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The Relationship Advice Book I’m Not Buying

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Department Of Inquiring Minds Want To Know   [1]

Commercial heard between podcast segments:

“At ____ (regional grocery store chain), we go out of our way to ensure
that all of our produce is fresher than fresh.”

The word fresh is repeated several times during the commercial; apparently, that is the produce standard for which the store strives – a standard which, if you believe the commercial, the store exceeds.

So: what exactly, is *fresher than fresh,* and how would I recognize it if moiself  saw it?

How can a thing be more than it claims to be?  If I am “happier than happy,” then maybe I’m something else…like, ecstatic, or elated. It seems like there should be a word above fresh, and that the advertisers should use it, instead of going for for the “-er” option.

Or, how’s about lowering expectations and going for humility instead:

“At ____ we guarantee our produce was delivered some time earlier this week, and none of it is slimy.”

If you, like moiself , find yourself thinking about such things, perhaps you have the proverbial Too Much Time on Your Hands ®…which gets me to wondering.  Why, when one is said to have Too Much Time, it accumulates on your hands, instead of on your feet, or your shoulders?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Graceful Segue

 

 

The podcast I was listening to, wherein I heard the “fresher-than-fresh” commercial, was the July 26 episode of Curiosity Daily, which began with the following teaser:

“Learn about the ‘Dog Days of Summer;’ why scientists did magic tricks for birds; and the smallest conceivable length of time.”

“…magic tricks for birds.” That phrase inspired such wonderful scenarios in moiself’s   mind, it almost seemed unnecessary to actually listen to the segment.

 

“Forget the top hat and the stupid wand! I’m telling ya, watch his sleeve, watch his hands!”

*   *   *

Best Definition Of A Construct, Ever   [2]

Culture is trying to please other people.

There’s a lot to unpack in a mere seven letters.

 

 

But, I can’t remember where I heard that…

Sotto voce:  Later that same day….

Oh, now I remember.  “Culture is trying to please other people.” I heard it on the most recent episode of Don’t Ask Tig.   [3]  It came from Tig’s guest, sociologist, author, and “Life Coach”   [4]   Martha Beck.  Beck likely knows more than your average bear about unpacking cultural expectations and people-pleasing: she was born into an influential Mormon family; she left the LDS church as an adult and accused her father (one of Mormonism’s most well-known  “apologists“) of sexual molestation; she chose to give birth to a handicapped child; she divorced her husband and came out as a lesbian.

Later in the podcast Beck made another interesting observation. It was a jest about her next book, inspired by the please-give-me-advice letter Tig read, sent in by a Quaker minister. The minister was dreading what we all (say we) have been hoping for: the return to “normal.”  Things had been well for the minister’s congregation during the COVID-mandated, Zoom-only gatherings; the minister was anxious about going back to in-person meetings. This was due to a dynamic the minister had realized about the congregation, a dynamic made even more clear during the year-plus of physical isolation:

“We really don’t like each other.”

On the subject of resuming “normal” post-pandemic social relationships, Beck noted that she and her partner joked that Beck’s next book should be titled,

How To Keep Your Loved Ones At Bay
Now That Covid Won’t Do It For You Anymore.

 

“I love Jesus, but y’all are flaming a-holes!”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yet Another Smoooooooth Segue

Now that we have some of Life’s Most Profound Questions ®  out of the way (can produce be *too* fresh; what is culture; where on your body does Too Much Time rest),  we turn to mindless pursuit of intellectually void diversions the simple joys of watching an interesting sporting event. And when The Olympic Games are held, we’ve seemingly hundreds to choose from.   [5]

Depending on what floats your boat (and there are several boat-related events to choose from  [6] ), many of the sports might not be in your category of things you find “interesting” to watch.  Say you’ve don’t know (or even care) much about cycling.  Why not take this opportunity to expose yourself to something new?

 

 

Many sports can be fun to play, but are not inherently exciting enough to capture your attention if you are merely observing them. A good sports color commentator can give you enough background information (without making you feel like you’re in a lecture hall) to get you to appreciate facets of a sport you previously felt was fundamentally tedious.

(Except for golf.  There’s just no hope there, for moiself ).

 

“It even bores me, when I’m playing it.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of This Is Why I Watch The Olympics

To paraphrase (read: plagiarize) Lindsay Crouse’s recent article in the NY Times, I’m tired of being cynical about everything. I read every day about how the ship I’m on is sinking…and, certainly in both this blog and out of it, I’m one of the ones pointing out the gaping holes in the ship’s hull.  But, right now, I want to rearrange the lawn chairs in the Titanic’s deck and listen to the band.

Read Crouse’s This NY Times op-ed for a more nuanced explanation.

Or, consider this:

 

 

Dateline Monday, 7:30 PM-ish. Sport: swimming. Event: the women’s 100m breaststroke final.  In an upset that stunned everyone, including and especially the winner, the gold medal was won by 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby, from Alaska.  Yep, Alaska, a state with only one fifty meter pool in the entire state and, prior to this event, no Olympic gold medalists.  She beat out the two favorites, including a fellow American.

 

 

Just as glorious as the look of disbelieving delight on Jacoby’s face was when the telecast cut to an event “watch party” in Seward, Alaska, where the crowd went apeshit.   [7]

As per the Washington Post:

“Seventeen-year-old Lydia Jacoby won gold for a tiny town in Alaska, a state that has one Olympic-sized pool, while overwhelming favorite Lilly King claimed bronze. Please watch the intoxicating video of Alaska celebrating:”

*   *   *

Department Of A New Sport To Appreciate

Well, it’s not a new sport, particularly to me, who played it competitively in high school.  But I haven’t played it…well, since high school, and have never watched it played in the Olympics or in any other professional settings, by Serious Athletes ®.  Both MH and I are surprised at how much we enjoy watching the matches.

We’re talking badminton.

 

 

Really.  Mixed doubles, in particular.

We’re not talking the backyard piffle fest played with the $39.99 plastic racquets-birdies-net set you got on sale at Walmart.  Badminton, played by people who know what they’re doing, is incredibly fast-paced.  And I enjoyed watching the games, once I got past feeling flummoxed (and a wee bit humiliated) to realize that I couldn’t remember the rules.

Moiself was both laughing and marveling when I watched the service – for doubles teams, that is.  The singles players serve as I remember having served, way back when.  But in the doubles games we observed, the servers did this awkward backhand, almost inversion placement of their racquet, while grasping just the very edge of the shuttlecock, as if it were something icky they’d picked up off the carpet but they didn’t have gloves and there was no tissue to protect their fingers but they wanted the icky thing off the carpet RIGHT NOW – something like picking up an errant cat turd from the litter box.

 

“Ew, I touched it!”

 

All the doubles teams we saw served that way; I didn’t know if it was a rule or just a tradition/or strategy (and moiself  decided *not* to Google it, to preserve the “errant turd” imagery in my mind). The team receiving the serve were also entertaining in their own right, stretching out their racquets and/or hands in a warding-off-demons manner, or as if they were casting a spell.

Moiself  mentioned earlier having played badminton competitively in high school.  I must qualify that statement.  It’s hard to even think of the word “competitively” applied to my high school’s badminton teams, after watching the Olympic players.  Their skill level is so high, their reflexes so lightening-fast – my high school doubles partner and I would not be worthy to merely stand on the sidelines during the Olympians’ games, gazing at them in awe, and picking up loose feathers from their shuttlecocks…or birdies, as some people call the cone-shaped projectile used in the game of badminton.  Either term is fine; it’s fun to have an excuse to say (or write), “shuttlecocks.”

 

 

DLF was my high school doubles partner.  Senior year we were the #1 doubles team of our school, which meant that we played the #1 badminton doubles teams of other schools in our league, which was composed of three beach-city high schools (read: spoiled rich kids), a few other “normal” Orange County high schools, and Santa Ana High School, which was considered (by the other schools) to be inner city and gang-infested.  This was not (exactly) true. However, the reputation helped us during matches with other schools; thus, we did little to dispel it. It especially worked to our advantage in contact sports, such as field hockey.  But even in a non-contact sport like badminton we had the intimidation factor…until, a few minutes after meeting and observing us, the wealthier schools figured out they had nothing to fear (i.e., we did *not* have switchblades taped to our racquet handles) and their anxiety transformed into patronizing distain.

Watching Olympics badminton games has caused me to take a stroll down Memory Lane.  [8]   My badminton doubles partner, DLF, went on to have a career as a science writer.  She was and is a woman of many abilities, but during our senior year badminton partnership she exhibited a heretofore unknown (to moiself ) talent for mimicry.

On the afternoon we played the most obnoxious beach city team (for privacy’s sake I will call them Newport Harbor High, because, oh yeah, that’s who they were), DLF entertained me (read: tried to distract me from my evident disgust with The NHH rich brat antics) during breaks and timeouts – and all through the rest of the season, when we were playing other schools – by imitating the NHH doubles team we played.

DLF (fluttering her fingers over her mouth, while smiling obsequiously
and giggling, in a high-pitched voice):

“Oh my goodness golly gee, was that out?”

There we were, the SAHS low lifes [9]  in our white and red striped shirt and red shorts – the same “uniform” we had for every sport.  Our NHH rivals wore matching outfits: white shirts, bright skirts designed with patterns featuring their school’s colors, matching hair ribbons and barrettes (also in the school colors) festooning their (same length, same shade) blonde hair, and – for some reason, this is the accessory that drove me nuts – bandannas tied around their necks, the material of which matched their skirts. 

