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The S-Words I’m Not Mispronouncing

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Department Of Starting The New Year With A Memory Of Teacher Appreciation

Someone once lost an argument with me….

 

 

No; really.

Someone once lost an argument with me….

 

Who does she think she is, ME ?!?

(hint: this is called, foreshadowing)

I’ll try again.

Someone once lost an argument with me re the correct the answer to the question, “What is the USA’s ‘National Pastime’?'”  Someone said the answer was baseball; moiself  pointed out that our national pastime is criticizing other people’s parenting skills.  [1]  Someone began his rebuttal, then quickly conceded.

Another easy target for critique is K-12 schoolteachers. I recently ran across some grousing about teachers, which caused me to reflect upon how it is so easy – too easy – to look back and criticize schools and teachers, to parse what they neglected to do, or what they did do, but did wrongly or inadequately.    [2]   I wanted to take a different tack, to start the new year.  And so, here is A Good Thing ® which happened to me, when I was in grade 3, courtesy of select staff members of Wilson Elementary School.

 

“I have to have that Parnell girl in my class?  Give me a minute while I check my Valium supply….”

 

Background info (as in, a memory spark):  Dateline: a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (college, late 1970s).  I was out to dinner with my Boyfriend. In a tender moment ® and apropos of something I cannot now recall, BF reached across the table, used his index finger to brush a strand hair off of my forehead, and said he’d noticed that, sometimes when I was tired and/or had something cold to drink  (I was drinking a glass of ice water at the time   [3]  ), I spoke with a soft lisp. BF said he found that little tic of mine to be “adorable.”

I thought he was nucking futs, and told him so.

 

 

What was he talking about – nobody had ever said anything like that to me?!  For some reason, moiself  was…not pleased. But I asked a couple of close friends, who confirmed BF’s observation.  The next night I telephoned my parents, and my mother filled me in.

“Oh, I haven’t thought of that in years – don’t you remember?” she began.

Up until age eight or nine I apparently spoke with a slight lisp. I say “apparently” because I have no recollection of having done so.  But after the afore-mentioned memory spark inspired me to phone home, my mother confirmed that, yes, I’d spoken with a “minor” lisp as a child.  Mom said that they (my parents) had consulted with my early teachers (grades K-2), who advised *against* giving me any speech treatment or therapy. Their reasoning was that I was an early and confident reader, a “social leader” among the other students,   [4]  and a straight A student. In other words, my lisp did not seem to be an impediment in my life. It was barely obvious to adults, and I wasn’t teased about it by other children.  Why risk singling me out and making me feel like there was something wrong with me?

However, my third-grade teacher advocated for speech therapy, which my parents agreed to. Thus, for a couple of months I got excused from class, twice a week in the afternoon, to go to a special group therapy meeting, with other kids in the school who also lisped.

Wait a minute, Mom, seriously? Wouldn’t I remember this?

It took me a moment, and then I had the face-palming realization:

Holy Misarticulated sibilants –THAT was speech therapy?!?!?

 

 

I had completely forgotten about that group.

Indeed, for a period of a little less than two months, third-grader moiself  got to leave class a couple of times a week, during afternoon reading sessions, to join a group of four or five other kids (all of them younger than I and in the first or second grades), and we got to play board games.

As the memory came back, I recalled thinking at the time that the games were somewhat childish – but, hey, it got me out of class and doing something different.  Also, my teacher and the nice young woman (the speech therapist, although I didn’t know that that’s what she was) who ran the games acted like it was an honor to be chosen for the group.

The games consisted of the participant students rolling dice and hopping their game tokens around a game board.  When you landed on certain squares you had to draw a card from the pile of cards next to that square, and pronounce the words or describe the pictures and/or actions being depicted on the cards – all of which…hmmm…started with an S, or sometimes a Z or Th  (“Three sealions are serving seaweed soup and sandwiches to Sally.“)   The speech therapist looking on would make some comments about pronunciation, but after the first few sessions she mostly hung back, as the students began to correct one another.  And then we’d get candy, or some kind of prize.

 

 

Here is where the Teachers  [5]  Doing Their Job Right ® comes in.

I’ve heard other adults tell of how they (or their children) were embarrassed for needing special help in school – whether for speech or physical or academic impediments – in part because of how they were singled out and/or removed from class to receive the tutoring they needed.  Not only did I have no shame whatsoever in going to (what I did not realize was) speech therapy, I thought it was yet another privilege I was given, like being able to go to The Back Of The Class without asking for my teacher’s permission.

The Back Of The Class, consisting of a table and two bookshelves, was the class’s mini-library.  Those students who finished their work early during individual project times (and who had been deemed by the teacher to be mature enough to self-monitor their behavior) could get up from their desks, quietly go to the back of the room, and take whatever book they wanted from the library back to their desk.

 

 

I consistently finished my in-class assignments earlier than the other students. My teacher noted this early on in the school year; she also noted how I got easily bored (and prone to mischief involving distracting my peers) when I had nothing to do.  She wisely instituted the “class library policy,” and so I got to read Kon Tiki (for what seemed like 20 times) and other adventure stories, instead of just sitting in my seat fidgeting while my classmates finished their math worksheets, handwriting practice, etc.

My teacher had already enlisted me in helping other students with their multiplication tables and spelling lists; it was an easy leap for moiself  to think that the speech therapy board games were yet another way in which I was being recruited to help Other Kids ®.  The teacher’s and therapist’s deft handling of the situation – aided in part by my own cluelessness – had me thinking that I was getting rewarded for academic success by being able to leave class –  *not* having to stay after class, or miss part of recess or lunch break – and go play games (even if it was with other kids who talked funny).

 

*   *   *

Departments Of One Of The Word’s Cruelest Ironies

BTW: Whose brilliant idea was it, for the word lisp to have an s in it?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Keeping The Relationship Fresh,
Chapter 198 In A Never-Ending Series

Dateline: January 2; MH and I go for a “Second Day”   hike  [6]  at the newly opened Chehalem Ridge Nature Reserve. The reserve is home to upland forests, oak woodlands wetlands and other habits, and its ten miles of intersecting trails offers several lovely views of the Tualatin Valley, Mt. Hood, and other Willamette Valley/Portland Metro area sights.  The area’s recent snowfalls were an added hiking bonus (read: a challenge, re icy trails), and were a good backdrop for other kinds of nature observations, such as this picture MH took, and posted on FB:

 

MH’s caption: “Can anyone identify this scat with a size 13 shoe for scale?”

 

MH received comments, ranging from helpful to guffaw-worthy, in response to his question.  The science/biology-minded folks got into comments re color and texture, while others just enjoyed the possibility for thinly-disguised poop jokes.

Moiself’s contributions included:

– It’s slightly greenish, with the striations that may be… Plant matter?… Fur? But it’s not pellets so it’s not a deer or other ungulate
– Our biology-trained daughter (who has also worked with big cats) thinks it’s bobcat scat, and that the striations are fur, not plant matter.

 Other scoops on the (presumed) poop:

– The tapered end and size makes me think Coyote.
The green is odd, was it near a wetland?
-To me it looks like a cat’s fur ball hack…
which would explain the fur and greenish liquid oozing.

Then, this past Monday morning, I saw that MH had made an addition to his post:

“I tried googling for bobcat hair balls. There’s a video of a bobcat bringing one up, but I didn’t come across any good pictures. There was this lengthy page that includes stories of domestic vs bobcat….”

To which moiself  had to reply:

“I tried googling for bobcat hair balls.”
Now, there’s an afternoon well spent.

I have heard that *gentle* teasing can keep a relationship young.   [7]  That may be debatable, but surely one of the more fulfilling aspects of a decades-long relationship is discovering something that you are surprised to know about your partner. Never would I have predicted, as a new bride over thirty-some years ago, that a sentence containing the phrase “…googling for bobcat hairballs” would ever be used by my beloved.

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Scat Edition

Did you hear about the monkey who was arrested for throwing its feces at zoo patrons?
She was charged with Turd debris assault.

Why did the Packy the elephant bring toilet paper to the zebra’s birthday bash?
Because Packy was a party pooper.

Remember, dog owners, when you walk the dog you have to pick up its poop.
It’s your doo diligence.

Why is Chuck Norris’s dog trained to pick up its own poop?
Because Chuck Norris doesn’t take shit from any one.

Chuck Norris doesn’t flush the toilet.
He scares the shit out of it.

Yeah, I know, scat is typically used to denote animal feces, but I’ve heard that making at least one Chuck Norris Joke ®  – aka, reciting a Chuck Norris “fact” – at the beginning of the year is a guarantee of good fortune in the weeks to come.   [8]

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Bonus Round Of You-Know-Who Jokes

(Happy New Year to son K, who once brought me to helpless tears of stomach-cramping, snotty-nosed laughter when he loaned me his Chuck Norris Factbook to read while we were seated in a booth in a restaurant, waiting for our lunch to arrive).

* Chuck Norris doesn’t read books.
He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

* The flu gets a Chuck Norris shot every year.

* When Chuck Norris plays dodgeball, the balls dodge him.

* Chuck Norris doesn’t worry about high gas prices. His vehicles run on fear.

* The Dead Sea was alive before Chuck Norris swam there.

* When Chuck Norris was born, he drove his mom home from the hospital.

* There is no theory of evolution, just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.

 

* Death once had a near-Chuck-Norris experience.

* There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.

* MC Hammer learned the hard way that Chuck Norris can touch this.

* Chuck Norris has been to Mars. That’s why there are no signs of life there.

* Chuck Norris can strangle you with a cordless phone.

* If Chuck Norris traveled to an alternate dimension in which there was another
Chuck Norris and they both fought, they would both win.

* Chuck Norris’ farts smell like freshly baked cinnamon rolls.

*   *   *

Okay; I gotta get control here.  Seriously; somebody stop me; this could go on forever.

* Chuck Norris counted to infinity — twice.

 

 

*   *   *

May you have a legitimate reason for “googling hairballs;”
May you cherish memories of a really good teacher;
May you read a series of Chuck Norris jokes that makes you laugh so hard
you fear a proverbial pants-wetting session may ensue;

 

Chuck Norris peed here.

 

…and may the (continent) hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] All together now: specifically, mothers.

[2] I am not in anyway implying that teachers should be immune from critique…and I have *plenty* of I-can’t-believe-they-did-this examples from my own life as a student, who had to deal with massive teacher fails.

[3] His theory was that the ice numbed my tongue, making it easy for my mouth and tongue to slip back into my former lisp, which I was subconsciously controlling…or something like that.

[4] Is that teacher-speak for, “bossy?”

[5] I include the speech therapist in that category.

[6]  “First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors.  On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be organized in all 50 states….” (from “First Day Hikes,” American Hiking Society )

[7] That, and appreciation – or at least toleration – of fart jokes.  And, this should go without saying (so I’ll type it,) farts.

[8] That is something I just made up.  But it makes as much sense as any of the “Doing _____ will guarantee good luck in the new year!” prescriptions I’ve ever heard.

The Police Log I’m Not Mentioned In

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Department Of The Partridge Of The Week

It’s that time of the year again. As has become a tradition much maligned anticipated in our neighborhood, moiself  will be hosting a different Partridge, every week, in my front yard.    [1]

Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Here We Go Again

 

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Department Of I’d Still Adore My Offspring Even If They Weren’t So Talented…

But on a consistent basis, they make it so easy, by doing things like this.

Dateline:  several weeks ago.  On our family chat sight, daughter Belle posted a picture of a limited edition, signed and numbered screen-print of an Igor Galanin painting (“Rabbit with Strawberries“) that she’d come across:

 

 

She coveted the print, and joked that, should we still be considering what to get her for Christmas, if we’d pool our assets, for a mere $1265 we could purchase that art for her.

Dateline#2: Christmas morning.  Belle opened her present from her brother K.  It was a painting he had done for her.

 

 

I told K if he loses interest in medical research he could have a career in art forgery.

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Department Of The Difference Between A Popular Yet Facile And Ultimately Misleading Maxim Masquerading As Insight, And
A Pithy Two Words Encapsulating The Wisdom Of Accepting The Inevitability Of Uncertainty And Causality, And Thus Embracing Reality

“Everything happens for a reason.”

 “Everything happens.”

 

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Department Of Why I Sometimes Read A Local Small Town Newspaper Police Log

Saturday, Dec. 4
A caller reported they could hear “happy noises” coming from a nearby residence late night. Officers were unable to detect any noises in the area, happy or otherwise.

Sunday, Dec. 5
A caller reported a suspicious envelope with cryptic symbols had been left on their front porch. On arrival, and per the caller’s request, the officer opened the envelope and discovered a decorative card emblazoned with the phrase “Merry Christmas.”

While clearing a late-night call at a local hotel, a man approached officers to inquire as to whether he was wanted by Forest Grove police. It just so happened he was. He was arrested and lodged at the jail.

