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The Heritage I’m Not Claiming

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I’d given up on attending Christmas-themed theatrical performances – at least, the ones which (theoretically) are comedies. The disaster that was A Tuna Christmas has become legend in my family. Several years ago MH got our family tickets for a Portland performance of the play, at my request, as a family outing for my birthday. When intermission was announced and everyone in the theatre stood up to stretch their legs and find the bathroom, I turned to son K, who was standing beside me, and asked, “Would you be disappointed if we left now?”

Oh, Mom, K gushed, hugging me so hard I almost toppled out of the balcony, “I’m so glad you feel that way!” His enthusiasm quickly spread to daughter Belle and MH, who, as it turned out, were all equally unimpressed with the play. We’d each been sitting there, thinking the same thing (this play sucks), each of us thinking we were the only one who felt that way….

There are few worse forms of entertainment than unfunny comedies, especially those that present themselves as satire and/or farces. The series of Greater Tuna plays – set in the fictional town of Tuna, Texas and described as satirical yet affectionate take-offs on small-town, Southern life and attitudes – are, IMHO, a prime example of that phenomenon.

I suppose…I can maybe imagine…how, in the early 1980s, the sight of two gay men portraying a play’s twenty-plus cast members, including elderly female characters, was considered to be thigh-slappin,’ boot-stompin’, side-splittin’ hi-larious. For some folks. [1]

Moiself? I found it dated, and, worst of all – take it away, Joanne Worley – 

 

 

joanne

BOOOOOORRRRRRING!

 

 

Last Sunday I decided to give the Christmas Comedy one more try, thanks to local theatre company Bag & Baggage.  Because nothing says holiday spirit like the description of their one time cabaret event, Drunk as the Dickens:

Five of our Resident Actors will start drinking at 5:00pm. We will pull as many vaguely Victorian costumes as our drunken hands can carry, and then head over to Clark’s Bistro and Pub where, at 8:00pm, we will make them pull their characters from out of Scrooge’s nightcap, hand them a 1 hour(ish) version of A Christmas Carol and see if any of them can read while hammered. What could possibly go wrong?

*   *   *

Speaking of Christmas….

 

Annual Holiday History Lecture Reminder To The War On Christmas Imbeciles Bunch

 

 

heathen

 

The more fundamentalist the believer, the more ignorant they seem to be re a fundamental truth behind their religious observances: “Christian” holidays, in particular the biggies (Christmas and Easter), began as pagan festivals. Christmas belongs to and was in fact originated by pagans. Christians just changed your own history and renamed the festivities. However, in the true spirit of generosity, we heathens are happy to share the jolly season with one and all. As per these self-plagiarisms excerpts from my previous blogs:

  The Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”  [2]  Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans, and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts until 1681.  [3]

 

pagan-idol

“Do you celebrate Christmas?”

Heretics/apostates non-Christians We happy heathens often hear this question at this time of year.  The inquiry is sometimes presented in ways that imply our celebration (or even acknowledgement) of Christmas is hypocritical.  This implication is the epitome of cheek, when you consider the fact that it is the early Christians who stole a festival from our humanist (pagan) forebears, and not the other way around.

 

 

santa

 

 

Who doesn’t like a party/celebration, for any reason? We who are religion-free don’t mind sharing seasonal celebrations with any religious folk – sans the superstition and government/church mumbo-jumbo — as long as they acknowledge the fact that the ways we celebrate this “festive season” predate Christianity by hundreds of years.

The fir boughs and wreaths, the Yule log, plum pudding, gift exchanges, the feasting, the holly and the ivy and the evergreen tree….It is hard to think of a “Christmas tradition” that does not originate from Teutonic (German),Viking, Celtic and Druid paganism. [4]  A celebration in the depths of winter, at the time when, to those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears to stop its southerly descent before gradually ascending north, is a natural instinct. For thousands of years our Northern Hemisphere ancestors greeted the “reason for the season” – the winter solstice – with festivals of light and gift exchanges and parties.  The Winter Solstice was noted and celebrated long before the Roman Jesus groupies pinched the party.

 But, isn’t “Jesus is the reason for the season?

The reason for the season?  Cool story, bro.  Since you asked, actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season.  For all of the seasons.

 

winter_solstice_diagram

 

 

Our names for the days of the week come from religions predating Christianity. The Greeks named the days week after the sun, the moon and the five (at the time) known planets which they’d named after their gods… then the Romans substituted their equivalent gods, followed by the Germanic, Norse and Celtic peoples. For example, Thursday comes from Thor’s-day, Friday from variants on Frigg’s and Freya’s Day, Saturday from Saturn’s Day….

The god Woden is the reason the middle of the week is named Wednesday.  [5]  My calling that day Wednesday doesn’t mean I celebrate, worship, or “believe in” Woden.  I don’t insist on renaming either Christmas, or Wednesday.

 

 

 

woden

“Go smite the sheisskopf who took the Woden out of Woden’s Day!”

 

 

 

The Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, and the longest night. In the northern hemisphere it falls on what we now mark as December 21 or 22.  However, it took place on December 25th at the time when the Julian calendar was used.   [6]   The early Romans celebrated the Saturnalia on the Solstice, holding days of feasting and gift exchanges in honor of their god Saturn. (Other deities whose birthdays were celebrated on or around December 25 included HorisHuitzilopochtliIsisMithrasMardukOsirisSerapis and Sol.)   [7] 

When the Roman Catholics came to power and spread north from Rome, they encountered pagan practices that had gone on for thousands of years before the Popes decided to claim divine authority and subdue the illiterate masses by dressing like the bastard spawn of Elton John and Lady Gaga.

 

gaga

 

 

The Celebration of the Saturnalia was too popular with the pagans for the new Christian church to outlaw it, so the new church renamed the day and reassigned meanings to the traditions.   [8] Rather than try to banish native customs and beliefs, missionaries were directed to assimilate them. You find a group of people decorating and/or worshiping a tree? Don’t chop it down or burn it; rather, bless it in the name of the (Christian) church. Allow its continued worship, only tell the people that instead of celebrating the return of the sun-god in the spring, they are now worshiping the rising from the dead of the son-of-god.

In other words, why are some folk concerned with keeping “the Christ in Christmas”  [9] when we should be keeping the Saturn in Saturnalia?

 

saturnalia

 

 

*   *   *

 

Department Of Is She Or Isn’t She

I’ve lost track of the number of times it’s happened to me. In a lecture hall at college; in a restaurant; while riding public transportation; with fellow travelers in a rowboat on Lake Bled in Slovenia….

It’s a combination of my reminding people of someone else, and/or my saying or doing something that makes people suspect (or even hope) that I might be one of their clan.

Are you Jewish? You’re Jewish – right?

It (the questioned ethnicity/group of origin in question) is almost always not the case, and I can’t help but be fascinated by why it matters to the person asking. The default explanation presented to me (by someone who once asked) is that if you are in the minority, in any way or group, you tend to notice [10] who might be one of your kind, so to speak.