Thus, losing to those Barbie twins was humiliating enough on sartorial grounds, but also, and mostly, for *how* they played – particularly, the patronizing way they made their baseline and sideline calls.   [10]

Badminton Barbies:
“Oh, Gee – do you think that was out?”
(Exchange giggles; smile; giggle again and tug at hair ribbons)
“I don’t know, I think it was out…what do you think?”
(more giggles and racquet-twirling)

Moiself: (thinking, but not – usually [11]  – saying aloud):
“Of course it was out, you twit.
You were at the baseline, and I was aiming for your tits and you stepped aside.
FFS, use your big girl voice, call it out, and take the serve.

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Olympic Sports Edition

The Olympic volleyball teams’ website is down.
I think they are having problems with their server.

Why was the fencing champion born in France, but raised in the U.S.,
able to play for both countries in the Olympics?
Because she has duel citizenship.

Is plate-throwing worthy of being an Olympic sport?
Discuss.

Did you hear about the naked toddler competing in the Olympics’ 100m dash?
He was running a little behind.

How does the Olympic torch, which is lit near Athens, manage to stay lit all the way to the opening ceremony?
Because it’s hard to put out a Greece fire.

The divorce rate is high among Olympics tennis players – love means nothing to them.

 

Enough! Even an Olympian has limits!

 

*   *   *

May you occasionally enjoy listening to the band while the boat sinks;
May you appreciate playing or watching a sport that uses shuttlecocks;
May all of your produce be fresher than slimy;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] It’s too early for a footnote.

[2] Or at least, in a long, long time.

[3] With perhaps the best description an “advice” podcast can have:  “Comedian Tig Notaro doesn’t have all the answers, but that won’t stop her from giving advice on your questions about life’s many challenges in this podcast.”

[4] Yeah, I know.

[5] Actually, the 2021 Summer Olympics have 33.

[6] Canoe/kayak flatwater and slalom; rowing; sailing)

[7] Or, the Alaskan equivalent.  Whaleshit?

[8] Which, is an actual street in Santa Ana.

[9] Actually, the SAHS school mascot/sports name was, so inappropriately, “The Saints.”

[10] The teams made their line calls, on the honor system.  Girls’ competitive athletic programs were minimally funded and there was no money (or staff) staff for referees.

[11] There were a few exceptions.

The Code I’m Not Breaking

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Department Of Good Reads

Checkout The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race, by Walter Isaacson.  Doudna is the American biochemist who, along with French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their ground-breaking development of a method for genome editing (CRISPR).

Author Isaacson frames Doudna’s story with a statement the author makes as a fact (which could be disputed) about what he calls the three great revolutions of modern times:

“The invention of CRISPR and the plague of COVID will hasten our transition to the third great revolution of modern times. These revolutions arose from the discovery, beginning just over a century ago, of the three fundamental kernels of our existence:  the atom, the bit, and the gene.”

 

Normal DNA: Moiself’s favorite DNA.

 

Revolution one, Isaacson posits, occurred in the first half of the 20th century. This was the atom-centered revolution, driven by physics and Einstein’ papers and theories, with the resulting developments of the atomic bomb, nuclear power, transistors and spaceships and laser and radar.

The second half of the 20th century gave us the information-based technology (the bit-centered revolution), based on the idea that all information could be encoded by binary digits…which led to the microchip, the computer, and the internet, the three of which combined to make “the digital revolution.”

The third revolution began in the late 20th century, and we are in the midst of it now:  the gene-centered, “life-science revolution,” wherein “…children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.”

 

“My work was both physics-driven and hair-raising.”

 

I’m midway through the book, which is quite a good read, if I do say so moiself.   [1]   Despite the author’s layperson-friendly presentation I find I must take frequent “brain breaks” to process the information presented.   [2]  I enjoy the weaving of Doudna’s story with the history of the eccentric, brilliant, and creative – and also competitive, back-biting, and oft times greedy and uncooperative  and ungenerous (surprise!) – scientists working in the fields of gene and DNA research. Sadly/frustratingly, as when one delves into the history of any scientific field, these stories include how female scientists’ discoveries and contributions were hijacked and/or mis-credited (by and to male colleagues), as in the case of biochemist Rosalind Franklin’s work in X-ray crystallography..  Franklin’s extensive x-ray work,   [3]  which was initially used by fellow DNA researchers Francis Crick and James Watson without her permission (“photo 51“),  led to the understanding and deciphering of the DNA’s double helix-complementary base pair structure.  Crick and Watson and another (male) colleague of theirs were to receive the Noble Prize (“…re Franklin and the Nobel Prize she never won, even Watson begrudgingly says that she should have gotten it. ‘ “)   [4]

Yet again, I digress.

The author’s opening premise struck me as quite profound: the idea that three miniscule “units” (atom; bit; gene) led and are leading to colossal scientific and cultural changes.   Moiself  shared this with MH, who took issue (picked a nit?) with the idea that the “bit” is a discovery (isn’t it more of an invention?).  So, what thinketh y’all? Are those three an adequate encapsulation of the “revolutions” of the past century?  Would you add (or subtract) others?

 

“Class, discuss!”

*   *   *

Department Of Quote Of The Week

Sue Black, Scottish forensic scientist, anthropologist, and professor, is the honored source of this quote, as per her appearance on the most recent Clear + Vivid podcast. ( “Sue Black, Forensic Supersleuth ” ).

Podcast host Alan Alda asked Black about the process of interviewing people who want to donate their body to scientific research.  Black tries to speak with people who sign anatomical donation forms as part of her teaching empathy – as well as respect for such “a profound gift” –  to her anatomy and dissection students. What are some of reasons people have given, Alda asked?  A variety of reasons, as it turns out: from gratitude for scientific and medical advances that helped them or a loved one; or wanting to be part of a scientific/medical field but never able to do so, and this is their way of taking part….etcetera.  Then Black shared one of her favorite stories.

“I had the most *gorgeous* lady who came into my office one afternoon. She must have been in her seventies and she was literally dressed to the nines – she had the makeup and she had the jewelry, and I said to her, ‘Why would you want to donate your body?’ and she looked at me and she said,

‘Quite frankly, young woman, *this* is just too good to burn!’ “

 

“Too good to burn, you bet your ass.”

 

In the end of the C+V podcasts, host Alda asks his guests “Seven Quick Questions” that have some connection with communication.  Black said, in response to the question, “What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?” that the strange questions she gets are usually in regard to what she wants to do regarding her own death.  Black said that because of what she does she has no fear of death; she attributed that attitude in part to the fact that her grandmother taught her that “death is your friend that walks along side you all of your life,” and so “…you’d better get to know her and make a friend of her because she’s not going away and eventually is going to be there at the end.” Black told her family that she wants her body to be donated to the anatomy department to be dissected, and wants her bone to be retained,

“…and if they could string my skeleton up, then I could be an articulated skeleton, in my dissection room, teaching for the rest of my death.
I have no intention of ever stopping working, and death is not going to get in the way of that.”

Three days later I am still marveling at that. Especially as we age, we are so often asked what we intend to do “with the rest of your life.”  What a beautiful and unique viewpoint, to think of what you’ll be doing for the rest of your death.

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Geneticists’ Edition

A mad scientist drugged, kidnapped, and experimented on me,
replacing my arms with a Grizzly’s paws.
If I see him again I’ll tear him apart with my bear hands.

Geneticist:  “We have your test results; I’m afraid your DNA is backwards.”
Me: “And?”

Advertisers should use pictures of the 23rd chromosome pair in their commercials.
Because, you know, sex cells.

 

 

*   *   *

May you forever be “too good to burn;”
May you marvel at the atom-bit-gene revolutions;
May you ponder what to do with the rest of your life…and death;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] And I just did.

[2] And keep all the names straight, from the scientists to the names of the organisms and processes they study.

[3] which likely contributed to the cancer which killed her at age 37

[4] Lynne Osman Elkin, professor of biological sciences at California State University, as quoted in the Nova program: Secret of Photo 51.

The Obscene Election Signs I’m Not Posting

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Department Of Marital Bliss, Lowered Expectations Division

Earlier in the week I read a New York Times article about a crime that has scandalized Iran: an elderly couple was arrested for drugging, suffocating, stabbing, then dismembering three people.  The couple expressed no remorse, even though the murder victims were their son and their daughter and her husband.

“I have no guilty conscience for any of the murders,” (the husband) said in a TV interview from detention. “I killed people who were very morally corrupt.”

“We decided together, the two of us,” (the wife said)….My husband suggested it and I agreed. I have a great relationship with my husband. He doesn’t beat me or curse at me.”

( “They Were the Nice, Older Couple Next Door. Then the First Body Turned Up,”
NY Times 7-5-21 )

As bizarre/disturbing as the murders are,  [1]  that is not what lingered in my mind after reading this story.  Rather, I was drawn to the WTF?!?!? criteria of the wife’s “great relationship” with her husband.

Moiself  may be slogging into the “cultural differences” swamp, so grap your hip waders.  The thing is, this is not the first time I’ve come across such an anemic description of the qualities of a good husband.  Many is the time I have read a quote, from a woman living in a highly conservative/patriarchal and (often, but not exclusively) Islamic society, as to what a good husband is.  And most of the time, it is a list of “non-negatives.”    [2]

My husband and I have a good relationship because he DOESN’T
* beat me
* curse at me
* force me to have sex
* pull out chunks of my hair if he sees it peeking from behind my head scarf
*forbid me from leaving the house without a male escort
* burn my books and prevent me from obtaining an education
* steal my food
* lock me outside in the cold because he said I made lumpy hummus
* siphon from our children’s sons’ college fund to pay his sports gambling debts

 

“Before my husband murders our adult children, he tells me about it. We have a good relationship.”

