtful men understand Why  (the Killer’s) Misogyny Matters.

And then, there are others.

A FB comment on my afore-mentioned post:

“Because white supremacists don’t want to live with blacks, anti-Semites don’t want Jews to exist, ____(killer’s name) [2] failed to obtain to obtain what he (wanted? sic) from women and then converted it into a conspiracy against him. If you read further there was also bullying involved in his life. This is a complex situation which apparently been going on for years which the therapist was unable to identify how serious it was but was on top of the last email to notify his parents. Remember his first victims were male, so its (sic) not all about you.”

Really.

I wanted to frost the commenter’s well-intentioned, I’m-going-to-sound-like-the-voice-of-let’s-stay-calm-folks, privileged, clueless assterior.  But since there is no frost-the-assterior button [3] on FB to click, I instead commented on his comment.

Uh, (FB poster), that some of (the killer’s) victims were male – just as victims of anti-Semitic or racist or gay hate crimes are often not Semitic, or of the “majority” ethnic group, or straight – does not mitigate the misogyny as his (self-identified) primary motivation.

I would hope my response to those bringing up anti-Semitism as the motivation for a mass killing would not be, “but Catholic Poles also died in the gas chambers, so it’s not all about you Jews.”  I would hope, listening to someone who is trying to get people to consider the broader reasons and motivations that drove the murders of Civil Rights activists, to be just a tad less defensive, so that my knee-jerk reaction would not be to defend whatever group I am in that, I think, is related to the killer(s): “But, white activists were also slain in the Civil Rights movement, so it’s not all about you Negroes.”

It’s not all about you.  Sadly, that comment just proves the pathetic, dangerous poin: [4] of people being averse to and uncomfortable with talking about misogyny.

We all want to believe we live in a “post-racial,” “post-gender inequitable” world, because then that would remove us from the responsibility of equalizing the imbalances.

If I am a man who considers myself to be the kind of man who does not hate women, who would never consciously disparage, harm or discriminate against someone based on their gender, then I can generalize from my own attitudes to assure myself that whatever individual or societal misogyny maybe-waybe still exists a teesny-weensy bit, golly gee, it’s not my problem, because…well…just look at me!  I’m evidence that we’re not all like that.  So, uh, yeah.  We’re not all like that.  Therefore, let’s pretend the ones that are like that don’t matter, have no influence, and never do any harm like that.

*   *   *

We take a break from this week’s ranting to contemplate a soothing picture, brought to you by the makers of A Baby sloth in a Bucket. ®

No ranting here, just enough cuteness to make you piss through your eyeteeth [5]

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

*  *  *

Operation Plain Speaking

Post Memorial Day rant musing: How I loathe, loathe loathe – and did I mention abhor? – the euphemistic, spin-meister monikers which Those in Charge of Such Things ® have applied to our recent and ongoing wars.

I get that “Desert Storm,” “Operation Enduring Freedom” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom” sound nobler than, “Thanks fer nuthin,’ Ex-Prez Bush-wad, now we’re the latest arrogant blowhards to get stuck in these historical shitstorms,” and are easier to fit on tombstones.

“Enduring Freedom,” my uncles’ and father’s (WWII) and grandfather’s (WWI) asses. People have died for those pompous pretenses.  “Enduring freedom” is translating into “never-ending confrontation.” Call ’em what they are.  The Iraq War; the Afghanistan War.

*   *   *

Speaking of plain speaking, and desperately looking for a rant-free segue into coming attractions, I have been practicing my French survival phrases:

Aider! Un home avec une poitrine velue volé mon vin! [6]

 and

J’aime votre chevre [7]

 and of course

 Où est votre coude ?[8]

 

Breathe deeply, fight the good fights, speak plainly, and S’il vous plaît, me passer le caillé de fromage, [9] and – but of course! – the hijinks shall ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

[1] Educator and contributing writer at salon.com .

[2] Name redacted; I refuse to type it.

[3] Why is that, Mr. Zuckerberg?

[4] Just as how “The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism;”aka, Lewis’ Law.

[5] An old Southern saying.  Actually, not.  But it should be.

[6] “Help!  A man with a hairy chest stole my wine!”

[7] “I like your goat.”

[8] “Where is your elbow?”

[9] “Please pass me the cheese curds.”

[10] Il n’y a pas de footnote ici.

The Good Ole Folks I’m Not Romanticizing

4 Comments

Thanks for checking in, so to speak (…er, write).  I am taking moiself  on holiday.  From this Friday and through June, I will be posting blogs from the same time period of eight years ago (late May-June, 2014).  New posts will return in early-mid July.

Until then, I hope y’all enjoy these reruns (or at least gain a modicum of petty amusement from making fun of them, and/or noting how NOT perspicacious my 2014 blatherings observations turned out to be).  Perhaps they may spark some sense of déjà vu in you, or cause you to contemplate what you were doing and thinking in those pre-pandemic, pre-idiocy epidemic times (i.e., before the debacle that was #45).

Moiself  apologizes for the fact that visuals (pictures; video clips) in the original posts may or may not be included.
*   *   * 

 Remember to call your billiards shots 

White cat in the side pocket.

*   *   *

The Offfspring of Duh Meets the Progeny of You Can’t Make Up This Stuff

Dateline: May 21, a New York Times article, Bryan College is Torn; Can Darwin and Eden Co-exist?, about an Christian college which is being sued by two long-time faculty members as part of a controversy over the college’s stance on the origin of humans.

In a nutshell – an appropriate container, as you’ll see – the lawsuit revolves around the college’s “statement of belief,” which professors have to sign in order to be employed at Bryan College.  The original statement of belief, quite retro re the school’s views on creation and evolution,[1] is apparently not backward and Neanderthal strong enough for the college’s administration and governing board.  Fearing “a marked erosion of Christian values and beliefs across the country,” college officials recently added new language to the SOB [2] –  language they refer to as a “clarification” – that would have faculty members professing that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.”

Some Bryan College students as well as professors are objecting to the SOB’s addition, claiming that it “…amounts to an assault on personal religious views” and that “it makes (Bryan College) a more narrow place.”

Gee, ya think?

Bryan College president Stephen D. Livesay defends the SOB’s clarification:

“…this is something that’s important to us. It’s in our DNA. It’s who we are.”

 Oh. My. Mr. Livesay. Whatever possessed you to use that term?

There’s no such thing as DNA. Because if there was, you’d be able to trace human ancestry back to previously existing life forms….ooooh….never mind.

 *   *   *

Speaking of (or implying) dinos, Wednesday’s Google Doodle tagged Mary Anning, a British palaeontologist.

And I’m using the British spelling intentionally and respectfully, not just to be colourful , so take a hike, spellchecker.

*   *   *

Animal Enrichment

We have a pair of Juncos nesting in the bird house we so inconveniently located (well, for the birds) above the jungle-gym/climbing tree of our outdoor cat, a Bengal named B.B.  We put the birdhouse up for more decorative than functional reasons, as an object d’yard art, thinking that no sane bird would choose to homestead in such close proximity to a feline. But, alas, a pair of Juncos seems to be feeding chicks housed within.  Fledging time should prove to be interesting.

*   *   *

Department of Random

Last week, watching the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, I got to thinking [3] about the ironies (or should I say insincerities?) behind one of the Country-Western genre’s staple themes, when guest Dolly Parton performed a song called Home.

There are a plethora of CW songs that pay tender tribute to and ostensibly yearn for the good ole folks and good ole, simpler times back home (“we wuz dirt poor but we wuz luuuved”) — songs written and performed by multimillionaires who did everything in their power to escape that life, that locale, and those people.  If life back then ‘n there was so good, why did you want out? Why were you so ambitious, in some cases even desperate, to leave it all behind and go for something more?

Just wondering.  Excuse me, wonderin’.

*   *   *

I Request a Moment of Respectful Silence

Please join me in honoring the passing of a national treasure, TOWIAWNCHH. [4]  Yes, The Only Women in America Who’s Never Colored Her Hair has thrown in the towel.

 

*   *   *

Department of Mixed Experiences

“We are never, ever coming back.”

Last week MH traveled to Pasadena to attended Nerdfest 2014 his Caltech Class of 1984 reunion.  He hemmed and hawed over attending, as he holds no special fondness for his alma mater and was not interested in the reunion activities.  He decided at the last minute to go because he wanted to see a group of friends who’d planned on attending.  One of these friends from Caltech days, who has continued to be a real life buddy  [5],  had this to say on his FB page about the reunion:

“As usual much bigger participation by younger and older classes. Energetic young woman working for the (Caltech) Alum Assoc introduced herself and explained her job was partly to improve relations with 1980’s classes. I asked what her theory was and she said their best guess was alums from that era had “mixed experiences” and many “did not enjoy returning to campus”.

I think all Caltech classes should hold their reunions on grounds of the previously-mentioned Bryan College.  Caltech alums could schlep in some previously existing life forms, planting them strategically around the campus grounds….

 *   *   *

My Wicked Fantasies ©
Chapter One in a (hopefully, very short) series

I will consume a cabbage, beans, Brussels sprouts, garlic and broccoli smoothie three hours before my next scheduled airplane flight.  When going through the security checkpoint, I will refuse to enter the TSA scanner machine and ask for the security pat down instead.

 *   *   *

May all of your security pat-downs reveal no previously existing life forms, and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

 

[1] It includes statements such as, “The origin of man was by fiat of God.”

[2] Praise Jaysuuuus for the opportunity to use that acronym.

[3] Fortunately, this train of thought lasted for, at most, five minutes.

[4] Her slave name is Robyn Parnell.

[5] And who is a favorite dude of mine as well.  Even if he is a dwarf scientist. Which I’d more fully explain, but then this footnote would need a footnote, and that’s just not right.

The SCOTUS Justices I’m Not (Yet) Assaulting

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Department Of Any Questions, Stupid Or Otherwise?

 

 

Dateline Sunday 7:40 am; morning walk; listening to No Stupid Questions podcast, episode 98: Is Having Children Worth It?  The episode consists of hosts Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth discussing the various factors – from economic to personal to cultural and beyond – people weigh when considering parenthood.

About twenty minutes into the podcast the show’s producer announces a break:

“Before we return to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about modern fertility, let’s hear some of your thoughts on the subject. We asked listeners to let us know the factors that affected their decisions to have kids. Here’s what you said.”

The producer plays three phone recordings. The sentiments expressed by the second listener/commentator were, unfortunately and predictably, no surprise to moiself.   [1]

Second commentator:
“As of now, my husband and I are leaning towards remaining childfree…. What I’ve found really interesting is the very different experiences that we’ve had in sharing this news when asked.
I get asked very frequently, ‘When are you having kids?’ It’s just assumed.
And if I tell someone, whether it’s a close friend or a complete stranger — which is very frequent — that we don’t plan to have kids, I get really strong reactions, and they’ve really made me question the value that I’d bring to society as a woman if I’m not a mother….
Meanwhile, my husband gets asked about once or twice a year, and his manhood and value is never brought into question.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Or Morality, Schmality – The Ultimate Litmus Test On This Issue

Moiself  has plenty o’ thoughts – some of them even/arguably suitable for non-R-rated audiences – about the leak of the SCOTUS draft which indicates that the conservative (read: Republican-appointed) SCOTUS justices have plans to return our society to the medieval mores of governance by religious superstition and female chattel-dom repeal Roe v. Wade

 

 

Those thoughts I will share…later.  As in, in several weeks from now, when the hoopla dies down (perhaps) and we get a handle on what’s really happening, and when I have been dissuaded from my karma-generating plan to hire a team of Valkyries and Ninjas to kidnap SCOTUS justices Alito, Kavanaugh, Roberts, and Thomas, transport them to a secure back alley where the justices will have coat hanger wires up inserted their respective urethras to perform a D & C of their potential abortion causing,   [2]   sperm factory organs.