Hands down, the majority of identity inquiries I’ve received have been about my being a member of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s Chosen People. But not exclusively. Other Are you _______?s have included gay/lesbian, Russian, Native American and – one of my favorites – Australian (hello?  Aussie accent, like, nonexistent?).

 

 

 

gday

We don’t claim her, mate, now G’day and bugger off.

 

 

 

Most recently it happened at a seafood bistro, during last week’s sabbatical-of-sorts trip to the Oregon Coast.  It was a slow evening for the restaurant, and my waiter and I had established a chatty rapport.  Near the end of my meal, before he frightened me with the dessert tray,  [11]  and seemingly apropos of nothing, the waiter asked if I or any members of my family were French Canadian, or Cajun?

I told him that, to my DNA analysis-deficient knowledge, the only thing French about me was the attempt by certain relatives on my father’s side of the family to downplay their indigenous heritage (this was back when it wasn’t considered “cool” for white folks to claim Native American ancestry) by reassuring my maternal grandmother than the purported Chickasaw/Cherokee woman who’d married a Parnell man was “maybe just French.”

The waiter chuckled; I asked him why he wondered about my heritage. He replied that, physically and mannerisms-wise, I reminded him of several relatives on his mother’s side of the family, and also, specifically, his mother.

The waiter was at least my age (several years older, I’d bet).  Nevertheless, I told him I would take that as a compliment, and he left verbal skidmarks assuring me that, indeed, that is what the similarity was supposed to be.

I did not order dessert, but left a good tip. Monetarily ,that is. I refrained from leaving him another good tip: never tell a woman who is older than twenty that she reminds you of your mother.

 

*   *   *

May you never be forced to endure a humor-free comedy;
May you acknowledge the old traditions before creating your own;
May whatever tribes or traditions you claim bemuse the hell out of someone;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

Happy Saturnalia and Solstice and Yule and Merry Christmas and Boxing Day and Hanukkah and Kwaanza and Festivus and….

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Like, say, your mildly homophobic grandparents.

[2] Increase Mather, A Testimony against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practiced by Some in New England (London, 1687).  See also Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

[3] Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday.

[4] “Learn not the way of the heathen…their customs are vain, for one cuts a tree out of the forest…they deck it with silver and gold…” Jeremiah 10:2-5

[5] Wednesday comes from the Old English Wōdnesdæg, the day of the Germanic god Wodan (aka Odin, highest god in Norse mythology and a big cheese god of the Anglo-Saxons until the seventh century.

[6] The Julian calendar, adopted by Julius Caesar ~ 46 B.C.E., was off by 11 min/year, and when the Gregorian calendar was established by Pope – wait for it – Gregory,  the solstice was established on 12/22.

[7] The Winter Solstice and the Origins of Christmas, Lee Carter.

[8] In 601 A.D., Pope Gregory I issued a now famous edict to his missionaries regarding wooing potential converts: don’t banish peoples’ customs, incorporate them. If the locals venerate a tree, don’t cut it down; rather, consecrate the tree to JC and allow its continued worship.

[9] And nothing in the various conflicting biblical references to the birth of JC has the nativity occurring in wintertime.

[10] And in some cases/in some situations, it can be life-preserving to keep track of such things.

[11] Really, out of nowhere a ginormous dessert tray appeared by my side, and my being startled by it greatly amused my waiter.

The Life I’m Not Rebooting

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At some point during childhood, a well-meaning adult asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up? What I like about this question is that it embraces the idea that work is an expression of who you are as well as who you want to be. Yet that question takes an odd turn when you become an adult. “What do you do for a living?” is what we typically ask each other. Gone is the inquiry about what you aspire to “be.” This shift in emphasis from “being” to “doing” focuses you solely on the external activities and behaviors that you perform for your work, rather than on your intrinsic values, strengths, and motivations.
(from Inner Compass, mindful magazine,  December 2016

*   *   *

Yachats. It’s pronounced  yah -hots, and it is the name of yet another gem of a town on the Oregon coast. The name comes from…different sources argue over the origin. It is likely a term of the Siletz or other indigenous peoples,  [1]  and has something to do with “dark water by the foot of the mountain,” which may refer to the estuary where the Yachats River enters the Pacific Ocean, the remarkable view of which I have from the apartment I’m renting for a week.

If I have the privilege of needing/recognizing/taking a control-alt-delete [2]  sabbatical, it might as well be here.

Also, I just like having an excuse to say Yachats.

*   *   *

My mini-sabbatical was originally scheduled for December 8-16. Then on Tuesday of this week MH pointed out the latest weather forecast: a winter storm, carrying snow but more problematically freezing rain, was scheduled to hit the coast and the Portland Metro area on the 8th, which would make traveling over the Coast Range dicey….so maybe you might want to consider leaving a day earlier? [3]

Negligent moiself hadn’t re-checked the forecast since…since when the storm wasn’t expected to hit until Friday (today), so all of a sudden on Tuesday it was do everything in one day (packing-wise, for  a weeks+ getaway, plus getting the car ready for winter storm contingencies  [4] I was planning on doing ion Tuesday and Wednesday, plus adding on figuring out a different, less-likely-to-have-icy-roads route, plus practice putting on the tire chains on the car I’d be driving, [5] plus finding a place to stay somewhere near the place I’d already reserved but which wasn’t expecting me until the next day….

Plus…then checking messages at the end of all this planning – early Tuesday evening, about 12 hours before I’d be leaving, and discovered sad news…which meant that three days after I return from my think-about-what-the-hell-to-do-in-Act-3-of-your-life getaway trip I will be flying down to the Bay Area to attend the memorial service for a beloved friend, mentor and former employer of mine, who had recently finished his own Act 3.

Anyway and so, I am here.

Yachats. Say it like you mean it.

*   *   *

As per my post of October 28:

Long Story Short: I have a significant birthday coming up in few weeks, and have had a significant Act 3 Career & Life Crisis ®  going on for a few…years.  I shared some recent downturns regarding such things [6]with friend SCM who, wise counselor that she is, offered this wise counsel:

It’s obvious you need a control-alt-delete from life right now….She advised I take a trip, to…anywhere.  “… you need a break from real life.”  I’d been thinking along similar lines – a meditative kind of vacation, not a trip involving lots of activities, which is what I’d usually want. I need to go alone, to have contemplative opportunity away from distractions, from the familiarity of work, routine, home and family…the kind of trip where you are forced to chill, where my main activity would be a combination of taking it easy, taking stock, and…dare I hope…figuring Things Out ® .

Initial plans for my getaway didn’t work out, but now, this week on the Oregon Coast seems fitting. Blustery (almost) winter weather should be good for contemplative ventures, right?

Unless….

Unless it becomes yet another entry in my To Do list. Eight days away is not likely to provide the magic AHA!!! answers to years of career/life balance questions, and I don’t want the pressure to find solutions [7]  to Life’s Really Big Questions ®  to diminish what this trip may turn out to be: a week’s vacation, composed of simple pleasures (I get to sleep in/not get up to feed cats/read for pleasure/hike every day/see some ocean spray stuff and pretend it was whales spouting….)