 

*   *   *

Department of Back To School Daze

“Ultimately life is disease, death and oblivion.
It’s still better than high school.”
( Dan Savage )

Dateline: last Sunday. MH was out of town; son K came to dinner.  Moiself cannot remember the exact prompt or context for the story K shared with me (and neither can he; I checked), but it was about a play on words he’d recently heard, which he thought was clever and funny, but which someone else said was insulting. K and I talked about the “that’s funny – no, that’s insulting” controversy which sometimes arises when a person takes words or sounds from different languages (or even your “own” language) and uses the sounds to form puns and/or humorous words.  “Remember the Car Talk credits list – their Russian chauffer?” K asked.  How could I forget? That show was one of our family faves.  K and I began sharing “the best” titles and names that we could remember, from the show’s infamous credits list.

Engineersscientist/car repair enthusiasts Tommy and Ray Magliozzi (aka “Click and Clack – the Tappett brothers”) hosted the NPR show Car Talk from 1977 – 2012. They ended each broadcast by reading select entries from their ever-expanding list of recently acquired staff,   [3]  a mere sample of which follows:

– Accounts Payable Administrator                                          Imelda Czechs
– Accounts Receivable Supervisor, Mumbai Office               Vishnu Payup
– Bad Joke Interpreter                                                             Nadia Geddit
– Book Critic                                                                           Odessa Paige Turner
– Child Transportation Specialist                                            Minnie Van Driver
– Coordinator, 12-Step Recovery Program                             Cody Pendant
– Director of Gender Studies                                                  Amanda B. Reckondwyth
– Director of Japanese Cooling Systems                                 Emperor Overhito
– Director of Pavlovian Research                                            Isabelle Ringing
– Elvis Impersonator                                                               Amal Shookup
– French Dogwalker                                                                Poupon Degrasse
– Gastroenterologist                                                                Cameron Diaz
– Gum Surgeon                                                                        Perry O’ Dontal
– Head of Working Mother Support Group                            Erasmus B. Dragon
– Latin American Bullfighting Specialist                                Gordon Diaz
– Liaison to the British Isles                                                    Isaiah Oldchap
– Marine Biologist                                                                   Frieda Wales
– Plumber’s Crack Apologist                                                   Lucy Lastik
– President, Disgruntled Hatchback Owners Club                  Ivana Trunk
– Restroom Attendants                                                           Trudy Door & Donna Hall
– Russian chauffer                                                                   Pikov Andropoff
– Staff Meteorologist from the Seattle Office                        Wayne Goaway
– Swedish Attorney                                                                 Bjorn Liar
– Teenage Valet                                                                      Lao Tse Parker
– Tom’s Personal Matchmaker                                                Robin D’Craydell
– Undergarment Inspector                                                       I.C. London
– Visually Impaired Parking Lot Attendant                           Dale Neverknow
– Wine Taster from the Abu Dhabi Office                             Hassen Ben Sober
– Women’s Hockey Team Manager                                        Miss Inga Tooth

 

 

K brought up his favorite incident involving phonetic names mashup/entendres: the notorious “pilot name scandal” which arose after the crash of a Korean Jetliner.  In July 2013 Asiana flight 214 crashed on its final approach to San Francisco International Airport. Later that day, while reporting on the incident, a San Francisco TV news anchor was pranked by her staff, which led to her reading, with a straight face, straight from the teleprompter…    [4]  I’ll let the Wikipedia entry of the incident take it from here:

San Francisco television station KTVU fell victim to a prank which led news anchor Tori Campbell to report the names of the (flight 214) pilots as “Captain Sum Ting Wong,” “Wi Tu Lo,” “Ho Lee Fuk,” and “Bang Ding Ow” in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Viewers quickly realized that these “names” were in fact phonetic double entendres for “something’s wrong,” “we’re too low,” “holy fuck,” and the sounds of a crash. The prank was described as racist and unprofessional, and led to the firing of three veteran KTVU producers.  While the source of these joke names remains unclear, the NTSB admitted in a statement that one of its summer interns had confirmed the erroneous names when they were stated by the news station.

 

 

Moiself , after I recovered from a severe case of ROTFLMAO when I watched the video of the prank newscast, was offended by those who were offended.  Now, *of course* a plane crash is no laughing matter, but that wasn’t the point of the prank.  See the above Car Talk credits list. The pilots’ names stunt was unprofessional…and, c’mon, admit it, fucking hilarious…but racist?  As in, per the adjective form of the overused pejorative,

“based on racial intolerance” or
“discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion”

 

 

The pilot-name-joke used the phenomenon of phonetic double entendres to imagine the conversation among the pilots as they realized their landing was going wrong; the joke was not disparaging of nor discriminatory against Korean airplanes, Korean pilots, or Korean people.  I’ve little doubt that, had it been an American or French plane which had crashed at a Korean airport, some Korean smartass could’ve fashion a similar joke, using phonetic double entendres, from the English or French languages – names or phrases which would mean nothing to French or English speakers (and which we wouldn’t even recognize) but which would be hilarious to people fluent in Korean.

The pilot joke names were no more “racist” against Koreans than the Car Talk guy’s faux staff credit names were racist against Russians (“Russian chauffer, Pikov Andropoff”) or the French (“French Dogwalker, Poupon Degrasse”) or Indians (“Accounts Receivable Supervisor Mumbai Office, Vishnu Payup”) or Japanese (“Director of Japanese Cooling Systems, Emperor Overhito”) or Latinos (“Latin American Bullfighting Specialist, Gordon Diaz “) or Scandinavians (“Swedish Attorney, Bjorn Liar”) or Arabs (“Wine Taster from the Abu Dhabi Office, Hassen Ben Sober”), or members of the UK (“Liaison to the British Isles, Isaiah Oldchap”)….

If you don’t get understand why, or if you think you need to convince people who aren’t offended by this prank that they *should* be, please stop reading this blog, right now.

It was a classic, brazen, guerilla humor stunt; I hoped that the fired KTVU staff took their dismissal with equanimity – surely, they understood the risk they were taking.  (I also hoped that they later found jobs as comedy writers for late night TV.)

K and I had fun re-living (and re-laughing at) our favorite Car Talk credits names…

 

 

…and I was struck by a memory of an incident which, although primal, was one I hadn’t thought of in years.  I prefaced the sharing of this incident by telling K about a time, when I was in high school, when the phonetic double entendre thing was all the rage amongst a certain group of friends. We’d trade off fictious book titles and their authors’ names, ala,

“Under the Grandstand”
By Seymour Butz

“One Hundred Yards To The Finish Line”
By Willie Makeit
Illustrated by Betty Wont

Yuk yuk. Yes, that passed for rapier-like wit in the tenth grade (and apparently also to K, who periodically shook his head and snickered, “Seymour Butz,” for the remainder of the evening).  Then I asked him, “Did I ever tell you about what happened to me in high school, when the use of phonetic double entendres proved…troublesome?”  K said no.  Thus, what follows, my longest blog post to date, is kinda/sorta his fault.   [5]

Dateline: Moiself’s senior year, SAHS (Santa Ana High School); ~five-six weeks before graduation.

 

 

It was election time for next year’s SAHS student government officers.  Moiself, my sophomore buddy, SG, and fellow senior DB, while eating our lunch in the Student Activities Office, lamented the election posters we’d seen posted – we were aghast at how BOOORRRRIIIINNG the signs were.  No creativity or originality; most didn’t even give a reason why you should vote for this person for this particular office.

We decide to remedy the situation. Within minutes we’d designed election signs of our own, with fictitious candidate names for actual student body offices.  SG and I were the main text composers; SG and DB, due to their superior artistic skills, did most of the graphics.  The signs can be found at the end of this blog, before the footnotes. 

We printed out several copies of each sign.  And by printed out I mean mimeographed, boys and girls, because there were no photocopiers in public schools at that time.

 

 

All three of us were involved in a variety of student activities, including being teacher’s assistants.  That, plus SG’s being a photographer for the school yearbook, DB’s being a cheerleader and former student body officer, and moiself  holding various student government offices for three years straight, had given us familiarity with and access to the mimeograph machine located in the teacher’s lounge.  Not one teacher batted an eye when SG and I entered the lounge, removed a stencil from the mimeograph machine (teachers were always leaving/forgetting to remove their stencils – a detail crucial to this story, later on), and ran our sign copies.

We taped the signs on our and our friends’ lockers and on a few of the halls around campus, next to or underneath the other (“real”) election signs.  Constrained by the 8 ½ ” x 11″ paper capacity of the mimeograph machine, our signs were smaller and in black and white, unlike the larger, colorful (if boring) signs and banners put up by legit candidates. Thus, we weren’t expecting many people to even notice them (other than our friends and fellow student body officers, whom we planned on alerting to the prank).  The lunch period ended, and we returned to our respective classrooms.

Our school had six classroom periods per day.  Fifth period for me was Journalism (I wrote for the school newspaper). I left the class early on to run an errand for Mr. Clucas, the class teacher and school newspaper advisor.   [6]   The errand took a mere 5 minutes;  when I returned to class Mr. Clucas told me that I’d just missed a school security guard (!!!), who had come to class, looking for me.  The guard told Clucas that one of the school’s Vice Principals, “LM,” wanted to see me in the Student Activities’ office.  It seems a teacher had alerted LM to “…something about ‘illegal election signs,’ ” Clucas said, his eyebrows raised in an And what are you up to now? manner.  I grabbed a textbook I’d brought to class and, with Mr. Clucas’ blessing, left to go find and warn my fellow “illegal sign” cohorts.

