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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 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 Russians I’m Not Absolving

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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.

The Mask I’m Not Burning

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Department Of…And…They’re Off!

Tomorrow is the official day in my state, Oregon (and also Washington and California (Oregon) when the mask mandate is liftedExcusez-moi; it’s actually/officially lifted “after 11:59 p.m. on March 11.”   [1]

Recently I’ve overheard at least two  conversations   [2]   wherein people were talking about having a mask-burning party to celebrate the lifting of the mandate.  Moiself  gathered that these parties were more about embracing reaching certain pandemic milestones, and were light-hearted, akin to the tradition of the celebratory mortgage-burning parties. These intended parties were to be nothing akin to the hostile, the anti-mask demonstrations held in certain areas of certain states during the past year, e.g. Idaho, where mouth-breathing child abusing ignoramuses red-staters taught their children to embrace their parents’ imbecility and anti-science stances:

“Parents cheered Saturday on the steps of the Idaho Capitol building as children threw handfuls of surgical masks into a fire. Far-right groups and some lawmakers held similar demonstrations in more than 20 Idaho towns, seizing on growing impatience with COVID-19 restrictions.

‘Hey fire, you hungry?’ asked one boy as adults watched him toss face coverings into a burn barrel. ‘Here’s another mask!’

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and state Rep. Dorothy Moon addressed the crowd of more than 100 people, standing behind a lectern on the Capitol steps. Nearby, a banner with the racist phrase ‘Wu Flu’ was draped over a replica Liberty Bell….

Idaho is one of 16 states that have not implemented a statewide mask mandate….

Idaho leads the Pacific Northwest in COVID-19 cases and death count per 100,000 residents. In the Gem State, people are dying at almost twice the rate of Oregonians, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.”

(“Mask burning rally in Idaho fans COVID-19 worries in Oregon” OPB 3-8-21)

 

Yeah, and not only that, those people are allowed to breed, and vote.

 

I don’t think moiself  will be burning any masks any time soon. Rather, I’m going to pause and take a moment of gratitude for the lives that mask-wearing saved, as documented here and here (and also here and here, and….) and also be grateful for how wearing masks contributed to a record-low flu season during the COVID pandemic.

Nope; not gonna burn, gonna celebrate, I thought to moiself, while I was out walking a couple of “laps” around the movie theater I’d arrived at. I had 20 minutes before the show began, and as I walked I looked at my surroundings, as I am wont to do, and my eyes were drawn to a trash comparison. Walking along the sidewalks of the busy streets by the movie theater, as well as the non-busy back alleys, I noticed one distinctive bit of trash which rivaled cigarette butts in number:  discarded facemasks.

When I think of all the excess trash the pandemic brought us, it frosts my butt.  It seems like we’d just gotten people to bring their own reusable bags when shopping, and to even consider bringing their own reusable drinking straws and take out containers when dining out…then came COVID and the (unnecessary, it turns out) regressive turn, back to the one-use, discard-after-use, plastic everything. This increase in our trash made me almost as sad as the number of COVID deaths.  I’m not exaggerating.

 

“The amount of plastic wastes generated worldwide since the outbreak
is estimated at 1.6 million tonnes/day.

( COVID pollution: impact of COVID-19 pandemic on global plastic waste footprint, Science Direct, 2-21 )

 

*   *   *

The Department Of Returning To Normalcy   [3]

Moiself  is not One Of Those People ® who rant and rave about self-checkout lines at the grocery (or other, but mostly grocery) stores – about how they are evil corporate plots to reduce employment  (even though they probably are), or how they are bring us one step closer to Orwellian scenarios, or how they are just inefficient or whatever.  I use the self-checkout option, occasionally to frequently, depending on the store. When I have a whole lotta items in my cart I’ll use the regular checkout lines…unless they are quite backed up, in which case I’ll do the time math in my head –

do I have more complex items which will require manual input and/or the self-checkout clerk’s attention – e.g. fresh produce and/or bulk items which require weighting and manual input of codes, wine – or primarily pre-packaged items, which I can scan almost as quickly as an experienced checker –

 and pick one or the other.

 

 

Midway through the pandemic restrictions, the checkout clerks at New Seasons   [4]  and I began joking about when the “return to normalcy” would begin, and what that normalcy would look like.  The NS clerks always seemed somewhat apologetic about their store’s policy banning customers bringing their own/reusable bags.  They were also one of the first stores to return to letting customers bring their own bags, and then one of the first to return to bagging customers’ purchases in the reusable bags.

Most of the other grocery stores I skulk around patronize have both regular and self-checkout options, the latter with no item limits (some still have a “15 items or fewer” option).  But I’ve learned, even if there is a line of three carts ahead of me in the regular check outline, if I have a cartload of items it’s ultimately worth it to get in the regular checkout line.

 

Hmmm, which line….

 

The checkers are just more efficient – surprise! It’s what they do, all day long.  And the logistics of the self-checkout stations…urgh.  I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of times they have truly been *self*-checkout (as in, no store employee contact) for moiself, despite my having used the self-checkout option hundreds of times.

It seems like I can’t get through checking out my own groceries without needing the employee in charge of overseeing the self-checkout lines to come over (and input his or her magic code, or whatever) when my self-checkout scanning machine refuses to scan any further because:

* it didn’t register the proper weight of an item

* when I rearranged an already checked item in one of my bags, trying to make room for another item, it thinks I took some items out and didn’t put them back

* I need an age/ID verification for an adult beverage

* I need a verification on the weight of my bags after I checked the “I brought my own bags” option on the scanner and it didn’t register them because my bags are deemed either too light or too heavy

* after I get the okay for my bags and arrange them in the (inadequate) space allowed, one end of one bag slips over the edge of the counter, and thus the last item I placed in it doesn’t get its weight registered properly

* the organic beets I’m trying to buy have no UPC code/tag and are not listed in the “look up item” option on the scanner….

All of these and many more scenarios stop the scanner, and trigger the dreaded hopeful, “Help Is On The Way” message on the scanner’s screen.  While waiting for the HIOTW employee to arrive I often look around at my fellow self-checkout-ers.. I see that they are also awaiting the same service; I see one of them shake his head and grumble that he’s been waiting for five minutes to get help because the loaf of the store’s freshly baked bread – FFS, he only has ONE item – lacks a scannable code, and the store’s self-checkout line overseer/employee is helping another customer scan their 985 coupons….

 

 

My favorites in the we-are-all-waiting-for-the-help-that-is-on-the-way group are the sweet and petite elderly women who wave their hands in a Yoo-hoo ® manner at store employees, optimistically yet incorrectly assuming that this will expedite the process.

Once again, I digress.

*Most* local stores have returned to allowing reusable bags, but why *all* have not returned to bagging a customer’s purchases using that customer’s reusable bag is a mystery to moiself.  After all, this is what we’re all supposed to do – bring our own bags – right?  There are a few grocery stores that, if you are in their regular checkout lines, will not bag your groceries if bring your own reusable bags. Yep, I’m talking to you, Albertsons  (and Safeway…and since one chain bought the other several years back, I’m assuming this is the parent company’s policy).

At first, I thought it was a staffing issue.  The last time I was at Albertson’s I decided to test this notion by going through a regular checkout line.  There were two people and their respective cartloads ahead of me, and an employee other than the cashier stood at the end of the cashier stand, bagging the customers’ groceries in the store’s paper bags. So, they *did* have staff available to bag.  When I unloaded my cart, placing my two reusable bags along with my groceries on the conveyor belt, the cashier pointed to my bags and asked me if I was “comfortable” bagging my own groceries.