*   *   *

Department Of The Sacrifices We Make

One casualty of my mini-sabbatical, is the cancellation, this year, of my annual Ladies Lefse Party  — an event I’ve been hosting for ( is it over twenty-five years?) a long time, as mentioned here and here and here and…. You get the idea.

I will still have to find time, in the brief space between returning from this trip and then going down to the Bay Area for the afore-mentioned memorial service for He Whom I Am Not Quite Ready To Talk About In This Space, to make lefse for our family’s Christmas eve dinner, lest there be rioting among the troops.  [8]

*   *   *

Department Of What’s The Fucking Point

If I were a young(er) person looking for civic involvement motivation, after the two recent presidential electoral debacles (George W Bush and now the PuJu [9]) which resulted in someone losing the popular vote yet attaining the presidency due to our country’s  antediluvian and bigoted Electoral College system…why would I even bother?  How dare we, as USA citizens, criticize one goddamn thing about any other county’s elections?

As longtime friend and journalist SH put it on Facebook, re the vote count as of 12/2/16:

So now the margin is 2.5 million votes that don’t count for squat, because 80,000 votes in three states mattered more. But I guess Trump did better than W, who won because 537 Floridians mattered more than 540,000 of their fellow Americans. 
Pretty effed up….

*   *   *

Department Of I’m Wondering If You’ve Noticed…

…that there are hardly any pictures in this week’s blog post.

Analyze the significance; ponder; discuss; yawn; dismiss.

*   *   *

Department Of U-Turn Segues

It was a very nice hotel I stayed in – the last minute/extra night lodging I had to find due to starting my trip a day earlier than planned. Still, I wondered about the hotel’s welcome info in their Guest Information folder which was on the coffee table in my room. In the folder’s introductory, “who we are” paragraph, the owners touted their commitment to caring for their guests’ needs and running a responsible business. I so enjoyed the typo contained therein I decided not to bring it to the front desk clerk’s attention, lest the folder be corrected, which would rob future guests of the opportunity to derive similar enjoyment :

While we are completely committed to making your stay the best possible, we are committed to an unprecedented level of stainability.

stain

*   *   *

May all your stains be precedent-setting ;
May you notice when something is missing;
May you find out whatever is the fucking point;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] That is, those before the whale watchers took over.

[2] Innumerable thanks to SCM for that metaphor.

[3] I loved the way he phrased it: “I’m not trying to get rid of you, but…”

[4] Nothing like a Canadian friend nagging – I mean of course carefully advising – you in this regard.

[5] It had been years since we needed to do this. Guess what? Time passes, and putting on chains still sucks.

[6] The abridged/mostly censored synopsis, for you Reader’s Digest Fans:  holy FSM it’s a cliché to feel this way and I know it’s “just a number” but it’s a big one I’m facing and HOW THE FUCK DID I GET HERE?…And if he (MH)even attempts to throw my a surprise 60th birthday party I swear I will take out my bow and arrow and use his ass for target practice.

[7] Whether to Life’s really Big Questions or what to do with moiself

[8] H and son K and MH would miss it; daughter Belle, not so much; the kitties just keep shedding, no matter what.

[9] My son has chastised me for the immaturity he sees in my using the moniker PuJu (as in Putin Junior) rather than using the soon-to-be-president’s name.

The Bridge I’m Not Building

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Department of Snarkosity and Sarcasm

Aka, Religion Is Such A Rational Reaction to Reality

Dateline: last Friday afternoon: To driver of the Grand Caravan minivan with the California license plates, you who made a concerted effort to pass me on the right and then cut me off in traffic  [1]  on that very busy road in Beaverton where two lanes narrow down to one:

I assume you placed the Bloody Praying Hands Of Jesus ® decal on your rear window for a reason.  Do you really want your “witness” to be that which provokes a reaction like mine –

Jesus F. Christ You Drive Like A Dick!

stigmata

*   *   *

Department Of Missed Opportunities

 

Neither MH nor I have ever owned a gun. MH fired a gun a few times in his childhood, on a trip to Montana with a friend to visit the friend’s uncle (uncle had a backyard target range or something). I have fired a gun twice. Once was during my grade school years, when a neighborhood kid was showing off his BB gun. [2]  My second Annie Oakley moment took place the summer after my sophomore year in college, when I fired a shotgun for the first (and so far, last) time, giving me my first (and so far, only) Shotgun Story © .

A college friend APRIATT [3] and I were visiting the friend’s brother, who lived in a cabin in the mountains in Northern California. Friend’s Brother was a logger who looked like he’d applied for a job as a Jeremiah Johnson [4] stand-in.

 

 

Kinda like this, sans bear hat.

Kinda like this, sans bear hat.

 

 

 

Friend’s Logger Brother aspired to live the life of a Mountain Man. ®    FLB liked to fire his shotgun out in the woods behind his cabin, to keep his aim sharp in case he ever needed to protect himself from, say, a marauding tin of Spam (or so I assumed, as his target practice consisted of firing at cans placed on a tree stump). FLB took us to his makeshift firing range, set some cans on a log and shot at them, knocking all but one off the log. He then winked at his brother, held out the shotgun to me, and asked me if I’d like to give it a try.

I did not hit the can. I also did not get knocked tit-over-ass, or even sideways, by the shotgun’s recoil, which is what happens to most novices, or so I was later told (in an abashedly admiring tone) by FLB. Somehow I’d managed – totally without any kind of instruction, mind you  [5] – to instinctively brace the barrel properly and tuck the gun stock into my shoulder before squeezing the trigger.

Firing once was enough, for me. It was neither traumatizing nor titillating; it was very, very LOUD. It sounded, I told my friend, as if three Led Zeppelin concerts had just been performed in my right ear.

*   *   *

Time warp with me, if you will, to many years later – early 1990’s, is my guess. I was walking to downtown Hillsboro one afternoon, and on my way to Someplace Else I passed the only local gun store in town (which is no longer there). Apropos of nothing, I realized I’d  never set foot in a gun shop. And so I did.

I was the only customer. There was one employee, a smiling, genial man in his late-30s-to-early40s-I-reckon. He introduced himself as the shop owner and asked if I needed any assistance. I told him my story, such as it was: I was passing by, realized I’d never been in a gun store, and spur-of-the-moment decided to see what one looked like. While relating this thrilling tale I did a quick visual survey of the shop, noting the glass display cases filled with ammunition and the variety of firearms hanging on the walls, seemingly organized into categories: shotguns on the east wall, handguns on the south wall, rifles on the west wall.

Friendly Gun Shop Owner invited me to look around and said he’d gladly show me any “piece” that caught my interest.  Oh, alrighty. And, since you mentioned it, when you get a customer who is a potential first-time buyer, what is the first “piece” you show them?

Immediately after posing that question I realized the answer it would depend on if the customer had express interested in taking up hunting or target shooting or felt paranoid every time an iota of progress was made in civil rights that they needed a gun for personal protection. But before I could add this follow, FGSO whirled about and grabbed a shiny black pistol from the wall behind him. He set it on the counter in front of me and asked me to pick it up (It’s okay, it’s not loaded) and admire it.