 

 

I found SG in his advanced Spanish class – where español only was spoken.  In my very unadvanced español I managed to convey to La Señora (the class teacher) that I needed to speak with Señor SG in private. As SG and I stood in the hallway outside SG’s class, exchanging what is going on?!?! speculations, a security guard approached us, and asked for our names.  I can’t remember the exact name I gave – Al Capone, or some other gangster.  SG immediately, brilliantly, gave another fugitive-from-justice moniker: Patty Hearst.  After waiting an appropriate comic beat, I flashed the guard my best, oh-aren’t-we-silly smile. I told him my real name, said that I understood he’d been looking for me, and that SG and I were going to get our other friend who was involved “in this” and then we’d all go to the activities office.

SG and I turned toward the doorway which led outside, to where DB’s cheerleading class met.  The guard said he was going to take us to the Activities Office, “right now.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me toward him; “You’re not going anywhere,” he said.

I yanked my arm from his grasp, flung my textbook to the ground, turned to face the wall, and assumed the classic perp spread: palms on the wall, legs apart, prepared for a pat-down.  SG tried his best not to giggle at the guard’s obvious embarrassment/confusion at my reaction, as I called out, “You gonna search me for weapons?”

 

“Book ‘er, Danno.”

 

The guard made no further attempt to touch either moiself or SG as he escorted us to the Activities Office, where we were joined by DB. The kangaroo court “meeting” consisted of five people: The Gang Of Three (“TGOT”: SG, moiself , DB), Vice Principal LM, and the Student Activities Director, “MTT.”

What followed was…confusing…infuriating… and saddening.  We, TGOT, were in big trouble, the adults told us (LM did most of the talking).  LM held up a handful of our election signs.  How dare we put up fake, obscene, off-color, and racist election signs/? How dare we mock students running for office….

Wait a minute, TGOT protested, in indignation and legitimate confusion.  Our signs (we were not told how TM figured out they were “ours”) mocked no actual person.  And, “obscene,” “off-color,” “racist”? We made no obscene or racist signs – what signs are you talking about?

LM flipped through the signs he held, and pulled out the allegedly “racist” sign:  “Vote for a true worker: Manuel Labor, Commissioner of Publicity.”  TGOT’s reaction:

 

 

The pun on the name Manuel makes it racist? SG, who was Jewish, pointed to the Ben Dover for ASB President sign, noting that Ben, short for Benjamin, is a Jewish name.  Using the name Manuel as a phonetic pun was no more racist than using Ben was anti-Semitic, SG declared.

Seeing as he was going to get no admission of malintent from us, LM moved on to the “obscene/off-color” sign.  “Told ya,” I cracked at SG, when LM held up the sign for the Student Relations  (“Want to relate? Well then vote for E.Z.!  E.Z. Lay for Comissioner of Student Relations!“)  (That was the one sign that I’d thought, if any adult paid any attention, might be considered a little iffy…but it was so silly; who would take it seriously? It was SG’s idea and he had drawn it).

I looked straight into LM’s beady, petty eyes and haughtily informed him, in (what I hoped was) my best journalistic, I-have-a-larger-vocabulary-than-you, you-power-mad-ignorant-bureaucrat tone of voice, that the text of the sign employed juvenile sexual innuendo, not obscenity, and I proceeded to wonder aloud how any supposed adult did not understand the difference.

The meeting went even further downhill from there (surprise!). It became obvious that LM was determined to find malice where there was none, and that TGOT were getting no support from MTT…and why was MTT even there?  What hurt us most was the lack of support from MTT, the Activities Director.  MTT said he was being blamed “for this”…. As it turned out, there were other things going on, things between MTT and the administration, which we were not privy to.

MTT was in some kind of trouble with someone higher up; there were also other “issues” involving both the Vice Principal and the Activities Office.  SAHS was facing external, staff, and parental pressures, including changing demographics  [7]  and the growing presence of gangs in Santa Ana schools. The administration faced accusations from Chicano-identified  [8]  students and their adult supporters, accusations of, as LM put it, “Mexicans get picked on and Whites get away with everything.”  LM began to give examples, such as students getting in trouble for writing or painting gang symbols and signals on their lockers, “…but here are the three of you, putting up “illegal’ election signs and thinking you can get away with it….”

LM was comparing violent gang symbols with bad puns? 

 

TGOT exchanged knowing looks.  We were being sacrificed on the altar of a term we couldn’t have used at the time because it didn’t yet exist. LM (who happened to be SAHS’s first Latino Vice Principal) had essentially clued us in as to what was going on:  he felt it politically expedient to make examples of us, as in, we gotta get some white kids, for something.

TTM, alluding to the trouble he was in, told us that “when word got out” the “heat” would fall on him for our antics.  I noticed his usage of the future tense – “when” and “would”…and I wondered what was going on.  Did anyone else in the administration, other than LM and MTT (and the teacher who reported the signs  [9]  ) know about this?  My response to MTT was tersely unsympathetic: “Well, you know what they say – if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”

I immediately regretted my response, and to this day, I cringe to think of it.  I’d lashed out in anger, but also, mostly, in pain.  Of all the adults in the school, I’d thought MTT would have stuck up for us.  The Activities Director was the advisor of the Student Government; SG, DB and I had all known and worked with MTT for years and were quite fond of him, and he of us.  Earlier in the year, another student government officer and I used the Activities Office PA system –  which we had permission to use for announcing pep rallies, school dances and fundaisers, etc. –  for a prank.  Over the PA, which was broadcast in every classroom, we announced, “Attention, all students and teachers: There is a change in today’s school schedule.  Please note that the fifth period bell will ring at ten minutes to two, instead of at 1:50.”  We did this at noon, and when MTT heard the announcement, he thought it was so funny that *he* got on the PA an hour later, and reread the announcement.  He received one objection, from a flustered teacher who harumphed about why he hadn’t been informed earlier as to the change in his class’s schedule.    [10]

Back to the meeting, which was going to the proverbial nowhere:  LM informed TGOT that the security guard would escort us as we removed every sign we’d posted, then we were to return to our respective homes immediately. Our parents were being contacted by telephone, and we would find out later this evening the consequences of our actions, which could likely result in multi-day suspensions for each of us, and possible marks on/withholding of our school transcripts (a vague threat to DB and I, who had already been accepted to our respective colleges).

 

 

When I got home my mother was awaiting me, all aflutter in concern and confusion.  She’d been telephoned by a secretary from the school office, who told her I’d gotten in trouble for…I can’t remember her exact description.  My mother told me that when the secretary told her that “Robyn and two other students had been involved in an incident with school staff members,” and that the Vice Principal would be calling later that evening to explain things, her first thought was, “Oh, no – did Robyn punch a teacher?”

That revelation led to her hearing a well-deserved, Moooootttthhhhhher – how could you even think that?!?! from me.  But then, the kicker, which made my mother realize that something funny was going on: Mom said that when she asked the secretary for details re the “incident,” the secretary lowered her voice to a whisper, barely suppressed a giggle, and said, “Well, actually, some people might think is’s kind of funny….”

DB’s and SG’s mothers had also received phone calls.  DB’s mother, after speaking with DB about what had happened, went on the proverbial warpath. She made calls of her own to the school, speaking first with LM and finally reaching the Principal.  After the initial, late afternoon phone calls, each of TGOT’s households received calls later that evening, but not from the Vice Principal, as had been promised. Our parents were contacted by an assistant to the Principal, who told them that SG, DB and I should return to school as usual the next day, and that after school we would all meet in the Principal’s office, with the Principal, LM, TMM, and any of our parents who wanted to attend.

 

You might want to take a bathroom break; there’s still more to come.

 

The Day After: Meet “The Butt Out” Gang

The Summary

What SG, DB and I suspected turned out to be true.  LM had overreacted, had gotten MTT involved, and attempted to turn a molehill prank into a mountain. He’d threatened draconian disciplinary action against three students who had spotless disciplinary records (and each of us members of/involved in the school’s gifted program/Honor Roll, sports/arts/activities/student government) *without* running any of it by the Principal.

The Gory Details ®

At 4 pm SG, DB, moiself, and my friend RR – whom I’d brought along and introduced as “my attorney” –  sat down across a rectangular table from LM and MTT.  Principal “JW” sat at the head of the table.  None of the TGOT parental units were there. After DB’s mother had contacted the principal, gotten the situation “straightened out,” and then phoned SG’s and my parents, our folks didn’t think their presence was necessary.

 

” Hairstyles change, and skirt lengths, and slang, but high school administrations? Never.”
( Stephen King )

Principal JW informed TGOT – to the obvious discomfort of LM and MTT – that there would be no suspensions or other disciplinary actions taken against us.  However, we students did need to understand the seriousness of “the concerns” re our actions:

(1) “Some people” felt our signs had mocked student government and student activities, and thus by extension, students involved in such;

(2) the sensitive nature (“obscene/off-color”; “racist”) of some of our signs;

(3) the administration’s main concern: our unauthorized use of school property (the mimeograph) for personal purposes when that machine was strictly for “school business only.”

RR, like any good advocate, brought a yellow legal notepad with her, and wrote down the concerns as they were listed by the Principal. TGOT referred to her list as we proceeded to dismiss and/or refute address each of the stated excuses for adult hysteria concerns.