Perhaps noticing the lack of enthusiasm in my, “ ‘Comfortable?’ Uh yeah…downright cozy” reply, the cashier followed up with, “We can’t do that” (indicating my reusable bags) because of “the COVID thing.”

Which is ridiculous.

 

“I told her I wasn’t going to touch her filthy reusable bags and the bitch done left me with her cartful of items.”

 

I did not tell her that her company’s policy is absurd, seeing as how she was a rank-and-file employee who was just following the store’s policy.  But the other employee, the one who either was the bagger or was temporarily functioning as such, stepped aside, yet remained at the bagging station…to do what? I wondered, as I pushed my cart to the end of the checkout line and began to bag my groceries. So, you’re not going to bag my items, you’re going to…uh, provide them with an escort?  Or chaperone me, while I bag them?  Dude, what is your function?

Many months ago at the afore-mentioned NS market, when they were still not bagging your groceries if you bought your own bags, the checkers and I joked about how it was understandable to have such draconian policies, two year ago, at the very beginning of the pandemic, when people weren’t sure what COVID-19 was or how it was transmitted.  But we’ve known for some time that COVID is an airborne virus.  You are not going to get it from my woven grocery basket, nor from my reusable bag made of nylon or another synthetic materials.

I tried and (mostly succeeded) in not berating store employees for following their company mandates, no matter how *not*-based-in-reality such mandates were.  There was one notable exception.

 

 

Several months into the pandemic moiself  tried to donate cans of pet food to a local animal shelter.  This is something I did periodically, although this particular trip was in response to moiself’s  having read an article about how the shelter was going through tough times and needed donations for food and other basic animal care items.  A volunteer at the shelter approached me as I began to lower my bags of canned food into the shelter’s donation bins – bins which were open, and at the entrance to the shelter, just as they had always been pre-pandemic.  The volunteer apologetically said that the shelter would not take a donation of cans, “…because of COVID.”

Moiself:
“Seriously?
You *do* realize that you can’t get COVID from a can of cat food…don’t you?”

I immediately regretted my outburst response, apologized to the volunteer,   [5]   adding that I realized he was not personally responsible for such an idiotic, non-science-based overly-cautious policy.    [6]

 

 

So, to reiterate: You (store clerk/business employee) are not going to get COVID from my reusable bag unless each component of the following scenario ensues:

* I, infected with COVID, am standing in your checkout line at your store.

* I feel a cough coming on, lift up my face mask, put my bag to my face, and hack and sputter into said bag.

* While bagging my groceries with the bag I brought and just coughed into, you – for  reasons fathomable only by a highly perceptive mental health professional – grab that bag, lift your own mask, stick your finger into the glob of moist ejecta I coughed onto the bag, stick that finger in your nostril and inhale deeply and then, just to make sure, lick that same finger before proclaiming, “Just as I thought! Definitely NOT lime Jell-O.”

 

 

Neither are you, nor I, *not* are going to catch COVID because you, the checker, obsessively sprayed and wiped your checkstand’s conveyor belt between each customer.  [7]    Our mask-wearing, social distance-maintaining, hand-washing; our getting vaccinated and staying home when we’re ill – these are the actions that matter.  However, store policies re obsessive cleaning are…well…policies.  And when a policy is established, for reasons sound or otherwise, it tends to remain in place.  ‘Cause, you know: Science.  [8]

So, Albertsons, answer me this: Do your fellow grocery stores, your competitors – do all those other stores and their employees have a special dispensation or super powers which allow them protection from those icky reusable bags which are out to contaminate your store’s employees?

Albertsons, hear this:  It is safe for your baggers to use customer’s reusable bags.  Update your policy. Either that or tell your “baggers” to get off their asses and move away if they’re not going to bag my groceries. I don’t need a chaperone or a witness while I do so. You could at least have them pretend to count the store’s supply of paper bags, or dust shelves or whatever, while I am doing what is supposed to be their job.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Sometimes I Amaze Even Moiself

Did I really just write over twenty paragraphs about the pesky   [9]  dilemma of grocery store bagging?

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Pundemic Pandemic Edition

I will tell you a Coronavirus joke now,
but you will have to wait two weeks to see if you got it.

Why are four out of five fishermen *not* worried about COVD-19?
Because they never catch anything.

What’s the difference between Covid-19 and Romeo and Juliet?
One’s the coronavirus, the other is a Verona crisis

What will we call the kids who celebrate their thirteenth birthday
thirteen years after the start of the pandemic lockdown?
The quaranteens.

Bonus
 Chuck Norris has been exposed to the COVID-19.
The virus is now in quarantine for a month.

Special bonus
Best pickup line, as overheard in a nursing home:
Single elderly man says to single elderly woman,
“If COVID doesn’t take you out, can I?”

 

 

*   *   *

 

May you never use “because of the COVID thing” as an excuse;
May this post not be your (only) reason for avoiding lime Jell-O;
May you remember to bring your reusable bags;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Lifted as in no longer mandatory in indoor public spaces and schools.  Federal requirements still include masks on public transit.

[2] Had between apparent friends, in public spaces.  And yes, I was keeping proper physical distancing.  I wasn’t exactly eavesdropping; they were talking loudly and my mask did not cover my ears. Or, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

[3] As in, post-pandemic…as in, assuming what we had and did before was somehow “normal.”

[4] My longtime favorite store.  Which does not (yet) have a self-checkout option.

[5] Moiself  used to volunteer at that same shelter.

[6] “They’ll take monetary donations,” he sheepishly responded.  The “they,” I assume, meant the shelter staff.

[7] Now, wiping the belt after the previous customer’s raw beef dripped blood all over it and I’m going to put down my fresh produce on that very belt – YES! Thank you!

[8] The law of inertia, or whatever.

[9] As in, slightly frustrating, but not approaching the level of invading-another-sovereign-country frustrating.

The Parties I’m Not Yet Hosting

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Department Of Getting This Out Of The Way

Since it would likely cause too much political turmoil for a legitimate government to engage in “regime change,” is it too much to suggest that some Russian patriots lay down their lives for A Greater Cause ® and take out their rapacious, rampaging, rat-faced ruler?

And while they’re at it, maybe they could do something about our own Tangerine Traitor?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Just Can’t Help It

If the aforementioned Russian patriots found a way to grind their leader into a pâté and spread him atop a cracker, would that be Putin on the Ritz?

 

The preferred final resting place of despots worldwide.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Well You Didn’t Have To Agree So Damn Quickly

It happened.  Again.

Dateline: last week; later afternoon; grocery store;  picking up soy milk, olive oil, apples, avocadoes, lemons, garnet yams, and other items for dinner.  It is a blustery day; I have a coat and scarf, my usual wide brimmed rain-or-shine hat, and a mask of course, all of which left little of my face exposed.  The checkout cashier gives me a careful look as she picks up the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from my basket.

Cashier (holding the bottle above the scanner, but not scanning it):
“May I see your ID?”

Moiself (pulling my mask up and my scarf down):
“Is this the neck of someone under 21 years old?”

Cashier (takes a look, scans my wine):
“Ha!”

 

 

*   *   *

 

Everyone take a deep breath. The frivolity will return after this important message.