 

 

 

 

For now, consider this:

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Applying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy To Moiself

Dateline: Sunday 7:50 am-ish, Oregon coast.  Returning from a walk along the beach. I turn around for one last glance,  [3]   pausing to gaze at the rising sunlight reflecting off the foaming waves, noticing how the retreating tide left a beautiful, reflective sheen to the green-gray sand…. Wait a sec – what is that awful, acrid smell, so early in the morning?

Looking behind moiself , I see a woman sitting on an Adirondack chair on the upper porch of a beach rental house across the street.  She is vigorously/alternately sucking on and exhaling the effluence from her cigarette; my instinctive disgust kicks in:

“It’s one thing to torment her own lungs, but holy self-pollution – smokers don’t seem to realize – or just don’t care – that their smoke travels, and torments *me,* even though I’m 30 feet away….”

 

 

Then I stop moiself, and recall a cognitive behavioral tenet I recently (re)heard:

If you can’t change your circumstances,
change how you think about your circumstances.  [4]

And I am struck by a wave of gratitude.

 

 

Both my parents were the only non-smokers among their respective siblings.    [5]   When I was in early grade school, having non-smoking parents seemed to be the minority experience for my peers…although not long after the Surgeon’s General’s landmark report on smoking and health was released, that began to change.

 

 

 

 

Looking back, I have to laugh at the naivete involved when I helped a friend, who was concerned about her mother’s health (she’d overheard her parents talking about how the mother’s doctor had advised her to quit smoking).  Friend and I conspired as to how we could get her mother to stop smoking.  As fourth graders, we knew nothing about the power of nicotine addiction, only the power of our preteen will:  we convinced ourselves that, by combing Friend’s house from top to bottom when her mother was out running an errand we could find and discard all of her mother’s cigarettes and cigarette lighters, and ta-da, she’d quit!  How can you smoke something that isn’t there?

 

“Look, honey, I found your last cigarette in the cat’s litter box.  Maybe you can skip your after-dinner smoke and we’ll watch ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ instead.”

 

Once again, I digress.

The gratitude which struck me: How lucky was I?  How lucky *am* I?

If moiself  had grown up with smoking parents, how likely is it    [6]    that I would have also fallen into that “filthy habit,” as my father called it?    [7]   And even if I’d managed to avoid becoming a smoker but had parents who were nicotine fiends, I would have had an increased risk of heart and lung disease from living with second-hand smoke.

And just like that, my annoyance dissipated ( like a puff of smoke? ), and morphed into a sense of gratitude.   [8]

 

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Marlboro Man Edition

I had a legless dog I named, “Cigarette.”
Every morning I took him out for a drag.

What does Han Solo put in his cigarettes?
Chewbacco.

My friend started punting his Marlboro packs – he’s trying to kick the habit.

Why are cigarettes like hamsters?
They are perfectly harmless until you stick one in your mouth and light it on fire.

 

 

*   *   *

May you feel grateful for unhealthy habits *not* practiced by those who raised you;
May you cultivate the ability to reframe your circumstances;
May the SCOTUS stay out of your respective lady and man parts;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Or, likely, to other female listeners, whether or not they have children.

[2] Abortions are caused by men – that is, unwanted pregnancies are caused by irresponsible male ejaculations… even the wanted pregnancies that must be terminated due to fetal abnormalities incompatible with life and/or maternal health issues, are also caused by men.

[3] Always say goodbye to the beach, every time you leave it.  Blow a kiss to the breakers; you never know when it will be the last time.

[4] If you can’t change your circumstances, work on changing the way you think about your circumstances, or how you frame your circumstances. Classic cognitive behavioral therapy advice, and one of the few things proven to help both your mood/attitude…which then may, even, eventually, help you to change your circumstances.

[5] My father smoked while in the army – cigarettes were part of a WWII soldier’s ration kit – but quit several years before meeting my mother.

[6] Three to six times more likely, as various studies show.

[7] He used that term privately, and not in front of our smoking relatives (which was, all of them) or friends or neighbors.

[8] And even a faint sense of pity for the nic-junkie on the beach house balcony.

The Destiny I’m Not Fulfilling

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Department Of Podcast Feeds I’m Deleting

 

 

I post frequently about the podcasts moiself  listens to (and this entire post, unintentionally, is devoted to that).  Recently I did a trial listen to a new (to moiself) pocast, titled,  Tell Me.

TM is hosted by actor/producer Ellen Pompeo, best known for her seventeen year stint as Dr. Meredith Grey on the TV show, Grey’s Anatomy.  I can’t remember how I heard of TM – most likely via an ad on a podcast moiself  already listens to – so I checked out the show’s website:

” …Ellen Pompeo sits down with a wide range of guests and celebrity friends who inspire her and who do extraordinary things. Through in-depth, candid conversations, Ellen shines a light on people and issues that are important to her and the world at large….
Ellen is also an outspoken activist for issues including equal pay for women in Hollywood and beyond, social justice, voting rights, and women’s rights.”

Hmmm. I’ve had the ass-tearing-with-boredom experience of trying out podcasts, supposedly highly-rated, which feature “celebrities” (read: comedians and actors) who seem genial enough and are good at their profession, and then the podcast consists of them talking with their friends…and the conversations between them and their fellow, A- and B-list celebs don’t hold my attention for long. It’s like being on the bus listening to Joe Schmo and Kathy Whoa sharing their in-crowd jokes, etc., only these Joes and Kathys have famous names…but you still don’t know them personally.  Despite how funny/talented they are on stage, they start with the seemingly obligatory Celebrity-Host-to-Celebrity-Guest podcast Intro ®, which is a session of mutual ass-kissing (“I love your work!” “And I love *your* work…!”)…and then…who really cares?

 

 

However, when I read about Pompeo’s activism I assumed that would be a prominent feature of her podcast, so I gave it a try.

In the past week I listened to three of her interviews…or tried to.  I couldn’t make it all the way through: in at least two of them, Pompeo and/or her guests brought up their “signs,” as in astrology, and chatted about their respective and supposed zodiac attributes (along the lines of, “Ah yes, as a Scorpio…” ).

 

 

I…just…cannot….

She’s off my feed now.  I’m still a Grey’s Anatomy fan, but I simply cannot take Pompeo seriously as a podcast host of “… issues that are important to…the world at large.”

“It turns out that astrologers can’t even agree among themselves what a given horoscope means. In careful tests they’re unable to predict the character and future of people they know nothing about except the time and place of birth.
Also, how could it possibly work? How could the rising of Mars at the moment of my birth affect me then or now? I was born in a closed room. Light from Mars couldn’t get in. The only influence of Mars which could affect me was its gravity. But the gravitational influence of the obstetrician was much larger than the gravitational influence or Mars.
Mars is a lot more massive but the obstetrician was a lot closer.”
( Carl Sagan )

 

 

In the year 2022, the idea that some people would give even a modicum of legitimacy to the medieval hokum that is astrology….

And yes, I realize a lot of people throw around astrology references in a casual, “fun” way and probably don’t take it seriously (or even understand what they are alluding to).  However, facts matters – or at least, they should.  Look around the world, read y’alls selves some history, and see what happens when people do not understand and misrepresent reality.

Again, I know, some folks play with the astrology thing for fun, but in the name of all that is rational, please, when someone asks, “What’s your sign?” the only polite response you should give should be:

 

 

If the sign-seeker is balks, kindly yet firmly refer them to The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark .   [1]   This glorious book, described by the LA Times as “a manifesto for clear thinking,” is an entertaining, accessible, thought-provoking read, in which Carl Sagan and co-author/science communicator/producer Ann Druyan

* describe the scientific method to laypeople;

* illuminate critical and skeptical thinking;

* teach readers how to employ skeptical thinking and rigorous questioning, and other methods to equip ourselves with a “baloney taction kit” to help distinguish between valid science and pseudoscience.

Enjoy this brief history (and debunking) of astrology by the late great astronomer and cosmologist, Carl Sagan.   [2]

 

“Dr. Yang, you will be taking over all of Dr. Grey’s surgeries until she stops refusing to operate on a Libra during the full moon.”

*   *   *

Department Of Destiny, Schmestiny

And one more thing. 

 

In two of the three podcast episodes I listened to, Pompeo’s guests were people she knew personally (former Grey’s actors), and she brought up with them a concept which was obviously authentic and important to her, but which (along with the astrology) also strayed into woo-woo/squishy territory:  destiny.

It’s hard to describe what she was trying to describe – in part because she was more enthusiastic than articulate about it, and in part because the subject itself is so subjective.  To do it justice would require me relistening to those interviews (and I have no desire to do so) .  Pompeo is not the first person to hold and express such sentiments, which go, basically, like this:

* Certain people come into your life, and you into theirs, because the two of you separately yet somehow reciprocally give off this kind of aura which attracts them; thus, you were “destined” to meet because of these mutualities  [3]….

Pompeo brought this up with her former co-star Patrick Dempsey, and as part of the proof that they were fated to meet and work together and be friends, she told him that they used to live down the street from each other, before they knew each other.

 

 

So, two actors, in an area (LA) where you can’t spit without hitting an actor or would-be actor – two people working in the same field, living near one another, ending up working together and ended up getting along with and liking each other, and therefore, it’s destiny?

Destiny; fate?  How about good fortune, brought about by coincidence?  Star-crossed lovers and even besties-for-life have a prominent place in literature and the arts, which loves the meet-cute and “meant-to-be” scenarios.  But in our non-fictional lives, when we step back and look at the facts and statistics, what we might consider destiny is in fact more accurately framed as a result of proximity or geography.

 

“My darling, geography hath conspired to bring us….nah.  Dialog coach, hello ?!”

 

The vast majority of people become friends with and partner up with people who live near them and are from the same or similar educational, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.   I have friends with whom I share deep intellectual and emotional connections and/or have profound commonalities of interests and perspectives, but we didn’t meet because we were destined to.  We met because we were in proximity; because, due to school or work or socia/neighborhood and/or or other activities, we encountered each other, and our relationships gradually grew from there.

My friend CC is a wonderful person and playmate and confidante, and I’m grateful for and have been enriched by her friendship.  But I do not think in the slightest that these things mean that we were destined to become friends.  If I were living in Hillsboro and she in Hanoi, or somewhere else across the globe, it is highly unlikely that the tides of fate/destiny would have brought us together.

 

In other words, destiny is not destined.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Advice Of The Week

“I do suspect that many, many people would be much happier
if they did less, better.”

This provocative quote is from a podcast I’m *not* deleting – a podcast where I doubt I’ll ever hear anyone cite astrology. I’m referring to PIMA (People I Mostly Admire), and the advice comes from PIMA‘s recent episode, “Turning Work Into Play,” which features psychologist, author, and academic, Dan Gilbert.

Gilbert (described on the podcast as someone who went “…from high school dropout to Harvard professor”) brings an intriguing perspective to concepts of being “lazy,” and how to bring about joy, as illustrated by this excerpt from the podcast, where Gilbert is being interviewed by PIMA host Steve Levitt.  Levitt, like many academics, has had to teach as part of his university contract.  Levitt also, like many academics, prefers research to teaching.   [4]   Thus, Levitt has been intimidated by and/or found teaching to be a chore, and so he asked Gilbert how he seemingly excels at it (my emphases):

GILBERT:
“I would say that the reason I put so much time and effort into my teaching is because I’m lazy. And lazy people don’t like to work. Somewhere very early on in life, right around the time I dropped out of high school, I think, I decided I never want to work again. All I want to do is play. And what I discovered is that to the extent that you put your whole self into almost any task — even if it’s washing the dishes — it stops being work and it starts becoming play.