The gun felt lighter than I’d expected. What is it that I am holding? FGSO said it was a 9 millimeter Smith & Wesson. This prompted me to ask about a gun’s designation: did the caliber size refer to the size of the bullet, or the dimension of the gun’s barrel, and if the latter was that an external or internal measurement, and either way, diameter or radius – diameter, I’d always assumed, but I didn’t know for sure and wondered…

Don’t really know. FGSO shrugged his shoulders, and seemed almost perplexed by my question. I found that odd – did he, a gun shop owner, actually not know, or did he think it something I shouldn’t bother knowing? Before I could ask a follow-up question, he began talking about the beauty of the piece he’d shown me. Yes, I said, I can see the attraction of it – of  admiring the construction of any kind of mechanism, and appreciating the craft…although I had to admit that even just holding that gun made me a wee bit nervous. You see, I hadn’t been around guns much and, considering their purpose…

No, don’t think like that.

There was an infinitesimal yet noticeable shift in FGSO’s demeanor.  It’s like what you first said; it’s just a mechanism – a machine. It’s a tool. A gun is just a tool. People who don’t like guns or are afraid of them don’t understand that.

His tone became insistent, and although the corners of his mouth remained his smile had transformed, from genuine to forced.  A gun is just a tool, like a car is a tool. Every year thousands of people are killed and injured in car accidents, but no one tries to ban people from owning cars.

Uh, gee…how do you figure? I donned what I thought was my most disarming, wide-eyed, smile, [6] and gently pointed out that the auto analogy didn’t quite hold up.  Injuries and deaths due to auto accidents are just that – accidental, and while certainly tragic, are also incidental to an automobile’s purpose – which is to transport people and/or cargo. A gun’s purpose, what it is in fact designed for, is to shoot (at) some thing or some one.

 

 

Oops.

Oops…versus….

 

Mission accomplished.

Mission accomplished.

 

And he just lost it. When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns!

“Uh….?” I looked around the store; it was still just me and FGSO. “Who said anything about outlawing guns?”

 

 

Ok, Chucky, just hold still....

Ok, Chucky, just hold still….

 

 

Guns don’t kill people; people kill people!  There are no dangerous weapons; only dangerous men! The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!

The clichés rolled off out of FGSO’s soon-to-be-frothing mouth. I thought, oh, this is great – a gun nut is going into rhetorical seizure mode, he’s likely packing some serious heat, and here is little ole moiself holding the unarmed “piece.”

Just for a moment, I thought to tell FGSO of the small but ultimately significant bridge he could be building…the opportunity he was missing – to show a non-gun owner that not all gun folk were irrational, hot-tempered zealots. Instead, I laid the pistol on the counter and thanked him for his time. He continued to spout slogans at my back as I slowly headed for the exit, shaking my head with can-you-believe-this? wistfulness.

I left the store, and left FGSO with the impression he’d likely/already held – that people who don’t own guns are fearful, naive do-gooders. In turn, he had done his best to reinforce my own stereotype of the wild-eyed, paranoid, slavering, gun nut. Not exactly an outstanding moment in the history of cultural diplomacy.

 

 

gunworld

*   *   *

May you speak your piece without fear;
May you work for peace without regret;
May you watch out for who’s packing a piece;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Yeah, so you got ahead of me, and then stayed just ahead of me for another five miles, making me wonder what was the point to your machinations, which got you to your destination …what, twenty feet/two seconds earlier than had you not cut me off?

[2] A birthday present which was confiscated by his parents when they realized he was letting other kids fire the gun without adult supervision.

[3] And Possible Romantic Interest At The Time.

[4] And who spoke highly of what he saw as the ideals espoused in that iconic Robert Redford film.

[5] I can only assume FLB was playing a joke on me, and thought he’d amuse his brother by having his brother’s potential girlfriend mishandle a firearm – and who doesn’t enjoy seeing that?

[6] The one I heretofore privately thought of as my blonde smile. All appropriate apologies to you melanin-deficient ladies and gents.

The Slough I’m Not Kayaking

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Department Of Not To Be Disrespectful Toward
Our Brave Men And Women In Uniform ®

… but every time I walk past The Tacoma Fallen Firefighters Memorial I imagine that the second guy in the sculpture – the one tapping the first guy (pointing the hose) on the shoulder, is calmly but insistently saying, “Dude, put down the hose – nothing’s on fire.”

 

 

tacomafirefighters

*   *   *

 

I had yet another opportunity to pass by the above pictured sculpture during MH’s and my last minute/last weekend trip to Tacoma. Because when your 20 year old daughter hints and hints and hints again that she’d like to see you, you drop everything and go.

In late August Belle will start her junior year at the University of Puget Sound. She’s staying in Tacoma for the summer, working fulltime as a Zoo Camp Counselor at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.  We’ve enjoyed hearing her talk about the camps, and comparing them with her stories from last summer, when she was a camp counselor for the Oregon Zoo. [1]

When we drove up last Saturday, Belle said she wanted to show us around the zoo. We’ve been to the PDZ & A several times over the past few years when visiting our offspring.  [2]  This time we got a brief “backstage” tour, courtesy of Belle, which consisted of being able to step inside one staff-only area:  the marine wildlife food preparation facility, which included a huge, walk-in freezer filled floor-to-ceiling with cases of various fish and shellfish (read: more frozen herring [3] than you can shake a walrus’s tusk at).

As a five year Oregon Zoo volunteer, a biology major, and a volunteer docent at her school’s Natural History Museum, Belle has amassed a good deal of information about fauna and flora. Still, as our daughter led us from exhibit to exhibit, MH and I were impressed by how much she knew about the animals in every habitat . [4]  I guess that’s what happens when you’re leading two camps per day, five days a week – you have to know your stuff.

And then there are the moments you just have to strut your stuff, as when Belle eagerly donned my Convertible Survival Kit ®  [5] when MH and I took her for a spin around town.

 

 

sadieconvertible7-16tacoma

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Screw The Slough

Because his company is weird that way, MH had July 5 off as a vacation day.  [6]  What shall we do, he asked? I suggested we take our kayaks out for the first paddle of the season. I wanted to try out one of the entry points along the Columbia River Slough, and so, with our Paddler’s Access Guide in hand we loaded up the car, drove to what looked to be the optimum entry point…and then on to the next, and the next, and the next….

The first entry point was strewn with trash and had other signs of being used as a homeless camping/partying area. It was devoid of bipedal presence save for one Sketchy Looking Man ® sitting on a bench by the camp/party area. We parked our vehicle and walked down to the slough’s boat dock, SLM watching us every step of the way.

The slough was…well, we knew it was a slough, but it was really in full slough mode (low water depth and tepid-to-nonexistent flow). Probably good for winter and spring paddling, but already too late in the season, at this particular entry point (~ 17 miles upstream), for a decent paddle. That, plus the area’s vibe, which was if you-leave-your-car-you-will-return-to-find-it-broken-into, led us into checking out other slough access points downstream.