 

*   *   *

 

Department Of If You’re Human, Please Read This

“In the throes of loss, people reach for certainty and control. My patient’s wife asked me what percentage of people as sick as her husband had survived and whether a risky therapy could promise life. I couldn’t offer her easy answers, only a willingness to stay and listen. Together, we wrestled with the burn of uncertainty. She shared photos of her husband over Zoom. They had sailed and cooked and taken selfies on the beach. Her photos said what words couldn’t. This is the person I have lost.

Earlier in my career, looking closely at this particular kind of pain was as blinding as looking at the sun. I distracted myself afterward with S.N.L. marathons and slabs of chocolate cake. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t my job to protect people from their grief or to solve it.

I have learned to look when I want to look away.
I have chosen to stay when I’d prefer to run out of the room and cry. The prelude to compassion is the willingness to see.”

(Dr. Sunita Puri; my emphases)

 

 

If you’re over age twenty and live alone on a desert island, perhaps you have not yet had that choice – to stay, or run out of the room and cry.  Perhaps you have not yet had to grieve that inevitable, most human of losses: the death of a loved one.  For the rest of us, I recommend this essay:

We Must Learn to Look at Grief, Even When We Want to Run Away.

This brief, down-to-earth yet stunningly profound guest essay appeared last week in the NY Times.  Written by Dr. Sunita Puri, the essay begins with the story of a patient dying from COVID-19, and Dr. Puri’s relationship with the patient’s wife. The insights imparted by Dr. Puri, who is a palliative medicine physician, go beyond any particular diagnosis.

“I don’t believe in ‘moving on’ and ‘finding closure.’ This language distills the messy complexity of grief into tidy sound bites and asks people to leave something behind, bury it or lock it away. The challenge for my patients and their families is the challenge for all of us: Can we instead move forward with grief?
Can we find a way to integrate loss into life, to carry it with us? Can we feel tragedy together, without an artificial line between those who are ready to move on and those who can’t see a way out?”

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

 

Department Of The Ghost Of Potlucks Past

As we near the end of mandatory indoor masking regulations, moiself  is thinking of the gradual return of social gatherings.  For our family such events will be small, at first…which has got me to daydreaming about our parties of yore.

We (MH and I, and offspring K and Belle, when they were still in the nest) used to host potluck dinners for family/neighbors/friends.  On a semi-regular basis (every 6 months to a year) we could host twenty to thirty people to feast and frolic.

The potlucks were themed; guests were asked to bring a dish having something to do with the theme.  There are some parties whose themes moiself  can’t recall and whose invitations I didn’t save (DAMN!); others, I will never forget.

Here is a sample of the themes, plus a brief description of what kind of foods/dishes guests were asked to bring. 

 

 

 

* Cusina Obscura
(foods of the “minor” or lesser known countries and/or cuisines, instead of the usual dining out suspects {Italian; French, Thai; Mexican. For example, find/make something Burmese instead of Chinese; Finnish instead of Swedish; Samoan instead of Hawaiian;) Uruguyan instead of Brazilian….)   [1]

* White Trash Food
(food you at one time liked and ate but now might be ashamed to admit it; e.g., a Wonder Bread mayo potato chip sandwich.  Basically, this gathering was a haute cuisine nightmare…and judging from the guests’ feedback, one of our most popular themes.
Our party’s centerpiece was a bottle of Pepto Bismol.   [2]  )

* The Dung Beetle Café
(food items must be round, or “rollable”)  [3]

*  All Things “P” Party
(all foods/dishes must have a word/ingredient beginning with the letter P)

* Better Red Than Dead
(food must be…wait for it…red. In some capacity.    [4])

 * Halfway to the Holidays
(party held in June; bring a dish which, to you, fairly screams fal-la-la-la-la/ yule/Christmas/Solstice whatever winter holiday you celebrate)

* PuPu Potluck
(as in the Hawaiian pupu platters – an all appetizer foods potluck )

* The Next Party
(inspired by a regular potluck party guest, who, when he encountered me at the grocery store or some public arena, asked,
“Isn’t it time for your next party?”   [5] )

 

 

Our friend BW, a regular potluck guest and gourmet chef with quite the cookbook collection, “gifted” us with this cookbook – along with a platter of the adore-mentioned potato chip sandwiches – when he attended our WT Foods party.

 

 

Here is a variant of our “standard” potluck party invitation (All Things “P” Party):

Potluck; Parsnips; Pickled peppers; Pasta; Peanuts; Pizza; Pesto
Pomegranate; Party; Porcini; Pirates; Parmigiano….

Do you pick up a pattern?  Perceptive person (or plural) that you are, you are invited to help us celebrate the glorious 16th letter of the alphabet by attending our
All Things “P” Potluck Party
Saturday October 7, 6:30 pm

Celebrate your culinary P-osity by bringing a dish to share with fellow potluck partakers.  This may be just the occasion you were looking for to dust off that recipe for Paprika Plum Pudding or Peruvian Pork Patties, or Papa’s favorite Purée of Prunes & Peas.

Your lovely and talented hosts will provide their usual combination of:
* joi de vivre and schadenfreude;
* plates, napkins, and tableware;
* restrooms sanitized for your protection;
* a motley assortment of leaded and unleaded beverages
(including Pepto Bismol for the prunes & peas partakers).

And yes, there will be Prizes awarded.  For…something.    [6]  

Here are just a few of the fabulous people who will  (not)  be attending the potluck:

-Monty Python’s Michael Palin
-Pancho Villa
-Dolly Parton
-Regis Philbin
-Sydney Poitier
-Plato
-Pandora
-Jean Luc Picard, Captain, USS Enterprise
-Emily Post
-Pocahontas
-Pongo the wonder chimp (Cheetah’s stunt double from the original “Tarzan” movies)

RSVP to _______.  Directions to our house, potluck suggestions, and personal hygiene tips will be provided upon request.

 

Actually, we were relieved Ms. Post could not attend the gathering, as we’d heard she was somewhat of a party pooper.

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Dinner Party Edition

Where does a baseball catcher sit at a dinner party?
Behind the plate.

I was so happy when son stopped chewing on his boogers at dinnertime.
He’s no longer a picky eater.

I invited a couple of Vikings to dinner, and they kept tapping on the table and laughing.
When I finally asked what was so funny, they said,
“You wouldn’t get it; it’s Norse code.”

My husband was mortified when I mentioned his underwear at a dinner party.
It was a brief conversation.

My cannibal neighbor showed up two hours late to my dinner party.
I gave him the cold shoulder.

 

Can we please extend cancel culture to cannibal jokes?

 

*   *   *

 

May you enjoy a gradual return to social gatherings;
May you learn to look at grief, even when you’d rather run away;
May being the subject of bad puns someday be enough
to depose Russian war criminals;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] Our friend’s young adult son brought live meal worms to this event, which he sautéed, on a pan on our stove, in garlic and olive oil.  Not every guest was game;  I tried them  (after my third glass of champagne).

[2] This theme was inspired by a “white trash dinner” contest a group of fellow dormies and I had in college, one night when we were bored and looking for an excuse not to do homework.  (the one Native American, one Black, and one Philipino dormies in attendance asked for special dispensation for their contest entries to be considered White Trash ® ).  We shared stories of foods our respective families served, a dish which we’d grown up eating, but which embarrassed and/or horrified us to think of it now.  Then we all voted on which was “best” (read: worst).  My entry was my family’s fried Spam slices topped with Velveeta.  Guess who won that contest?