I wonder if I can wash the dishes by holding them in my right hand and scrubbing with my left hand. Is it faster if I do it that way? Is there an interesting way to stack them so that they dry faster rather than slower? Anything that you are creative and playful with is a joy…..putting your entire self into things turns it into joy.”

 

“Doing the dishes them with my left hand brings me almost as much joy as doubling up on my Prozac.”

 

LEVITT:
“So, you were the first person I’ve ever heard say so succinctly this idea that a 100% focus is associated with joy, no matter what the task. It’s implicit in a lot of, like, Eastern philosophies of enlightenment…. I think you’re probably right. And yet in my own life, I don’t do very much of that…. How did you figure this out?”

GILBERT:
“I probably have a talent you don’t. Which is, I can say ‘No.’ I can say, ‘No’ very easily. I say, ‘No,’ to almost everything. My guess is you say, ‘No,’ a lot, but you say, ‘Yes,’ too much. And as a result, you have seven different things you’d like to put yourself fully into, but you can only put one-seventh of yourself in, because you said, ‘Yes,’ to all of them.
So, early on, when I decided I want everything I do to be a joy, I realized I would only be able to do very few things. So, I just say, ‘No,’ to just about everything. And ‘Yes,’ to just enough that I can constantly be putting my whole self into the teaching or into an article. I mean, I’ve published a quarter of the articles most of my colleagues at my stage of career have published. Because I write very few articles. Because I’m not going to write one that isn’t just as beautifully written and as smart as I can possibly be at that moment. Because that brings me joy. And I’m lazy. I like joy.”

LEVITT:
“I always ask my guests when they come on to give advice. I think I just heard you give advice — which is maybe the single most important thing anyone can do is to learn how to say, ‘No,’ and to say, ‘No,’ much more often.”

 

 

GILBERT:
….I do suspect that many, many people would be much happier if they did less, better. Publish fewer papers and make them better papers. For God’s sake, publish one paper and make it a great paper. Not only will you be happier, but the world will be happier without all the crappy papers you didn’t publish. Reading this one that you put your heart and soul into, and everybody can tell you did because it’s just such a pleasure. Don’t you think the world would be better with fewer books that were better books? Fewer X that are better X? I’m not sure what you could substitute for X that wouldn’t be true.”

LEVITT:
“I think that’s right. And I have gotten better at saying, ‘No,’ but as you described my life — seven things that I do, each of them pretty poorly…. And it’s probably four too many. And I’ve yet to figure out how to get from seven down to three.”

GILBERT:
“…I know you can go from seven to three very easily. My guess is that when somebody says, ‘Steve, I’ve got this idea for a project.’ You go, ‘Wow, that would be really fun.’ And this is what we call ‘affective forecasting.’ You’re imagining how great it will be to do the project. And we know from a lifetime of research that there’s a whole bunch of things you’re not imagining. Particularly how it will impinge on all the other things you already said, ‘Yes,’ to.”

*   *   *

Department Of My To-Do List: One More Item To Check Off

Dateline: Sunday am, listening to No Stupid Questions podcast, episode 97: Are Women Really Less Happy Than Men?, which is about the supposed gender gap in happiness.

Midway through the podcast, psychologist and NSQ cohost Angela Duckworth   [5] read a teaser —  a quote from an article in The Guardian — that to be happier, women should “…give up on being good.”   [6]

Another entry on moiself’s  To-do list:  Give up on being good.

Check!

Happier!

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Happiness Edition

Why are horses so happy?
Because they live in a stable environment.

Why can’t tennis players ever find happiness?
Because love means nothing to them.

I’m so happy with my financial savvy – my credit card company calls me every day to tell me that my balance is outstanding!

What is the best blood type for happiness?
B positive.

 

*   *   *

May you make the world happier “…without all the crappy papers you didn’t publish;”
May you say “no” more often so that you can joyfully say, “yes;”
May you equip yourself with a baloney detection kit;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] And read it yourself, even if you consider yourself a good hokum detector and/or already know why astrology is bunk.

[2] And enjoy, as well as the facts Sagan presents, his distinctive speech patterns and intonations.

[3] Damn right, that’s a word.  Now…here…at least.

[4] Some of us may remember how disappointed we were in college, when we had such professors.

[5] Psychology professor and author of the book, Grit.  That’s why you recognize her name.

[6] This calls for another footnote.

The World Languages I’m Not Learning

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Department Of How Did I Not Know Until Now About This Song !?!?

Dateline: Monday am, 7:30 ish.  Morning walk/podcast listen: Clear + Vivid: Bette Midler: How She Became Divine.

 

 

The Divine Miss M herself was regaling host C+V  host Alan Alda with tales of her first European tour, and how the following ditty Midler performed on stage “…went down really well” in Germany.

(sung to the tune of the theme song of the movie, The Bridge Over The River Kwai) :

♫  Hitler…
had only one big ball
Goering…
had two but they were small
Himmler…
Had something similar
And poor old Goebbels
had no balls
at all.  ♫      [1]

I’d vaguely known about Hitler’s goofy gonads (he suffered from right-side cryptorchidism – an undescended testicle).  But the fact that this detail was woven into an anti-Nazi ditty delighted the spirit of the 11-year-old Girl Scout who still resides in me – the girl who wanted to sit in the back during the boring troop meetings and exchange bawdy jokes with the other so-inclined scouts instead of listening to yet another boring lecture on how we were supposed to be working on our camping merit badges.

 

“All in favor of skipping reciting the Girl Scout Promise and singing the Hitler song instead, raise your hands.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yet Another Podcast Citation

The most recent episode of the People I (Mostly) Admire podcast – website description: “Steven Levitt, the unorthodox University of Chicago economist and co-author of the Freakonomics book series….tracks down other high achievers and asks questions that only he would think to ask….” – had me hooked with the opening:

“My guest today, John McWhorter, likes to stir things up….
He’s a linguistics professor at Columbia university, author of over a dozen books, and has emerged as one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals. He’s an opinionated centrist, and chances are, whatever your politics, you’ll love his views on some issues, and despise his stance on others.”
(intro to People I Mostly Admire, episode 72: “Leaving Black People in the Lurch” )

 

 

 

I was immediately intrigued by the host’s description of his guest: “an opinionated centrist.”  Not being fond of political labels (at least for moiself ), I don’t consider moiself  to be a centrist.  Rather, I approach issues as a Does this make sense?-trist.” When some folks on The Far Left ® find out my liberal/religion-free/ flaming feminist viewpoints, they assume that I’ll tick off all their boxes on particular issues.  And when they find out that I do not, *they* get ticked off.

My intrigue-ears perked up for other reasons as well, including the fact that McWhorter is a linguistics professor.  Being a linguist, as in studying the cultural and cognitive development and application of languages, is one of my “if-I-were-to-do-it-all-over-again” professions.   [2]  Now, just because I maintain an interest in that area of study doesn’t mean that I have any current and/or particular skill in or aptitude for languages – far from it, as anyone who has heard me mangle the French language could attest to.  And while moiself  is on the subject I’d like to offer a shout-out to all you Parisian shopkeepers and restauranters who, despite the stereotype of the snooty French, were most patient and gracious with me when I was visiting your merveilluse ville and tried to order a pain au chocolat in every venue possible.

 

Let me guess, *elle demande* the entire tray, again?

 

Once again, I digress.

Back to the podcast opening.

Steve LEVITT:
“In your day job, you (McWhorter) are a linguist at Columbia University and you also moonlight as a commentator on American society, especially around issues of race. But I’d like to talk first about linguistics, because I suspect if we start on race, we’ll never make our way back to linguistics.”

Linguistics/ race – I wanted to hear it all.  Any author of a book called “Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter,” is all right by me. Then, after the first 15 minutes of linguistics talk, I was surprised by McWhorter’s choice in an answer to a certain question.

LEVITT:
So, English is obviously emerging as something of a world language, and that’s mostly for accidental, historical, social, political reasons. And in my very first episode of this podcast, I had Steve Pinker, the Harvard linguist, on. And I tried to get him to make a vote for what the best world language would be. I had no luck. He would not bite on that at all. Is that a question you’ll bite on?”

MCWHORTER:
” Hell yeah.
….If all of the world were going to use a single language, it should be not English….
Really, the language of the world should be Indonesian.”

 

 

Really.  He chose Indonesian.


MCWHORTER:
“…Not the way it’s written, but the way it’s typically spoken, where you have almost no suffixes, almost no prefixes. (Indonesian is) not a tonal language. It’s very low on throwing you with things like, what does ‘pick up’ mean?  You can pick up a disease; you can pick somebody up from school; speed is about picking up speed. Why deal with that? There’s very little of that. …. even though most people who don’t speak Indonesian would find it hard to learn just the words themselves….if you could pick up 500 of them, say 600 of them…the grammar would be very, very easy. You could make yourself understood. I would say it’s better. It’s easier for everybody — colloquial Indonesian would be the one.”

McWhorter’s quotes about the reasons why a language like Indonesian would be a better “world” language  [3]  made me think about Turkish, which I studied for a few days in an online course (until Putin’s aggressive assholery changed my travel plans   [4]  ).

Here are nine encouraging and refreshing observations I made during my brief foray into the Turkish language:

  1. Turkish is phonetic; thus, pronunciation is easy!
  2. Every letter in a word is pronounced!   [5]
  3. Each letter has only one sound!
  4. Two or more letters are never combined to make a new or different sound!
  5. Turkish contains no articles at all!
  6. It is also not a gendered language; nor is it tonal!
  7. There is no 7th observation!
  8. There are standard rules for making plurals!
  9. Word Order is set: Subject-Object-Verb. The verb is always at the end in written Turkish!    [6]

 

You’d spin with delight, too, if you spoke such a sensible language.

 

After twenty-five or so minutes of Fun With Words®,  podcast host Levitt ventured into topics where McWhorter’s opinions have made people who are prone to look for divergent poles line up into their default defensive positions…such as McWhorter’s book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America.

LEVITT:
“I was talking to a white friend of mine, someone who is deeply sympathetic to the anti-racist cause. And she said to me recently, ‘My daughter is friends with a Black girl in her nursery school class….and I’d like to invite that Black girl over to my house for a play date, but I’m afraid to because I don’t know the appropriate way to acknowledge my white privilege to the girl’s parents. And I don’t want to insult them by not acknowledging it.’

 To me, what a disaster – when kids can’t build friendships because parents are so paralyzed by fear of not doing the right thing.”

MCWHORTER:
“You know what? That woman is who I wrote Woke Racism for.
That is exactly what I mean. That is somebody whose heart is very much in the right place, but she’s so afraid of being called the dirtiest-name-other-than-pedophile in our current cultural vocabulary that she’s basically hamstrung.

After a while, it might be that you end up avoiding Black people because you don’t want to take a wrong step. And then you get accused of being a racist. And where does that get us?  To actually say, ‘What is the result of all this?’ is seen as somehow beside the point.

Rather, what’s considered important is smart people stating that racism still exists; racism is systemic. Now, what’s actually happening out on the ground, whether we’re improving Black lives by stating that, is considered subsidiary…..