Thursday, Dec. 9
A caller reported a man known to have been arrested the previous day was knocking on their door in the middle of the night and sending unwanted text messages. The man left prior to police arrival, but not before leaving a box of shrimp at the caller’s door.

Sunday, Dec. 12
A caller reported a man, possibly under the influence, approached the caller and their spouse, while enthusiastically jumping up and down, advised that he was in a gang, then proceded on his merry way through their residential neighborhood. Officers were unable to find anyone hopping, skipping, or jumping in the area.  

Thursday, Dec. 16
a caller reported a possible drunk driver at a fast-food drive thru late at night, advising the vehicle was moving erratically and nearly backing into the caller. Police located the driver neaarby and found they were not impaired or intoxicated, just having difficulty navigating the complex pattern of a drive-thru.

(selections from the Forest Grove Police log, Dec. 3 – 9 and 10 – 19)

 

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Department Of New Year’s Resolutions

The following suggestion for a resolution is not one moiself  needs to make.  Faultless Flawed creature that I am, I’ve plenty to work on, and yet I dare suggest something for Other People – specifically, anyone who has ever used the term “no-kill shelter” with regard to animal rescue organizations.

I heard a Well-Meaning Person ®  recently talking about why they supported a certain animal rescue organization, which they described as “no-kill,” thus differentiating it from those *other* shelters – read, the county Kill-a-Thon Animal Shelter.

Organizations described as “No-Kill” shelters are privately funded; shelters funded by taxpayer dollars, such as your local city/county shelters, get the (implied, and sometimes outright) label, “Kill shelters.”  Moiself  has logged years of service volunteering for both kinds of animal shelters, and have seen first-hand how the “no-kill/kill” statistics and labels are inflated and/or misleading.

We’ve all heard the stories (perhaps true in the past but often exaggerated in the present) about how some county shelters are overcrowded and that animals brought in, whether found on the streets or surrendered by owners, can be euthanized within 72 hours if they are not adopted out.  Whereas a shelter that touts itself as “no-kill'” means its policy is to never euthanize a healthy animals for any reason, due to illness or behavior issues.  Once they take in a cat or dog, it stays with them until it is adopted out.

 

 

Sounds great – noble even, right?

Except when reality creeps in; as in, the reality of how such organizations operate.  Private shelters can and do screen the animals they accept.  They often have a waiting list for admissions  [2]  and will not take in an animal with deadly or not easily treated illnesses and injuries, or animals with dangerous behavioral “issues.”

The government-funded shelters do not have that luxury.  The veterinarians and vet techs and staff and volunteers of these shelters are just as dedicated as those of the private shelters, and, they have to take whatever comes their way.  They will try try try and try again  [3]   to rehabilitate an aggressive, fearful dog, but if there is a credible chance that the dog will bite and would pose a danger to any prospective adoptive family, they will regretfully euthanize it.   A dog who has bitten a human and/or killed other dogs or pets and is a repeat offender and has been removed from its home by a court order – guess where that dog ends up?  Not in the private shelter.  The stray dog or cat lying on the road,  dying due to horrific injuries it received after being hit by a car – Animal Control services will take the poor creature to the county shelter, where it will be humanely euthanized.

All of those animals will be on the shelter’s “kill” statistics – the “no kill” shelter never had to deal with them in the first place.  The private shelter will refer a desperately injured animal or an aggressive dog with a history of biting to the county shelter, knowing full well what will be the likely outcome…then later crow about their “no kill’ record.

For many decades there was no centralized coordination or analysis of public (or private) animal shelter care.  That has changed, and Portland area shelters have been leaders in reducing the number of animals euthanized and increasing adoptions.  Public animal shelters around the nation are adopting the strategies of Portland-Area shelters which formed a network in 2006 (Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, ASAP) and later adopted the Asilomar Accords methods.   [4]  They’ve pledged to work in cooperation with other area shelters, sharing their data and working as a team to help out and, for example, transfer an animal to another shelter when one shelter is full.  Withing two years of forming the network, The Oregonian reported that ASAP shelters had cut their euthanasia rate by 65 %, and the number of animals put down at Bonnie Hays Shelter plunged by 82 %.

 

 

Sometimes, a dog or cat will linger at one shelter for two weeks, getting no interest from prospective pet adopters, and all it takes is a change of venue – it goes from the Washington County Animal Services to the Clackamas County shelter and is adopted within the day.    [5]   I’ve seen it happen.

“If we can’t find a home for a cat or dog, we work very closely with a network of shelters and rescue groups in Oregon and southwest Washington that may be able to help. We have many placement partners that work with us to rehabilitate and find homes for dogs and cats. Unlike most animal shelters that take in stray animals, every healthy unclaimed animal that comes to our shelter finds an adoptive home. Most of the animals that have medical and behavioral problems also find loving homes through our adoption program or through our rescue partners. ”
( from the Bonnie L. Hays Animal Shelter Website )

Would you think of, or refer to, the dedicated staff and volunteers of that rescue organization as, “Those people who work at a ‘kill shelter’?”  They deserve better.

 

 

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Punz For The Day
Pets Edition

Q. How did the engineers determine the dog was in a cat fight?
A: By using a simple claws and effect analysis.

Q: What do you call a hamster you keep in your automobile?
A.  A Carpet

My cat won’t stop leering at passersby; I think he’s a purrvert.

My sled dog is not fat, he’s just a little husky.

My cat knows how to get anything she wants. She’s very purrsuasive.

A cat won first place at a dog show. Dog owners said it was a cathastrophy.

Lassie was having a sad day – you might say she was meloncollie.

 

I’ll jump in the well with little Timmy rather than listen to more of these.

 

*   *   *

May you find and read a nearby small town newspaper’s police log;
May you support your local animal shelters;
May we all have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Specifically, in our pear tree.

[2] Owners surrendering their pets.

[3] Sometimes wasting their time and resources, in my opinion.

[4] Ten years ago a cross-section of animal welfare agencies created and shared a National Database to enable the measurement of progress in animal welfare and inspire life-saving collaboration between shelters. The Asilomar Accords created a database to collect basic shelter data, allow shelters to compare their data and enhance individual and collective efforts to modify and guide shelter actions and policies.

[5] I’ve seen it happen!  That is such happy news to get, when you’re working in the shelter.

The Heroes I’m Not Worshipping

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Department Of Holy Mother Of Romulus And Remus –
I Saw An Effin’ Wolf

Dateline: Wednesday, circa 12:45 pm, Oregon highway 26, headed west (toward the coast), at about milepost 15 or 16. The movement from the north (right) side of the road caught my eye; in the micro-mico-millisecond it took me to register the movement I took my foot off the accelerator and thought,

Oh, great, a deer is about to spring across the road.

There was no springing. That micro-micro movement morphed into an elegant running creature, crossing the two-lane highway, a mere 20-30 feet ahead of me.  The animal was the size of a deer but definitely not a deer; my mind immediately tried to register, “coyote,” except that I’ve seen plenty of coyotes running across roads (or fields) or loping on/crossing hiking trails ahead of me. This canid was the size of a deer and had long, thin legs and different body posture from a coyote (its long tail was horizontal to its spine, not tucked, as a coyote’s would be).  I’ve never seen a canid run like that, the way it held its large, majestic head, so very upright, like one of those carousel animals….

 

The wolf’s head was like this, vis-à-vis its posture…but nothing remotely zebra-ish otherwise

 

Yes, moiself  knows I am babbling right now, but holy fuck, this is the first wolf I’ve seen this close  [1]   and I am (still, two days later) gobsmacked.  Oh, but for a camera mounted on my car’s front bumper!

There are wolves in Oregon.  Many (but not all) of them are tagged (for tracking/ study purposes), and most live in the eastern part of the state, although wolves can and do roam…and a few of Oregon’s have roamed as far as So Cal .  The one which crossed the road in front of me appeared to be heading toward Tillamook county…looking for a cheese fix, perhaps?

*   *   *

Department Of Life Is So Unfair

Yet another of life’s inequities to ponder:

If you donate a kidney, everybody loves you and you’re a total hero.

But try donating five kidneys and suddenly everyone is yelling
and the police get involved….

 

*   *   *

Department Of Sunday In The Park With George

Tuesday In The Park With Robyn

 

 

Apologies to the late Stephen Sondheim.  I’m sure the opening to moiself’s  blog would have been better if Sondheim had composed it, given the complex polyphony which was his style.    [2]   May we all take a moment to pause to remember and appreciate he-who-was-arguably among the greatest of American lyricists and composers.

 

Bravo, Stephen.

 

 

And now, three vignettes of my Tuesday In The Park.

Dateline: Tuesday, circa 7: 15 am.  Which way shall I go this morning? I decide to do the to-and-from to a light rail station which, given my circuitous route, will be a 3-3.5 mile jaunt.  I take one of the trails leading through a neighborhood park, when what to my wondering eyes did appear

 

 

I pause to document the odd (to me) sight, then post the picture on my Facebook page, soliciting explanations:

“OK; what’s the story here? A fire extinguisher, about 25 yards from the nearest house, under a tree, in a bunch of wet leaves?”

There were some creative hypotheses.  I liked my daughter Belle’s offering best:

“They were deep frying a turkey and forgot to bring that back in.”

Vignette the Second

Department Of Appreciating A Form Of Reasoning Which
Is The Process Of Drawing A Conclusion
Based On Premises Generally Assumed To Be True;
As In, Using A Logical Premise To Reach A Logical Conclusion.

Same morning walk, 20 minutes later: now the sun is trying to rise above the cloudy horizon. I’m taking a winding road through a neighborhood adjacent to the park, a road I traverse at least once a week on my way to the walkway which leads to the afore-mentioned light rail station.  As moiself  rounds a corner I exchange good morning greetings with a couple I have come to know by sight.  They and their three canine companions are out for (what I assume is) the morning ritual of dog owners everywhere: that which moiself  thinks of as the “P Five” – the Puppy People’s Predawn Poop Perambulation. ®

It appears my presumptions are spot-on.  A the couple passes by on the other side of the street I notice that the (presumed) husband has two plastic bags of (presumed) doggie-doody swinging from a strap around his wrist.

Ain’t deductive reasoning grand?  Truly, ’tis a cognitive process we often take for granted… until we meet a #45 conspiracy theorist who wouldn’t know the concept of deductive reasoning from his ass if it were wrapped in a MAGA hat and sticking out of a hole in the ground.   [3]

 

 

Vinaigrette the Third

Department Of Later That Same Morning…

I have reached the station and am headed home.  I am walking on a pathway near the athletic fields west of the station. Yet another dog-walking couple with whom I have an I Hi-there-we-pass-each-other-at-least-once-a-week relationship    [4]   are walking toward me.  As we approach each other we all look skyward at the same time, toward the sounds of at least five different, low-flying, scraggly V formations of Canada geese, calling out to their comrades as they head southeast to…wherever.

The man points his finger upward and says,

“That’s a very nice sound, isn’t it?”

Moiself  points to my rain-or-shine hat, then at their respective visors, and replies:

“Yes, it is.
And it’s very nice – and very smart – of us to have hats on
when we’re walking underneath flying birds.”

The three of us chuckle as we pass one another, our mirth punctuated by the sound of…uh, plops… from overhead landing on the grass on either side of the walkway.

 

“I hate it when they wear protection.”  “Yeah; we’ll get ’em next time.”

 

Department Of Belated Content Warnings

Moiself  just realized I missed the opportunity to apply a content warning to the previous segments: two of my three park vignettes involved a mention of shit “animal droppings.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Kill Your Heroes

Dateline: a week or so ago, MH and I were discussing a recent podcast we’d both (separately) listened to, in which one of the stories presented involved an immigrant Chinese worker exploited by a railroad baron.  We somehow segued to the subject of power, as in, having power over the lives of others, and how easy it is to draw lines and reach binary conclusions, particularly when we judge the wielding of power in the past.  Railroad tycoon = bad.  Chinese railroad worker = good.

It’s an interesting subject to ponder: how would the immigrant railroad worker have behaved if he’d been the one with the power?  Perhaps he was downtrodden at work; what about when he returned home where, as a man in a patriarchal society, he had power over others simply by virtue of his gender?  Would he have shared his power with his wife and daughters? Would he have encouraged their own dreams and aspirations, or subjected them to foot binding and/or denied them access to education as per the other cultural torture norms of his time and place?

 

 

No matter what our intentions, moiself  thinks it’s healthy to keep a certain supposition in mind:   [5]  that most if not all of us may be just a couple of rungs on the authority ladder away from being the despots our descendants might denigrate.

Moiself  remembers the less-than-positive reaction I have garnered over the years, when I’ve been asked the question, “Who are your heroes?” and I’ve replied, truthfully, “I have no heroes.”