(1) You’ve got to be fucking kidding (we did not phrase it thusly).  Hello; look at us?!  We, each of us, have been involved in student government and activities for the entirety of our high school years. Whom would we be mocking – ourselves?  Not only have we not disparaged student government, we’ve encouraged others to run for office.  Holy post-Watergate lack of cynicism  – Robyn (as my “attorney” noted), as voted in by her peers, is the Senior Class Vice President!

And, by the way, who exactly, allegedly, expressed “concerns” about the signs?  Why couldn’t we face our accusers?   (We never received names of anyone who was offended by the signs. Since we’d had to take down all the signs the previous day, after our meeting with LM and MTT, they’d only been posted for a couple of hours, and few people had actually seen them).

(2) The two signs in question (“Manual” and “E.Z.”) were neither “obscene,” “off-color” nor “racist.” Other than admitting to mild/harmless vulgarity on the E Z. sign, we did not concede to those pejoratives.  We were certain that, had students had the opportunity to actually see the signs, they would have found them at least mildly amusing (if they paid any attention to them at all). And if our respective parents – all politically and socially conservative, and all of whom had been informed of the content of the signs –  [11]  had not been shocked or even bothered by them, what was the administration’s problem?

C’mon– “obscene” signs? The “E.Z.” sign is mild compared to the sexual innuendo contained in the cheers which the school-sanctioned pep squad *leads* the audience – students, and parents alike – in reciting during football and basketball games:

Get it  up/put it in/do it, do it !

Grab a piece – Grab a piece…(of yardage; of yardage!)

It’s all sniggering, adolescent, nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Why make a big deal out of it?

 

Nothing we chant is off-color if we shake our pompoms and smile.

 

(3) Interesting, that this “main concern” had not been mentioned, by either LM or MTT, when they read us the riot act the previous day.  I thought – but did not say aloud – that it had been added last minute, by either the Principal or LM, so that they’d have at least one accusation that stood a chance of sticking.  The other two charges were subjective, and slowly evaporating, fading away due to their inherent flaccidity (there I go again, with the juvenile innuendo).

TGOT admitted we’d used school equipment to make copies of the signs, and we were prepared to reimburse the school for the cost of paper and mimeo printer fluid. I removed a five-dollar bill from my jeans pocket, at which point Principal JW told me to “Butt out,” even though we (TGOT) were the ones speaking, and hadn’t interrupted any adults in the room.  SG came to my rescue, and posed a question to the principal: if the main issue of concern was the use of the school mimeograph for personal, as in, non-school/academic matters, did that also apply to the teaching staff?  And if not, why?

The three adults/administrators exchanged wary looks, and SG and I began to share our stories,   [12]   of having both first and second-hand knowledge of teachers using the mimeograph not only to run off copies of their math and grammar tests, but to print party invitations, baby announcements, and other personal papers.  One student we knew had been sent by his teacher to use the mimeograph to make a class vocabulary list. Before the student could do so he had to remove the stencil left by a previous user of the machine – a paper which appeared to be a teacher’s annual family Christmas letter.

SG gave two more examples; I related one of the many examples I was prepared to cite.  Earlier in the year I’d been given flyers to mimeo (from TMM) and post around campus, for a student activity.  When I went to the teacher’s lounge to use the mimeograph I had to remove a stencil the previous user had left in the machine – a stencil of an invitation to a housewarming party given by a teacher (I’d recognized the teacher’s name).  “We could give you more examples,” I said, “but we’ve made our point, that…”

LM interrupted me, which gave my “attorney” the moment she’d been waiting for:  she actually said, “Objection! My client is testifying.”   [13]

I rephrased SG’s query/statement: since item (3) is supposedly the administration’s “main concern,” what are the consequences for teachers – these adults and authority figures, who supposedly set the examples for students – who violate the school’s policy against using school equipment for personal use?

 

Hard to believe, but my question was not well-received. Principal JW once again told me to “Butt out.”  (And for the brief remainder of the school year, SG, DB and I referred to ourselves as, The Butt Out Gang.)

Principle JW addressed TGOT, restating the “concerns” she’d hoped we’d taken to heart. She then looked pointedly at me and said, “You’re not going to write about this, are you?”

Although it was a question, JW’s tone and facial expression said, “You’d better *not* write about this in that #!$? smartass column of yours.”  Which of course, made me want to…if only for a moment.

It was the butt (out?) end of the school year. The school newspaper was published every two weeks, with one issue slated in the coming days, which left only two or three issues to go, and I’d already given the outlines for my columns to the editorial page editor.  I knew Mr. Clucas would have granted me the editorial freedom he’d insisted upon all year – not only for my op-ed column (which was titled, “Parnal Knowledge”  [14] ) but for other articles I’d written. It’s likely he would have given me space in the news section or in another part of the editorial page, had I requested it, to write about the election signs incident.  But I was sick of it all: sick of Those People ® in particular and the petty machinations of high school in general.  I’d been accepted to my first-choice university; mentally and emotionally, I had nothing left for SAHS – I was outta there.  The last thing I wanted to do was to waste my time and creative energy dignifying the Obscene Election Sign Non-Scandal by writing about it.

 

 

The meeting was concluded in less than 45 minutes, with no admissions of guilt from TGOT, little input from LM and MTT, and no apologies from anyone.  JW’s closing remarks were that the election sign incident had been “overdramatized by everyone,” and things would return to normal if we’d all let it, forget it, and move on.

We three accused did not gloat, but could barely suppress our righteous indignation. Overdramatized, by everyone?

It was clear to us that JW had called the meeting to do damage control.  She was shrewd enough to realize that her VEEP and Activities Director had overreacted (read: lost their shit) over a minor prank, but she would not undermine their authority by declaring so in front of students.  She tried to help her administrative staff save face; JW was in damage control mode – in large part (I’d bet) due to her having been contacted by two parents (DB’s and SG’s mothers  [15] ) who raised holy hell and threatened to go public (i.e., to the school board and The Register, the local, editorially libertarian rag newspaper which was anti-public schools) if LM’s threats against TGOT were enacted.

 

Of course, that’s not *all.*  But hasn’t this been enough?

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day
Marital Bliss (“We have a great relationship”) Edition

Two antennas got married. The wedding was a bit disappointing,
but the reception was great.

My husband tells me I’m a skeptic,
But I don’t believe a word he says.

Two melons tried to get married in Las Vegas, but they didn’t have the right documents.
It’s a shame they cantaloupe.

My husband is my favorite aquatic mammal.
That’s right – he’s my significant otter.

 

“I otter punch your lights out for that one.”

 

*   *   *

May you look back with equanimity upon the petty pains
(and pleasures) of high school;
May you have a truly “great relationship” with your spouse;
May you listen to rebroadcasts of Car Talk, if only to hear the credits;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

THE SIGNS

Sit down, fix yourself a stiff drink, and be prepared to clutch your pearls in horror at the foul content to be found within.

(time and mimeograph fluid has taken its toll on the original stencils)

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(“Can she do the
job?….
Shirley U. Jest” )

 

*   *   *

Finally, the footnotes

[1] The couple are undergoing psychiatric evaluations, officials told Iranian media.

[2] From which you can derive her likely point of reference, as in, “Oh, crap, this is the norm she sees, all around her, so comparatively, she things ‘great’ equals not getting beaten.”

[3] Their tag line for the credits list:  “It takes this many people to produce such a lousy show? Who knew!”

[4] KTVU’s Managing Editor said she thought the names sounded suspicious but approved the list, as she was told that an official at the NTSB confirmed their authenticity.  The NTSB “official” turned out to be  a summer intern at the news station.  The station fired several staffers but spared the newscaster.

[5] Or his credit, depending on your POV.

[6] I have written previously in this space about the late great Theodore “Teddy” Clucas,  a much-adored (and tolerant!) teacher, journalism mentor and 1st amendment advocate – for many students, including moiself.

[7] by the time I graduated the majority of the SAHS student body was Hispanic-surnamed.

[8] That was a term used by some – not all — Latino cultural activists at the time, as a political signifier.

[9] We never did find out who alerted the vice Principal, other that it was “an adult staff member.”

[10] Sadly, this was not an isolated incident, in terms of the great academic minds of SAHS demonstrating that they were…sometimes not paying attention, shall we say (and we just did).

[11] We’d each taken copies home, to show our parents. I held on to the original stencils, and have them to this day.

[12] DB did little talking during this meeting.  Apparently, her mother reading the riot act to the Principal the previous evening was enough for her.

[13] I think that got under LM’s skin more than anything.

[14] Speaking of innuendo…yeah, I know. But, guess who gave me that nickname, and suggested it be the title of my column?  Twas the highly respected, squeaky clean, universally liked and respected, daughter of a school board member and winner of our school’s highest honor (“The Coterian Award”), the Editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

[15] Other than the phone calls they received from the school, I asked my parents to stay out of it.  I did not, however, tell them to “butt out.”

The Theory I’m Not Solving

Comments Off on The Theory I’m Not Solving

Department Of Strange Bedfellows

 

Because…yeah. I don’t know about you, but moiself  would have no qualms trusting the person who extends my eyelashes to tend to my nervous system.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Adages Revisited
Sub Department OF Why I Don’t have My Own Marital Counseling Practice

 

 

Classic advice:

Never go to bed angry.

Translation: Never go to bed when you are angry with your partner, lest a bad feeling hardens into resentment. Resolve the argument before going to bed.

But, that’s not always possible. Sometimes you’re too tired and/or cranky to resolve things diplomatically – that’s why you’re about to “go to bed angry” in the first place.  So: go to bed; get some sleep; wake up, have a nice breakfast together…. Maybe, come the morning, whatever caused the argument won’t seem so serious.