And yet, that’s the situation that I saw us slipping into starting after the hideous murder of George Floyd. I saw us dealing with a kind of semaphore, where we say things and we say things and we say things, and what we’re really doing is fostering a kind of general guilt and engaging in a kind of passion play…. But the result is not anything that any civil rights leaders of the past would have recognized as meaningful. We need to get back to doing the real thing.”

 

Fine; you’re awake. Now, make the bed and start cleaning up the mess you left in the kitchen.

LEVITT:
“I always ask my guests to give advice to my listeners. And I’m curious what advice you would give to young people trying to build a good life for themselves.
And would you give the same advice to a young white person and a young Black person?”

MCWHORTER (my emphases):
“… at this point, in the way our national dialogue goes, I would say this to kids of any race: Distrust your impulse to suppose that people who don’t think like you are either naive or evil.

It’s very easy to think that if they don’t think like you. It’s either they don’t have the facts that you have, or if they do have the facts that you have, there’s something sinister about them. They’ve got motives that they’re not quite letting onto.

And the sad thing is that these days, young people are being taught to think that way by an awful lot of grown-ups.

It’s an easy misimpression to fall into because we tend to be binary thinkers. But with any debate that’s uniquely challenging or frankly, interesting, about which you might argue, that’s different from decreeing that people are either stupid or bad. And that’s what a diverse and large society is all about. That’s what diversity of opinion is.”

Moiself  highly recommends that y’all’s selves listen to the entire interview, and pay attention to McWhorter’s insightful analysis re how “3rd wave anti-racism” (a term he borrows from the feminist movement) “is a religion.” It’s guaranteed to offend at least a few third wave anti-racists and religionists.  Now, that’s my kind of a podcast guest.

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Woke Politics Edition

Why were environmental activists protesting outside the elementary school?
That heard a rumor that the kids were singing, “Rain, rain, go away.”

What do you call a woke Star Wars droid?
R2-Me2

Did you hear about the laundromat manager who had her Facebook account cancelled?
FB monitors read that she told her customers to separate the whites from the colors.

One night I dreamt that I was a muffler…
I woke up exhausted.

 

“There’s woke jokes, and then there’s woke jokes.”

 

*   *   *

May you choose meaningful action over virtue-signalling;
May you have fond memories of your bawdy joke-telling, scout-meeting (or the equivalent) ignoring days;
May you enjoy singing the song about Hitler’s balls;    [7]

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Yes, this is the first footnote of this blog.

[2] Which would also include neurobiologist and astronaut.

[3] Better than, say, English, with its jumble of grammar, spelling, and pronunciation variants.

[4] We (MH and I) had planned a trip to Turkey in late May-early June.  Maybe…next year?

[5] With one exception – ğ, lengthens the sound of the vowel preceding it.

[6] Spoken Turkish allows for some flexibility.

[7] You know you’re going to hum it, at least once, if only to yourself.

The Dialog I’m Not Initiating

Comments Off on The Dialog I’m Not Initiating

Thanks to a friend, I got distracted.  This is not the blog I was intending to write.

Dateline: Tuesday.  Moiself  sees a link to a NYT article, posted by my retired   [1]  journalist friend, GR.

“After recent focus groups with Democratic-leaning voters on the economy; younger women on work, relationships and gender roles; and teenagers on school and their futures, we decided to talk to conservative men about how they see themselves and what they value. Most said they believed society is headed toward increased rule breaking and a “me, me, me” culture….”
introduction to These 8 Conservative Men Are Making No Apologies.
( NY Times, Opinion, “America in Focus” series.   [2]  )

Here is (part of) of GR’s introduction to the link:

“If we are ever going to bridge the divides in this country, I think it begins with understanding how others view themselves and the issues that confront all of us.”

 

 

I agree with that sentiment.  I also find it telling that the “bridging the divide” talk always seems be one-sided, as in, flowing from Left to Right. As moiself  commented to GR (before I’d followed the link to the article):

“Is there a conservative newspaper doing a focus group with
‘…8 liberal women making no apologies?’ “

My FB-comment conversation (with GR) continued after I started reading the article:

Moiself:
Thanks for posting this – I intend to read it all, but need a break right now, due to this part:

Tony (one of the focus group’s panelists):
“This country has become more feminized. It’s not the way it was when I was growing up. We started off talking about how the country has a weak image. They don’t call women the weaker sex for no reason. Men are necessary to maintain a vibrant society. And we’ve been feminized. No offense.”

(Focus group moderator)
“…who, if anyone, do you think views masculinity as a negative thing these days?

Christopher (another of the panelists):
“I support feminism, but I don’t support modern feminism. I think that modern feminism is focused on so-called toxic masculinity, and they are actually purveyors of men-bashing. And so I support femininity and feminism but not to the point where they’re looking to hoist themselves above men to try to make up for so-called patriarchy.”

 

Moiself:
Geeze, Tony.  “No offense” he says, when he’s just called women “weaker” and has associated the feminine with weakness.
And Christopher says he “supports” feminism, but not “modern” feminism.
Maybe he prefers feminists of the 19th century, the Seneca Falls Convention era, where they had to fight for even the right to vote – which could only be granted to them by men?
I remember hearing in the late 60s-70s the same rhetoric, from men who claimed to “support” women and women’s rights but not those “man-hating women’s libbers….” With “support” like that, who needs equal opportunity enshrined in law? 

While I appreciate the idea (and ideals) behind the America in Focus series, this particular one disheartened and frustrated me.  Isn’t dialog supposed to be uplifting?

 

 

Those 8 Conservative Men ®  may be making no apologies, but many of them are also  making no sense. Take this shining example, when the conversation seemed dominated by the panelists’ complaints about (what they saw as) the changing definition and devaluation of masculinity.  Running with the theme, the moderator asked, “Who, if anyone, do you think views masculinity as a negative thing these days?”

Danny (another panelist):
“Look at fashion. Look at the newer generation of how people dress, how men dress. There’s men, and there’s women, and there’s masculinity, and femininity. And there’s no reason to destroy one in order to make the other one better. I’m not trying to get into a negative men-versus-women thing, but I’m seeing masculinity under attack. And I’m seeing men wearing tight skinny jeans, with no socks and velvet shoes. And it’s cool to wear pink. I don’t mind wearing pink. It’s a cool color. And I’m not saying colors belong with a certain gender. It’s so funny — this is what we were talking about earlier: Every time you speak, you don’t feel comfortable enough to say what’s on your mind, where you have to almost give a disclaimer. I have no problem with pink. But when we go out to a club or a dinner or dancing, you see some of the younger generation wearing very feminine clothes, blatantly feminine clothes — so much so that we are almost trying to portray masculinity as negative.”

 

 

I have no problem with pink, says the man who goes on to reveal that he definitely has a problem with pink (or, at least, with men wearing pink), by mentioning that thing he doesn’t have a problem with twice more.

 

I am not thinking of elephants.  Nope; no elephants here. No elephants in my brain, no sirrrreeeee.

 

Danny, like some of the others in the group, does make several points moiself  finds especially valid (and have addressed in this space many times), such as how labels and epithets (racist, sexist, homo-and other “phobics”) are so easily used by people, and once someone labels you, how do you refute it?  Danny, a realtor, tells the story of when he was the president of a homeowner’s association board in his community, and

“…an Asian woman got into an argument with us. When I say ‘us,’ I mean the whole board. That night, she went and wrote a review on my business page saying that I’m a racist. My parents are Lebanese. I was beaten up every day when I was a kid because I’m Arabic….I’m not a racist….She wrote a nasty review, and Google won’t take it down, even though she wasn’t a client of mine. She’d never bought a house from me. She never did business with me, but she said that I’m a racist. That’s what’s happening today. And that never happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. And you know what’s worse? You can’t stop it.”

Danny and others in the group also directly or obliquely referred to about how our language police culture (my term; not theirs) stifles expression and makes assumptions, and seemingly pays more attention to how you say something rather than what you are trying to say:

“…And I’m not saying colors belong with a certain gender. It’s so funny — this is what we were talking about earlier: Every time you speak, you don’t feel comfortable enough to say what’s on your mind, where you have to almost give a disclaimer. “

But then Danny negates his disclaimer, with further statements which indicate he really does think certain colors and certain styles belong with certain genders.  His comment about how so much of the younger generation is wearing “feminine clothes” – uh, maybe because half of any generation is composed of females?  But his usage of “the younger generation” indicates he’s talking about the younger generation of *males,* who by wearing “blatantly feminine” clothes” are “… trying to portray masculinity as negative.”

Oh Danny boy, the pipes the pipes are calling I just don’t get it.  Unless there is a dude wearing a (pink, I bet) shirt with lettering which proclaims, “Masculinity sucks,” I don’t see how a choice in clothing portrays masculinity, or any “inity,” as negative. 

 

Six out of six Monty Python Girly Men agree.

 

(Focus group Moderator):
“How many of you think men have it harder than women these days?”
[group members Krupal and Danny raise their hands.]

Krupal:
“It’s like, you’re a woman, you’re given a trophy. If a guy does something, it’s not a big deal. If girls do the same thing, it’s like, you go! Girl power! I think her gender plays a bigger role, and it gives her more advantage these days — be it career or anything.”

(Christopher, a group member who didn’t raise his hand,
although IMO his comment indicates that he should have):
“I think that women have it a lot easier than men these days. What it feels like is that society is trying to make up for the times that women were oppressed, and it seems like it’s kind of going overboard.”

Ah, gee.  Don’t let your gender pity party get in the way of reality, Conservative Guys Sans Apologies. Their statements of woe-is-me-as-a-man, without any attempt to cite data supporting their grievances, was as tiring to read as it was frustrating – and alarming – to consider.  They really think that – that being a woman is an Advantage ® ?

 

 

Yo, Krupal: here is just a sampling of the *advantages* being a woman gets a woman, “be it career or anything.”

Career

* According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in 2020, women’s annual earnings were 82.3% of men’s, and the gap is even wider for many women of color.
* Women earn less than men in nearly all occupations.
* Women earn less than their same race and ethnicity counterpart at every level of educational attainment
* Educational attainment is not enough to close gender earnings gaps. In fact, most women with advanced degrees earn less than white men, on average, with only a bachelor’s degree.

(“Facts About the State of the Gender Pay Gap,” US Dept. of Labor)

 

 

Anything

* Women still face significant obstacles when it comes to accessing the credit necessary to build and expand their businesses. Multiple studies indicate that women face a gap when it comes to getting funding. Though women business owners apply at similar rates to men, only 39% of women-owned businesses had a conventional bank loan…compared with 52% of male-owned businesses that received conventional bank loans.
* Gender discrimination persists, in the form of both gender stereotypes and unconscious gender bias. “What If,” the recent report on the gender credit gap, cites multiple studies between the 1980s through the present, indicating the presence of stereotypes that negatively affect women when trying to advance in the workplace, or when seeking traditional loans, or venture capital investment for their businesses.
( “Women and the Future of the Gender Credit Gap” )

 

* Although single women have lower average annual incomes, they are better at paying their mortgages, default less and usually make larger down payments than their male counterparts…. (yet) On average, women pay more for a mortgage through higher interest rate terms than male borrowers.
(“The Gender Gap: Women As Mortgage Consumers,” NWRB )

 

* Gender bias persists in health care…. One in five women say they have felt that a health care provider has ignored or dismissed their symptoms, and 17% say they feel they have been treated differently because of their gender—compared with 14% and 6% of men, respectively.
* Studies show that women’s perceptions of gender bias are correct. Compared with male patients, women who present with the same condition may not receive the same evidence-based care. In several key areas, such as cardiac care and pain management, women may get different treatment, leading to poorer outcomes.
(“Recognizing, Addressing Unintended Gender Bias in Patient Care,”
 Duke Health/Referring Physicians )

 

* …gender in tech has often been governed by a set of interlocking, and surprisingly fine-grained, sorting systems…. women were less likely to be promoted than men, and when …promoted, it was frequently into jobs that seemed to separate them further from the core business of the company, and toward ‘soft’ and ‘people skills.’
* When it comes to who gets promoted how in Silicon Valley…there’s still an assumption that ‘anybody can be a manager, but not everybody can be an engineer.’… female tech workers get frequently shunted onto management tracks…or even into HR, even though they have the same degrees and training as their male engineer colleagues.
(“How Sexism is Coded into the Tech Industry.” The Nation, 4-26-21)

 

“May I give my advantage back now?”