[3] Motivation for this theme came via a dinner I made which my offspring thought was too challenging to their palates (think of Thai curry when they wanted pizza), which led me into a good humored tirade about how, when I was a kid, I loved the opportunity to try new foods…and that they were lucky to have me for a mom:  “If I were a mother wolf I would be regurgitating your dinner for you…or, what if we were a family of dung beetles, and night after night it was the same thing:  ‘Hey mom what’s for dinner?  Oh, boy, dung balls again!’  “

[4] Surprisingly, we did *not* get 15 dishes featuring tomato sauce.  People used their imagination: red beans & rice; beet juice risotto; Red Hot Chili Pepper layer cake…. and our fear that we might end up dining on nothing but cabernet and ketchup was for naught.

[5] But I can’t remember what the food theme was.

[6] We usually had potluck party guests take a quiz, which I prepared, containing multiple choice questions having something (widely interpreted) to do with the party’s theme.  Prizes were given out for the high (and low) scorers.

The Luge I’m Not Watching

Comments Off on The Luge I’m Not Watching

Department Of Olympic Reflections

 

 

I’m going through my every-two years (pandemic-influenced schedule changes notwithstanding), post-Olympic blues, where after dinner I sit down in one of our way-too-comfy chairs and expect instant access to televised, Holy ACL tear, how do they *do* that? feats of athleticism.  Despite my enjoyment of the spectacle, my attention feels somewhat squirm-worthy….  Moiself doesn’t even try to justify my interest in The Games ®  with my abhorrence of the host country’s abysmal human rights record.

The USA engaged in a “diplomatic boycott” of these Beijing-hosted games.  Remember the lackluster response to that announcement?

Few if any sports fans tune in to watch the participating countries’ political envoys compete in the Ambassadorial Mixed Team Relay Luge, what’s the point?  When it comes to action strategies, a diplomatic boycott reminds me of prayer – it’s a way of trying to provide the illusion that you’re doing something when in fact you’ve done nothing of consequence.

“We’re doing a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics.”

“We’re praying for the victims of human rights violations.”

Can or should sports (or any human endeavor) be politics-free?  And if the answer is yes, what kind of human rights violations and atrocities are allowed to eclipse those leave-politics-out-of-these-games declarations?

Other minds far keener than moiself’s  frequently debate this issue, and come to contradictory conclusions (“The Olympics *are* political and the IOC is delusional” ;  “Olympics ‘Are Not About Politics,’ Athletes Should Be Politically Neutral At Games”) and everything in between.  I do remember reading a couple of op-ed pieces about the importance of viewers – and journalists – at the Olympics, as in, acting as witnesses to hold the China government accountable for the image they intended to portray vs. the reality of what they do.  If no one’s watching, Chinese officials can say whatever they like about…anything.

When the USA boycotted the Russian-hosted 1980 Summer Olympic to protest Russia’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, 64 other countries joined the boycott.  Sound like a lot?  Think again – 80 countries did not, and sent representative athletes to the games.  What was accomplished?  Oh, that’s right; how quickly I forget.  Shamed as bullies before the free world, Russia renounced its oppressive ways and turned into a beacon of liberty and civil rights for the downtrodden masses across the globe.

 

 

Back to the actual games.  The big-liest story involved the 15-year-old Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva.  Valieva tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance but was still was allowed to compete (and then fell apart during a key performance).   [1] 

Moiself  would wager that many teenaged Olympic athletes are “older” than their non-athletic team member peers in many ways, after years of single-minded devotion and adherence to a grueling practice schedule that would break most adults.  There is a second part to my wager: at the same time, these teen athletes’ pursuit to excel at their sport makes them more naïve than other teens. Young Olympics-bound athletes often little experience of the maturation that comes from encountering “real life,” having been shielded from the day-by-day mundane decisions and activities – by both their coaches and parents – so that they can concentrate on mastering the backside quad cork 180˚ or whatever.

So, who’s responsible for Valieva’s doping?  Was it the athlete, or her coach(es)?  Given how coaches control influence their athlete’s lives, and the age of the skater in question, it’s not that difficult for me to imagine Valieva’s unquestioning compliance to a command recommendation.

“Here comrade, take pill/shot, and don’t worry, it’s …uh…
vitamin B-12!  Da, that is what it is.”

Still, there is the argument that if she’s old enough to be on the Olympics team she’s old enough to take responsibility for following the Olympics’ rules. If a substance is banned, you don’t take it, and you don’t let anyone give it to you. 

No matter who’s at fault, I hated to see/think of a 15 year old getting ripped a new one by her coaches…which is what happened. Whosever decision it was to dope – hers, or her “support” team’s – maybe it doesn’t matter in long run.  And maybe someone should check on Valieva, after she’s returned to Russia and the hoopla dies down, to make sure she hasn’t been carted off to the All-Gulag Tour of Ice Dancing With The Russian Stars. 

My interest in watching any of the figure skating dropped after the Valieva doping-but-excused revelation.  It left a bad taste in my mouth, particularly when I compared the skater’s outcome with what happened to a Summer Olympics track star.  Why wasn’t there a huge outcry about the difference in treatment – USA sprinter Sha’ Carri Richardson was kicked off the Summer Olympics team for failing *her* drug test.  A few people commented, including, succinctly, Richardson herself:

“The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
( “Double Standard, Racism? Sha’Carri Richardson Booted From Olympics For Cannabis, Russian Skater No Problem For Doping.”  Benzinga 2-14-22)

 

 

Moiself  does recall that someone else commented about the brouhaha, at the time when Richardson got the boot….

As the Tokyo (Summer)  Olympics Games enter the final week, I’m realizing I will soon be going through the withdrawal I experience every two years, after watching two-plus weeks of (summer or winter) Olympics events.  I’m not normally a frequent televised-sporting-events fan, but moiself  does enjoy The Games ®….

In the second week, with track and field events predominating, moiself  is thinking about a conversation I had with daughter Belle, several weeks back, about how the USA’s track star Sha’ Carri Richardson received a suspension for testing positive for marijuana, and thus would not be participating in the Olympics.

Belle was peeved that Richardson would not be able to compete, due to what Belle sees as an unfair and archaic drug testing system.  I mentioned that Richardson’s competitors might also be disappointed in Richardson’s absence from the games.  As I understand it, when you’re at the top level of your sport, you want to compete against the best.  Also, whatever your accomplishments, you don’t want an asterisk next to them (as in, “* ___ won the gold medal, after the favorite ____ was disqualified for….”).

We agreed that athletes should be tested for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs; definitely-absolutely-go-for-it.  But Belle and I had fun wondering back and forth about why athletes are tested for alcohol and marijuana…. it seems to moiself  that weed and booze, with their relaxant and depressive properties, would diminish, not enhance, athletic performance.  And really now: in what sports could marijuana be considered a performance *enhancing* drug? Competitive eating? Belle suggested.

You’d think athletes would *want* their rivals to get the munchies before competition: “Here comes Richardson, strolling across the finish line in last place, giving the other racers a, ‘What’s up with all the hurry?’ look as she heads for the pizza roll vendor….”


“I’d like to thank my coach, and my training partner, Maui Wowie.”