There are historical figures whom I admire for specific things they did: causes they fought for, injustices they tried to right, etc.  That said, I do not believe in having “heroes” because it seems that we – and by “we” I mean, every human being but moiself  ( ahem, I mean of course, every human being *including* moiself  ) – do not know how to apply perspective – that is, how to consider so-called heroic people for the flawed human beings they are.

 

 

Some great scientist will – someday very soon, I hope – discover the key to fixing global warming.  But, years later when it is revealed that she was, say, consistently rude to waiters and others in the service industry and disparaged anyone whom she considered to be “beneath” her, our descendants will argue over whether or not such a practitioner of classism should have a high school named after her…and should the Nobel committee rescind the prize they bestowed upon her?

Early 20th century activist Margaret Sanger was inspired (in part by her own family history) to work to liberate women from early death and abject poverty due to their lack of bodily autonomy which consigned them to lives of serial breeding.  Sanger withstood withering criticism, ostracization, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats to her life, from individuals and powerful organizations (read: the Catholic church) alike, not only for advocating birth control, but also for simply teaching women about their own bodies and reproductive cycles – which was illegal!

Sanger strongly believed that the ability to control family size was crucial to ending the cycle of women’s poverty. But it was illegal to distribute birth control information. Working as a visiting nurse, she frequented the homes of poor immigrants, often with large families and wives whose health was impaired by too many pregnancies, miscarriages, or in desperation botched abortions. Often, too, immigrant wives would ask her to tell them “the secret,” presuming that educated white women like Sanger knew how to limit family size. Sanger made it her mission to 1) provide women with birth control information and 2) repeal the federal Comstock Law, which prohibited the distribution of obscene materials through the mails, and regarded birth control information as such.
( “Margaret Sanger,” womenshistory.org )

 

 

Margaret Sanger also made some comments which, taken out of time and context, are used as a cudgel – particularly during political campaigns by conservative, anti-abortion Republicans – to discredit Sanger and to brand her (and, by association, Planned Parenthood and any organization supporting birth control and women’s reproductive autonomy) –  as  “racist.” 

Sanger’s stated mission was to empower women to make their own reproductive choices. She did focus her efforts on minority communities, because that was where, due to poverty and limited access to health care, women were especially vulnerable to the effects of unplanned pregnancy. As she framed it, birth control was the fundamental women’s rights issue. “Enforced motherhood,” she wrote in 1914, “is the most complete denial of a woman’s right to life and liberty.”

That’s not to say that Sanger didn’t also make some deeply disturbing statements in support of eugenics, the now-discredited movement to improve the overall health and fitness of humankind through selective breeding…. She was, of course, not alone in this viewpoint: In the 1920s and 1930s, eugenics enjoyed widespread support from mainstream doctors, scientists and the general public.
( “What Margaret Sanger Really Said About Eugenics and Race,” Time, 10-14-16 )

What Margaret Sanger may or may not have thought about eugenics does not change her ground-breaking accomplishments in helping to unshackle generations of women from  lives of compulsory brood mare-ism.

 

 

Likewise, Nelson Mandela deserves high praise for his tenacious fight against the immorality of apartheid.  But if you elevate the man to a myth, you’ll be disappointed to find that your great moral hero sacrificed his family life to his causes (and expected them to do the same), did almost nothing to alleviate or even acknowledge the growing AIDS crisis in his country (he later admitted to being “shy” re talking about a sexually transmitted disease), and upheld and instituted economic policies which have kept poor South Africans living in much the same conditions as when they were under apartheid, while the country has had to live with “…growing insecurity, violence, and crime.”

The more you know about historical figures, the more material you will have for being disappointed in or by them.  They were creatures of their time, as we are, of ours.  Even the most prescient of us will be judged harshly by future generations.

So, admire the ideals and actions  [6]   of justice warriors – certainly!   But just as certainly, never worship the creatures behind the causes.  Don’t idolize *people;*  do venerate the high *principles* for which those flawed people have fought.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of A Blast From Christmas Past

Dateline: Southern California, in the late 1960s – early 1970s.  For some reason, for a few years in the Westchester area of Los Angeles the “in” holiday décor was having a giant (as in, eight to ten foot tall) red wooden candle in your front yard.  [7]   I’m 100% sure how the fad began; I seem to recall my Uncle Joe telling me that some guy had made one for his yard, his neighbors admired it and he made some more for them, and then other home carpenters/crafty-types figured it out, and it took off from there.

When visiting our LA relatives (my aunt and uncle, Gwen and Joe Baker, and their five children) during the Christmas season my family would drive around their neighborhood at night, just to see the big ass candles.  All of the yard candles had the same setup:  a lone red candle, with a spotlight illuminating the candle from base to the top.  At the base of the candle were wooden letters, painted white, spelling out the name of the family in whose yard the candle stood.  In two or three cases I can recall, the word at the base of the candle was, “Noel” or “Yule,” but for 99% of the candles it was the family name.

Uncle Joe was quite the carpenter hobbyist (one of my favorite creations of his was a motorized wooden Santa and elves display that he put out on the rooftop, every Christmas).  Joe constructed a Christmas yard candle for his family’s front yard, with their surname “Baker” prominently spotlighted.  A few days after my grandmother admired her daughter Gwen’s and SIL Joe’s yard candle, Joe drove down to Santa Ana and installed, in my grandmother’s front yard, the candle he had made for her.  Thus, Edna Gertrude Hole   [8]   became the only person in Santa Ana (as far as we knew) who had an eight-foot-tall red candle in her front yard with a spotlight illuminating her last name.

 

I haven’t been able to find any pictures of the Westchester yard candles.  Think of something like this, only made of wood, with a white top, eight feet tall, in someone’s front yard, with a sign at the base.

 

My grandmother left her yard candle up for that one holiday season.  The day after Christmas she telephoned Joe and asked him to come and fetch it.  The thrill wore off for her, the third or fourth night Edna Hole answered her doorbell – which had been rung by a person who’d been walking or driving by – and found herself listening to a total stranger sharing their concerns regarding her holiday décor:     [9]

“Excuse me, I don’t want to embarrass you, but I think you’ve misspelled, ‘Holy.’

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Heroes-Not-To-Be-Worshipped Edition

Q. Why did Wonder Woman stop checking her email?
A. Her inbox was loaded with Spamazons.   [10]

If Iron Man and Silver Surfer teamed up, would they would be alloys?

Q.  What does Peter Parker say when people ask him what he does for a living?
A.  Web designer.

Have you heard of The Incredible Hulk’s new fashion line?
It’s all the rage.

 

*   *   *

May you see a wolf before you die (but not see it and then…die);
May you applaud the deeds and have forbearance for the deed-doers;
May your holiday yard décor provide confusion and/or entertainment
to passing strangers;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] The wild ones I saw in Alaska were much farther away, and the ones in zoos don’t “count.”

[2] Yeah, but could you hum along to it?

[3] Yes and obviously, I can mangle mix those metaphors with the best of them.

[4] But this couple has only one dog between them…which seems kinda stingy.

[5] This space does not need a footnote.

[6] Should, of course, those ideals and actions be truly admirable, as opposed to ill-considered, rash, or merely attention-seeking.

[7] And then, just three or four years after the fad started, no one put up the candles anymore.  What happened?

[8] Yes, that was her real (married) name.  She was born Edna Gertrude Moran; Hole was her husband’s family surname – apparently, it was prestigious name in the tiny Norwegian town they came from, but in America?  No surprise it never occurred to my mother to keep her birth surname.

[9] I always wondered, why didn’t she just remove her family name, and keep the candle?

[10] That’s enough with the footnotes.

The Language I’m Not Unlearning

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Department Of The Day After

 

 

No – that *that* day.

Moiself  hopes you found a less-than-traditional way to celebrate yesterday.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of How Come I Never Thought Of This Before?

This is fascinating… At least to moiself.

A recent issue of the podcast Freakonomics (“What’s Wrong with Shortcuts?”)  featured podcast host Stephen Dubner interviewing mathematician Marcus du Sautoy about du Satoy’s book, Thinking Better: The Art of the Shortcut in Math and Life. The author argues that, despite what we’ve been taught, the secret to success is not in hard work, it’s in figuring out and applying shortcuts to solve one problem quickly so we can then move on to another.  Mathematics; music, psychotherapy, politics – du Sautoy claims that shortcuts can be found/applied to practically everything.  But, not everything:

“When you’re going on holiday, I don’t want to shortcut the holiday, because it’s about spending time. The point is, I don’t want you to use shortcuts for everything and spoil something you enjoy doing.”

 

Actually, Mr. Generic Handsome White Dude who is probably a CGI creation, in real life, there are both.

 

C.B.T. (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) has been hailed by many psychologists as being a true breakthrough in mental health therapeutic modes, due to C.B.T.’s pragmatic and short-term approach to handling problems.  Podcast host Dubner noted that Du Satoy’s book dealt briefly with the idea of using shortcuts in psychotherapy, but seemed skeptical of its efficacy, as per the fact that the human psyche is complex and dynamic enough to reject the type of shortcutting that might work in other realms.  Du Sautoy’s response indicated he was at least somewhat in agreement (my emphases):

“… I think that (applying shortcuts) depends on the problem you’re facing…. I talked to Susie Orbach, who’s a psychologist, and she had this nice way of describing some of the problems that people are facing:  it’s hard to learn a language. It’s even harder to unlearn a language. “

 

 

Imagine trying to unlearn English (or whatever your first language is).

Some people come to therapy with ingrained ways of thinking from experiences they’ve had in childhood – the family  “language” they learned does not serve them well, and they need to “unlearn” that language and learn another one.  Such resetting of thought patterns and behaviors will not likely respond to drastic shortcuts.  However, the C.B.T. modality (of learning how to be aware of what your thought processes are) is, in itself, “…enough to short-circuit the algorithm which was always sending you into depression. You’re sort of stuck inside the system of the way you’re thinking. What C.B.T. often helps you to do is to take a step up and look at the way that thought process is happening and understand the trigger which always sends you down….”

 

 

Moiself is a longtime fan of C.B.T.   [1]   But what keeps coming back to me from the podcast is the concept of trying to *unlearn* your first or native language.  I realize the concept is used metaphorically in du Sautoy’s argument; nevertheless, I’ve encountered something like it throughout my life, in the correlated cases of watching people deal with the cognitive dissonance of trying to embrace reality while trying to stay within certain religious traditions and/or worldviews.

A personal example: I was raised within the “language” – both via the wider culture and in my own family of origin – of the Christian religion.  During one of the few conversations with my father I had (when I was an adult) wherein he asked about why I was not/was no longer a Christian, I briefly laid out the fundamentals of the faith, along with why and how I know that those religious tenets are not true and/or are not valid explanations of reality.  I then asked him a question he could not answer:

“How can I pretend to *not* know what I know?”   [2] 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Grinch Does Thanksgiving

The headline had remained on the online Oregonian newspaper feed for several days. I would scroll past it on my phone news app…and finally decided to check it out.

Big mistake; what kind of story was moiself  expecting, given the headline?

With a little help, hunter with cerebral palsy gets his bull elk

I’ll start again.

Perhaps moiself  should title this segment, Department Of the Make A Wish Foundation Achievement I’m Not Celebrating.

Even though I was reminded of that M-A-W organization (the kind of charity which helps dying/cancer-stricken/handicapped kids achieve their “dreams”) when I read about this “achievement,” the hunter in this story is a grown-ass young man, not a child.  My lip is still curling after reading about how this significantly handicapped man – who was apparently raised to think that it is a high achievement to hunt (read: stalk and slaughter) a magnificent creature, not as a way of putting food on his starving family’s table, but for “sport”   [3]  – was able to kill an elk thanks to a group of abettors, referred to in the article as his “guardian angels.”

The article is accompanied by a photograph of three masochistic killers “sportsmen” : the CP-stricken hunter in his ATV wheelchair, and two of his “angels,” one of which holds up the lifeless head of the elk by lifting its antlers.  Some choice excerpts from the article:

“On…the next-to-last day of his northeast Oregon elk season and despite severe impairment by cerebral palsy, DM (hunter’s name) pulled the trigger on the massive six-point Rocky Mountain bull he yearned for.

But not without the help of a flock of good Samaritans.    [4]

Guardian angel 1: DM’s father and one of his primary caregivers, who takes Drew fishing and hunting, has developed a system for Drew to shoot a well-aimed rifle….

Angel 2: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which issued DM his disabled fishing and hunting permit after completion of a hunter safety course…..

Angel 3: Youth Outdoors Unlimited of Moses Lake, Washington, which hosted DM years ago on a bear hunt and loaned him the same track and mechanical rifle system he used then…..

Angel 4: Facebook. Yup, social media. Monsey has a large following on the platform….”

The article goes on to list at least three more “angels,” including the veterinarian/cattle rancher who owns the ranchland where the elk was shot.