* Gender-based price discrimination…when one gender is charged a different price than another gender for identical goods or services…negatively affects women more often than men…. Gender-based pricing exists in many industries, including insurance, dry cleaning, hair, clothing, personal care products.,,,
* Consumption taxes on certain products but not others have also been viewed a form of gender-based price disparity. For example, in the USA, Australia, and the UK, tampons are often subjected to a consumption tax, while related products such as condoms, lubricant, and several other medical items are exempt from the tax.
( “Gender-based price discrimination in the United States,” Wikiwand )

 

* An estimated 91% of victims of rape & sexual assault are female and 9% male. Nearly 99% of perpetrators are male.
* Around the world, at least 1 woman in 3 has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime. Most often the abuser is a member of her own family or is her partner.
(“Sexualized Violence Statistics,” CalPoly Humboldt)

 

I want my gawddamn trophy.

 

Read it (the transcript of the focus discussion) y’alls selves, and draw your own conclusions.  [3]   My summary: these eight conservative men have noticed that Others are taking steps up the power ladder, and thus they  [4]  don’t feel in charge anymore.  They make some valid points about language police/cancel culture (that women and liberals also experience, not just male conservatives).  But, seemingly without any self-awareness as to their male privilege (a term that would probably have their manly orbs crawling home to daddy, howling with men-are-being-cancelled! outrage), they see the writing on the wall… and instead of stopping to read it or consider what spurred the writing, they’re just concerned about protecting their own rung on a rickety, rusting ladder.

 

 

 

And this concern with their own status comes from a group that kept saying, without any irony moiself  could detect, that one of the things wrong with our culture today is

“We are the most selfish, self-centered, entitled culture. Everything is me, me, me.”

I kept waiting to read at least one of them commenting on how sexism and/or racism is a problem in the USA today.  Nope.  [5]

 

*   *   *

Department Of And One More Thing, Guys

“Toxic masculinity” is a phrase several men in the focus group identified as being irritating to them.  Although the expression may be relatively new, what it describes – the personal and societal repercussions of living in patriarchal systems – has been around for a long time.  Wake up and smell the (ED, medically enhanced) coffee, dudes:  Patriarchy is also poisonous to the very people it enshrines in towers of power.

” ‘Toxic masculinity’ doesn’t mean that men are toxic or that masculinity is de facto toxic. Rather, it means that extreme forms of traits traditionally associated with masculinity, like aggression and stoicism, are toxic. Right-wingers, however, like to pretend the phrase is an attack on men because it’s a quick way of derailing a conversation about rigid gender norms, and allows them to pretend that feminism is some sort of plot against men….
We hurt our boys when we teach them that being a man means suppressing your emotions and treating women as an inferior species, to be dominated and controlled. And toxic masculinity doesn’t just hurt men, it kills them. In America, for example, men are 3.5 times more likely to die from suicide than women – a phenomenon many experts attribute, in part, to the fact that men are told they shouldn’t express emotion or admit that they feel vulnerable, and therefore are less likely to seek professional help. “
(“Toxic masculinity doesn’t hurt men – it kills them,”
The Guardian 6-1-19)

Patriarchy grants numerous benefits to men as a group, and imbues men with a sense of entitlement, (implicitly, or overtly in some cultures  [6] ) as The Favored Gender.   And that preference comes with a steep price, with a statistic that is worth repeating, and more.

“Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women…. They have more academic challenges and receive harsher punishments in school settings. They’re the victims of 77 percent of homicides (and they commit 90 percent of them).
One cause for this consortium of maladies, the America Psychological Association’s Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men    [7] suggests…is ‘Traditional masculinity’ itself — the term refers to a Western concept of manliness that relies — and sometimes over-relies — on stoicism, dominance, aggression and competitiveness.
‘Everybody has beliefs about how men should behave…We found incredible evidence that the extent to which men strongly endorse those beliefs, it’s strongly associated with negative outcomes.’ The more men cling to rigid views of masculinity, the more likely they are to be depressed, or disdainful, or lonely.”
( “How ‘traditional masculinity’ hurts the men who believe in it most,”
The Washington Post, 1-13-19 )

 

 

Patriarchy bestows privileges upon men as men, but profoundly harms individual men in many ways, including:

* Patriarchy pressures men to eschew distinctiveness in favor of fitting into preconceived boxes – to conform to a constricted definition of masculinity, under which it is not a given quality. You are not masculine simply by virtue of being male; your masculinity must continually be proved and reinforced, by competing with other men,  [8]  and engaging in risk-taking behavior – the latter of which also discourages or discounts seeking help and engaging in health-preserving behavior.  Translation: Men are less likely to go to the doctor for physical ailments, or seek counselling support for mental health issues, and are more likely to stop taking medication for chronic or life-threatening illnesses than are women.

“Numerous studies have shown that men who adhere strongly to patriarchal ideals of masculinity are more likely to endorse and use violence against both women and gay men—those who are seen as ‘feminized’ and ‘lesser‘.”
…patriarchy upholds norms and behaviours that are neither attainable, nor desirable, and in the process we all suffer.
( “How Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too,” nextgenmen 1-13-21 )

C’mon, guys, it’s not “men-bashing women” who are after you.  Y’all’s hurting yourselves.

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Toxic Masculinity Edition

Why was #45 so insecure about his masculinity?
He was diagnosed with electile dysfunction.

Dude, if  you have to have sideburns to prove your masculinity
…then you need to grow a pair.

Why are weeaboos   [9]   the opposite of the patriarchy?
Because instead of treating women like objects, they treat objects like women.

What kind of bread does the patriarchy serve at their dinner parties?
Traditional gender rolls.

 

It’s good to be king.

*   *   *

May you never have reason to fear your “inity” is threatened;
May you try to initiative and maintain dialog, no matter how face-palming it can be;
May you not deny thinking of elephants when you are soooooo,thinking of elephants;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Ah, but do journalists ever really retire?  Not the good ones, like GR.

[2] In the America in Focus series, NYTimes editors asked Americans to share their views on life, society, politics and more.

[3] The transcript in the article is excerpted; there is also an audio tape of the entire discussion.

[4] Other people who are not conservative men.

[5] Not even the three black men on the panel, one of which mentioned being called Sambo (often a substitute for “Uncle Tom”) or the equivalent at some point in their life.

[6] Do an internet search for the phenomenon of “son preference” across cultures, for a depressing eye-opener.

[7] APA’s inaugural Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men was developed over 13 years using four decades of research.

[8] Arguably, some would say – *certainly, *I would say – you can put “engaging in warfare” in that category.  Men’s deaths in combat far outweigh those of women…although, since men start the overwhelming majority or wars and either volunteer themselves to participate in it (and usually prohibit women from “combat” roles), or conscript their fellow men, that seems somewhat “fair,” or at least logical.  However, in war, civilian casualties always outnumber military casualties…and who, during wartime, are the civilians?  The vaunted “women and children” whom the fighting men say they are protecting.

[9] Weeaboo – a (usually derogatory) slang term for a Western person who is obsessed with Japanese culture, especially anime.

The Russians I’m Not Absolving

1 Comment

Department Of Scapegoating

Moiself  would like nothing better than to wake up tomorrow morning to the news that Vladimir Putin has

* kicked the KGB bucket
* cashed in his commie chips
* bit the Chernoyl dust,
* bought the fascist farm,
* given up the glasnost ghost
* won his last rabid dog lookalike ® contest…

 

 

 

you know – died.  Whether through “natural” means or otherwise; hey, I’m not picky.

Still, it doesn’t seem…wise…or right…or fair…or historically accurate, to blame Russia’s assault against Ukraine solely on that festering turd of a genocidal despot one leader.

Russia is a big ass country.  Even with an oligarchy-stained kleptocracy of a dictatorship masquerading as a federal republic, moiself  doesn’t think the P-boy can do what he’s doing unless he’s got a whole lotta other Russians – if not the majority – on his side.

This is the 21st century, and Russia is not North Korea.  In “First World” countries whose people have access to First World technologies (internet; cellphones) is impossible to completely control the narrative; it is impossible to make the majority of the Russian populace believe that Ukrainians are “neo-Nazis”,  or the other delusional justifications the P-pants-boy offers for invading a sovereign country, unless there are those who, for whatever reasons, want to believe such bizarre, totally unsubstantiated falsehoods.

Are Russians who support their country’s actions also victims (of P-face’s propaganda), as I have heard more than one person surmise,?  Or are they collaborators?  I’m not sure it matters, at this point.  Not to the dead Ukrainians, that’s for sure.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Thanks For The Imagery

Dateline: Saturday, March 26; circa 7:45 am; morning walk; listening to the People I Mostly Admire podcast’s latest episode:  No One Can Resist A Jolly, Happy Pig.  Host Steven Levitt is interviewing naturalist and author Sy Montgomery, who gets the following introduction on the PIMA website:

My guest today is bestselling author and naturalist Sy Montgomery. The Boston Globe describes her as “part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson.” Her best-known book is The Soul of an Octopus, which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015. But she’s written about everything from tarantulas to hyenas to hummingbirds to pink dolphins. And as far as I can tell, she’s fallen in love with every one of them.

Levitt asks Montgomery how she got to where she is, in her profession – combining her two loves, of journalism and animals. Montgomery talks about visiting various people she knows who devote their lives to studying some obscure species, including a friend who is currently studying “the southern hairy-nosed wombat”…

…which caused moiself  to actually speak the following picture’s caption aloud.  To moiself, but ALOUD.

 

“Hey, Buford, y’all going to the barn dance tonight?”

*    *   *

Department Of Dietary Motivations

Back to the above-referenced podcast: Montgomery’s years of study of numerous animal species has caused her to refer to these animals as “people” (in aggregate) or “somebody” in particular. She explains her vocabulary choice:  not only do many of the scientists who study these animals attribute consciousness and emotion to them, but scientists who study animal brains consistently find the same or remarkably similar neurotransmitters and hormones that, in primates such as our homo sapiens selves, are responsible for the production and transmission of emotions.

 

 

Montgomery and Levitt had an interesting back-and-forth about such discoveries and attributions.  (Excerpts from their discussion; my emphases.)

LEVITT:
Now, I’m no expert on ethology, which is the study of animal behavior, but I suspect that the scholars in that area might be upset by your books….  I’m sure they would consider it a no-no to anthropomorphize animals, but that’s not even exactly what you do. You speculate about the unique ways each creature might experience the world. Am I right that some scientists complain that you go too far in that direction?

MONTGOMERY:
It’s not so much the scientists, but sometimes it’s the philosophers because they want humans to be the top of everything. Now, it is true that in science they use different words than I would use. Of course, in their scientific journals, they have different readers than I’m going to have, but things have changed a bit since, for instance, Jane Goodall first published her findings about tool use in chimps. No one wanted to publish that groundbreaking paper because she named her chimps instead of numbering them.

LEVITT:
Woah. Uh-huh.