So, lobby to change the Olympics’ drug testing rules, if you think it would be worthwhile to do so.  Until then, it would be unfair to other athletes to make exceptions for some and not others, in terms of how existing drug rules are applied.    [2]

Also, the athletes know full well what they will be tested for.  My advice    [3]   to them  is, don’t act surprised and/or disappointed if you used a banned substance and then get caught.  Take responsibility.  Don’t play dumb when you’re not.
(Excerpts from 8-6-21 blog post, The Drug Test I’m Not Failing, full text here)

 

 

Once again, I digress.  Time to finish with the Winter Olympics.

As always, moiself  thrilled to watch  the ariel snowboarding and skiing and ski jumping events, marveled at the WTF?!? stamina and skill required by the XC skiers and Biathlon-ers,     [4]   and yawned through (read: ignored) the curling/bobsled/luge/skeleton events.   [5]   Although it was great to see pioneering USA snowboarding champ Shaun White in Olympic action again/for the last time, it was also awe-inspiring to see the younger snowboarders – many if not most of whom were inspired by White – perform their gravity-defying new stunts…and then it was poignant to realize, as White seemed to do so graciously, that his time at that level of competition had passed.  Most of all, it was great fun, for moiself  at least, to see a smaller country, Norway (population 5 million, led the medal count with thirty-seven.  Yes; 37), dominate the competition.   [6]

But, my enjoyment was dampened by the skating scandal.  And also, the host.  Fucking People’s Republic of Human Rights Bullies China.

 

 

My gradually-souring mood was saved by son K, who steered me toward an old video clip of Shaun White as a bright-eyed 19 year old, being interviewed by CNN after his first Olympics.  Refreshingly unjaded and enthusiastic, gushing as if amazed by his own success, White described how, during his plane flight back to the USA, the flight attendants   [7]   fawned over his Olympic medal.  White’s charmingly disarming, duuuuude, totally rad persona, seemingly endemic to surfers and snowboarders, surfaced when the CNN interviewer interrupted White with an attempted “gotcha” moment.  It reminded me why I’m gonna miss the red-haired dude and his ‘tude:

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

 

Department Of Things I Sometimes Forget

 

 

 

Such as, sometimes I forget how much I like a simple veggie chili, which can be made rather quickly with Staples I Almost Always Have Handy ® . As for the simple part, you can complexify     [8]  it up, as much as you want, with different beans and pepper combos, and get jiggy with the toppings.

Lotta Beans Chili (makes ~ 6 servings)

– ½ T EVOO
– 8 large garlic cloves, chopped   [9]

– 2 cans no salt added chopped tomatoes
-1 can each (~15 oz) of the following (no salt added) cooked beans, rinsed & drained:
  Black, kidney, garbanzo, lima
– 1 c white frozen corn, thawed
– 3 T chili powder
– 1 T ground cumin seed (toasted first – optional, but delish)
– ½ t each kosher salt & freshly ground black peppercorns; cayenne pepper to taste

– 1 t (or more) red wine vinegar
– 3T rinsed pickled jalapeno slices (more or less to taste)   [10]

– lime slices

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1m. Add beans through cumin seeds, mix well, and bring to simmer over med-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until flavors are blended, ~ 30m.

Season w/salt, pepper and cayenne, and jalapenos. Add vinegar to taste. Serve with lime slices to squeeze over.

Additional toppings:
Avocado chunks or slices or guacamole; chopped fresh cilantro; chopped scallions; plant-based or regular sour cream or plain yogurt; shredded veg or other cheeses; crushed tortilla chips; red or green chili salsa; a mother’s bitter tears….

 

Your final product should look nothing like this.

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Chili Edition

I got a miniature fresh habañero pepper at the farmer’s market. When I returned home
I put a tiny blanket on it, because it was a little chili.

We are thinking about making Five Alarm Bean and Cabbage Chili for Christmas Eve.
We’re starting a new tradition called, ‘Silent But Deadly Night.’

How do you make a good vegan chili?
Stick her in the freezer.

What do dead Norseman like in their chili?
Vallhallapeños.

 


You can see yourself out.

 

*   *   *

May you never be subjected to an Olympic-sized double standard;
May you never engage in a diplomatic boycott (of anything);
May you join your loved ones in a rousing chorus of,
“I’m talkin’ ’bout Mountain Dews, baby!”    [11]

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] As in, she fell, several times, during her last performance, where, favored to take first place in the Women’s Singles competition, she did not medal.

[2] Richardson claimed she used weed to cope with receiving the news of the unexpected death of her biological mother.  If that’s the case, I’m wondering why she didn’t alert officials before she was tested, along the lines of, “BTW, I used this substance for this reason,” to try to explain or at least warn them that she wasn’t trying to sneak anything past them.

[3] Which they clamor for, night and day…it gets soooooo annoying.

[4] Only Norwegians could come up with such a body-punishing, seemingly disparate skills-requiring event as biathlon.

[5] The nuances of the sledding events evades me (“He tilted his body one degree to the right to steer the sled higher on the turn”…uh huh).  No doubt fun to do yourself, but a snoozefest to watch someone else do it.

[6] Second place Germany, population 83 million , 27 medals…summer Olympics powerhouse USA (population 330 million) got 25 winter Olympic medals.

[7] Although he refers to them using the antediluvian term, “stewardesses.”  DUDE ?!?!?

[8] My word.  You’re welcome.

[9] I don’t need to specify peeled, right?  Who chops fully clothed garlic cloves?

[10] Obviously more, if you like the taste.

[11] You have to watch the Shaun White video to get this one.

The Job I’m Not Dressing For

2 Comments

Department Of Preview Of Coming Attractions

I went to a career advancement program at work, where I was advised,
“Dress for the job you *want,* not the job you *have.*”
Great!” I thought.
The next day, they fired me for violating the dress code at the bank.
Hypocrites.  How am I ever going to become a sumo wrestler now?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Mysteries Of The Mind
Chapter 82 In An Ongoing Series.

How is it possible for me to love the song, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” even as moiself  loathes the supposedly classic movie it references?

Admittedly, it’s been years since I watched the film.  I recall finding it an overrated snooze fest; also, the inclusion of an appalling ethnic stereotype character erased, for moiself, any possibility of enjoying the performance of the gamin-like ®  Audrey Hepburn.  [1]

And, yes indeedy-doo, I am aware of the pitfalls of employing the standards of today to judge the art of yesterday.  But, holy fortune cookie on a chopstick! – the movie was release in 1961, not 1916, and it had Mickey Rooney playing Hepburn’s buck-toothed, nearsighted, Japanese landlord (“Mr. Yunioshi”).

Effin’ MICKEY ROONEY?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Classic Bits Of Advice That Are Soooooo Not True

Such as the following, from a great English writer and social critic who wrote so movingly about the human condition, you think he’d know better.

“Ask no questions and you’ll be told no lies.”
( Charles Dickens )

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Do You Think They’ll Even Care (Or Read It)?   [2]

Dateline: last week, Thursday.  After listening again, to a repeat episode of one of my regular/favorite “science info” podcasts,  and being, annoyed, again, by the same thing that annoyed moiself the first (and second) time I heard it, I had to write to the podcast hosts.  [3]  Except that the podcast website provides no way to do that.  Thus….

Dear Curiosity Daily Hosts Cody Gough and Ashley Hamer,

Regular listener of CD here. Love the science; loathe the hyperbole.