Moiself’s suggested classic advice addendum:


Never go to bed angry.
Oh, okay – go to bed angry if you must, but with someone else.
   [1]

 

 

Actually, I’d say this advice is even crappier:

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Sometimes The Best Intentions…

I drove past someone’s house recently, and saw a new sign in their front yard.  The sign was similar in size, design and “composition” as the Black Lives Matter signs, only with a different message.

 

The message refers to  [2]  stopping the rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans. However, its phrasing prompted moiself  to picture the following scenario:  moiself  driving past the sign, a well-meaning-but-clueless, elderly relative with me in the car – e.g., my late mother – who reads the sign, then sincerely wonders aloud,

“I don’t understand  – what do Asians hate?”

 

“They all seem so nice….”

 

*   *   *

Department Of
Cults? – Schmultz!  They’re All Cults

“…I remembered Toni Morrison’s statement that ‘the function of freedom is to free someone else.’  Utah wasn’t the Deep South, and we Mormon dissidents were hardly the Underground Railroad. But I did believe that our culture had trapped us, that many Latter-Day Saints lived in mental and social prisons that perpetuated precisely the kind of insanity with which I’d grown up.  It wasn’t slavery, but it was a powerful form of bondage: the belief that God had ordained a pattern of secrets and silence, that religious authority always trumped one’s individual sense of right and wrong, that the evidence of the senses must bow to the demands of orthodoxy, no matter how insane. It was a kind of institutionalized madness….”
( “Leaving the Saints: How I lost the Mormons and Found My Faith,”
By Martha Beck )

Dateline:  circa 5 years ago; Tacoma WA. Son K and a few of his college buddies are sharing stories about their various experiences with Mormons/the LDS religion.  K’s friend and housemate SP is from Utah; SP and his family were minorities, as non-Mormons living in Salt Lake City.  After listening to the other’s stories about the Mormon beliefs and behaviors that the friends found odd, SP chimes in:

“You all have *no* idea…. Out here, you have Mormon LITE.”  [3]

 

 

K shared SP’s remarks over a recent Sunday dinner, with MH and I and friend LAH, after I’d spoken about having just finished Tara Westover’s book, Educated: A Memoir.  The book is gripping, disturbing, at times downright horrifying, and ultimately/eventually a wee bit encouraging.  I found Westover’s beautiful prose to be an often-jarring contrast to that which the prose presents: the account of her childhood, raised in a family headed by a fanatical, fundamentalist LD, survivalist, paranoid father (a man who was also likely afflicted with bipolar disorder    [4]  ).  There were inspiring segments of the book which depicted the author’s inexplicably indomitable spirit (where did it come from, given her environment?); still, I had a headache at the end of each reading day – moiself  realized I’d been clenching my jaw when reading through passages depicting the physical, emotional, and intellectual neglect and abuse she lived with, and the narrow confines of her world.

Westover yearned to be “educated,” in a world where women and girls were to aspire to nothing more than marriage and motherhood – in a world where she was told that to want an education was sinful and that women and girls must obey men and boys, even to the point of enduring sickening abuse from her psychotic brother.  She did manage to extricate herself (physically, if not completely emotionally) from that world, but at great cost to her psyche.  Her portrayal of the cost of childhood suffering, of the power that abusers (and those who abet them) wield, is chillingly insightful.  Although I highly recommend the book, it also (and literally) gave me nightmares.

MH recommended the book to me a couple of years ago, and I’d listened to the Fresh Air interview with the author (which aired in 2019).  I immediately thought of that interview when I read the first paragraph of the “Author’s Note” at the end of Educated:

“This story is not about Mormonism.
Neither is it about any other form of religious belief.
In it there are many types of people, some believers, some not; some kind, some not. The author disputes any correlation, positive or negative, between the two.”

 

 

Well, that was…odd.  Most such disclaimers are at the beginning of *novels,* or short fiction collections. (“This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”).  It made me somewhat disappointed in FA host Terry Gross’s otherwise excellent interview.  Did Gross not read the Author’s Note?  If she did, why didn’t she ask Westover about it – was that disclaimer something the publishing company’s lawyers insisted on?

Readers generally understand that, even in non-fiction, individuals and their actions are not meant to represent Everyone and Everything. The “Author’s Note” struck me as being so unnecessary – and also, so fearful, of possible litigation, perhaps…and the author’s personal safety.

As per the latter: The LDS church is not as prone to rabid-dog harassment techniques as Scientology (whose “fair game,” policy re critics stated that “An enemy of Scientology, referred to as a suppressive person (SP), may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist…may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.”    [5]  ).  Still, the LDS church has been known to lawyer-up when they think they have been presented in a bad light (in particular, by those who have managed to leave the church).  But their most effective defense has been the spiritual training – read: psychological torture – with which members have been inculcated.

When I read Martha Beck’s memoir Leaving the Saints, I remember a section of the book where Beck wrote about the rituals she and her husband   [6]  participated in during their temple wedding (aka, “sealing” [7]   ).  Beck was willing to detail charges of sexual abuse against a very powerful LDS icon – her father, Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley –  yet stopped short of describing the vows of secrecy (re the temple rituals) she and her husband made “for time and all eternity.”  I recall she used almost a joking tone in addressing any readers who might be Mormon enforcers, writing something along the lines of, “Hey guys, I promised not to reveal the exact content, and I didn’t, okay? So please don’t disembowel me.”

There was an implicit seriousnessy behind her joshing: fear. She’d written this supposed tell-all book, yet she still was afraid to tell all.

 

 

I’d known about the vows Mormons take in temple rituals (in which they acknowledge the penalties they might face for revealing such secrets), but “known about” as in, I only knew that such vows existed – their content remained a mystery.  Even Ex-Mos who had openly renounced everything else LDS seemed uniformly silent on the matter.  Then, along came Richard Packham, founder of The Exmormon Foundation.

During the 2012 Presidential election Packham was troubled by the fact that vast majority of American voters – the vast majority of *anyone* outside of Mormonism – had no knowledge of the secret oaths Romney had taken as a faithful Mormon.  Packham wondered aloud (as, in an article he wrote for businessinsider.com ):

“The question for American voters is: Knowing that Romney has taken this secret oath,   [8]   and that he is a faithful Mormon, do you want him to answer the question,
‘Would you feel bound by your sacred oath to obey the law of consecration that you made in the endowment ceremony and use the power of the presidency to benefit the Mormon church?’ “

Packham noted that “In all the extensive media coverage of Mitt Romney, much of it discussing his religion, not a word have I seen about the secrets of Mormonism, the secrets of Romney’s life-long beliefs and practices.”

 

 

Growing up as a Mormon close in age to Mitt Romney, Packham was, like Romney, “initiated into those same secrets.”  Unlike Romney, Packham left Mormonism and decided to talk and write about it, including describing LDS secrets such as the endowment ritual   [9]  and other rituals, wherein Mormons are instructed in the “signs” and “tokens” of the Mormon priesthood, are given special “names” (or “passwords”), and must make an oath to never reveal these, outside the temple.

“…when Romney and I first went through this ceremony, we were taught that each of the first three signs and tokens also had a ‘penalty’ associated with each one, and we had to mime various ways of taking life to represent the penalty to us if we were to reveal the secret signs and tokens: slitting one’s own throat, ripping open one’s chest, disemboweling oneself. Yes, folks, this was part of the most sacred ritual in Mormonism: pantomiming your own bloody death.

So Mitt Romney, and all other righteous Mormons, can be confident that they know the secret passwords and secret handshakes to get into heaven. Do you see why Romney and his church are reluctant for ‘unworthy’ people (the rest of us, including Mrs. Romney’s parents) to know about this?
As Deborah Laake   [10]  put it in her autobiographical book, “Secret Ceremonies”:

“The actions that were going to guarantee my entrance at the gates [of heaven] would have nothing to do with love or charity or the other teachings of Christ that I’d been raised to believe God valued. In fact, I hadn’t heard a single one of those words spoken today, the most primary day of religious instruction in my entire life. No, I was going to burst into heaven on the basis of mumbo-jumbo. … The mysteries of life were fraternity rituals. … Did all the white-suited glorifiers in the room unquestioningly accept a ritual of nutty gestures from the pseudo-occult as a sacrament? Those were the first moments when I viewed Mormonism with suspicion.”

Or, as summarized by a Mormon missionary: ‘If we told investigators [prospective converts to Mormonism] about that, they wouldn’t join, because it’s too weird!’ “

(excerpts from, “An Ex-Mormon Describes Some ‘Secrets’ Of The Church”
Businessinsider.com, 7-30-12 )

 

 

Lest you think I pick on the LDS too much  [11]  back to the dinner table discussion: when moiself  described Westover’s book to K and LAH as the author’s story of growing up in a Mormon fundamentalist cult, MH offered his opinion, that “It was more of a cult of that father.”   We all then spoke of the fundy cults/offshoots of Mormonism with which we were famililar, offshoots which, like all so-called cults, serve to make the mainstream or parent religion – in this case, Mormonism –  look “better,” in a way, especially to non-believers.

Most religious believers deride (and even loathe and/or fear) people in “cults,” but don’t realize they are in one themselves.  Mainstream Christians laugh at the gullibility of Mormons who can believe that a god gave a revelation to Joseph Smith through golden tablets (which Smith translated via a magic stone he placed in his hat), but believe their god gave one of their prophets a revelation through stone tablets.  They sneer at snake-handling faith healers who babble nonsense (aka, speak in tongues) and believe in prophecy, even as they themselves pray for people to be healed and hurricanes to be halted, and talk about an apocalyptic End Times.