MONTGOMERY:
Now things have changed…. There actually is a field of study that’s looking into animal personalities. I went on a personality survey with some of the top octopus researchers in the world…The person who headed that study…was the one who pointed out to me that if we fail to talk about emotions in animals, we are overlooking a central fact of neurobiology. And that is that every animal that has ever been studied, when you try to look for the hormones or neurotransmitters responsible for all of our feelings, like joy and fear, like stress and love, we find the exact same neurotransmitters. Even in taxa as different from ourselves, as octopuses, from whom we have been separated for half a billion years of evolution.

 

 

LEVITT:
The scientific, conventional wisdom for decades, hundreds of years, insisted that humans were unique on so many dimensions, like consciousness, the use of tools, ability to problem solve. Do you have a take on how these past scientists just got things completely wrong?

MONTGOMERY:
Yeah. I think it’s human supremacy, just like white supremacy. We wanted to be at the top, which would justify our exploitation of everybody else….

LEVITT:
Here’s something I strongly suspect will happen. When people look back in a hundred or 200 years, they will be shocked and dismayed at the cruelty that our society subjects animals to with factory farming. Do you agree?

MONTGOMERY:
A hundred percent. We will be appalled. And that’s why I became vegetarian years ago. Now there are farms that raise animals and slaughter animals in a more humane way, but I’m still delighted that I’m not eating them.

LEVITT:
You made a really powerful case for the wonder of pigs. Do you think for people whose goal it is get away from factory farming that maybe the strategy they should be taking is trying to teach people about the wonderful personality that pigs have?

MONTGOMERY:
Oh, I have gotten so many letters from people telling me that my book was the end of their bacon. And also, after Soul of an Octopus, many people wrote and said, “You know what? I used to love to eat octopus. I don’t eat it anymore.”

I love food and I love making food, but the taste of that item is on your tongue for less than a minute before you swallow something else. And for someone to lose their life for a taste on your tongue, that just seems like an enormous waste when there’s so many other delicious and nourishing things that we could have and not take away somebody’s life, somebody who thinks and feels and knows.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Inquiring Minds Want To Know

“She holds a PhD in neuroscience, but I couldn’t find whether she ever actually worked as a neuroscientist. It’s obvious that her understanding of ‘strong science’ doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. I doubt if she reads Science-Based Medicine or understands the principles we go by.”
Harriet Hall, MD aka “The SkepDoc”   [1]  )

 

 

Any claim that has the word “actually” in it must be true.

 

Moiself  saw a commercial the other day in which Mayim Bialik, the child actor turned adult actor turned part-time Jeopardy host,  has apparently now become a vitamin supplement shill. The ad was for Neuriva-Plus, a supplement which, its manufacturers claim, can make you smarter by increasing brain levels of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF, and shame on you for thinking that the acronym refers to some kind of S & M practice).

Why should you trust the celebrity who is promoting such a product?  Well, you silly goose, because the ad begins thusly:

“I’m Mayim Bialik, and I love brains.  It’s why I became a neuroscientist.”

 

 

Uh, yes.  Several spring to mind. 

Elsewhere Bialik has also claimed:

“Neuriva Plus is backed by strong science — yes, I checked it myself —
and it combines two clinically tested ingredients that help support six key indicators of brain health.”

Not only does Bialik claim to be a neuroscientist, in another, longer Neuriva ad she describes herself as, “America’s favorite neuroscientist” 

 

 

Ooooooookaaaaaaay.

Bialik went to college, studied neuroscience at UCLA, took a break from studies to return to acting, returned to school to earn her Doctor of Philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA, had two children, then went back to acting.   [2]  But nowhere in her (admittedly impressive) resumé can I find any reference to her working in the field of neuroscience.

I’m not concerned about how many reputable sources, including Psychology Today, have called the product Bialik is endorsing “Neuriva nonsense” and “just another snake oil.”   [3]    Moiself assumed that from the get-go.

 

 

Rather, I’m curious about the validity of her claim to be a “neuroscientist” when she doesn’t appear to be doing neuroscience.  She studied neuroscience; I get that.  But she’s not doing neuroscience.

I’m wondering what actual (ahem) neuroscientists might think. Sam Harris? Brenda Milner? Any other neuroscientists care to weigh in on this?

If you go to law school, get your law degree ( a J.D. in the USA ), then become a carpenter – i.e., for whatever reasons you decide you want to earn a living crafting furniture and do not practice law, either with a firm or in a partnership or by “hanging out your shingle” (solo practice) – is it accurate to say about yourself,

“I actually am a lawyer.”

 

“Don’t blame this one on me.  You want snake oil?  I’ll show you some snake oil.”

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Snake Oil Edition

Which snakes are best at mathematics?
Adders.

I got mugged by a cobra when I was walking through the park.
I told the police I couldn’t recognize it in a lineup, as it was wearing a hood.

Why don’t rattlesnakes drink coffee, or any caffeinated beverages?
Because it makes them viperactive.     [4]

What do you call a snake that builds houses?
A boa constructor.

 

*   *   *

May you never feel compelled to refer to yourself as an “actual” anything;
May you have fun imagining a southern hairy-nosed wombat;
May you be delighted by those creatures which you choose not to eat;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Hall is a retired family physician who researches and writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices.

[2] as per her Wikipedia bio.  

[3] “Mayim Bialik’s Neuriva Commercials Make Questionable Claims,” Science-based Medicine, 7-6-21

[4] No snake footnotes here.

The April Fool’s Joke No One Was Playing

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Content warning: Despite the date, and one or two moments of comic relief,  [1]   this is probably the most serious and personal blog post I have written.  No foolin.’

*   *   *

Department Of Worst April Fool’s Day Ever

The following took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – twenty-one years ago today, April 1, 2001. Background info: MH and I and our offspring, K and Belle, were members of a local church.  [2]   Within the past seven weeks we’d celebrated K’s eighth birthday, and Belle’s fifth.

*   *   *

At approximately 12:20pm, Sunday, April 1, 2001, MH and I were in the ___ (church name)  Fellowship Hall’s kitchen, doing cleanup after coffee hour.  K and Belle were playing with other children outside, in the church’s courtyard.  Belle found a hypodermic syringe (“A shiny toy,” as she later described it to me) on the grass under the bushes next to a play-shed in the courtyard.  She picked up the syringe, which was capped, but the syringe’s needle — which was sticking out at an angle from under the side of the cap — poked her in her right thumb.  She dropped the syringe and walked away.

K had seen Belle pick up something and then quickly drop it.  He went over to where she had been, saw the syringe, and picked it up. He intended to take it upstairs to MH and I, to show us what Belle had touched…then he also got stuck by the needle (in his left thumb) when he picked up the syringe.

K came into the kitchen, holding the syringe.  He told us that he’d found “this thing on the grass” and that he’d accidentally stuck himself with it. Before K had finished his sentence MH whisked the syringe from K, and recapped it (K said he took the cap off *after* the needle stuck him, as he wanted us to see exactly what it was that had stuck him, but that the syringe had the cap ON when he picked it up).

I rushed K to the sink, quickly but thoroughly washed his thumb, and told MH to get Belle and meet us at the hospital.  We had our two cars with us; I wrapped the syringe in several paper towels and ran down the back stairs of the hall with K in tow, telling him that we were going to the Tuality Hospital ER (which is less than half a mile from the church).

At this time MH and I did *not* know that Belle had also – and first – been stuck by that same syringe’s needle.

MH found Belle standing in the entrance to the Fellowship Hall, crying and holding her thumb, which was bleeding.  MH asked another child, who was lying on a couch in the entrance, what was going on.   The kid glanced at Belle and casually replied, “Oh, she cut herself.”   MH asked Belle what happened; she said that “a knife” she found in the courtyard had cut her finger.

I’d parked on the street by the entrance to the Fellowship Hall. Just as I was about to pull away from the curb MH ran to my car, pounded on the window, opened the door and practically threw Belle in the back seat, next to K.  MH told me about Belle’s thumb as he strapped Belle into her car seat; we tried to get more out of her, but she was very upset.  She didn’t want to say that it was the needle which had cut her, but K said that it was, and then Belle confirmed this.

All of this — from the moment K came up to the kitchen with the syringe to MH running with Belle to the car — took place in less than two minutes.  I squeezed Belle’s thumb to get more blood out, gave her a tissue to hold over her thumb, and drove to the ER, with MH arriving in our other car about four minutes after the kids and I did.

The bad news:

…was what had happened.  Of particular concern was the fact that the syringe was from an “unknown source,” which is hospital jargon for, “We don’t have the syringe’s user to test.”  However, as the hospital personnel  [3]   – and our own instincts and experience told us – as far as what the syringe had been used for, we should assume the worst.  Translation: the syringe had been used to inject a person or persons with illegal drugs; it had not been left there by a diabetic who on the spur of the moment decided to adjust his blood sugar/insulin ratio in our church’s courtyard’s bushes. (Coincidentally, earlier that morning I’d been told by the church groundskeeper that the previous day, members of our church had done a cleanup of the church grounds, removing beer cans and trash from under and around the bushes in the courtyard, where the groundskeeper had occasionally found “vagrants and street people partying.”)

Hospital personnel told us the syringe was likely used to inject its user(s) with a certain kind of heroin (“Mexican brown”) and/or methamphetamine, which, for “street users,” were the injectable drugs of choice both the hospital and the police were seeing at that time.  Although we brought the syringe with us (and could detect a micro-microscopic drop of fluid inside of it), we were told that there was nothing the hospital could test it for.  In fact, it was hospital policy not to test it, for among other reasons, the false reassurance of any false negative results (which they would likely get, as there was no way to determine how long the syringe had been there).

The relatively good (or at least, less bad) news:

-Both kids’ immunizations were up to date, including for Hepatitis B.

-Although there were no vaccinations for Hepatitis C and the other rare strains (D, E, F), risk of transmission for those infections, in that kind of possible exposure, were negligible…  Also, those strains of hepatitis were rarely seen in Oregon at that time (Hepatitis A is not transmitted via needle sticks).

-The syringe had a small gauge needle; thus, the possibility of a significant “viral load” transmission was small.

-HIV, the big fear factor at the time, is a very fragile virus.  Despite its many mutations it can survive only a few hours (if that) outside a host body.

The children were seen by P.A. ____, who examined them and then spoke with us about what happened.  Over the next three-plus hours, the P.A. consulted via telephone with Drs. E___ and L___ at Emmanuel Hospital’s Infectious Disease and Pediatrics Infectious Disease departments, with our pediatrician’s on call group, and with other physicians at the CDC.  [4]

We were told (by the P.A. and a Tuality ER physician) that HIV prophylaxis treatment was something we should consider, for both K and Belle.  We did, and decided against it, with the following information in mind:

– None of the doctors consulted would strongly recommend that we start either K or Belle on prophylactic treatment for possible HIV exposure, given the parameters of the particular accident/incident, nor was such treatment the recommended protocol for that kind of possible exposure.

– MMR (Morbidity & Mortality Report) statistics showed no transmission of disease had been recorded to have occurred in “this kind of injury,” in Oregon.

– Risk of transmission of HIV was estimated to be less than 1%; risk of side effects from AZT or other prophylactic HIV treatments definitely exceeded 1%.

K and Belle had blood drawn at the hospital for baseline HIV and Hepatitis titers, and we were given scripts to have the tests repeated at intervals of two, four, and six months.  The P.A. suggested, for our own peace of mine, that we do another test at twelve months (although that was not the official recommendation).