As in: CD’s recent rebroadcast of the episode, Giant Cheese Race, “Morning You,” Consciousness-Altering Eye Contact. Specifically, the script for the Morning You segment.  It bothered me then (when it originally ran, in 2018), and it bothers me now:

“…A massive new study says…that you are a totally different person in the morning than you are at night.”

No. And, no no no.

I am certain that’s not what the study (if it claims any relation to scientific validity) says.  Remember, words impart meaning, which is why we argue over their usage.

A “Tweet analysis” study (geesh; really?), even a so-called massive one, did not discover a “total” change in personhood. Rather, it indicated that there could be a difference in some peoples’ moods, focuses, and vocabulary usage over the course of a day.

No earth-shattering discovery there. Altering interests and focuses over the day do not transform you into a “totally different person.”

If you were a *totally* different person, that would be something along the lines of, you woke up as a lonely 50-year-old male Ukrainian airline pilot obsessed with learning to play the didgeridoo, and went to bed as a gregarious 13-year-old female Guatemalan ballet dancer who’s planning to run for 8th grade class president.

Sincerely (if not totally) yours,

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Memory Lane
Sub-Department Of Not My Finest Moment of Being A Supportive Sibling

Recently I had cause to think back upon a childhood memory: the one big rebellion of my older sister (N).  I shared it with daughter Belle…and now, with y’all.

 

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…okay, in Santa Ana, CA.  I was in the second grade, my sister, your Aunt “N,” was in grade 4.

One night, with our family at the kitchen table, N did something astonishing (for her): she cleaned *most* of her plate (she always ate everything on it), but refused to eat a certain portion of her dinner.

I can’t remember exactly what it was that she didn’t eat – a new vegetable, or side dish?   [4]   The thing was, N, the stereotypically good/obedient first child, refused to take a bite and try it.  And that was sooo un-N-like, which is probably what irritated my parents the most.  They decreed that N had to remain at the kitchen table; she had to stay seated until she sampled __ (whatever it was).  She stayed at the table, but refused to take a bite.

I was fascinated by this.  I remained sitting at my usual place beside her on the table, while Mom and Dad and my younger sister RA (this was before your uncle, RS, was born) cleared their plates and went to the living room to watch Gilligan’s Island, which just happened to be one of N’s favorite TV shows. The following conversation ensued (transcript approximate; not verbatim):

Moiself:
Gilligan’s Island is about to start.”

N:
“I don’t care.”

Moiself:
“Mom and Dad said you have to stay at the table until you finish eating.”

N:
“Then I’ll sit here, all night.”

Moiself:
“You’re really gonna sit there, all night?”

N:
“I’m gonna sit here forever.”

Moiself:
“Oh, okay.”  (a pause of several seconds.)
“Then, can I have your room?    [5]

N:
“Fine; I don’t care.”

I can’t remember all the details of the aftermath; indeed, N was still sitting at the kitchen table when my parents informed RA and I that it was our bedtime (earlier than usual, and I was pissed by that.  I thought that they were going to argue with N or something and didn’t want us to see).  I had to go to bed in my own room; in the morning, it was obvious N had gone to bed at some point and did not stay at the table all night.

Years later, when I asked N about the incident, she said she didn’t remember it, and Mom and Dad are both gone so I can’t ask them:  Well, did she take a bite, or didn’t she?  It certainly made an impression on me – N  (not me, for once) getting in trouble and being willfully disobedient.  What I also remember is how much power it gave N, even if only temporary.  Her refusing to take even one measly, No Thank You Bite ® drove my parents nuts.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Faith-Based Lack-of-Initiative

“Portland mayor’s top adviser proposed massive, militarized group shelters as step in ending homeless camping….”
( The Oregonian, 2-11-22 )

Moiself  recently saw the above headline about the latest proposal possibly being considered by Portland’s mayor – a proposal that likely will go nowhere/do nothing re the city’s ongoing homeless/street camping problem.

There is a seeming intractability to this multifaceted issue, where no one can agree on what to do without infringing on someone’s “rights.”  Moiself  leans toward the rights of taxpaying homeowners and renters to *not* have to live next to, and among, hazardous waste sites, [6]  nor abide pollution and fires and destruction of wetlands, wildlife corridors and other protected wildlife habitats directly resulting from homeless encampments.  [7]

I am not impressed with the assertion, made by well-meaning but ultimately misguided (IMO) folks, that a mentally ill and/or addicted/substance-abusing person has the “right” to wander the streets, muttering gibberish, panhandling ( which can devolve into threats and aggression, demand and extortion   [8]  ) eating from dumpsters, defecating on the streets, and dying of hypothermia.

And it got me to thinking…about all those churches.  Specifically, all those church buildings and the real estate they own and (occasionally) occupy.

 

 

Some religious buildings are rather modest; others, particularly those belonging to the evangelical “mega” churches, are more like compounds which could house a small country.  Speaking of housing – the majority of churches buildings, no matter their size, lie unused most of the time. Except for a few Sunday services and a couple of mid-week bible studies, youth group meeting or other gatherings, they basically serve as a social hall for their members.

 

 Ariel photo of Pastor Joel Osteen’s $10.5 million dollar home, which is a 17,000 square foot compound on 1.86 acres.in River Oaks, a wealthy Houston suburb (Osteen also has another house, a $2.9 million mansion in Tanglewood, another Houston suburb).
“The property boasts loads of unique and luxurious features which span across the large mansion, including 6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, 5 open wood fireplaces, 3 elevators, a 1 bedroom guest house, a pool, and a pool house.”
( Backstage: Joel Osteen’s house)

Criticizing the hypocrisy of the wealthy evangelical preachers is like shooting low-hanging fish in a fruit barrel. Preachers like Joel Osteen, known for peddling the Christianity “prosperity gospel” (translation: high on prosperity – for the leader/preacher, and low on gospel), is one of the wealthiest, and thus, lowest…uh, hanging.

But I’m holding all Christian churches, and Christians, responsible for the following observation of moiself:

If Christians took their faith seriously, there would be no homeless problem.    [9]

(I’m not ragging on dealing with other religions right now, although regular/longtime readers of this blog know that I do not hesitate to do so.  But the subject here is homelessness in the USA, where Christianity is the dominant religion among those who claim a religious affiliation. )

 

 

Christians, in particular those prone to a conservative, evangelizing theology, like to proclaim to non-Christians that, “Jesus/god loves you and has a plan for your life!” even as they conveniently ignore the plans that *their* god supposedly gave to believers in their own so-called holy book:    [10]

“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’
‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’
‘Which ones?’ he inquired.
Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’
 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
( Matthew 19:15-21 )

“…For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ …Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
(Matt: 25 42-45 )

 

 

Jesus could identify with the homeless in His itinerant ministry.
In Matthew 8:20, Jesus states that even animals have a place to call home, but He had nowhere to lay His head.
He stayed in the homes of whoever would welcome Him and sometimes outside.