 

 

columbiaslough_general

 

By the time we’d reached access point four or five MH said, “I suppose we can look at this as a scouting excursion for future trips.” As time went on it became imperative, first for MH and then also moiself, for us to find something resembling a bathroom.  Ninety minutes after we’d arrived at the first access point and were still not in the water, I said “Screw the slough.” I knew there were pit stop facilities at Smith and Bybee Lakes Wetlands, so we ditched the last slough entry point [7] and headed there.

I’d been kayaking at Smith & Bybee several times, including once with MH. I’d give it a solid 3 on the 1 – 10 whoopee scale; I wanted to try somewhere new, but our plans hadn’t worked out and it was getting late, so what the heck. After The Pause That Refreshes © we checked out the canoe launch ramp.  Ay yi yi. I’d never seen the water level so low. How dare they call it Smith and Bybee Lakes?

 

 

yeahright

 

 

We hiked around the S & B Lake wetlands for an hour before returning to our car and heading off to find lunch. At least the birds seemed happy with the conditions in the boggy-wetlands-which-no-self-respecting-limnologist-would-call-a-lake – we saw an astounding number of Great Egrets wading about in the muck.

It turned out to be a good, low key day, capped off by a delightful evening at downtown Hillsboro’s Tuesday Marketplace. MH and I got dinner and a bottle of wine from the various food venders, found a spot on the courthouse lawn which was close enough to see the music stage but far enough away to be safe from the blaring amps and pissing pugs, [8] and staked our claim with folding chairs.

 

I really wish I could say I was joking about this.

I really wish I was joking about this.

 

 

It was a perfect evening for being outside – that temperature where you don’t know where your skin ends and the air begins. We enjoyed listening to the classic and original rock provided by Hippie Love Slave, a band that, besides having an awesome name, has a guitarist/singer whose vocal stylings reminded me of Grace Slick. I encountered said vocalist between sets, and shared my opinion with her. She took it as the compliment I intended, and then I complemented us both on being old and wise enough to understand.

 

 

 

 

Whaddya mean, old enough to understand?

Whaddya mean, old enough to understand?

*   *   *

Department Of I’ll Be Happy To Explain It To You

In the wake/midst of the Thunderswampfuckton of Crap ® that our country is experiencing (and will, no doubt ,keep on slogging through), in particular the shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge followed by the allegedly retaliatory shootings in Dallas, I’ve been hearing and reading about (what I take to be) a misunderstanding of the activist movement known as Black Lives Matter.

 

 

SOAPBOX

 

 

The very phrase or concept itself seems to be, IMHO, misconstrued. So, attention, critics – be you well-intended or closeted/overt racists – I’m about to clear it up for y’all.

It’s like this: You don’t walk into an Nike footwear store and criticize them for not carrying dress shoes.

But what about the Florsheims!

 

 

Wingtips Matter

Wingtips Matter

 

 

I’ll try again.

My city has a veterinary clinic named All About Cats . The clinic’s founding veterinarian had a multiple animal practice (dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles, birds) for over two decades; now he has one specializing in felines. One of the reasons he got the idea of establishing a felines-only clinic was his observation, during his years of practice, that cats were more stressed in a vet clinic by the smell and presence of dogs than vice-versa.

When I first saw the clinic’s sign I did not feel obligated to point out to the clinic’s staff, “I appreciate your intentions, but, All About Cats – life is not all about cats!” But I do know someone who, when they were informed that there was a new veterinary clinic in town that sees only cats, had that kind of reaction:

Oh, yeah, well, what about dogs?
What about budgies, and hamsters – other pets need veterinary care, too!”

All About Cats does not equal And other animals don’t need/aren’t worthy of veterinary care. Establishing a feline-only clinic does not mean you dismiss or dislike other animals. It merely denotes a special area of concern or concentration, for which there is a reason.

Black Lives Matter is a special interest civil rights/activist group. It exists because…well, because there are, unfortunately, fucking good and sad/pathetic reasons for it to exist. Including the fact that when my son K told me, many months ago, about being pulled over by a cop because K’s car had a non-functioning tail light, I had the privilege to not think that K might have been in danger.

I’d had The Talk with both of my offspring about how to behave if, while driving, they were ever pulled over by a cop. Still, it never occurred to me to ask K if he’d been overly respectful to the police officer no matter how the officer had treated him; it did not occur to me to ask/remind K if he’d remembered to move very slowly, always keeping his hands in sight, when the officer asked him to product his license and registration….

 

 

 

privelegejpg

 

 

*   *   *

May you have the privilege of assuming your children will be safe;
May you be able to enjoy the moments that arise and screw the slough when called for;
May you stop and smell the roses (or the frozen herring – whatever is handy);
..and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] What the stories have in common: she remains mystified by the immaturity and moodiness of the younger kids (in particular, five year old boys), who “…don’t listen to what you say and have a meltdown when they spill a cup of water.”

[2] K, Belle’s brother, also attended UPS.

[3] And herring doesn’t smell any better the colder it is.

[4] Including their names. I mean, two gorgeous tigers lying side by side (“The one on the right is Kirani and the other is her sister, Dari”), they looked identical, to me.

[5] Which I keep in our new car, for those top down moments. The kit consists of a choice of three Glamorous Sunglasses ® , a scarf, and a tube of bright red lipstick to complete the ensemble.

[6] Other holidays which most people get as vacation days, Like MLK day or Memorial Day, he won’t.

[7] Kelly Point Park, which might be a good entry point for future kayaking on the slough but which also had signs of sketchy-ickiness and people-camping-who-shouldn’t-be (including two recently burned-out cars –  as in completely torched, parked side by side, — in the parking lot. Yet another omen).

[8] Yo, dog owners: when you bring your dogs to the various Farmer’s Markets – and you seem to think there is a city ordinance which requires you to do so – please mind where they “go.”

The Fish I’m Not Smelling

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Department Of Fish And Visitors Stink After Three Days,
Except When They Don’t

 

There are some people…when you see them it’s like you’ve seen them yesterday…even though it’s been too many yesterdays since you’ve in fact seen them.

 

 

iknowwhatyoumwan

 

 

MH and I were fortunate enough to have such people visit us this week.  The lovely and talented LW and her equally lovely and talented husband, SB, were making a road trip from the Bay Area to the Puget Sound, and stayed with us Monday – Thursday. Not once did I think of stinky fish; just good time with dear friends.

LW, a buddy o’ mine since our apartment-mate days at UC Davis, has steadfastly remained one of the more intelligent, witty, creative people I’ve had the pleasure to know.  Important Sidebar ® : If you are interested in social justice via political activism, [1] LW’s husbo is one of the more effective bloggers – as in, one whose advocacy and research has prompted real change – in that sphere (you can check him out, at Spocko’s Brain ).

It was fun cooking and eating with them, picking berries, “playing” and just hanging out/catching up. We spent a day in the Alberta Street Arts district in Portland, where we were, of course, treated to many sights and sounds that were oh-so-Portlandia. Being longtime San Francisco residents, LW & SB are on familiar terms with many if not all things hipster, and are also wise to the up and down sides of gentrification…which made the street art/op-ed we encountered all the more appreciated.