******************************

Department Of The Aftermath

At one point, sitting in the ER exam room with MH and the kids, I remembered noting the date and thinking, “If only this were an April Fool’s joke….”

The above was the Dragnet (“Just the facts, ma’am”) version of the incident, which I sent to family, and wrote for our own records.  I left out the emotions experienced by K, Belle, MH, and myself, which you can probably imagine (and which took me months to forget).

 

 

We were at that ER for hours.  We waited, while the P.A. consulted with various specialists and/or waited for them to return his calls and periodically came into the exam room we occupied, to update us.  All the adults were (trying to be) calm.  The ER seemed understaffed, to me (a hospital staff member later told me it was unexpectedly busy “for a Sunday afternoon”).  Even so and speaking of the afternoon, I wish one of the staff would have thought to offer our kids some food.  It was lunch time when the accident happened, and a little after 4 pm when we got out of there.  MH and I were too adrenalized to be hungry and, in our state of shock and with possible scenarios and outcomes running through our minds, we forgot that the kids, of course, were hungry  [5] ). I finally had the presence of mind to realize this, and got someone to bring them some sugary drinks, which made them both happy.

Waiting, waiting, waiting….  We bummed drawing supplies (paper and pens) from a nurse, to keep the kids amused or at least distracted, while hospital staff checked with one another and called various experts.  We shut the door to the exam room we were in and talked loudly to the kids when an accident victim with a fractured femur was brought into the ER (we were mostly successful in muffling the victim’s cries of pain, which echoed down the ER hallway).

MH’s cousin is a pediatrician and her husband an epidemiologist; MH used some of the waiting time to call her (she lived on the East coast).  She was very reassuring.  She told us that, to her knowledge and after checking her sources, there were no cases of someone “sero-converting” – i.e., going from a negative HIV test to a positive – after having “that kind” of accident (being stuck with a needle which had likely been used and discarded several hours before the stick-accident).

Okay; yes; this is good.   But, if this is common knowledge, why is this taking so long?
Why all the consults – are they preparing detailed information for us,
for a prognosis we don’t want to hear?

We had plenty of time, sitting/waiting/pacing in that exam room, to imagine the worst.  I had worked for nine years in the women’s reproductive health care field but been away from the medical world for almost as many years and hadn’t kept up with “things.”  HIV, despite its ability to mutate rapidly, was – or had been – a very fragile virus. Perhaps new strains had developed, which I was unaware of – new mutations which could survive hours outside a host body? I thought that unlikely, thus; actually, my main concern was not HIV.

I was more troubled to think that the kids might have been infected by one of the new strains of hepatitis that seemed to be cropping up left and right. When I’d worked at Planned Parenthood, just before MH and I moved up to Oregon, I’d had a needle stick accident, [6]  and had to go through the routines of initial HIV/hepatitis blood tests, getting the Hep B vaccine series,   [7]   then follow-up HIV and hepatitis tests at two, four, and six month intervals.

Meanwhile, back in the ER….  Finally, a little before 4 pm, the ER staff attending to our case had documented it to their satisfaction. We needed the kids to each have their blood drawn for the first round of tests, and then we could go home.  MH and I and the hospital personnel tried to be as straightforward – and as nonchalant – with the kids as possible.  Everything is going to be all right, we just have to do one test (which…er, yeah…will involve another needle stick)….”

K tried to be brave.  He was old enough that we could explain the hospital procedures to him, how they’d need to draw a small amount of blood for a test.  Did he think he could cooperate?  His lower lip trembled as he nodded yes.  He sat in my lap, I hugged him, and he hid his head under my arm when they drew his blood sample.  For each of the subsequent, follow-up blood draws (at two, four and six months after the incident), K got better at handling the needle poke (he even watched the last one, instead of turning his head to the side!).

Belle’s reaction was…almost feral.

What a difference three years makes, especially for younger children, in terms of experience and comprehension. Looking back, I realize that Belle was also being brave, in a different way – in defense of herself.  She did not understand why she had essentially been held captive for hours; she did not understand the need for the tests the adults were trying to explain to her.  She understood that she had already been injured by one needle, and she was determined not to let that happen again.

The hospital personnel were kind and patient with her, but despite their assurances that they would use the tiniest needle possible (“The size we use on preemies,” a nurse told me) Belle became unhinged. Even her beloved daddy could not get her to cooperate, nor could he restrain her.  Finally, in order to safely draw her blood, the hospital staff put her in what I can only describe as a full body straitjacket.  It was a device/garment I’d never seen before,   [8]   and it provided me with one brief moment of levity in that dreary afternoon (I had to leave the exam room for a moment, to stifle my giggles).

The follow-up blood draws were, for Belle, not much better (although full body restraints were not necessary).  For years after that ER visit Belle maintained a visceral fear of needles.  Routine vaccinations were…stressful, to put it mildly, for Belle, her parents, and her pediatrician.

Despite Belle’s fear of needles (which had not been present before the trip to the ER), neither she nor K seemed to carry any long-term trauma from the needle stick accident.  They also barely displayed any short-term distress.  By the morning after they seemed to have accepted what the adults had told them (it was an accident; everything is going to be fine), and it was almost as if the accident hadn’t happened.

The night we came home from the ER they both fell asleep even quicker than usual (fatigued from the excitement, was my guess).  Oh, to have that short term memory dump capability, I remember thinking.  Meanwhile, as our children dozed in blissful ignorance, MH and I sat upright in our bed, eyes abuzz from our respective adrenaline overdoses.

“What just happened?” I said to MH.  “I feel like – like I should attack something.  I’m all geared up for battle, but there’s no one to fight.”

*   *   *

When the option for prophylactic HIV treatment had been offered to us, I thought:

Is this the day our lives change forever?

I hoped the medical personnel were going to advise *against* such treatment; instead, they’d presented the pros and cons, and left the decision to us.

I’d already decided that, unless there were compelling evidence to do so, no way was I going to agree to poison my kids to play the odds.  During some of the down time in the ER exam room I’d chatted with the kindly if seriously-demeanored P.A., and discovered that he too was a parent.  After he and a hospital physician had presented the HIV treatment option to MH and I, I waited until the physician left the room, then asked the PA,

“What would *you* do, if this had happened to *your* children?”

He paused, and I continued.

“I know you’re not supposed to answer that kind of question, but please?”

The P.A. nodded at me, in a way I can only describe as respectful, and I saw the brief flicker of a smile cross his eyes for the first time since he’d met us.  No, he said, if it were his children, he would not opt for the HIV prophylaxis.

*   *   *

Thanks to the merciful element known as “the passing of Time,” the distress of that day has morphed, for me, into having an impassive remembrance of what happened without having to relive how it “felt.”  Years will pass without me thinking about the accident, and then something will remind me.

One such reminder came via a local public television show I saw a few years ago, which featured an interview with an activist who “represented” an encampment which homeless people had been setting up in a Portland neighborhood.  The encampment was in an area which had been designated as a wildlife corridor; homeowners living near the corridor were disgusted and alarmed by the encampment’s accumulating trash, habitat destruction, and crime.  The activist/representative said that the camp occupants were policing themselves – she looked directly into the camera and declared that they had a strict, no drugs/no alcohol policy.

 

 

Local news reported that within days of authorities evicting the campers, the encampment resembled an EPA-declared toxic waste dump. City employees and volunteers who cleared out the hundreds of pounds of garbage the campers had left behind had to wear special gloves and protective garments, as the trash included  – surprise, “self-policing” activist/representative! – drug paraphernalia, including contaminated syringes and needles.

When I read that follow-up story I was right back to that day – back to the moment when MH ran up to my car, carrying our frightened five-year-old in his arms; back to the moment when I realized that *both* of our children had been stuck by a hypodermic needle; back to the moment when, as surely as I could sense my own pulse hammering in my carotid artery, I felt as if my “spirit” were draining out of my skull, down through my chest and gut and legs, and exiting my body through the soles of my feet.  And no, this is not a florid way of saying I peed my pants (which I didn’t).  The sensation was so vivid, I later checked my car’s floormat for…something (I didn’t really know what I was looking for).

Several months passed before the needle stick accident wasn’t the first and last thing I thought of every day.  Some mornings with stoic acceptance and some nights with fierce, Samuel L. Jackson-style defiance (“C’mon, just try and hurt us again, you needle-discarding, muthaF#&%?! ass#@&%* !”), I’d contemplate the fact that there are so many things out of a parent’s control.  Seemingly apropos of nothing, I would find myself ruminating on the plethora of shit, be it circumstantial, biological, genetic, or whatever, that I could neither anticipate nor control, but which could harm K and Belle.

I eventually made peace with the reality that generations of parents before me had recognized:

Your life can change in an instant;
your love for your children may be river deep and mountain high,
but it cannot protect them from everything that might harm them….
including random fate and their and other peoples’ (and your own) mistakes.

One day, several months after the NS accident and after things had returned to the proverbial normal, I was out running errands with Belle.  We were at a crafty-type store, getting supplies for her preschool project, and she had to pee.  The store’s restroom was a fairly large, handicapped access room. After Belle flushed the toilet and began to move to the sink to wash up, she exclaimed, “Look!” and reached for a shiny object lying on the floor, to the side of the toilet.

I had my first ever out-of-body experience: I watched as a hand (that was apparently my own) reached out with lightning speed and slapped Belle’s hand just before she touched the object; I heard a banshee’s voice from the bowels of the hells I don’t believe in bellow from my mouth:

” NO NO NO NO NO !!!
Don’t EVER pick up ANYTHING when you don’t know what it is –
didn’t you learn ANYTHING from the accident ?!?!? “

It took a stunned two seconds for first Belle and then me to burst into tears, and a nanosecond after that for me to apologize to her.

*   *   *

May you never have a similar story to tell;
May you make peace with life’s realities but do your damnedest anyway;
May you remember to ask for something to eat and drink when
you’re stuck in an ER room for hours;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

[1] Thank you for the inspiration, Samuel L. Jackson.

[2] One of the more (if not most) liberal of the Protestant denominations.  Yes, this foulmouthed  expressive atheist and her family were active church members.

[3] The P.A., doctors, and nurses we saw during our ER stay.

[4] He had also spoken with at least two other Tuality hospital physicians, one of whom, along with the P.A., presented the HIV prophylactic treatment option to us.  We also had several nurses (in and out of the exam room where we and the kids waited) who never introduced themselves.

[5] Although, oddly enough, neither of them said anything to us about it…which I attribute to them being intimidated by the surroundings.

[6]  This happened as I was doing a finger poke blood draw from a high-risk (multiple sexual partners; IV drug user) patient: I poked myself with the same lancet I’d just used on the patient, as I was transferring the lancet to the sharpie container.  It was a move I’d done a hundred times, only that time I somehow managed to stick myself as I grabbed the sharpie container.  To this day, I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ll never forget how the patient looked at me and said, “Uh oh.” 

[7] Which I should have had anyway…but I’d kept putting off for time/scheduling reasons.

[8] Then a few months later, in a veterinary setting, I saw a similar garment used to restrain a fractious cat!

The Hotel I’m Not Bonking

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Department Of The Fail-Safe Therapy Tool For Kids Of All Ages

 

 

Before I commence to deal with some Serious Subjects ® , I’m going to play for a few seconds with the farty putty (aka, “noise putty”) device MH got me as a Christmas stocking stuffer.  ‘Tis such a primal amusement, and also an effective stress reliever.  I think the American Psychological Association should recommend it to their counselors, to have on hand for sessions that get really intense:  “It’s time for a farty putty break.”  😉

Lest you think moiself  jests about its therapeutic applications, feast your eyes on this, from the National Autism Resources website (my emphases):

“Kids of all ages love to play with noise putty! It has an unusual squishy texture that you can squeeze between your fingers. Push it back into its jar and listen to it make funny, gastronomical sounds. Use it to work on fine motor skills….”