When does a cult become a religion?

* When it is granted a tax-free status by the Government.
* When it progresses from killing its members to killing non-members.

All religions begin as cults. Christianity began as one of several competing messianic sects and became a religion when Paul and his followers began proselytizing outside Judea. Cults fade away when those who knew the founder die. Who remembers the Ranters, the Sandemanians or the Muggletonians now?
(excerpts from “Notes and queries,” ethical conundrums, theguardian.com )

What is a religion, but a cult with more money and real estate, and better lawyers and PR?  All religions began as cults – as offshoots of a mainstream religion.  Once they achieve mainstream status, established religions benefit from the existence of cults, in that they can point religion skeptics toward the cult’s beliefs and practices and say, “At least we’re not like that.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Explanations

Dateline: Tuesday am, morning walk. Moiself  is listening to the season 13 trailer for the Clear + Vivid podcast, in which host Alan Alda and the C+V  producer preview the new season.  One preview plays excerpts from Alda’s interview with theoretical physicist and author Michio Kaku, whose latest book is The God Equation: the quest for the theory of everything.  Alda describes Kaku as “one of our culture’s leading communicators… about one of the most tantalizing and hard to understand questions ever raised: ‘Is there a theory of everything?’ – is there some formula that explains pretty much every phenomenon of the universe?” And what would the effects of such a theory mean to you and me?  

“The immediate, practical implication of finding the theory of everything is…nothing. It’s not going to effect you or me, I’ll be very blunt with you.  However, it will answer some of the deepest philosophical, religious questions of all time….”
(excerpt of C+V interview with Michio Kaku)     [12]

I gotta wonder: should I save Dr. Kaku and his peers some time and energy, by submitting to them *my* concept?  In a mere four words, my Theory Of Everything ® :

“Yep; there it is.”

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Theoretical Physics Edition

Q: Why should you go out wining and dining with neutrons?
A: Wherever they go, there’s no charge.

A husband walks in on his wife, who is a string theorist, in bed with another man.
She shouts, “I can explain everything!”

Do radioactive cats have 18 half-lives?   [13]

 

*   *   *

May you come up with your own Theory of Everything;
May you be grateful toward those who encouraged you to be educated;
May you realize that nobody, under any circumstances, ever needs to have their eyelashes extended;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi

*   *   *

[1] As in, not the person you’re angry with.

[2] I can just about 100% safely assume.

[3] Move along folks; no footnote to see here.

[4]  A diagnosis he would have rejected in favor of some explanation involving evil spirits and/or devils. 

[5] “6 insane ways the Church of Scientology has tried to silence its critics,” salon 3-15-15

[6]  Who is now also ex-Mormon, as well as her ex-husband.

[7]   Mormons have two kinds of weddings:  Temple weddings, and non-temple.  Not all Mormons “qualify” for a temple wedding, even if they desire one.  “If you don’t know much about Mormon weddings, there’s a good reason for it. The Mormons don’t want you to find out. Temple marriages are top-secret affairs — absolutely no non-Mormons are allowed to see these hidden events. Even some practicing Mormons, who aren’t deemed worthy of a ‘temple recommend,’ will be asked to wait outside. This can be downright heartbreaking for LDS couples with friends and family outside the faith, who find themselves without their loved ones by their side on their big day.  (excerpt from “Mormon weddings “)

My sister’s (non-religious) freshman college roommate was aggressively courted by a senior boy who was a Mormon. When they married, she asked my sister to be her maid of honor.  My sister, after months of warily watching her roommate being wooed, did not approve of the relationship, but wanted to support her roommate, and agreed.  My sister, after buying and then of course wearing the dress, had to stand outside the temple – along with the bride’s parents (who paid for the wedding and the reception)! – during the ceremony, because they were not Mormons.

[8] Several oaths, actually, but the one Packham refers, “The Law of Consecration,”  involves, if Romney won the election, thanking God for blessing him with the presidency and, as per that oath, promising to use that blessing for the benefit of the Mormon church.

[9] “a ritual reenactment of the creation, Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, mortal experience, and the return to God’s presence. At each stage of this progression, participants make covenants in the name of Jesus Christ.” (So What Happens in an LDS Temple?  The Salt Lake Tribune. )

[10] Deborah Laake was a journalist and editor, raised and married in the LDS church, and was excommunicated by the church “…for apostasy because of her criticisms and also for her ‘detailed revelation of top-secret Mormon temple ceremonies’ ” shortly after the publication of her book, Secret Ceremonies, “a candid and critical account of her experiences growing up and marrying as a member of the LDS church.” ( Wikipedia entry for Laake. )

[11] Due to the book I read, LDS it was the primary topic, but longtime readers of this blog know I am a skeptic and debunker of all religions.

[12] I think 12 footnotes is more than enough.

[13] Thirteen footnotes is even more extravagant.

The Limerence I’m Not Seeking

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Department Of Quarantine Reflections
Sub-Department of The Neurobiology Of Love

“Neuroscientists have studied madly-in-love folks, putting them in the fMRI machine…. The parts of the brain that ‘light up’ while looking at the lover are the same brain areas activated by cocaine—the reward centers. These researchers concluded that love is like a drug.

… The chemicals of early love: testosterone (the hormone fueling the sex drive in both men and women), dopamine (focusing on ‘that special someone’), and oxytocin (the bonding hormone/neurotransmitter)….in early love, the critical part of the brain goes quiet…

Crazy in love is a temporary state; the brain can’t stand the intensity forever. At some point the critical parts of the brain come back online, and we see our partners, warts and all. The jazzed-up chemicals settle down, and our drug high gives way to a calmer brain state. Romantic love, researchers find, yields to a tamer version, called companionate love….

Many couples are deeply disappointed when their romance fades into a more sedate version. They crave the high of early love, dopamine and all. Some have affairs, or divorce and remarry, seeking another hit of the drug. But eventually the new relationship will become old….

‘I still love my wife, but I’ve fallen out of love with her,’ a man said to me recently. He’s missing the hit of the drug, and is thinking of looking elsewhere for that love high again. To my mind, ‘falling out of love’ sounds so passive—like falling into a pothole! I propose a more proactive view of long-term love, in which both partners work to create a great relationship. Once the initial glow wears off, the real work of loving begins. The stakes are high; while happy relationships are associated with health and longevity, the stress of an unhappy marriage can result in illness and earlier death.”

(“After the Thrill Is Gone: The Science of Long-Term Love,”
Mona Fishbane, PhD, writing on goodtherapy.org )

 

“Frankly my dear, after the dopamine dips, I won’t give a damn.”

 

“That warm, fuzzy feeling…called limerence…refers to the intense, involuntary attraction we feel during the first stages of a romantic relationship. Limerence is often characterized by intrusive thoughts (we can’t stop thinking about someone) and a need for reciprocation (we can’t stand the thought of being rejected by someone).

Limerence has a biological basis. When we are first attracted to someone, our brains release chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine, which make our hearts flutter and make us feel happy.

The feeling of limerence can last for weeks or decades, although most people start to feel its decline within a year or two of starting a romantic relationship. As we form a lasting romantic bond, dopamine and norepinephrine stop flowing. They’re replaced by hormones associated with social bonding, like oxytocin.”

(

Heart-racing romantic feelings fade over time — here’s why,”
Rose Wesche, Assistant professor, Virginia Tech,
Department of Human Development and Family Science. 

“It’s just limerence, darling. We’ll live through it.”

 

Although more and more people are becoming vaccinated, the health care, social, psychological, and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will linger for some time.  Perhaps it’s too early to be in “look back” mode, but since I have been fully vaccinated, moiself’s  mind tends to go there.  “There” includes bits of wisdom I attempted to impart to my offspring – when they were still in the nest, and then reminders   [1]  after they’d left – about the good which can come from hard times, including:

* realizing the value of resilience

* discovering, on more than a theoretical level, that you are (or can learn to be)
more resilient and adaptable than you may have previously thought.

In the past year+ I have been reading about how people got on each other’s nerves during the pandemic.  Fortunately, there were also stories about how some lucky folks found new things to admire in their partners and family members.  A particularly pleasant side effect of the pandemic for moiself  has been the reminder,

Oh yeah, I married the right guy.
(Right for *me,* that is).

MH has simply been…easy to be with.  I hope he found moiself  as agreeable (or at least as tolerable) as I found him. 

 

 

I don’t want to make light of what has been a trying time for all families, and very difficult for some.  I also realize that, in this stage of our lives…well, things might have been way different if our offspring were not successfully fledged but were instead school age/living at home and we had to juggle both childcare and education responsibilities, and if our economic situation had been precarious and/or not amenable to working from home. 

As fun (and also overwhelming) as the passion of the early times of a relationship can be, I have always and strongly believed that romantic love is overemphasized by our culture, and that relationships which prioritize that “romance” side of love above all else are doomed to fail, as the partners conflate the ebbing of romantic feelings with diminishment of the relationship.  As per the research quoted in the above excerpts, romantic love by its very nature has a shelf life, determined in part by the sheer newness of getting to know someone as well as by the biological realities  [2]   which produce those over-hyped romantic emotions.

Although the following Life Advice ® of mine is unlikely to inspire cinematic tales of inspirational star-crossed lovers, it is, IMHO, essential:

Marry someone whose essential qualities and temperament make you think,
“This is someone I could stand to be quarantined with.”