The picture I mentioned is repulsive (to me…I realize I’m living in a very different world and mindset from those who enjoy hunting).  Here is the only picture of a giant bull elk moiself  finds acceptable. What in the world possesses people to think that the life of such a magnificent animal – which is what attracts a hunter to it in the first place, the fact that it is alive – is best served by becoming a trophy, or a testament to some short-sighted asshole’s twisted sense of accomplishment?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Message To The PR Department Of KenKen Publishing

…and any other KenKen puzzle books (which moiself  purchases on a regular basis).

 

 

Re your description on the cover of the books, “100 challenging logic puzzles that make you smarter.”  Not that you care what I think, but you have no objective evidence for that claim.

Q. In pop culture, it’s a popular notion that you can do puzzles to ‘train your brain.’ But, as an adult, can you actually do that? To improve memory and cognition?

A. “So, the answer to that is generally, ‘Yes,’ but doing puzzles improves your brain only in doing puzzles…. the way you think about that is like doing sports: If you do tennis, you’re not necessarily going to be good at doing football; you’ll just be good at doing tennis. But overall, doing tennis is helping your general physical abilities and making you sprier.”

(Ausim Azizi, chair of neurology at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine, interviewed in “Do Puzzles Really Train Your Brain,” The Philly Voice. )

Also, to make moiself  “smarter” is not why I buy KenKen books. I just like doing the puzzles.  But I suppose, from a marketing POV, “100 challenging logic puzzles that you just like to do” doesn’t quite cut it.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Phrases Which Spark Memories 

It was a phrase or sentiment I had neither thought about nor heard in some time, until it was used by a long-time friend recently.  This made me think back to…

Dateline: over twenty years ago, when my in-laws were out from Florida, visiting moiself, MH, and our offspring.  I was driving my late father-in-law somewhere.  And by late I do not mean to cast aspersions re his timeliness – he wasn’t a tardy man – but late as in, he is now deceased.  But he was (obviously to y’all, as per this story…I hope) alive when I was driving him somewhere; I mean, I’m not the kind of person to schlep a dead in-law around in my vehicle….

Once again, I’ll start again.

So: moiself and MH’s father are out. I was driving; he was in the passenger seat of my car; we came to a stoplight; the car in front of us had a quite noticeable bumper sticker.

 

My ordinarily even-tempered FIL told me that whenever he saw a car with a sticker like that he felt like getting a big shovel of shit, dumping it on the car’s windshield, and exclaiming to the driver, “Look, it’s happening!”

He used a somewhat humorous tone when he made that declaration, but I could tell that it (the bumper sticker) actually upset him.  I asked him why he found the phrase/sentiment so irksome.  He said he thought it to be indicative of a negative, passive attitude about life.

I chewed on that that for a while, then told him that I had a very different reaction.  To moiself, shit happens is merely an…uh, earthier…form of the expressions and adages found worldwide, in many languages and cultures; e.g.,  “C’est la vie;” “Que sera, sera.”

 

 

Translation: shit happens simply (if scatologically) expresses the understanding that there will be things, good and bad and neutral, which will happen to us and which will be out of our control. This doesn’t mean that you therefore go through life as flotsam, simply drifting with the currents and tides of fate – of course not.  You do what you can, but it is realistic – and mentally healthy – to recognize that, ultimately, you are *not*  in control of everything.  Shit happens/que sera, sera: things can and will happen to you – things which may seem as an insult from the universe but which, in fact, are random and have nothing to do with you personally.

I think I was able to successfully communicate my POV.  Or perhaps the genial comments of understanding my FIL made were to thwart me from breaking into the theme song of my patron saint, Doris Day.   [5]

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

Punz For The Day
Day-After-Thanksgiving Edition

Q: What smells the best at a Thanksgiving dinner?
A: Your nose.

Q: What do you get if you divide the circumference of a
classic Thanksgiving dessert by its diameter?

A: Pumpkin pi.

 

*   *   *

May you understand that shit happens;
May you do strive to ensure that you are not the shit happening to someone else;
May you do your best to ignore Black Friday;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] To the point that I think, by comparison, most other forms of therapy are basically a waste of time.

[2]  Even though * he* was the one who brought it up, my sweet father responded with his go-to, five-word phrase of circumvention, which he employed whenever we were getting into conversational territory which made him uncomfortable: “Well, that’s enough about that.”

[3] And unless or until the Bull Elk in question, or any other animal so stalked, is armed with the high-powered weaponry of the human hunters (who must also, as their prey is, be naked) and agrees to participate with the human, in the hunting, it is the ultimate in poor sportsmanship to call hunting a “sport.”

[4] Certainly, not a Good Samaritan from the elk’s POV. And in the original Good Samaritan story, the Samaritan did not help one creature by killing another one.

[5] Yes, atheists can have a patron saint, and for a while, Doris was mine.

The Temple I’m Not Joining

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Department Of First Things First

Fifty-one years ago today, the blast that was heard around the world.   [1]

Happy Exploding Whale Day, y’all.

 

 

*   *   *

In May 2014, The Satanic Temple scheduled a Black Mass to be held on the Harvard University campus, sponsored by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club; the event was forced to relocate off campus due to significant opposition by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and school administrators.
(Wikipedia, The Satanic Temple entry)

Department Of Arguably The Best Quote From A Documentary Filled With Zingers

“I think the participants felt discouraged after their permit  (to demonstrate) in Boston was denied.  And then it just occurred to me: this is the Catholic Church in Boston, which covered up decades of child rape, moved priests around, covered it up, let them continue their raping and child abuse… and then had the gall to say what *we’re* doing was sinful? I mean, fuck them.”
(a member of “The Satanic Temple” (TST), as quoted in, Hail, Satan?)

 

 

 

“The mission of The Satanic Temple, a religious organization, is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits.
The Satanic Temple has publicly confronted hate groups, fought for the abolition of corporal punishment in public schools, applied for equal representation when religious installations are placed on public property, provided religious exemption and legal protection against laws that unscientifically restrict women’s reproductive autonomy, exposed harmful pseudo-scientific practitioners in mental health care, organized clubs alongside other religious after-school clubs in schools besieged by proselytizing organizations, and engaged in other advocacy in accordance with our tenets.”
( mission statement, from The Satanic Temple website )

*   *   *

The Wiccan priest tried (unsuccessfully) to stifle rolling her eyes.  The man interviewing her had asked her to explain Wiccan beliefs but inserted a stereotypical inaccuracy before he gave her time to answer:

“So, you are devil worshippers?”

The Wiccan’s tone indicated that her patience was tried; obviously, this was not the first time she had been asked that question. She replied emphatically, and a bit wearily:

No, *we* don’t worship Satan.
*We* don’t believe in Satan, or devils or demons.
*Christians* are the ones who believe in the devil. Satan is a Christian god.”

 

 

 

The interview moiself  refers to happened many years ago, in a documentary I saw about the connections between Wicca and Paganism and Norse Mythology.  I thought of that interview last week when, thanks to daughter Belle’s recommendation, I watched Hail Satan?, the 2019 documentary which followed the rise of the grassroots activist organization, The Satanic Temple (TST).  Belle thought I would find the documentary entertaining and provocative – she was correct – and we had a fun back-and-forth texting about the subject matter.

Hail Satan?, as one reviewer put it, “puts the fun in satanic fundamentalism.”    [2]  In many places the film is downright hilarious…and also thought-provoking.

“For something that doesn’t move or talk, monuments have been the subject of much debate and deep feeling in recent years. And not just Confederate monuments, but also religious ones. And one of those debates played out in Arkansas, where State Senator Jason Rapert petitioned to erect a statue of the Ten Commandments outside the Capitol building in Little Rock. In response, a group called The Satanic Temple asked to have a monument of their choosing displayed on government property. It was of Baphomet, a goat-headed angel-winged icon. And let’s just say the offer wasn’t that well-received.

That fight and The Satanic Temple more broadly is the subject of a new documentary called “Hail Satan?” – that’s with a question mark. And it follows the founding of this group, which is bringing a puckish new voice to a very thoughtful and actually serious debate over religious freedom.”

( NPR, ” Filmmaker And Satanic Temple Leader Talk New Documentary,
 ‘Hail Satan?’  4-27-19)

 

 

Moiself  was chuckling throughout the film, especially at the moment whence the opening quote in this post is taken:  in Boston 2014, when The Satanic Temple had received permission to perform a Black Mass, and they were being picketed by Catholic priests and nuns and received so many threats they decided to call it off.    [3] A Satanic or Black Mass  [4]  is a grotesque mockery of the Catholic Mass, and is meant to be offensive to RC believers…but then, the Catholic Mass and other Christian churches’ communion rites – with their reenactments of ritualized cannibalism – can be offensive (or at least, bizarre and mystifying) to people of other beliefs.

So, there they were, in the middle ages twenty-first century, priests and nun in their robes, holding rosary beads, crucifixes,chalices, and other artifacts of “catholobelia”… [5]

 

 

and then you have the “Satanists,” in their robes and masks….

 

 

It was so funny, to see both sides in their respective, silly outfits.  Only the Satanists seemed to have any self-awareness about the whole thing – that this (religion) is all play acting/dress up.

Does moiself  think that any of those people involved with TST are, in fact Satanists – that they actually and sincerely “believe in” or “worship” Satan?

Hell no.

The impression I got was that TST organizers and the vast majority of members are part political/Constitutional/free speech activists, and part street theater/Merry Pranksters…with some Cosplay nerds devotees thrown in there as well.

Belle and I bantered with the question: Does TST do more harm than good, by using imagery and tactics that some people find sooooooooooooooooo offensive? Yes, and no.  And admittedly, there is a certain power to be had from disgusting, shocking, frightening, and angering your adversaries.  If you have personal, political, and/or ideological beefs with Christianity, what better way to get under a staunch Christian’s skin than to profess allegiance to that which they view as their polar opposite, whether or not you actually “believe in” your own silly deity (just as you don’t believe in their silly deity).

 

“Who you callin’ silly?”

 

And, analogous to how some rap stars often call themselves the N-word, many people believe that there is power in taking a pejorative which has been used against you and using it (on) yourself. As one of the TST members interviewed noted, for many Conservative and Evangelical Christians, any beliefs other than theirs are evil.  Thus, if you believe something other than their interpretation of their religion, you are under the influence of the devil – they are going to consider you evil or satanic anyway, so why not be proactive about it and claim the title yourself, under your terms, not theirs?

For moiself, one of the more uproarious moments documented in Hail Satan? occurred when TST took a page from the Mormon playbook of performing proxy baptisms (a ritual wherein a proxy for a deceased, non-Mormon person is baptized into the Mormon church   [6] ).  In order to incense and mock the notoriously homophobic Westborough Baptist Church founder, these antics ensued:

” A group of satanists say they’ve given the controversial Westboro Baptist Church a taste of its own medicine, performing a same-sex ritual at the grave of the mother of the church’s founder.
Members of the Satanist Temple performed on Sunday what its spokesman describes as a “pink mass,” an admittedly made-up ritual celebrating gay love, at the grave in Meridian, Miss.
Spokesman Lucien Greaves doffed a headdress made of horns as two male couples and a female couple recited scripture, lit candles, and made out over the grave.
Members then posthumously declared Catherine Johnston, the mother of Westboro’s founder Fred Phelps, a lesbian.”

(“Satanists Perform ‘Gay Ritual’ at Westboro Gravesite,” ABC news, 7-13)

Belle and I went back and forth re the tactics of TST, which we both found…the word “silly’ kept being used.   However seriously you do or don’t take TST, it seems to be a reaction to the abuse of power and religious discrimination promulgated by Christian culture and theology, rather than standing for something on its own.

However….

Many of TST‘s antics are actually well-informed public protests, and not just “giving the middle finger to the evangelical right.”  One high ranking TST organizer pointed out that “…we are really giving the state of Oklahoma a civics lesson,” referring to TST‘s fight to have their group’s goat-headed statue (“Baphomet“) displayed on public ground, after Oklahoma allowed Christian religious artifacts on the State Capitol lawn.   [7]

 

 

One lawyer quoted in the film said, “…from a constitutional law perspective I am really interested in the Satanic temple, because it is basically making these public bodies confront the real implications of their decisions to allow religion into the public square.”

 

 

The documentary gets into some very interesting, and serious and disturbing territory when it revisits the “Satanic panic” of the 1980s , a time when many innocent people’s lives were ruined via a series of bizarre, totally false and fabricated accusations of ritualized child rape. The founders of and teachers at the McMartin Preschool and so many others endured false charges of child abuse;    [8]   meanwhile, as records would later reveal, priests and other religious figures were actually abusing children, with impunity.

One TST member recalled how he, as a boy during the 1980s who loved to play Dungeons and Dragons,  was ostracized by his friends’ religious parents, who thought the D & D game had satanic connections:

“The ‘satanic panic,’ we now know, in an entirely verified and publicly known way, was projection.
*They* (Christian religious leaders) were doing it (abusing children).
I was playing D and D.”