And not to worry, for y’all who consider yourselves to be technically-challenged.  It even has handy-dandy instructions:

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Not Up To Their Previous Standards

Moiself  is referring to the latest installment of Serial, the Peabody award-winning investigative journalism podcast (developed by This American Life)  which made a name for itself in the past ten or so years with its episodic, documentary-style presentation of compelling non-fiction stories.  Past seasons included an investigation of the 1999 murder an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, and an in-depth look at what happened to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, an American Army soldier who was held for five years by the Taliban, then charged with desertion.

The Trojan Horse Affair, Serial’s latest installment, claims to take a closer look at the 2013 scandal in England which involved claims of a conspiracy to introduce Islamist tenets into several schools in Birmingham – claims which were set out in an anonymous letter  [1] sent to Birmingham City Council.  TTHF is hosted and reported by American veteran producer Brian Reed and a novice journalist, Hamza Syed, a British doctor-turned-reporter from Birmingham, England.

 

 

“This is my first story as a journalist. I don’t plan for it to be my last story as well, but given what’s happened in the years I’ve been working on this, it probably will be.”
( Hamza Syed, from his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air 2-15-22)

Syed’s provocative quote, and my enjoyment of Serial’s previous installments, got me interested in listening to the series. After having done so, I’ve concluded that if, indeed, TTHA turns out to be Syed’s last story as a journalist it won’t be because of his concerns, both overt and implied, of anti-Muslim prejudice against him.  It will be because he proved to be a lousy reporter.

Besides displaying a rather volatile temper, Syed made a major faux pas which cast doubt on the integrity of his methods and motives, and on his ability to distinguish between his personal identity and an investigation’s subject matter.

“Long story short” territory:  In a latter episode of the TTHA series (# five or six, I think, of eight total episodes) it was revealed that, at one point in Syed’s and Redd’s investigation, Syed, frustrated with being unable to get sources to confide in him, played the Muslim card:  [2]    Syed wrote a letter to a potential interviewee (a Muslim man), saying he has never believed the accepted narrative around the case, nor many of the people involved in the investigations around it, and that his (Syed’s) identity as a Muslim takes precedence for him in his investigation.

MH and I each (separately) listened to the podcast, and each of us had similar, jaw-dropping reactions to what Syed had done.  Given the opportunity to provide feedback to Syed, I’d have phrased my reaction thusly:

Why should I take *anything* from you seriously, when you’ve just admitted that you do *not* have journalistic integrity at heart, in a story that especially demands it?

Like the evangelical creationist who admits he views science through the lens of how he interprets Christian scriptures, you have told a person – from whom you are trying to get information – that, like him, you are ultimately and firstly a Muslim.

Now, were you lying to get him to trust you? Or were you telling the truth?  Either way, I can take nothing you say or do as if it were coming from a serious journalist striving for truth, integrity, and objectivity.

Despite our respective shock and disgust at what the reporter had done, both MH and I found the TTHA story intriguing, and continued to listen to the rest of the series. But we weren’t the only ones to have an issue with it, and with more matters than its rookie journalist’s whopping boner of a tactic. There was also the assumption the series seemed to take, from the beginning of the podcast: that anti-Islamic sentiment was behind and/or ultimately responsible for  *everything* in the scandal.  Accusations (including incidents of verifiable and disturbing behaviors   [3]  )  about sexism, anti-LGBTQ teachings, and child abuse on the part of some Muslim men – alarms raised by Muslim women – were mentioned in several TTHA episodes, in marginal ways, then dropped.

We weren’t the only ones who were disturbed by this. To quote only one critique:

“The Trojan Horse Affair presents a one-sided account that minimizes child protection concerns, misogyny and homophobia in order to exonerate the podcast’s hero…  In doing so, it breaches the standards the public have the right to expect of journalists, with cruel consequences for those it uses and abuses along the way.”

( “The Trojan Horse Affair: How Serial Podcast Got It So Wrong,”
Sonia Sohad, The Guardian 2-20-22

 

Shaka Ssali is a (recently retired) Uganda-born journalist.

 

*   *   *

Department Of How Other Journalists Are Getting It So Right

What comes to mind when you read the words of a critic and writer at The Washington Post, who called an Academy Award-nominated film “…the most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”?

Are you thinking of the award-winning  All The President’s Men, or Spotlight?  Or The Post, or The Killing Fields, or….?

Nope.  The WAPO writer refers to a documentary (among five nominees for this year’s Academy Award for best documentary feature) which takes place in India.

 

 

Indian politicians would have you believe that their country is a major power in the modern, 21st century world, yet they do the bare minimum to change aspects of their culture which hark back to 1500 BCE, when the caste system was established.

 

 

The good news:  in India, one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism,   [4]   there is an astoundingly brave and persistent group of reporters committed to the ultimate tenet of good journalism: holding the powerful to account.  What’s amazing about this group is that is it composed of people with inarguably the least amount of power in their country:  Dalit (the lowest caste, aka “untouchables”) women.

Writing With Fire is the documentary which tells the story of these reporters and their newspaper/news outlet, Khabar Lahariya (translation: “News wave”).  Moiself   urges you to see it (streaming on Amazon, and available via other venues).

 

 

” In India’s millennia-old caste system, Dalits fall entirely outside the structure. Once pejoratively referred to as ‘untouchables’…over centuries Dalits have remained oppressed by tradition and the rest of Indian society.

‘I tell my daughters, their caste identity will always follow them. This is how our society is structured, but it’s important to keep challenging the system,’ says Meera Devi, the outlet’s chief reporter who is the main protagonist of the film.

But day after day, the women defiantly expose sexual violence against women and the corruption of illegal mining operations in rural India.

‘We don’t trust anyone except you. Khabar Lahariya is our only hope,’ the husband of a woman who has been repeatedly raped by a group of men in their village tells Devi in one of the rare moments in the film in which a man acknowledges the organization’s value and impact.”

(“Opinion: The most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”
Jason Rezian, The Washington Post, 2-1-22 )

Writing With Fire has a bajillion   [5]   story levels to it (other than that of the newspaper itself and the stories it covers), including the reporters’ uphill battle against centuries of patriarchy, and gender and caste prejudice.  It’s also an excellent briefing on what makes a good journalist, in any culture.

Some standout moments of the film, for moiself , include:

* Two of the reporters, while preparing a meal, are discussing questions they will be asking of participants in an upcoming election. One reporter asks the other,“Tell me something honestly, why do we call our country ‘mother India?’ Why celebrate the country as a mother?…. I get very irritated watching the celebrations on TV glorifying our democracy. But where is the democracy? Neither are we a democracy, nor are the women free.”

* Later in the documentary one of the more the most promising young journalists of Khabar Lahariya is interviewed about her having to leave the newspaper. She’d spoken earlier about not wanting to succumb to the pressure to get married, and about what happens to women in her society.  And then…

“What can I say? At one point I thought of not getting married at all. Many things were on my mind. So I thought, why get married? But I’m under a lot of pressure. I need to protect my parents, because being a single woman is not an option here.

People are questioning my integrity as well as my family’s. They were saying that they (her family) want to live off my earnings, ‘…and at night your daughter…’
 It tortures the family and creates a lot of tension. So I realize marriage is inevitable. I don’t want to be the cause of my family suffering.
Let’s think that whatever will happen will be for the best. Things have a way of working out, and that’s what I’m hoping for….”
  (She pauses, shakes her head, holds back tears)
“I’m finding it difficult to speak anymore.”    [6]

 

 

The film depicted scenarios both horrendous, and uplifting, depressing and emboldening, What affected me the most? It wasn’t…

* the husbands and families of these brave journalists showing lackluster (if any) support for their work;

*  the frustrations of the reporters trying to learn and use digital technologies when most of them have never been able to afford a cell phone, and then, when they are issued smart phones and/or touchscreen tablets by the newspaper, they can’t charge the equipment because their homes lack electricity;

* the rising influence of the Anti-Muslim bigot Hindu nationalist, Prime Minister Modi, and the prevalence of his inflammatory rhetoric using that most unholy of alliances – politics and religion;

* the danger and threats (physical, emotional, and sexual) the women face; nor the way way sexual slurs are used to try to cow and humiliate them and their families…  

One small, domestic scene really got to me, probably because I took it to be illustrative of what these reporters, as women in a seemingly women-denigrating culture, have to deal with: with the should and should not limitations all women face, in a world still dominated by patriarchal attitudes.

The scene took place early in the morning.  Meera Devi, who like her Khabar Lahariya peers has worked all the previous day (and well into the night), is braiding her daughter’s long hair before school.  Like all of her married reporter peers, the vast majority (if not all) of household tasks fall upon Devi, even as she works full-time out of the home.  Her daughter is insisting on two braids (“plaits”), as Devi wearily (if good-humoredly) grumbles about not having time for that…one plait should be enough.  But the daughter pleads, telling her mother that she will be (and has been) scolded at school if her mother doesn’t do her hair in two plaits, “…because teacher says all girls should have two plaits.”

All girls should….
All girls are ….
All girls must…
All girls should never….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of International Relations

MH and moiself  are doing some much anticipated traveling overseas this summer.  For some of the travel we’ll be in a Scandinavian tour group.  The tour begins in Stockholm; following savvy traveler advice, I booked us rooms in a Stockholm hotel two days ahead of when the tour begins, so that we can adjust to the time difference and all that pickled herring and Swedish chefs, etc.

Moiself  got an English translation while booking online, but the confirmation the hotel emailed to us was in Swedish.  It began with a cheery greeting which I was mostly able to figure out, except that I transposed two letters in the fourth word, which made for an interesting impression/translation: “Tak För Din Bokning!”

Me, to Moiself:
” ‘Thanks for the bonking ?!?!? ‘
Wow – this really is an all-service hotel!”

Moiself:
Ahem, that’s, bokning.  [7]

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Swedish Edition

Swedish inventors have created cyborgs which are hard to distinguish from real humans.
Critics are concerned about the use of artificial Swedeners.

Why does the Swedish military put barcodes on their ships?
So when the ships return to port they can scan da navy in.

My neighbor drones on and on about his notoriously unreliable Swedish sports car…
It seems like a great big Saab story to me.

Did you hear about a new Broadway show that combines magic with Swedish pop songs?
It’s called ABBA-Cadabra.

 

Mamma Mia, there she goes again.

 

*   *   *

May you enjoy the therapeutic applications of “funny, gastronomic sounds;”
May you watch Writing With Fire (then maybe Spotlight and other journalism-themed movies) and appreciate the absolute necessity of a free press to a vital democracy;
May you put on ABBA’s “Waterloo” and dance around your living room
(you know you want to);
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] Which was later deemed to be a hoax.

[2] About which he was confronted, and chastised, by Reed.

[3] Including sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl by one of her male teachers.

[4] Over forty journalists in India have been killed since 2014.

[5] Fortunately, the reporters of Khabar Lahariya, constrained as they are by sound journalistic principles, would never stoop to using such sensationalistic exaggerations as those employed by moiself.

[6] Later still there is footage of her at her wedding, in her wedding finery.  Moiself wanted to cry; I’ve never seen a more downhearted looking bride…or woman in almost any situation, for that matter.  But, in the documentary postscript, it was reported that she had rejoined the newspaper several months after her marriage.

[7] Uh, that would be, booking, as in, booking a room with them.  Nudge Nudge wink wink.

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