God expects His people to help those who are homeless. The Law directly addressed care for those in need. In Leviticus 25:35 God commands His people to help support those who have no home and cannot support themselves: “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.” (see also Deuteronomy 15:7–11). The Lord rebuked those who kept the outward form of religion yet did not care for the poor: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen . . . to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6–7).
(“What does the bible say about the homeless/homelessness.” Gotquestions.org )

Conservative/prosperity gospel practitioners of Christianity seem to take literally only a few scriptural injunctions which have to do with sex (i.e. those which they think don’t apply to themselves).  But Jesus’ many admonitions to his followers re helping the poor and not amassing treasures on earth?  Nah; those have nothing to do with them.  Obviously, JC meant for his followers to take *those* commands figuratively, as in this amazing rationalization, which I’ve actually heard from more than one Christian (when I’ve questioned them re their obvious comfort with acquiring wealth while so many in their community are impoverished):

“What the Bible means is that we should tend to a person’s *spiritual* (not financial) poverty, since material possessions ultimately don’t matter.”

Cool story, bro. Just one problem:

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’
but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
(James 2:15-16)

 

 

*   *   *

Punz/Jokez For The Day
Hypocrisy Edition

My pastor told me that my generation can’t live without technology.
I called him a hypocrite and unplugged his life support machine.

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bike,
until I realized the Lord doesn’t work that way.
So I stole one and asked him to forgive me instead.

My priest is such a hypocrite.
He called my friend a hero for donating a kidney,
but when I turned tried to donate ten, he called me a monster.

 

 

*   *   *

May the job you want be the one you’re dressing for;
May you not rely upon iron age scriptures to discern and solve
 twenty-first century problems;
May you watch a better, if lesser-known, Audrey Hepburn film    [11]
(than “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”);
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Gamin is the word many movie critics seem to think one is required by law to use4 when commenting on Audrey Hepburn.

[2] I mean, would *you*?

[3] Who are also the writers of many (but not all) of the show’s segments.

[4]  Which hardly seems likely, as I can count on the fingers of less than one hand the times my mother added anything new to the standard rotation of dinners she cooked.

[5]  RA and I shared a bedroom; I dreamed of having my own.

[6] When homeless encampments move and/or are relocated, the resulting cleanup, with the combination of human waste, drugs, needles and other drug paraphernalia, has been likened to dealing with EPA toxic sites.

[7] “…the environmental impacts of homeless encampments in parks and green spaces…include erosion, destruction of native vegetation, debris accumulation, water quality issues, habitat destruction, public health issues (including hypodermic needles and possibly E. coli fecal coliform bacterial contamination of the creek and its tributaries), and discouragement of public use of parks and green spaces. ” (Environmental Damage and Homeless Camps, Thornton Creek Alliance )

” Environmental experts say, in the case of multiple protected Portland habitats, the damage is done, and it could take years to repair….because, months ago, those habitats went from safe havens for wildlife to hotspots for homeless campers.”( “Homeless campers damaging protected wildlife habitats, experts say,”)

[8] Some street beggars set themselves in such a way as to block your passage unless you give them money, or essentially extort nearby businesses – e.g., setting themselves up by the entrance to a café, and letting the cafe staff know that they will be there, harassing and scaring away would be customers, unless they get a certain “contribution” (read: unless the café staff pays them what amounts to a toll). 

[9] and not even, “literally.”

[10] Unless otherwise specified, the wording in the biblical passages is from the English language “The New International Version” of the Christian bible.

[11] Like, “Wait Until Dark.”

The Department I’m Not Defunding

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Department Of First Things First

Hard to imagine that, in this picture, my father was younger than I am now and I was younger than my daughter Belle is now

Gone from this earth; always present in our hearts and minds. Chester (“Chet the Jet”) Bryan Parnell died this evening, thirteen years ago.

 

Moiself was home from college for a Christmas visit.  I remember how proud Chet was that he could still lift me in his arms (and that I would consent to him showing off by doing so).

 

*   *   *

Department Of One Solution To A Seemingly Unsolvable Problem?

“The rift between police and Black Americans can feel impossible to bridge.  But in his work with police departments across the U.S., Yale psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff has found novel ways to address the problem.”
(Hidden Brain website)

Okay; everybody drop what you’re doing right now – unless you’re doing something really important, like making me dinner. Whether you have ever (or never) had any encounters with police officers, or you y’all’s own self are a police officer, please listen to this podcast episode:  Hidden Brain: Changing Behavior, Not Beliefs

HB host Shankar Vedantam:
“I find it fascinating that you’re effectively addressing problems related to racial disparities in policing, without accusing police officers of being bigots.  There’s very little finger-pointing in your work, right? “

Goff:
“In my day to day when I’m talking with law enforcement, when I’m talking with communities, when I’m talking to my team, we talk about racism a *whole lot.*  What we *don’t* talk about is whether or not you meant to (a cop acting in a way that promotes racial disparity), or are ‘a good person.’

We don’t talk about ‘character,’ almost ever.  But everybody who can answer the question, ‘Would you like to kill fewer people – would you like to be engaged in less racial disparity?” with a ‘Yes, I would like to do that morally obvious thing,’ there are things that can be done.  But we don’t have to talk about racism the way most people talk about racism, because the way most people talk about racism is what kind of person you are, and I have found that to be almost entirely irrelevant to making the problem get better.”      [1]

 

 

Psychologist Goff says the key to changing policing disparity and lowering incidences of police using unnecessary force is focusing on the *behavior* of officers, not on their *character.*  Whether or not a person holds entrenched/racist beliefs is subjective, difficult if not impossible to assess – how do we really know what is in a person’s mind?   [2] –  and ultimately impossible to screen for (truly racist applicants would learn how to “lie”, on both tests and in interviews, if they were determined to join the police force).

And whether or not an officer aspires to be a card-carrying Klansman or considers himself to be the reincarnation of Mr. Rogers is not the issue – his behavior is. And his behavior is directly influenced by his training, which colors his perceptions (even when the officer is a POC    [3]  ) of what kind of persons and situations are inherently dangerous.

Goff and others studying the situation point to the fact that it is the police officer’s behaviors, not indiscernible attitudes or “character,” which cause problems.  Goff argues for DE-escalation, not defunding, for police. He calls for changing the training for officers and for those who deploy them, including recognizing situations where employing officers with badges and guns should only be a last resort and not a first response (i.e. most traffic infractions and mental health calls and neighborhood disputes).

 

We should all be so lucky as to de-escalate by partaking in a relaxing foot soak with Mr. Rogers.

 

The character of police officers involved in, for example, the shooting of an unarmed Black man, is impugned or assumed: “The officers must be racist!  That may or may not be the case, but Goff argues that we should focus our attention on what we can measure and alter, rather than what the officer’s “character” might be, which we can only presume.  We should look at the behavior involved, including:

* how officers are trained to react a certain situations

* knowledge of the fact that certain situations predispose the officers to respond more violently and/or fearfully: such as, the foot chase and high speed auto chases.  And even – especially, as it turns out – the lowly, “routine” traffic stop.

“Thanks to police culture and training, many officers have been conditioned to believe — *wrongly* — that traffic stops are high-risk, the report explains. (Research has indicated that the chances of a police officer being killed during a traffic stop are actually less than 1 in 3.6 million.) The high-risk mindset leads to overreaction and hyper-violence against people who are not a threat.

‘All [officers have] heard are horror stories about what could happen,’ Sarah Mooney, assistant police chief in West Palm Beach, told the Times. ‘It is very difficult to try to train that out of somebody.’  ”
( “New Report Details How and Why Routine Traffic Stops Turn Deadly,”
NYmag.com  )

 

The first time moiself  heard or read about the call to, “defund the police” I expressed my concern that the term was *extremely* poorly chosen.  It is fear-inducing for many if not the majority of citizens, and likely to put police officers on the defensive and refuse to listen to rational calls for reform.