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
The Devil Made Me Do It Edition

I’m writing a book about a guy who peddles shoe parts to Satan.
It’s your basic, “Sold My Sole To The Devil” novel.

Where does the devil do his dishes?
Helsinki.

Why couldn’t the Devil find any cheese?
There’s no whey in hell.

How do I know that Satan works at the DMV?
Because a priest said the devil takes many forms.

If the devil were to go bald…
I bet there would be hell toupee.

I want to get a job as a stunt devil who lights his butt on fire.
It’s just something I asspyre to.

 

 

 

*   *   *

May you keep in mind that the things you take seriously
may be silly – or disturbing – to others;
May you never attribute human failings – or successes – to supernatural beings;
May you honor Exploding Whale Day ® in your own special way;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Well, if your world consists of proud Oregonians.  And it should.

[2]Hail Satan? puts the fun in Satanic fundamentalism.”  The Verge, 4-17-19

[3] Actually, they moved it to another location.

[4] Which TST was going to perform in private, as in, not open to the public.

[5] My term (I think) for such accoutrements.

[6] Yes, this batshit crazyass rite in the LDS church is a thing.

[7] The Satanists won that battle in court, as per a 2015 Oklahoma State Supreme Court decision.

[8]  And were ultimately acquitted of all charges…after a trial that lasted SEVEN YEARS and cost taxpayers 15 million dollars.

The Holiday War I’m (Still) Not Declaring

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Department Of Here They Come

Halloween (aka All Hallow’s Eve); Samhain; All Saint’s Day; El Dia de los Muertos; Mischief Night, Diwali

In the USA and in northern hemisphere countries around the world, there are multiple holidays with a relationship to “our” Halloween.  The relationship is as per the time of year and/or the theme, underlying beliefs, customs or origins of the various celebrations.

Many of these holidays originated as dual celebrations, acknowledgments of times of both death and rebirth, as celebrants marked the end of the harvest season and acknowledged the cold, dark winter to come.

And after Halloween, the holiday season really gets going.

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Department Of Life Is Tough But It’s Even Tougher If You’re Stupid
Chapter 22467 in a (never-ending) series

“The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity….

Christmas is a federal holiday celebrated widely by the country’s Christian majority. So where did the idea that it is threatened come from?

The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible….”

(“How the ‘War on Christmas’ Controversy Was Created,” NY Times, 12-19-16)

 

 

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Department Of If Something Seems Familiar, That’s Because It’s Time For
My Annual Holiday Traditions Explained ® Post

What do vegetarians, vegans, non-meat and/or plant-based eaters
do on Thanksgiving?
( Other than, according to your Aunt Erva, RUIN  IT  FOR  EVERYONE  ELSE.   [1]  )

The above question is an existential dilemma worthy of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, who wrote eloquent discourses on the subjective and objective truths one must juggle when choosing between a cinnamon roll and a chocolate swirl.   [2]

 

 

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Department Of I’ll Take Those Segues Where I Can Find Them

Four weeks from today will be the day after feasting, for many of us. Then, just when you’re recovering from the last leftover turkey sandwich/quiche/casserole/enchilada-induced salmonella crisis and really, really need to get outside for some fresh air, here comes the Yule season. You dare not even venture to the mall, lest your eardrums be assaulted from all sides by Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, Feliz Navidad, ad nauseum.

This observation provides a convenient segue to my annual, sincere, family-friendly,  [3]

Heathens Declare War On Christmas © post.

 

 

As to those Henny Penny/Chicken Little hysterics proclaiming a so-called “war” on Christmas, a rational person can only assume that they are not LGBTQ, or Jewish or a member of another minority religion, or an ethnic minority – in other words, they’ve never experienced actual bigotry (or actual combat). If they had, it’s likely they would not have trivialized discrimination (or war) with their whining.

The usage of “Happy Holidays” as an “attack on Christianity” is an invention of right-wing radio talk show hosts.  Happy Holidays is nothing more nor less than an encompassing shorthand greeting – an acknowledgement of the incredible number of celebratory days, religious and otherwise, which in the U.S. is considered to start in October with Halloween and November with Thanksgiving (although our Canadian neighbors and friends celebrate their Thanksgiving in October) and extends into and through January, with the various New Year’s celebrations.

It is worthwhile to note that while many if not most Americans, Christian or not, celebrate Christmas, there are also some Christians who, on their own or as part of their denomination’s practice or decree (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Worldwide Church of God), do not celebrate Christmas   [4]   (nor did our much-ballyhooed forebears, the Pilgrims).  Also, the various Orthodox Christians use calendars which differ from most Protestant and Catholic calendars (a biggie for them at this time of the year is the Nativity of Christ, which occurs on or around January 7).

Happy Holidays — it’s plural, and for good reason.  It denotes the many celebrations that happen during these months.  People in the northern hemisphere countries, from South Americans and Egyptians to the Celts and Norskis, have marked the Winter Solstice for thousands of years, and many still do.  And some Americans, including our friends, neighbors and co-workers, celebrate holidays that although unconnected with the winter solstice occur near it, such as Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

 

In 2022 the Chinese (lunar) New Year begins on Feb. 1

 

Most folks are familiar with the “biggies”- Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. But don’t forget the following holidays, many of which we’ve learned about (or celebrated with) via our children’s teachers and fellow students, and our neighbors and co-workers.

* The Birth of the Prophet (Nov. 12) and Day of the Covenant (Nov. 26) are both Baha’i holy days  (our family has had Baha’i teachers and childcare providers and neighbors).

* St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6)

* Bodhi Day.  Our Buddhist friends and neighbors celebrate Bodhi Day on December 8 (or on the Sunday immediately preceding).

* Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec 12)

* St. Lucia Day (Dec. 13) Our Swedish neighbors and friends celebrate St. Lucia Day, as did Belle’s and K’s school, when they were in grade school (Belle, as the oldest 3rd grade girl, got to play St. Lucia).

* Bill of Rights Day (Dec 15) and Forefather’s Day (Dec 21)

* Pancha Ganapati Festival (one of the most important Hindu festivals, Dec. 21st through the 25th,  celebrated by many of MH’s coworkers)

* The Winter Solstice (varies, Dec.  21 or 22)

* Little Christmas Eve (Dec.  23) Celebrated by my family, supposedly a custom of the small Norwegian village of my paternal grandfather’s ancestors.

* Boxing Day (Dec. 26), celebrated by our Canadian-American and British-American neighbors and friends.

*Ramadan and/or Eid, the Islamic New Year (as Islam uses a lunar calendar the dates of their holidays varies, but these holidays are usually November-December)

* The Chinese New Year.  I always look forward to wishing my sister-in-law, a naturalized American citizen who is Cantonese by birth, a Gung Hay Fat Choy.  (The Chinese Lunar calendar is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600 BCE.  The New Year is celebrated on second new moon after the winter solstice, and so can occur in January or February).

That is not a complete list. See why it’s easier to say, “Happy Holidays?”

The USA is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world.  To insist on using the term “Merry Christmas” as the all-encompassing seasonal greeting could be seen as an attack on the religious beliefs of all of the Americans who celebrate the other holiday and festivals.  At the least, it denotes the users’ ignorance of their fellow citizens’ beliefs and practices.

 

 

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Department Of Did You Know…

…that the Reverend Increase Mather of Boston observed in 1687 that, “the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.”   [5]

Because of its known pagan origins, Christmas was banned by the Puritans, and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts until 1681.   [6]

 

 

“Do you celebrate Christmas?”

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

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

 

 

Early Roman Catholic missionaries tried to convert northern Europeans to the RC brand of Christianity, and part of the conversion process was to alter existing religious festivals. The indigenous folk, whom the RC church labeled “barbarians,” quickly discovered that when it came to dealing with missionaries, resistance is futile. The pagans intuitively grasped the concept of natural selection and converted to Christianity to avoid the price (persecution, torture, execution) of staying true to their original beliefs.  But they refused to totally relinquish their traditional celebrations, and so the church, eventually and effectively, simply renamed most of them.    [7]

Pagan practices were given a Christian meaning to wipe out “heathen” revelry.  This was made official church policy in 601 A.D., when Pope Gregory the First issued the now infamous edict to his missionaries regarding the traditions of the peoples they wanted to convert. Rather than try to banish native customs and beliefs, missionaries were directed to assimilate them. You find a group of people decorating and/or worshiping a tree? Don’t chop it down or burn it; rather, bless it in the name of the Church.  Allow its continued worship, only tell the people that, instead of celebrating the return of the sun-god in the spring, they are now worshiping the rising from the dead of the Son of God.

( Easter is the one/odd exception, where a pagan celebration was adapted by Christians without a name change. Easter is a word found nowhere in the Bible. It comes from the many variants (Eostra, Ester, Eastra, Eastur….) of a Roman deity, goddess of the dawn “Eos” or “Easter,” whose festival was in the Spring.)

The fir boughs and wreaths, the Yule log, plum pudding, gift exchanges, the feasting, the holly and the ivy and the evergreen tree….It is hard to think of a “Christmas” tradition that does not originate from Teutonic (German), Viking, Celtic and Druid paganism.   [8]   A celebration in the depths of winter – at the time when, to those living in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears to stop its southerly descent before gradually ascending north – is a natural instinct. For thousands of years our Northern Hemisphere ancestors greeted the “reason for the season” – the winter solstice – with festivals of light and gift exchanges and parties.  The Winter Solstice was noted and celebrated long before the Roman Jesus groupies pinched the party.

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

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

 

 

And Woden is the reason the middle of the week is named Wednesday.   [9]   My calling Wednesday “Wednesday” doesn’t mean I celebrate, worship, or “believe in” Woden.  I don’t insist on renaming either Christmas, or Wednesday.

 

“Now, go fetch me the brazen little sheisskopfs who took the Woden out of Woden’s Day!”

 

The Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, and the longest night. In the northern hemisphere it falls on what we now mark as December 21 or 22.  However, it took place on December 25th at the time when the Julian calendar was used.   [10]   The early Romans celebrated the Saturnalia on the Solstice, holding days of feasting and gift exchanges in honor of their god Saturn. (Other major deities whose birthdays were celebrated on or about the week of December 25   [11]   included Horis, Huitzilopochtli, Isis, Mithras, Marduk, Osiris, Serapis and Sol.)  The Celebration of the Saturnalia was too popular with the Roman pagans for the new Christian church to outlaw it, so the new church renamed the day and reassigned meanings to the traditions.   [12]

In other words, why are some folk concerned with “keeping the Christ in Christmas”   [13]  when we should be keeping the Saturn in Saturnalia?

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
The Approaching Holiday Season Edition

What is a jack-o’-lantern’s favorite literature genre?
Pulp fiction.

My family told me to stop telling Thanksgiving jokes right now,
but I said I couldn’t quit cold turkey.

My cousin is terrified by all of the St. Nicholas displays at the shopping mall.
You might say she’s Claustrophobic.

 

I told you not to encourage her.

*   *   *

Whatever your favorite seasonal celebrations may be, moiself  wishes you all the best.

May you have the occasion to (with good humor) ruin it for everyone else;
May you find it within yourself to ignore the Black Friday mindset;
May you remember to keep the Saturn in Saturnalia;
…and may the fruitcake-free hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] You have an Aunt Erva, somewhere.  We all do.

[2] Damn right I’m proud of that one.

[3] Well, yeah, as compared to the usual shit I write.

[4] And a grade school friend of mine, whose family was Jehovah’s Witnesses, considered being told, “Merry Christmas” to be an attack on *her* beliefs.

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

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

[7]Paganism in Christianity.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Certain Color Of Shirt I’m Not Wearing

Comments Off on The Certain Color Of Shirt I’m Not Wearing

Department Of Jeff Bezo’s Minions Do Not Know Star Trek: TOS Lore

As delighted as moiself  was to see that Captain Kirk ( William Shatner ) finally  [1]   got to go into space (via Wednesday’s Blue Origin spacecraft ), I was gobsmacked to view the pictures being posted online, of Shatner and his fellow Blue Origin crew members.  Shatner was wearing a yellow green shirt; the others wore red shirts.

 

 

Yes, red shirts.   [2]

This is a bad omen, moiself  thought to moiself, before my second thought kicked in:

This *has* to be a photoshopped joke.  And a good one, at that.

 

 

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Department Of Artistic License

Dateline: Saturday mid-morning, hiking in the trails in the hills around the Portland Audubon Sanctuary with MH.  ‘Twas a beautiful day, with that combination of the evergreen fir and leaf-dropping deciduous scenery that seems unique to the Pacific Northwest.  We were pleasantly surprised to have the trail to ourselves.