 

 

strteetart

*   *   *

Department Of Cliché But True

 

Like many creative people who are also thoughtful, decent human beings, artist Helen Honer finds non-verbal ways to express the inexpressible, most recently re the Orlando mass shooting. This painting of hers, which she described as “trying to calmly express my sorrow,” struck me as both simple and profound, calming and elegiac. One picture that is truly worth a thousand…you know.

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Just Don’t Fucking Get It

Okay, I’m totally sincere, here: I would love to hear from an articulate, rational Republican re so many issues, mostly about their party’s presumptive nominee.  But, are there any (rational Republicans) left at this point?

 

 

confused lady

Was that a The Onion headline I just read, or something a Republican actually said?

 

Look; I have my beef [2] with the Dems, too. I moiself only register for any political party during primary season – depending on if I want to vote for – or against a particular party’s nominee – then change my registration back to  independent/no affiliation status.  I seriously loathe the whole political party identification thing, and strive not to judge someone/assume their opinions based on their political affiliation.

Still…I want to know what kind of political party, from its leaders and major players down to the rank and file members, say, over and over , that Trump’s comments are offensive and racist and just plain wrong but yes, they will still support him for POTUS?

If for whatever reasons you just can’t bring yourself to vote for the Other Guy ® , can you at least have the personal integrity to sit this one out?

 

*   *   *

Department Of How Can I Be The Most Special Snowflake In The Room
When Every Snowflake Is Special?

 

The latest entry: nonbinary gender.

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Now I’m Depressing Myself So It Must Be Time For A Happy Topic ®

 

There Are Pancake People, And There Are Not Pancake People.

 

Well? Are you, or aren't you?

Well? Are you, or aren’t you?

 

I am (or was) in the latter category, until the afore-mentioned visit of LW & SB. Tuesday eve LW and I were talking about my culinary adventures with sourdough starter.  [3]  In the past few years LW and her hubs been cooking and eating in a vegan/plant-based way, [4]  which inspired me to concoct a  vegan-friendly sourdough pancake batter to serve as yet another transport medium for our copious crop of homegrown blueberries.

Mission accomplished.

There aren’t enough swear words – the kind you use when you taste something so delicious, non-profane superlatives just won’t’ do – to adequately describe the yummers factor here.

And I’m going to share it, with you, for free. [5]

 

HFFSMTTBPEATVSWKICBD   [6]
aka Vega-licious Lemon Blueberry Sourdough Pancakes ( makes ~ 16 small)

Start this batter the night before you intend to serve it for breakfast (or in the morning, if you want pancakes later for dinner)

– 100g  sourdough starter
– 200g  oat & white whole wheat flour (about half; i.e. 100g, of each)
– 1 ½ c spring water, * more or less
– 2T brown rice syrup (or maple syrup or agave syrup) **
– heaping ½ t ground cinnamon; and scant ½ t sea salt
–  ½ t vanilla extract
– grated zest of half of a small lemon

– 1t baking powder + ¼ t baking soda.
blueberries ! A good handful
– REAL maple syrup, for serving

– your favorite neutral oil *** for cooking

Directions

Any questions?

Any questions?

I’ll try that again.

Directions

Whisk the sourdough starter in a ceramic or glass mixing bowl with half of the water, then add in the remaining ingredients – except for the baking powder & soda & berries – whisking as you go and adding enough of the remaining water until you get a smooth batter (you may use more or less water than indicated in the recipe, depending on what kind of flours you use and the “wetness” of your starter).

Cover the batter bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, making sure there is at least one hole or gap so the batter can “breathe.” That’s it for now. Sweet dreams; walk away and enjoy yourself for ~8 – 12 hours or overnight (do not refrigerate the batter).

When ready to cook the pancakes, heat a cast iron griddle (or several cast iron pans) over medium-high heat, for several minutes.  While the griddle is heating (griddle must be verrrrry hot, or the pancakes will stick), mix the baking powder & soda in a small bowl with a small amount of water (a scant T) and whisk it into the batter, along with the blueberries

When the griddle is really hot **** , lightly grease it with the oil of your choice (lightly reoil griddle when/if necessary, between batches.). Using a ~ ¼ c scoop or ladle…well, you know how to cook pancakes, right?

 

* do not use tap or distilled water when working with sourdough starter.
** maple or agave syrup will give you a sweeter batter, so reduce the amount…or not, depending on the strength of your sweet tooth
*** “neutral” used here does not refer to your oil’s aversion to getting involved in geopolitics; rather, a neutral oil but as in grapeseed, peanut, canola, or safflower oil – the kind of oil you use when you don’t want the oil to add its own flavor to your dish. [7] 
**** hot enough so that drops of water flung on its surface do the Ow wow ow  ow – that’s hot! dance

 

 

 

In all of my numerous reincarnations these are the best goddessdam pancakes in the world.

In all of my numerous reincarnations these are the best goddessdam pancakes in the world.

 

 

 

*   *   *

May you find a picture which evokes a thousand words of comfort;
May you have the opportunity to be gob-smacked by your own culinary creation;
May you have the courage and integrity to sit this one out when necessary;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] And if you’re not, WTF is wrong with you?

[2] Or its plant-based/vegan equivalent.

[3]  And you would be too, if you were a guest in my home. It’s required as per a local ordinance.

[4] Although LW changed her nutritional lifestyle for health and not cosmetic reasons, she is, like, radiant, and back to her high school weight and looking Fucking Fabulous, if I may say so (and I just did).

[5]  If you want to send me money or any other form of compensation (stocks, T bonds, your offspring’s soccer trophies….), leave a message.

[6] Holy Fucking Flying Spaghetti Monster These Are The Best Pancakes Ever And They’re Vegan-Safe, Who Knew It Could Be Done?

[7] I.E. not olive oil and definitely not sesame oil.

The List I’m Not Making

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Haiku for Walking
While Listening to Nothing
Yet Hearing So Much

Early evening,
heading downtown, I greet the
others who walk past.

They nod, adjust their
earbuds, and return their gaze
downward, at their phones.
They have their iTunes,
podcasts, or conversations,
but miss the street songs:

Backyard wind chimes;
breeze rustling the birch leaves;
a child’s distant laugh.

Cars unseen but heard;
cheers from the nearby sports field;
crows rebuking jays.

Walking to downtown
to meet MH for dinner
cellphone in stasis.

downtownb

*   *   *

Department Of Pissing In The Wind
Aka, Will It Do Any Good?

Briefly: I experienced buyer’s remorse after purchasing something online and, when the product arrived, was horrified by the excessive, totally unnecessary, wasteful, non-recyclable packaging. I sent an email to the company [1], with this picture, and advised/implored them to do better. [2]

 

olay

*   *   *

Department of Even More Essential Than a Bucket List

 

Last Friday MH surprised us [3] by procuring dinner reservations at an mahhhvelous vegetarian restaurant, Natural Selection. The dining atmosphere was at once intimate and welcoming, and not at all twee or intimidating, despite the restaurant having the all-too-Portland description rustic chic applied to it by critic.

We spent over two hours enjoying a prix fixe, four course (with wine pairings for each course) dinner. We enjoyed the kind of meal that makes you feel ebullient and comrade-ic with your fellow diners, and you turn to those seated to your left and right and find an excuse to make conversation – the kind of meal that turns strangers into friends (“What did you choose for the second course?”).