One acquaintance shared her opinion that “…it doesn’t actually matter (what phrase you use) because they (police departments) are going to disagree no matter what you call it.”

Maybe…?  With a large, mmmmmmmm.

Second thought:  No; it does matter what you call it.  Because, words and phrases both carry and impart meaning – that’s the whole point of arguing about them.

And the meaning of “defund the police” is different from the desired outcome for police reform, which is not slashing essential police budgets, but reassigning and re-delegating certain tasks police have had to handle. These specific tasks are those which police officers and departments across the nation have complained about for decades – tasks that have been defaulted to police to handle, despite police lacking the training or mandate to handle them, e.g., the post deinstitutionalization mental health crises.

“When a person has a mental-health crisis in America, it is almost always law enforcement—not a therapist, social worker, or psychiatrist—who responds to the 911 call. But most officers aren’t adequately trained to deal with mental-health emergencies. And while laws intended to protect civil liberties make it exceedingly difficult to hospitalize people against their will, it is remarkably easy to arrest them.

As a result, policing and incarceration have effectively replaced emergency mental-health care, especially in low-income communities of color. In many jails, the percentage of people with mental illness has continued to go up even as the jail population has dropped. Today, nearly half the people in U.S. jails and more than a third of those in U.S. prisons have been diagnosed with a mental illness, compared to about a fifth in the general population.”

(“The Truth About Deinstitutionalization,” The Atlantic )

 

 

The mental health issue is arguable the most complex, with almost all sides involved in the discussion admitting that there is a huge problem, but offering no doable solutions…other than agreeing on the fact that the vast majority of mental-health related calls to emergency services should not involve or be handled by police.  But there are several less complicated fixes to other issues that could make a big difference in racial disparities in policing.  One of these fixes involves simply reducing the amount of unnecessary citizen-police encounters in non-life-threatening situations.

There’s no reason for badges-and-guns officers to be involved in citing minor traffic infractions, non-violent mental health crises “checks,” or policing petty neighborhood disputes, when community resources – e.g. trained mediators, mental health professionals, road cameras or even 1920s-style “traffic vigilantes” [see below] – could be used.

Some cities and police departments recognize this, and are advising their police officers to “no longer pursue drivers for low-level traffic infractions — including expired plates and broken headlights — unless related to an immediate safety threat.”    [4]  These recommendations are due in part to studies showing wide racial disparities in traffic stops, including one massive study cited by Kelsey Shoub, a professor of political science at the University of South Carolina, which analyzed data from twenty *million* traffic stops. The study’s data provided “…few big takeaways,” Professor Shoub said, “…and the first two are probably not surprising.”

“The first is that DWB (‘driving while black’) is very much a thing; it’s everywhere and it’s not just a North Carolina or a Southern problem but across the United States.  ….The second thing is that it appears to be more systemic than a few ‘bad apple’ officers engaged in racial profiling.”

Significant findings from Shoub’s and her colleagues’ analysis of the study’s dataset include:

* Blacks were 63 percent more likely to be stopped even though, as a whole, they drive 16 percent less. Taking into account less time on the road, blacks were about 95 percent more likely to be stopped.

* Blacks were 115 percent more likely than whites to be searched in a traffic stop (5.05 percent for blacks, 2.35 percent for whites).

* Contraband was more likely to be found in searches of white drivers.

“So, black drivers were stopped disproportionately more than white drivers compared to the local population and were at least twice as likely to be searched, but they were slightly less likely to get a ticket,” Shoub says. “That correlates with the idea that black drivers were stopped on the pretext of having done something wrong, and when the officer doesn’t see in the car what he thought he might, he tells them to go on their way.”

(“Racial disparities revealed in massive traffic stop dataset.”
U of SC post, 6-12-20 )

 

 

A driver speeding 100 mph through red light after red light? That person is a danger to everyone – go get him, asolutely. But having and guns-and-badges officers pull someone over for expired registration tags or for failing to properly signal a right-hand turn or exceeding the speed limit by 5 mph? Use capture camera footage or whatever – send them a ticket in the mail, but only escalate when absolutely necessary.

“Traffic stops are the most common form of police-citizen interaction, but for many citizens, they are also the most dangerous.

Although many people view traffic enforcement as a basic aspect of policing, this has not always been the case….

How traffic enforcement evolved over time
Traffic enforcement has been a responsibility of policing since the invention and wide use of automobiles and other vehicles. Cars were seen as dangerous, and originally, there were no rules or regulations governing their use. Outraged over accidents and other safety concerns, civilians demanded public safety support, despite law enforcement’s own lack of automobile use.

Traffic enforcement started in the 1920s with ‘traffic vigilantes’ who regulated driving by handing out tickets, keeping track of license plates, and following high-speed drivers. As police gained access to more technology, this role increasingly fell to them. Since then, police have used traffic stops to stop, detain, and search people they believe are engaging in criminal activity.

Traffic stops are now one of the most common acts of policing. Officers engaged in traffic enforcement have the discretion to decide whether to stop a driver based on a long list of potential violations, including not using a turn signal early enough, not using headlights on a cloudy day.… Officers have further discretion in how the stop is handled, including whether they will conduct a search of vehicle, issue a citation, arrest the driver, or let them go.

The deeply entrenched racial disparities in traffic enforcement and the continued killing of Black drivers show that regardless of intentions, the harms of traffic stops far outweigh any potential public safety benefits. Traffic stops result in neither increased trust in the police nor increased perceptions of safety among community members, and they often have the opposite effect.”

( “Police Traffic Stops Have Little to Do with Public Safety,”
Urban Wire: Crime Justice and Safety )

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Cops Edition

Yesterday I saw a police officer wearing a pilot’s uniform.
I thought it was odd; then I realized he was one of those plane clothes cops.

There’s a mysterious crime spree going on at our local IKEA.
The cops are having a hard time putting the pieces together.

Police officer: “I’m arresting you for downloading all of Wikipedia.”
Suspect: “No, wait! I can explain everything!”

I got pulled over by a cop who asked me if I had a police record.
I said, “No, but I’ve got a Sting CD.

 

What’s all this about Police brutality?

*   *   *

May you remember that what you call something matters;
May you find another term for “defunding the police;”
May you get out that old Police album – or picture of a departed loved one – and appreciate
how the gifts of the past can enrich the present;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] The first footnote is not actually a footnote.  This does not bode well for the completion of my Ph.D.

[2] We may have legal standards for proof of “intent,”  but such standards are legal – not scientific – constructions.

[3] “Racial bias isn’t necessarily about how a person views himself in terms of race, but how he views others in terms of race…. In the case of police, all cops are dealing with enormous cultural and systemic forces that build racial bias against minority groups. Even if a black cop doesn’t view himself as racist, the way policing is done in the US is racially skewed — by, for example, targeting high-crime neighborhoods that are predominantly black.  These policing tactics can also create and accentuate personal, subconscious bias by increasing the likelihood that officers will relate blackness with criminality or danger — leading to what psychologists call “implicit bias” against black Americans.  Combined, this means the system as a whole — as well as individual officers, even black ones — by and large act in ways that are deeply racially skewed and, potentially, racist.  ( excerpts from ” How systemic racism entangles all police officers — even black cops,” Vox  )

[4] “Portland police halt minor traffic stops, citing disparity.”  Abc news.

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