After our hike I decided to appreciate the port-o-potty in the Audubon parking lot.   Moiself  had left my phone at home; thus, I had to prevail upon MH to take a picture of the drawing someone had done on the inside of the p-o-p door.

The picture, which MH and I dubbed Pizza Man, illustrates the importance of punctuation, and how the lack of it can lead to misunderstandings…or just mysteries.

 

 

Whaddya think? What message was the honeypot vandal artist trying to convey, armed with only his imagination and a black Sharpie ®?

Moiself can think of several possibilities, including:

*  Pizza Man is speaking as a god, who is apologizing for…something.  In which case it should read, “Sorry,” god;

* The artist is apologizing to his god, for having drawn a human face so strangely that it resembles a slice of pizza with eyes and a mouth;

* Pizza Man is the speaker – he is apologizing to his deity for what he has done or is about to do (in the outhouse, or elsewhere)?

* Pizza Man not actually a pizza, but someone who has disfigured himself by consuming so much pepperoni that the little greasy sausage rounds are sprouting on his face, and thus is apologizing to his god for his gluttony;

* The artist is apologizing to anyone who views his drawing and mistakenly thinks it is of a Pizza god.

 

 

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Department Of The Last Time

“For everything you do, there will be a last time you do it. This is a direct consequence of your mortality.  Because you will someday die, there will be a last time you tie your shoes, pay your taxes, and eat chocolate….

Sometimes people know they’re doing something for the last time. This is the case with the condemned prisoner eating his last meal. More commonly though, people do something without realizing this is the last time they will do it. They instead act on the assumption that they will do the thing again in the future, perhaps hundred of more times.

Along these lines, consider the last time you played hopscotch, the last time you made a phone call with a rotary phone…
Did you realize at the time that it was the last time that you would do those things?  Realize too that’s it’s possible you have eaten chocolate for the last time – I sincerely hope that this isn’t the case, but only time will tell.”
( excerpt from “The Last Time Meditation” )

 

“Like, I’m supposed to take a selfie with *this*?”

 

Can you remember the last time you ____

* wore a diaper instead of “big boy/big girl” pants?
* rode a tricycle when you were a child, before graduating to a two-wheeler bike?
* played hopscotch or tetherball on an elementary school playground?
* aced (or flunked) a high school test?
* told a joke to your (now deceased) grandparent?
* used a rotary telephone to make a call?
* used a typewriter (manual or electric) to type a school paper, or office memo?
* rented a DVD from Blockbuster?
* went to a huge, arena-style concert by your favorite rock band, whose
drummer later died after he choked on his own vomit
members are now either deceased or retired?
* copied a document from your computer onto a floppy disc?

And if you can remember, do you recall thinking, “Hey, what if this is the last time I _____ (ride a tricycle; tell a joke to Grandma….)?”

For the last year or so I’ve been using a meditation app developed by neuroscientist, philosopher, author Sam Harris. The Waking Up  app has a variety of features, including

* a short daily guided meditation (11 – 13 minutes duration)
*  a series of guided meditations on different subjects (Contemplative Action; The Spectrum of Awareness;
Consolations; Meditation for Children….)
* Q & As with Jack Kornfield and other meditation/mindfulness teachers;
*
 lessons on the fundamentals of meditation
* a simple meditation timer, which you can set for any length

When I use the app,    [3]   moiself  typically either listens the daily meditation, or does my own meditation with the app’s timer.  Earlier this week I scrolled through the app’s practices, and one title caught my eye:  a series of twenty-two short talks – “The Stoic Path, by William B. Irvine – on the philosophy and practical applications of stoicism.

 

 

Philosophy professor and author Irvine offers a modern take on stoicism, which we philosophy laypersons often misunderstand as per our limited experience with the subject (15 minutes on Marcus Aurelius in our Intro to Philosophy class, and we’re all experts).  If asked to picture or define a stoic I bet your first thought (along with moiself’s ) would be of a person who is so even-keeled as to be almost detached – someone seemingly unaffected by the downs – and ups – of life.

However, In the philosophical realm, a Stoic is someone who cultivates a world view wherein one’s personal ethics are informed by stoic virtues, logic, and understandings on the natural world.

 

“Please tell me the segue to rotary phones is just around the corner….”

 

I’m at the very beginning (day four) of the series, and am enjoying Irvine’s expositions.  He includes stories from his own personal and family life to illustrate how techniques of stoicism offer a road map  [4]  toward equanimity – by minimizing worry and focusing our mental and emotional efforts on what we can control, by learning how to deal with the inevitable “insults” of grief and loss, and aging, by putting into perspective the temporal and ultimately ephemeral temptations of power, fame and fortune.

Moiself  finds it quite interesting, and also an expanded take on somewhat familiar territory.  The virtues (translate: sound Life advice) espoused by stoicism remind me of Buddhist and mindfulness tenets – from what I’ve listened to so far, there is a good deal of common ground between them.  Check it out, if you’re interested.

 

 

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Department Of Things For Somebody Else To Do

OK, calling all one-panel cartoonists…or anyone who can draw better than I can.  [5]

While listening to The Last Time  moiself  got a picture in my head, of a scenario I thought might make a good comic strip:

A prison guard enters a Death Row prison cell. He places a food tray containing a traditional last meal – grilled steak, fried chicken, a loaded baked potato, and a double hot fudge sundae – in front of a prisoner who is scheduled for execution later that evening.
The prisoner waves off the tray with, “No thanks; I’m watching my cholesterol.”

You’re welcome.

 

This is how my artist’s rendition would turn out.

 

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Department Of Musings Apropos Of Nothing

Speaking of getting all philosophical on your ass, I have many questions dealing with the Mysteries of Life ®.  This one is for musician Dave Grohl:

What are Foos?
And why do you devote your exceptional musical talents to fighting them?

 

 

 

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Department Of Deep Thoughts Continued
Division Of The Existential Crises Of Aging

Why is it that when you’re over age fifty people stop asking you what your favorite dinosaur is?

It’s like they don’t even care anymore.

 

 

 

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Department Of A Sentence I Never Thought I’d Be So Happy To Hear

“And if we’re lucky, tomorrow there’ll be dead bodies!”

See footnote   [6] for context.  Or, better yet, use your imagination.

 

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day
Philosophy Edition

How can you make a philosophy student leave your porch?
Just pay them for the pizza.  [7]

Did you hear about the monk who got a Ph.D. in existential philosophy?
You might say he was a deep friar.

Why can’t kleptomaniacs understand sarcastic philosophical jokes about themselves?
Because they take things literally.

Why is it unwise to place philosophy textbooks in front of a stallion?
Because you shouldn’t put Descartes before the horse.    [8]

 

*   *   *

 

May you uncover the mystery of Port-o-Potty Pizza Man;
May someone ask you what’s your favorite dinosaur;
May you never board a spacecraft manned by a crew of all Redshirts;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] He’s 90.  Really.

[2] Redshirt is a term used by fans of Star Trek to refer to the ST characters who wear red Starfleet uniforms – typically, security guards or other characters who are expendable, and often killed, after having utterred only a line or two of dialogue (or sometimes none at all).

[3] Not quite daily. I’ve other meditation apps which also have timers, guided sessions, ambient music….

[4]  Is that too dated of an analogy?  Maybe I should use, “GPS”?

[5] Which would be anyone who can hold a pencil in their hands. Son K has drawn some good comic strips over the years; maybe I should ask him.

[6] Uttered by the exterminator, whom I affectionately think of as “Rat Man,” as he was explaining how he would be baiting and setting the traps he’d laid in our house’s crawlspace and then returning next day to retrieve the results.  (The traps had been laid down several days ago, baited but not set – this lets the rats [that have invaded our crawlspace] get used to the traps and think that they are a safe source of yummy peanut butter).

[7] No footnote necessary here.

[8] I certainly can’t end this with #6 being the last footnote.

The Binary Thoughts I’m Not Thinking

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Department Of I’ve Told You Before, I Can’t Make This Up This Shit

“Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor under Donald Trump, claimed during an appearance on a conservative radio program that COVID vaccines were being added to salad dressing….
‘Somebody sent me a thing this morning where they’re talking about putting the vaccine in salad dressing…..’ said Flynn.
‘These people are seriously thinking about how to impose their will on us in our society and it has to stop,’ he added. “

( “Michael Flynn claims salad dressing is being infused with COVID vaccine,”
The National Post, 9-23-21 )

 

With the right vinaigrette, I could RULE THE WORLD !!

 

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Department Of A Blast From The Past

Fortunately, I don’t need a really big time machine to go back only two years…

 

 

…to December 2019, when I first blogged about the yogic tradition of performing 108 sun salutations to mark the change of the season (solstices and equinoxes):

Department Of If My Hamstring Muscles Are Still Sore After 36 Hours,
Have I Reached Enlightenment?

Yoga Class:
“Why 108 Sun Salutations?”

Yoga Teacher:
“It’s an auspicious number in yoga; I know 108 sounds like a lot…”

Moiself:
“That’s because it is.”

Last Sunday (12/22/19), to celebrate the winter solstice, my yoga studio held an “Om-a-thon,” which is what Someone In Charge Of Marketing ®  called an hour and a half class consisting of 108 Sun Salutations.  A sun salutation, for you non-yogis, is a yoga exercise incorporating a sequence of nine or more linked asanas, or yoga poses/postures. The asanas are linked by the breath – inhaling and exhaling with each movement – and Sun Salutations involve moving from a standing position into Downward and Upward Dog poses and then back to the standing position, with many variations and modifications.

Why 108? It’s apparently an auspicious number (in the parts of the world where yoga originated), for many reasons.  Non-woo reasons include the fact that the distance between the Sun and Earth is roughly 108 times the Sun’s diameter and ditto for the ratio of the moon’s diameter and the distance between the moon and earth – scientific realities not likely surmised when the originators of yoga decided 108 was a magic special number.

There are plenty of woo reasons for venerating the number 108, and the teacher leading the class mentioned a few of them: there are 108 Upanishads (a series of Hindu treatises ca. 800–200 BCE); there are 108 beads in a mala (a meditation tool, an idea early Christian/Catholic missionaries stole “adapted”  from the Hinduism & Buddhism, and morphed into the Catholic rosary beads    [1]     ); there are nine planets and twelve astrological signs, and 9 x 12 = 108   [2]….

Oh, and most significantly of all, a Uno deck contains 108 cards. That’s gotta be a sign.

҉       ҉      ҉


That was then; this is now.  On Wednesday I celebrated the Autumnal Equinox by doing 108 Sun Salutations at home.  How does one keep count, inquiring minds want to know?  Moiself  has a glass bowl, containing 108 small, smooth glass beads, which I keep on the dining room table. Four times a year, when I’m doing the 108 Sun Salutations (Winter Solstice; Vernal Equinox; Summer Solstice/ Autumnal Equinox) I dump out the bowl in front of my yoga mat.  At the end of each sun salutation I move one bead into the bowl.

 

 

This year I decided to do 109 sun salutations, adding my avatar (visible in the above picture) to the bead count.  It just felt like the right thing to do, and if we’re going for auspicious numbers and all, 109 is a prime.    [3]

*   *   *

Department Of Is This Either/Or…On Or Off?

Dateline: Saturday 7 am-ish, walking along a totally deserted beach – deserted in terms of fellow bipeds.  There is a light rain falling, a welcome change after a previous night’s wind/raid downpour/power outage.  Leaving the house, moiself  noticed the wind had skejewed my yard sign, which I straightened up before heading down to the beach.

I mention the yard sign because the podcast I was listening to reminded me of the sign, in a way the podcast host and producers likely didn’t intend (nor would care about, I’d imagine).  Moiself,  however, found it a fun coincidence.

The podcast, No Stupid Questions (co-hosted by research psychologist Angela Duckworth [author of Grit]  and Stephen Dubner [co-author of the Freakonomics books and host of the Freakonomics podcast] ), is one I’ve mentioned several times in this space.  This episode of NSQ, “How Can You Escape Binary Thinking?”,  made me smile from the moment I heard the title.

 

 

Angela Duckworth:
“One of my life goals is to help people *not* binarize so much…. It turns out that for almost everything that psychologists study, including things that seem categorical, they really are continuous…and you do have to, at the end of the day, either allocate a therapist for this person or not, based on a diagnosis, but if we all *knew* that the underlying phenomena were continuous for *most* things, in psychology and maybe most things in life, that would be an advance.”

Stephen Dubner:
“Plainly, there is value in binary thinking. Literally, the fundamental building block of computing, as far as I understand it, is the bit, which is short for binary digit, which is either a zero or a one, and the reason that’s useful is that it makes it easier to do huge computation, which means you require less circuitry, less cooling, things can be smaller, things can be cheaper…

AD:
“It’s a massive data compression.”

SD:
“Yeah! So, it is a heuristic for computers, but I’d like to think maybe this is one way we could be better than computers, is not having to compress.  On the other hand, I am a fan of what I believe is called, generally, categorical thinking.  I just want more categories than two….