It was the kind of meal that should have had me posting a picture of each course to a certain friend, but I was so into the repast I neglected to do so. By the way, if you have the good fortune to know Scott Duke Harris, intrepid Santa Ana, CA – Hanoi journalist, do send him pictures of your favorite meals. He’ll love it.

 

NS

 

 

Once again, I digress.

As per the afore-mentioned, strangers-begin-talking-when-inspired-by-good-food impulse, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated at the table to my right. He and his Lovely and Talented Wife © were, like MH and I, first-timers at the restaurant. They were celebrating her retirement from 25 years with one job and moving on to the third act. He preceded her in retirement, and we began chatting about how he was filling his time, including trying new things – like a gourmet vegetarian restaurant – and yet not falling into the I-only-have-so-much-time-left-and-must-do-all-the-things-I-missed-doing-when-I-was-younger trap. We commiserated about the ever-increasing swiftness of the passage of time, and about avoiding the well-meaning advice of those people who have compiled their own bucket list and pressure you to do the same.

I told him how, while continuing to seek meaningful ways to contribute to society, I also seek to minimize time spent in activities I loathe. [4] For example, I know I will never be able to reclaim those hours, attending a “morale raising/teamwork-building” business workshop, or sitting in a committee, listening to someone ask a question that needn’t have be asked (or that had already been answered) but was put out there so that the asker could be seen as insightful or perceptive by his colleagues….

The gentleman concurred, and offered this sentiment: the older he gets, the more he realizes the importance of not doing certain things. That is, he recognizes what, for him, is the primacy of not the bucket list, but the fuck-it list.

Exactly! I resisted the urge to pound my fist on the (artisanal, hand- crafted) table in enthusiastic recognition of a kindred spirit.  And I told him I was going to steal his description.

No matter our age, we are all bound by the limits of lifespan. You may be compiling an inspiring bucket list, and if so, good for you!  I hope you are also keeping track of what you do not need to do anymore – including things you’ve never done, things that may be #1 on someone else’s bucket list but which you just don’t see as effort- or time- or money- or risk-worthy  [5]  .  As in, fuck it, I’m not going to squander my time on that.

 

 

buycket

*   *   *

Skepticism is hard.  How do you convince someone they’re not thinking clearly when they’re not thinking clearly?
Our brains are not “wired” for skeptical thinking; studies have shown that people who lose their “faith” tend to replace it with something else, with a different type of belief – with some other non-evidence-based reasoning.

(Phil Platt, astronomer, writer and science blogger, from his “Don’t be a Dick” talk at the TAM Conference , 2010)

Acartoon

 

 

Last week I came across a link to an article titled, Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme. The article was written by Paul McHugh, MD, a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and published via the conservative thinktank, The Witherspoon Institute. The link to the article was posted by a FB friend who is a conservative Christian and who recently obtained an (on-line) degree in counseling from Liberty University.

Yep. That Liberty University – the one founded by Jerry Falwell. [6] Liberty is the kind of conservative religious institution that purports to offer an “education” and “the pursuit of knowledge in every discipline” – as long as said knowledge can be cherry-picked to conform to their frighteningly, medieval superstition relic doctrinal statement…in which Iron Age mythological beings are treated as serious 21st century driving forces.

So. FBF posted this intro to the link: “Very good article. If a person wants help, evidence-based intervention is always the best way to go.”

One of the article’s assertions about transgenderism –  that facts are more determinative than feelings –  is one I happen to agree with…about any subject. And so I couldn’t help but chuckle Oy vey, if only after reading FBF’s intro.

“For those who want to be helped, evidence based-reasoning….” Indeed. That would be a nice change and a pleasant surprise.

If only y’all religious believers would apply evidence-based reasoning across the entire spectrum of your lives, and not only when you (think you) can find or fashion evidence to suit a particular doctrinal tenet.

Facts are (or should be) more determinative than feelings, including the fact that religious/supernatural claims about the world are ultimately based on feelings – believers [7] live and walk by faith, as their own holy books tell them . The only fact-based thing about religion is the fact that all religions tells different stories as to how the world works and/or how and why their god(s) operate, and competing faiths use similar arguments to stake why theirs is the only true faith.

 

faith

 

 

Meanwhile, Humanists, Brights, Freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, and others who hold a reason-based worldview shake our heads and smile our holy shit?! smiles and say, Cool story, bro.

And for those religious believers who want to be helped, evidence-based reasoning can be found at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Recovering From Religion organization and hotline, and many, many other organizations which provide support for those who recognize they need to overcome religious indoctrination.

 

*   *   *

May you carefully and joyously compile your bucket and fuck-it lists;
May you remember to pull the plugs and listen to the nothing;
May you enjoy many a meal that Scott Harris would envy;
.. .and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] whose product line name rhymes with Soil of NoWay.

[2] The same advice I gave to myself, re checking out a product’s packaging before looking for a good price.

[3] Yes, both us; as in, I think he surprised himself by the awesomeness of his choice.

[4] Read: committees and meetings.

[5] Sky diving, anyone?

[6] Yep, that Jerry Falwell, the one who said, among numerous batshit crazy claims for Jesus, “Good Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.”

[7] Notice they are called, and call themselves, believers.

The Question I’m Not Posing

3 Comments

 

Department of Just Sayin’

Last week NPR’s Science Friday program contained a segment with a provocative premise. The segment featured an interview with “game researcher” Katherine Isbister, who makes the case in her book How Games Move Us that “…games can push us into new emotional territory.” According to Isbister, new video game designers are now crafting games that can make players more empathetic, by, e.g., putting players in the shoes of food cart vendors, immigrants seeking asylum, caretakers for someone with a terminal disease….

Isbister talked about how the designers of these “feel-good” video games write scenarios that encourage players to work together to solve problems, and how the designers also “harness character design, game mechanics, and movement to craft rich emotional experiences for players.”

Okay; sure, they do that. As do the designers of other scenarios that might be termed “feel-bad” games.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a video game that might encourage greater empathy in its players. But, listening to the interview, I sensed an elephant in the room that didn’t get its turn to trumpet. The host [1]  blew it by not asking a question/raising an issue that seemed obvious, IMHO.

The question/issue is in the That train runs both ways category.

 

But not like this.

But not like this.

 

Back when the industry was in its infancy, players and proponents of video games reacted with a combination of dismissive scornfulness and furious defensiveness when anyone – from psychologists to Concerned Average Citizens ® – dared to pose the question of whether playing a violent video game [2] might foster aggressive behavior, or at least dull players to the consequences of real life, anti-social behavior.

I remember well the indignant self-righteousness of video game-playing friends, colleagues and family members who were asked to even consider the possibility that violent games might induce violent thoughts:

Games don’t change how you feel. Thousands of kids play shooter video games – I play shooter video games – and we don’t go out and snipe students at the school playground. [3]

True, such a simplistic correlation (violent game = violent acting out) was likely an exaggeration. But now, smiley happy game = smiley happy people? Y’all can’t have it both ways.