To put it in terms of my own ongoing realization:

“More important than ‘being in love’ with this person
is the fact that I *like* him.”

 

How could I not love a man who lets me take a picture of him with his hair in a “granny knot” (courtesy of daughter Belle’s styling skills)?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Back In The Saddle

Those who know me, and/or who have been reading this blog since before the pandemic, know that I am a fan of seeing movies in a movie theatre.  While I am grateful for the many streaming services that kept us all entertained during the times of social/physical isolation, I am now Making Up For Lost Time. ®   In the past five days moiself  has seen three movies, in a movie theatre:

* Cruella

* A Quiet Place Part II

* Dream Horse

Abby the Emotional Support Avocado gives two thumbs up to each.    [3]

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Things Unlikely To Happen In My Lifetime

As part of my coming-out-of-pandemic mindset, I still like to think of such things, even if they are unlikely to happen.  “Things” as in, solving the world’s pressing problems.  “Things” along the lines of, what would happen If I Ran The World ® ? And by ‘running the world’ I do not mean moiself  would be doing so as a queen or any kind of monarchist, ’cause y’all know how I feel about that.

 

 

Rather, If I Ran The World ® things would be like this:

* All nations would agree upon a “Marshall Plan” (or series of plans), to stop the damage we are doing to our home planet and for cleaning up the messes we’ve already made. Those coming up with workable solutions would be compensated (and celebrated) to the highest financial and “celebrity” degree.  [4]   Instead of being hailed for designing an app for more convenient shopping or food delivery or online gaming, the creative young (and older) engineering, artistic and scientific minds would be encouraged to pool resources and take up the various challenges (“Ok, our group will solve ground water storage and pollution; yours will do topsoil rejuvenation…”).

Components of this plan include coming up with solutions for

– renewable/sustainable non-polluting energy sources

– cleaning/filtering pollutants from our land skies and seas

– halting and reversing global warming

For example, in this if-I-ran-the-world scenario in no one would be using or manufacturing plastics anymore,  but what about the bazillion tons of plastic refuse that already exist? Somewhere out there is an idealistic student, in the suburbs of Portland or the streets of New Delhi, who is eager to put her brilliant but unappreciated mind to work inventing or discovering a bacteria or other organism that eats plastics and excretes something useful – or at least non-toxic –  in return  (read: that doesn’t turn into the sci-fi movie bogeyman which is going to take revenge on us all).

 

Unless of course, the organism turns out to be the inspiration for a classic monster movie, ala “The Blob.” Then I say, bring it on!

 

* National boundaries as such would become an anachronism; nations and governments would be organized according to Bioregions.   [5]

* Daylight savings or standard time – we’d pick one of those for our clocks to be set to, year-round, and we’d adjust our work and school schedules accordingly.   [6]   The choice would be in agreement with what medical science tell us is optimal for the human mind and body.   

* High Schools would eliminate the teaching of trigonometry and/or Algebra 2, and a mandatory math class for all students would be statistics and data analysis (aka Data Science).  [7]

* The percent of religious believers worldwide will continue to decline.

 

 

Religious believers may still cling to their creation mythologies and other dogmas: practitioners of the three major Abrahamic religions ( Christians and Jews and Muslims ) will be free to believe that the earth as it currently exists was created in six days 6000 years ago by their god, which then fashioned a man from dust/clay and a woman from a man’s rib; Hindus may believe in their various origins mythos, including that Brahma created the cosmos from a lotus flower which grew from Lord Vishnu’s navel with Brahma sitting on it, or that life in the universe came from the cracking of an enormous egg;  Wiccans can hold that “the Goddess” birthed a race of spirits that filled the world and became humans, animals, plants, and all living beings; Scientologists may assure one another that Tom Cruise is the heir to Xenu’s galactic confederacy ….[8]

Religious believers will be free to practice their beliefs as long as their doing so does not negatively impact their neighbors.  For example, in the privacy of their own homes and churches, Christians will still be able to appease their deities through reenacting their Jesus-as-the-ultimate-animal-sacrifice ritual via the symbolic cannibalism of communion.  However, there will be no governmental respecting of any religion’s theology, nor integration of such in public policy.  Religious believers will still be able to vote however they please but will not be able to influence other people’s healthcare options, nor demand that public education incorporate their folklore about the origins of the cosmos as if those myths held equal weight to the geologic, biologic, and astronomical evidence.

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Cinephile Edition

French movie fanatics want to open a floating cinema in Paris, with drive-in boats!
I just think that’s in Seine.

Have you seen the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie?
It’s rated aRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Why did Bruce Willis try to commit suicide with an overdose of Viagra?
He wanted to Die Hard.

What is the internal temperature of a Tauntaun?
Lukewarm.

 

Christopher Walken

 

Christopher Dancen.

 

*   *   *

May you appreciate those people you could stand to be quarantined with;
May you make plans *right now* to go to the movie theater;
May you start your own “If I Ran The World” list;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] “Reminders” sounds better than unsolicited life advice.

[2] Those romance hormones, like opiates and other “highs,” lose their potency as we develop tolerances to them.

[3] Well…Abby was a bit generous with Cruella, which needed at least 30 minutes of edits. 

[4] Although I’d like to think the minds capable of solving our problems would not care about fame, it only seems fair that they’d be celebrated – and rewarded for their contribution to humanity – more than, say, the actor with the most Academy Awards or the basketball player with the highest field goal percentage.

[5]bioregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area. Bioregionalism, as a governing philosophy, advocates that politicalcultural, and economic systems to be organized around bioregions (which are defined through environmental features such as watershed boundaries, soil and topographical characteristics), rather than via the arbitrary and often unjust national boundaries established over the centuries via wars, immigration and expansionist policies,  and desire for land acquisition and resource exploitation.

[6] Once every month or so, in order to maximize our productive times with the times of the most daylight,  we would adjust our schedules to start or end an hour earlier or later, and such changes would be implemented with a week’s warning time: “Remember, next week/in six days School/work class begins at 9 AM not 10 AM.” We don’t change our clocks; we change our schedules.  9 AM is still 9 AM.

[7] The reality is that few of us will go on to use trigonometry, but all of us need to know how to sort out the overwhelming amount of data to which we are subjected in our daily lives, and how to determine what are valid stats verses what is being used to manipulate us (i.e., make us afraid).

[8] whatever other horseshit spewed from L. Ron Hubbard’s money-grubbing mind…. 

The Mission I’m Not Volunteering For

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Department Of Roads Not Taken

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

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

 

 

 

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

҉    There are some things you cannot do over.    ҉

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Not in that particular way.  [5]

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

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

*   *   *

Department Of Surprises That Shouldn’t Be Surprises

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

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

 

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

*   *   *

Department Of Answer This Burning Question, Please

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

*    *   *

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

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

 

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

 

*   *   *

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

 

 

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”   [8]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Did I hear, neigh-sayers?

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

There goes the neighborhood.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Just wondering out loud.

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

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

 

The perfect space crew? Just clone me five times!

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day: Space Exploration Edition

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

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

 

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

 

*   *   *

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

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Department Of A Rhetorical Question Which Is Going To Be Answered

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

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

What do you mean *why?*

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

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Best Kind Of Spam Call

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

Unknown
Athol, Maine

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

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Well, There Goes My Award

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

“What?” I ask him.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

*   *   *

Department So Of Course I Got Curious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

American Humanist Association, this Ass Hat is for you.

 

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

You can see the video here.

*   *   *

Department Of 7 Am Reflections On The Meaning Of Life ®

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

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

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

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

 

 

*   *   *

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

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] If cool heads reign.

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

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

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

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

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

The Songs I’m Not Re-Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

 

*   *   *

Department Of What Is The Sound Of Asparagus Screaming?

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

16 Asparagus Recipes That Positively Scream Spring

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

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

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Perfect Shell

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

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

 

*   *   *

Department Of Doing My Part For Public Health

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

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Nit-Picking Yet Another Podcast-Related Song

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

*   *   *

(Visually Assisted) Pun For The Day

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

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

J&J vaccine is rising to the occasion.”

 

*   *   *

 

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

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Subjects I’m Not Avoiding

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Department Of Are You Mortal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

*The beauty of the flower is that it fades.

*The meaning of life is that it ends.

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

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

 

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

 

*   *   *

Department Of Reality Checks

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

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

Dear Mr. Vedantam,

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

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

I wish you’d do a story on that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of My Favorite Euphemisms

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

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

According to scientists, early humans and Neanderthals engaged in

“gene flow events.”

Aka, sex.

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

 

 

*   *   *

Department of, Bingo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

*   *   *

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

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

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

֍   Shakespearean Gas Theater   ֍

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

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

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

 

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

“What wind thorough yonder window breaks.”

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

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

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

 

“I want no part of this juvenile humor.”

 

*   *   *

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

May you appreciate the beauty of that which will fade;

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

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

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

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

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

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

[5] Well, maybe not 158.

The Rovers I’m Not Naming

Comments Off on The Rovers I’m Not Naming

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

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

Spirit; Opportunity; Curiosity; Pathfinder; Perseverance

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

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

Diligence

Reliability

Punctuality

Maturity

Tolerance

Composure

Sufficiently Caffeinated

Respectful Personal Hygiene

 

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

 

*   *   *

Department Of More Lists

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Bill Gates Please Save The World

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

How complicated could such an invention be?

 

*   *   *

The Commercial I’m Not Filming

Yours truly came across the following ad recently.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

*   *   *

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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


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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

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

 

*   *   *

 

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

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] As in, wrinkled skin.

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