(excerpts from NSQ episode cited above)

Although I concede its utility in certain areas, I’m not a fan of binary thinking.    [4]   The yard sign I’d previously mentioned was a product of my distaste for that kind of thought.

 

 

An employee of the sign shop where I had my yard sign designed and printed asked me if I was critiquing “those other yard signs.”  I told him that my sign was 95% just for the fun of it…and, yeah, maybe, 5% satirizing “those others:”

 

One “The Others” variant

 

I agree with most of the sentiments expressed by the variants of Those Other Signs ® …but not all of them.  There are so many complexities and nuances to the positions alluded to in various versions of Those Other Signs ® I’ve seen.  In an ideal world, I’d hope that if my neighbors wanted to know my thoughts on certain issues, instead of having to read my lawn signage and extrapolate from there, they’d ask me, and we’d have a thoughtful and civil discussion about it.

 

Yep; happens all the time.

 

For example, as per illegal/undocumented immigration.  A line like, “No Human Is illegal” is a form of data compression.  No human is illegal – what does a particular person mean, when they say or write that?  Certainly, it is a pejorative to refer to a person as illegal – is that what they are objecting to – the un-charitableness of referring to a person as “an illegal?”  Also, and just as certainly, some people do things that are illegal, including violating the immigration laws of a country.  So, what is it that the no human is illegal line is conveying or signaling to others – your position on immigration, or your concern with word choice when referring to a person who is in a country unlawfully?

Binary thinking; data compression. I didn’t have the words for it when I was younger, but the first time moiself  ran across these terms I thought, *That’s* why I never felt at home a political party – the world is so much more complex than left and right.

Alas, binary thinking/data compression seems to be the norm for politics.  “You either agree with all of these things (insert your political checklist and/or party platform) or you’re not with us,” or, expressed in another way, “You must *disagree* with *everything* promoted by The Other Side ®, or you’re not with us.”

Zero or one; on or off. Data compression is great for computing, but can be disastrous for human relations. Very few people are completely ‘”on or off,” “this or that,” as per anything. To think otherwise is to opt for the safety of categorization versus risking seeing (and dealing with) complexity.

Lest y’all think I am perfectly consistent on avoiding the pitfalls of binary thinking…

 

 

…I recognize that moiself  has my own litmus tests when it comes to certain issues. I’ve had some interesting discussions with a few people who’ve called themselves feminists but who are also anti-reproductive choice – as in, not only do they say that they personally would not have an abortion under any circumstances, they would go further and deny the choice for others.   [5]   I have not decreed to them that an anti-choice feminist isn’t actually a feminist, as I am not the boss of that word.   [6]    I have presented my take on the matter:  people make decisions all the time, about matters trivial and momentous – decisions that I sometimes don’t like or vehemently oppose.  This is part of living in a pluralistic society.  But when it comes to this particular issue, I’ll go all binary on your ass:  you either support a person’s bodily autonomy, or you don’t. 

*   *   *

Department Of What I’m Listening To…
(Sub-department Of Not That You Care….)

This would be Lindsey Buckingham’s new, self-titled album.

I mistakenly watched a rerun of a recent Stephen Colbert show where Buckingham was the musical guest – the “mistakenly part was watching the show right before bedtime.  The energy of the song Buckingham played was so infectious and the melody/lyrics so catchy, I could not get to sleep after that.

The song (“On the Wrong Side“) seems to be a meditation on looking both backward and forward, with references to life in a touring band (Fleetwood Mac’s halcyon days, I assume) and living in the present, acknowledging the passage of time.  Not the lightest of subjects, yet the rumination is encased in an incredibly catchy pop rhythm and melody, with soaring and layered harmonies. ‘Tis a song that could easily be mistaken for a new Fleetwood Mac single. 

♫  Waitin’ for the night to come
Waitin’ for the moon to rise
Wondering just what have I done
That I never realized

Time is rolling down the road
Love goes riding in a hearse
We were young and now we’re old
Who can tell me which is worse  ♫

Buckingham’s solo work reveals just how much he brought to Fleetwood Mac, and how so much of the band’s sound   [7]  was due to his influence and contributions.

I dare you to listen to On the Wrong Side and then *not* walk around having the chorus stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

♫  I’m outta pity/I’m outta time
Another city/ another crime
I’m…
on the wrong side… ♫

 

 

 

*   *   *

Q & A Punz For The Day
Popular Music Edition

Name a rock group where none of the members sings or plays music.
Mt. Rushmore.

What kind of music do bunnies like?
Hip Hop.

Why did the hearing-impaired jazz musician bring a sweet potato to rehearsal?
He thought he’d been invited to a yam session.

How many guitarists does it take to play Stairway to Heaven?
Apparently, all of them.

 

Sorry about the bicycle wheel, but I couldn’t find any yams.

 

*   *   *

May you eschew most forms of binary thinking;  [8]

May you enjoy listening to at least one song from Lindsey Buckingham;

May you embrace your humanity by holding fast to at least one binary opinion;    [9]

…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Although the Catholics halved the number to 59 beads, in perhaps an effort to claim originality or refute charges of plagiarism.

[2] Except of course/again the originators of such superstitions did not know there were nine planets…and now we all know (though some of us refuse to accept the fact) that there are not nine planets, but eight.  And longtime readers of this blog can likely surmise what I think of astrology.

[3] A prime number is a whole number which is divisible only by itself and 1.

[4] Binary thinking (urban dictionary): “Denotes a system of thought that predominantly considers things in an “either, or”, “right, wrong”, “black, white” way, ignoring any subtleties or consideration of third or more alternatives.”

[5] As in, they support making abortion illegal, or at least highly restricting its availability.

[6] Yet.

[7] In that particular configuration during 1975 – 1987, when he and Stevie Nicks joined.  There have been many, many personnel configurations in the band’s fifty-plus year history.

[8] Except when it comes to black licorice: you either hate it (correct!) or love it (so very, very, wrong).

[9] Like, the one about black licorice.

The Virus I’m Not De-Worming

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Department Of A Boon For A Natural Selection

For a few glorious days, we could only hope that the reports were accurate.

Moiself  refers to reports surfacing which claimed that ivermectin –

a livestock de-worming, anti-parasite  veterinary drug, deemed by the brilliant minds of certain people who were too smart to waste time going to medical or veterinary school, to be an ideal treatment for the COVID-19 VIRUS (which is *not,* ahem, a parasite), to be taken by people, who are not livestock (except for the horses’ asses which thought up the idea in the first place and the sheep who followed them) –

can cause sterility in men.

 

“Yesssssssss!”

 

When I first heard the reports moiself  praised the gawds I don’t believe in, and immediately changed my opinion about people who would try such an unproven and dangerous “treatment.”  Instead of thinking that such people should be locked up for their own protection,   [1]   I decided to lobby to make ivermectin mandatory (and free!) for any man who wears a MAGA hat and/or refused to be vaccinated/wear a mask…and please, can there be a study showing that ivermectin produces infertility in women as well?

Some things are just too good to be true.  It turns out there are problems with the ivermectin-causes-sterility study being cited, as Forbes and other sources have reported.   C’est la vie; it was a nice fantasy, while it lasted. 

 

“There, there; I too was disappointed. It’s good to dream, Spock.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Podcasts I Mostly Admire…

Or used to.

Dateline: earlier this week, listening to the latest People I Mostly Admire podcast (Episode 44 ).  After the first twenty or so minutes of his interview with his guest, the podcast  takes a break.  During the break the show’s host, author and economist Steven Levitt,  had a letter from a listener read to him by the show’s producer, Morgan A. Levey.  This is the podcast’s typical format; the letters usually involve questions about recent podcast topics. This week’s questions led to….well, read on.

Morgan Levey (reading a letter from “Jordan,” to Steve; my emphases):
” ‘Steve, since you have quite a large family and are a thoughtful person, I want to get your opinion on the morality and ethics of having children in the face of climate change.’
It sounds like Jordan is thinking of starting a family, and he wants your opinion on having kids, since you have six of them.”

 

The host at home.

 

Steve Levitt:
“So Jordan, I do have six kids, and I have to say, in having those kids, I don’t think climate change ever crossed my mind.  Here’s the thing: there are 8 billion people on the planet, so if you add one more, it doesn’t really matter.  And, what I do, doesn’t affect anyone else’s behavior.  If my having a kid led hundreds of other people to have more kids, then it’s a different story.

To me, it’s a microcosm of the exact problem we face on climate change generally: no individual’s behavior actually matters very much, but collectively, we all have to act together.

When I think of climate change, I really look to other kinds of solutions, whether it’s technology to take carbon out of the air, or doing something at a larger scale….

So if it feels wrong to you to have kids, that’s totally your prerogative….  but at least for me I would not put climate change near the top of my list to have or not have children….

ML:
“So Jordan also wanted to know if you thought that your kids will struggle in the future with the result of climate change-induced issues, such as food security, pandemics, water shortages, if this is something you thought about and were worried about.”

 

 

SL:
“I’m not a climate scientist, and I don’t know the exact answer. It certainly is an impression people have that weather patterns are getting wilder, and it’s probably true. I also think there’s a bias toward people assuming that every time something extreme happens, that’s caused by climate change ….but my impression is that the really destructive impacts of climate change are much farther in the future.  That, at least for Americans, in the next fifty or a hundred years, there’s no reason to think that our quality of life is going to dramatically degrade.  As I sit here just pondering whether I think my kids will have a better or worse life than I had, I think probably better.  

Morgan, I don’t think Jordan is going to like my answer very much.
What do you think?”

I didn’t hear his producer’s retort until days later.  I had to stop listening.  My butt was frosted to hear Levitt’s casually dismissive statements about the effects of climate change – effects which are “probably true,” he admits, yet not enough to trouble him as he sits there “just pondering”  whatever it is he ponders (apparently, not the plight of other people), from the POV of his privileged, upper class, white American ass — pondering his ignorant defenses which excuse himself from any personal responsibility to act…or care.

How convenient for him, to convince himself that an individual’s behavior doesn’t matter much, and that what he does doesn’t affect anyone else.  Dude, your six children are watching you.  Even more than what you say, they watch what you do…and don’t do. 

Levitt admits the obvious – he’s no climate scientist – then ignores the facts climate scientists have been stating for some time, in favor of his flippant description of extreme weather events as an “impression people have“?  Holy cruising down the river of  De Nile.

 

 

 

But then, what should moiself  expect from someone with six children,  [2]  who doesn’t even include them in his statement of how what he does doesn’t affect anyone else.

Levitt is correct as to the need for global/larger solutions, but he is wrong about the individual’s impact, thinking it’s negligible because he’s one person out of 8 billion.  Eight billion people – how did we get here?   Holy compounding multiplication!  We got to that absurd number via one individual decision at a time. Multiply one person thinking having four to six biological children is fine times “only” one billion other individuals, and where will that get us?

 

 

As for Levitt’s comment about how his actions don’t influence people, how does he know that?  Whether or not he ever gets up on a podium and overtly decrees, “Everyone should have a large family, like me!” the fact of him having done just that that may cause others to think, “Oh, hmm…an educated and successful person does this, perhaps I can as well.”

Back to his producer’s response, to his question. At least she called him out about his cluelessness and privilege (however mildly, given the circumstances).

SL:
“Morgan, I don’t think Jordan is going to like my answer very much.
What do you think?”

ML:
“To be honest, Steve, *I* don’t like your answer very much.

I think what you said sounds a little  [3]  insensitive, considering the fact that that there’s already millions of climate refugees around the globe – people who’ve had to move because their home are unlivable.

We’ve just had the hottest month on record in human history, AND  extreme weather HAS been *undoubtedly* linked to climate change.  When I think about just ten years from now, *I*  worry about my own future, let alone if I have kids, what their future would be.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department of Beating Around the Bush…and Reagan…and Clinton….

” On May 12, 2015, potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush could not fully commit to an answer when asked if he would have voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, using the phrase “simple fact is, mistakes were made” on Sean Hannity’s radio show. He was lambasted by both liberals and conservatives for his answer.”

 

 

Remember the rightful disgust y’all have likely experienced over the years, whenever you heard the hideous passivity of, Mistakes were made.”   It’s the ultimate phrase of non-accountability, whether spouted by President Reagan re the Iran–Contra affair (the “arms-for hostages” debacle), or President Clinton as per a Democratic party fundraising scandal, or President G.W. Bush’s political advisor defending neocons re the Iraq War…as well as too many times before and after.

Mistakes were made.  By an unknown, but distressingly prevalent, almost mystical Mistake Maker ®,  apparently.

We’ve all been trained to use this passive voice; most of us don’t even know when we’re doing it.  But, think for a moment of the world it constructs.