If you are now saying video games can promote empathy and craft other “emotional experiences,” you are acknowledging that games can influence a person’s emotions, from which thoughts and actions spring.

 

Just watch me help that cancer victim get her chemotherapy right now, or I'll show her the meaning of a terminal diagnosis!

Just watch me help that cancer victim get her chemotherapy right now, or I’ll show her the meaning of a terminal diagnosis!

 

 

Violent video games alone likely didn’t cause (name redacted) to go on his rampage. But these games aren’t harmless, either….
My colleagues and I found that typical college students who played violent video games for 20 minutes at a time for three consecutive days showed increasingly higher levels of aggressive behavior each day they played….studies show that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and aggressive behavior. Violent games also decrease helping behavior and feelings of empathy for others. The effects occurred for males and females of all ages, regardless of what country they lived in.
“Do Violent Video Games Play a Role in Shootings?”
Brad Bushman, Ph.D., psychology professor specializing in “the causes, consequences, and solutions to the problem of human aggression and violence,” and author of “Why do people deny violent media effects?”

 

Both “good” and “bad” video games use similar techniques for attracting and holding the interest of their players. There is no magic formula for emotional manipulation, which would allow feel-good video games to stimulate positive emotions while preventing feel-bad games from stimulating negative emotions. That’s not how our limbic system works.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Parent Fail

Has there ever been a task, performance, assignment, an approaching life event, at which you anticipated you’d be superb – or at least competent – and then when it came time to get down to it, you massively sucked?

Last week I wrote about an April Fools’ Day joke I considered playing on a student driver… which got me to remembering that which I am about to confess: I was a lousy “teacher” for my own two student drivers.

Yes, I was an Awful Parent Driving Instructor. It was a role I had actually (as in, positively) anticipated. I thought I would be calm and positive mentor; I thought I would be the one to Set. A. Good. Example. ©

Instead, I was one of the worst things a driving teacher can be – nervous – which totally took me by surprise. My nervousness was evident, [4] and did not promote confidence in my student drivers. But my apprehension was not without cause. In my defense, as I was later to tell both son K and daughter Belle,

I take it personally when my own offspring are trying to kill me.

Who knew giving my mother an anxiety attack could be so much fun?!

Who knew giving my mother an anxiety attack could be so much fun?!

 

 

Fortunately for my children, MH was a (comparatively) calm and patient instructor.

MH and I also thought it worthwhile for our student drivers to have other professional/adult instruction, and forked out for lessons for each of them with a local driving academy…an act ($$$) which made me appreciate growing up in California when I did, when mandatory driver’s education was part of the public high school curriculum.

The driver’s Ed class was included in a class called State Requirements, which most students took during their sophomore year. With its massive/ pervasive car culture, California thought it in the best interests of the state to have students enter the driving world with a modicum of driving experience and education.  Apparently, many other states’ public education systems used to have such a requirement, but some states have dropped or drastically cut back on offering driver’s ed (and some states have none at all), due in large part to the perpetual bugaboo known as Budget Cuts.

A moment of silence please, while We Oldsters recall the days of (what we thought were) adequate school funding. [5]

 

silence

 

 

Thanks to the State Requirements and Driver’s Ed classes, not only did I and my high school peers have a common reference frame of how to drive, we also shared a legendary cultural touchstone: having to sit through don’t-reason-with-’em-just-scare-the-shit-out-of-’em documentaries like Red Asphalt.

Red Asphalt was astutely described by the Los Angeles Times‘ reporter Martin J. Smith as “The Reefer Madness of driving.” I think of it and others like it as a car accident snuff films –  ” horror shows of vehicular ultraviolence,” Smith wrote, “intended to scare the bejabbers out of fresh-faced and obliviously immortal teen drivers.”

“Red Asphalt” — the title says it all — is the flip side of California’s carefree car culture. ‘What you’re about to see is not going to entertain you,’ warns the host…. ‘There are scenes of human suffering and death in stark reality..’
Thus welcomed, you’re off on a joyless ride of grim highway fatality statistics, hectoring commentary about driving safely and bona fide hurl-your-cookies gore….you’re likely to come away with three unforgettable impressions:

* Driving at more than 10 mph is a seriously bad idea.
* Anyone who ever lobbied against seat belts and air bags as standard equipment should be arrested, tried and executed, ideally all in the same day.
* Not even George Romero has come close to replicating the sight and sound of human viscera being hand-scooped off damp pavement and into a plastic bag.

(“Thrills! Nausea! Bad Acting” by Martin J. Smith,  Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2006)

 

hellshighway

 

 

Red Asphalt, and another documentary called Signal 30 , used a combination of real footage taken by firefighters and other first responders and horrendously acted re-creations to depict the deadly consequences of speeding, negligent driving and/or failure to wear your seat belt – AND LEMME TELLYA, THOSE IDIOT DRIVERS ALL DESERVED TO DIE. [6]

The movies’ graphic images included ghastly scenes of mortally wounded and dismembered bodies, the screams of gravely injured and dying drivers and their passengers trapped in multiple vehicle pileups, and – my favorite, from Signal 30 – the footage of the charred remains of a driver who’d tried to race a train to railroad crossing.

I recall that only one student had to make a hasty vomit retreat during my Driver’s Ed class showing of the latter film. [7]

 

*   *   *

 

Department Of Trying To Find A Segue From Bloody Bodies to Blue Berries

Aka, The Frozen Blueberries I’m Not Buying

Oh wait – but I am.

I hate it when I lie to y’all.

Last week, for the first time in three years, I bought frozen blueberries from the grocery store. Three to four times a week I have blueberries and raspberries with breakfast, and for the past three years by the end of summer our garage freezer is full to bursting with bags of our homegrown blueberries and raspberries.

However, last season’s hotter-earlier weather [8] was one of several factors which led to our blueberry bushes being a bit skimpy on production. The raspberries were smaller than usual and not as prodigious, but I still have enough in the freezer to last until this summer’s crop is ripe for the picking.

 

berries

*   *   *

May you recall with fondness (or at least tolerance, if not abject pity)
those who taught you to drive;
May the games you play foster the mental equanimity you seek;
May your berries be bountiful…
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] I’m talking to YOU, Ira Flatow.

[2] that is, a game where the objectives include murder/rape/robbery, ala Death Race, Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto, etc.

[3] Ah, but at least one person did. I remember reading of about the many disturbing hobbies of Brenda Spencer, the infamous “I don’t like Mondays”‘ elementary school shooter (who also carries the dubious distinction of being one of the few such female shooters), which included, according to interviews with friends and neighbors, being obsessed with playing violent/shooter-type video games.

[4] “That’s a person in the crosswalk – DON’T RUN THEM OVER.”

[5] No footnote here; we’re still doing the moment of silence thing, okay?

[6] Good thing we didn’t have to rely on violent video games back then to provoke such feelings.

[7] Apparently, as per one driver’s ed teacher I spoke with, at least two scared straight barfers was the norm per screening of that film.

[8] Which we didn’t anticipate and forgot to account for when scheduling starting up our automated yard watering system.

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