 

 

I often get impatient when people nitpick language.  My fear: people often judge/dismiss and don’t really hear *what* someone is saying because they are too busy critiquing the  *how* someone is saying it.

Still, the writer in moiself  tries to never forget why word choice is important: it not only conveys, but shapes how we feel and think about issues.

Consider the different images that come to mind, when describing a disabled person’s mode of mobility:

“He rides (or uses) a wheelchair.”

“She is confined to a wheelchair.”

A wheelchair, for someone who has need of one, is actually a device of liberation.  Yet the second phrasing evokes images of shackling, and pity.

 

 

These subtle differences are why (as I’ve mentioned in this space, “The Speech I’m Not Policing” ) I think certain scholars and activists are correct in advising that we should retrain ourselves to use the term “enslaved” person, rather than “slave.”  The active voice is needed as a reminder, that people are not just born slaves, as they might be born a Swede or a redhead or with a certain eye color:

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for creating the 1619 project at The New York Times, which tracks the legacy of slavery.  In Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with journalist Hannah-Jones, (which I referred to in a recent blog post as influencing my opinions about reparations for slavery), TG asked Hannah-Jones about why she uses the term “enslaved person” and not “slave” in her writing (my emphases):

“It was very important in the 1619 Project and whenever I write about this, to not use language that further dehumanizes people who every system and structure was designed to dehumanize.
I think when we hear the word “slave,” we think of slavery as being the essence of that person. But if you call someone an enslaved person, then it speaks to a condition. These people were not slaves. Someone chose to force them into the condition of slavery, and that language to me is very important, as is using the word “enslaver” over slave owner because these people didn’t have a moral right to own another human being, even though the society allowed it, and I think it needs to be active, that this was an active system of people choosing to treat other human beings as property.”

 

I recently saw the following on social media, and it was another click moment    [4]  for me.  I’m referring to it as The Real Problem:

 

 

Let’s resolve to use the active voice. To take responsibility – and to point the finger and accuse as well – when necessary.

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Climate Edition

What do you call a weatherman who destroys dinosaurs?
A meteorologist.

It was a terrible summer for Humpty Dumpty, but he had a great fall.

People using umbrellas always seem to be under the weather.

What’s that Arabic country with loads of sheep and very wet weather?
Baaarain.

 

*   *   *

May we keep in mind The Real Problem and lose the passive voice;
May we never comfortably think that our individual actions don’t matter;
May we all anticipate having a great fall;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Whatever happened to just drinking bleach?  That wasn’t idiotic enough for them?

[2] I think two of them were adopted by Levittand his wife, from China.

[3] “And by ‘a little,’ Steve, I mean, absolutely fucking…”

[4] Click! In the 1970s that word signaled the moment when a woman awakened to the powerful ideas of contemporary feminism. Today “click” usually refers to a computer keystroke that connects women (and men) to powerful ideas on the Internet.  (Click! The Ongoing feminist revolution, cliohistory.org )

The Germline I’m Not Editing

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“There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”
( Salvador Dali  )

 

The romantic notion that mental illness and creativity are linked is so prominent in the public consciousness that it is rarely challenged….. To be sure, research does show that many eminent creators – particularly in the arts – had harsh early life experiences (such as social rejection, parental loss, or physical disability) and mental and emotional instability. However, this does not mean that mental illness was a contributing factor to their eminence. There are many eminent people without mental illness or harsh early life experiences, and there is very little evidence suggesting that clinical, debilitating mental illness is conducive to productivity and innovation.
( “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness,”
Scientific American)

Carrie Fisher had quite the resume that few people outside of Hollywood know about.  In addition to being an actor, best-selling author, and screenwriter, Fisher was  “one of the most sought after script doctors in town.”  As a script doctor,   [1]   Fisher’s (mostly uncredited) work included Hook, Sister Act, Last Action Hero, Made in America, and The River Wild.

Fisher also was known for being candid  – and wickedly self-deprecating – about her struggle with bipolar disorder and substance abuse.  Was known.  Damn. I so hate having to write about the multi-talented Fisher in the past tense, but it her bipolar disorder – specifically, how she’d tried to self-treat it – which killed her.

She died at age 60 – way too young.  After losing consciousness on a plane flight and dying four days later in an ICU, her autopsy revealed heroin and other opiates and MDMA in her system, a revelation which surprised and frustrated and saddened her family and friends.  Although I share most of those emotions, it (the revelation of the drugs she’d taken) was no surprise to moiself .  She’d been open about how the various psychiatric medications she took for her bipolar disorder didn’t always work well or consistently.  As a young adult Fisher discovered, long before getting her bipolar disorder diagnosed, that whatever it was that made her brain do the things it did, LSD and other the hallucinogens her friends ingested had the opposite effect on her, and it was an effect she welcomed. Whereas her friends took those drugs to “trip,” she took them to feel “normal;” as in, they tamed the frenzied delusions which so tormented her when she was in the manic phase of her disorder.  She continued self-medicating for the rest of her life.  Fisher had the best professional/medical help her Hollywood paychecks could buy, and it wasn’t enough.

 

“If only George Lucas had let me script-doctor this hairdo.”

 

People who buy into the “tortured artist” stereotype would credit Fisher’s bipolar disorder for her creativity.  I heartily enjoyed Fisher’s works and her wicked wit – some of the lines in her various books made me spit out my gum    [2]  in guffawing admiration.  But, if there had been a definitive cure for her bipolar disorder – one pill/surgery/treatment/genetic tweak and it’s all under control! –  and I’d expressed the opinion that Fisher should keep suffering in order to make art, I hope that someone would’ve slapped me upside the head and shamed me for being a cultural vampire.

Moiself most firmly holds to the following:

Writers, musicians, artists and scientists and other “creatives” produce great things *in spite of,* not because of,
any afflictions they may have.

This topic is on my mind because of The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race.  It is the book I’m reading…as in, ahem, still reading.  I’ve mentioned this book previously in this space; the reason I’m still reading it after two months is that it’s chock full of scientific, historical, and medical discoveries and the resulting political and cultural and ethical adaptations and information such discoveriespawn, and…the predicaments.  Some chapters I have to chew on for days, even weeks – in particular, the one I just finished: Chapter 41: Thought Experiments.

This chapter deals with the ethical questions raised by the CRISPR gene editing technology developed by Doudna and other scientists, a technology (“genetic scissors”) which may lead us to both the greatest opportunities and most disturbing dilemmas of our times.  It doesn’t matter that, for the present, the overwhelming majority of scientists (and the public) have either signed or supported pledges not to use the genetic scissors for germline editing.   [3]  Once the technology exists, it will be used – as in the Chinese scientist’s creation of the first gene-edited babies[4]  Gene editing, like any other activity or profession, can and will be regulated, but for what, and how, and by whom?  And there will be a black market for the technology, and hackers using and, (depending on your POV) “misusing” the technology.

 

 

Chapter 41 offers up specific examples wherein gene editing could do good (e.g., treating ALS) before, as the author puts it, “our knees jerk and we stumble onto hard-and-fast pronouncements (somatic editing is fine but inheritable germline edits are bad; treatments are fine but enhancements are bad).”  In one segment of the chapter, “Psychological disorders,” the author postulates how and if people will decide, should the genes that contribute to a predisposition for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression be isolated, whether or not to allow (or even encourage) parents to make sure that these genes get edited out of their children:

“But even if we agree that we want to rid humanity of schizophrenia and similar disorders, we should consider whether there might be some cost to society, even to civilization. Vincent van Gogh had either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  So did the mathematician John Nash (and also Charles Manson and John Hinckley). People with bipolar disorder include Ernest Hemingway, Carrie Fisher …and hundreds of other artists and creators….

Would you cure your own child from being schizophrenic if you knew that, if you didn’t, he would become a Vincent Van Gogh and transform the world of art (don’t forget, Van Gogh committed suicide)….

A reduction in mood disorders would be seen as a benefit by most of the afflicted individuals, parents, and families…. But does the issue look different when asked from society’s vantage point? As we learn to treat mood disorders with drugs and eventually with genetic editing, will we have more happiness but fewer Hemingways?  Do we wish to live in a world in which there are no Van Gogh’s?”

Here are the chapter notes moiself  made, while reading this section of the book:

First of all, IMO the world would get along just fine with fewer Hemingways.

 

 

And about a world with  “no Van Goghs” – seriously? He is/was one of my favorites.  But if people like VG had never been born, or were born but without their mood disorders, we wouldn’t miss what works they never produced…or perhaps we’d all be enjoying the art and literature they *did* produce, during a lifetime of creative endeavors not cut short by suicide (Hemingway at age 61; Van Gogh at age 37!).

VG’s world and Hemingway’s world had to get along without them, and did.
BECAUSE THEY WERE SO MISERABLE THEY FUCKING KILLED THEMSELVES.

We don’t have and likely never will have a time machine to see the “what ifs” that might occur should a person be born, or not born, or have this trait or tendency or lack another.  We often casually throw around such “what ifs” for the thought experiment, but we should never forget how many of the “tortured artists” we label as such were literally tortured to death by their mental demons.  Van Gogh *killed himself.* Although that fact is presented parenthetically in the book, I think it should be front and center to any debate about these issues.  I think that only a person who has no experience with the suffering inflicted upon a  loved one with schizophrenia would even be able to play devil’s advocate and pose such a question, about “society” being richer for one man’s exquisite anguish.

More chapter notes from moiself:

And how could you sentence your child to that fate, knowing the suffering?  “Yes, she’ll have bouts of – if not live the majority of her life with –  dealing with horrific, debilitating delusions…but she may write some catchy songs/paint some cool pictures other people will enjoy….”


So, we would chose to have other people suffer as long as there is the possibility they will do something to entertain us?

 

 

“Of course we should use germline therapy to fix things like schizophrenia that nature got horribly wrong.”
( James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix.
Watson’s son Rufus has schizophrenia.
Quoted in chapter 41 of The Code Breaker )

Whenever I hear/read a claim about how the physical suffering of, say, a person afflicted with Huntington’s Disease caused that person to become more empathetic, or that the mental suffering of schizophrenia allegedly produces creativity, I think of all the kind, creative, empathetic peoples I know who have somehow managed to develop and nurture those skills and abilities without having to suffer the brutalities of the loss of language, thinking and reasoning abilities, memory, coordination and movement (Huntington’s disease) or hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior (schizophrenia).

We praise Van Gogh’s art and rightly note his influence on generations of artists…but the man never made a dollar from the Starry Night posters you see on dorm room walls all over the world, nor one cent from his Almond Blossom painting being reproduced on reusable tote bags. In fact, he never made any money at all from his art.  [5]

Yes, it is a great (and necessary) “Thought Experiment,” to think of both the positives and negatives that can come from having – or getting rid of – certain mental and physical maladies.  And you can play that game in a myriad of ways. Those what-if they’d-never-existed? arguments are, to me, ultimately ridiculous.  You can’t think of it one way without postulating the other – think about how much more great art could have been produced by those who suffered from mental illness, including artists we never heard of because they killed themselves before their talent came to fruition.

Gene editing, in some form, is inevitable.  I won’t even deal with the trivialities of how the technology may one day be used, such as using it to make would-be basketball players taller, or to have more green-eyed redheads in the world.  For me, who has seen the anguish severe mood disorders inflict upon individuals and their families, I would take the opportunity to relieve future generations of that, if the “genetic scissors” approach could be shown to be safe and efficacious.

Relieve suffering, if you can.  Trust me, art will survive.

 

“Glad you like the posters and tote bags.  I’d rather live with bouts of happiness, if it’s all the same to you.”

 

“Vincent Van Gogh’s mutilation of his own ear, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and Ernest Hemingway’s alcoholism are just a few of the anecdotes that fuel the popular belief that creativity goes hand-in-hand with mental illness…. a systematic review and meta-analysis of the research on mood disorders and creativity found no clear link between them. ‘You can have a mood disorder and be creative, but those things are in no way dependent on one another.’ “
( “No Clear Link Between Creativity and Mood Disorders,”
Association for Psychological Science

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Carrie Fisher Memorial Mental Health Edition

I hate being bipolar… It’s fantastic!

I met a bipolar fortune teller yesterday – she says she either feels very manic,
or quite depressed – never a happy medium.

Did you hear about the white bear who had a female mate *and* a boyfriend?
Apparently, he was bipolar.

 

 

*   *   *

May you never conflate great art with great suffering;
May you read at least one of Carrie Fisher’s books;
May you engage in your own thought experiments of which genes you would
(or would not) edit out of humanity;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] A script doctor is a (usually uncredited) writer called in, by a movie’s producer and/or director, to help fix or improve a movie, by polish or fleshing out a character, “punching up” jokes, dialogue, and other story elements.

[2] Yep, despite rumors to the contrary, I can read and chew gum at the same time.

[3] A process wherein the genome of an individual is edited in such a way that the change is heritable – germline editing affects all cells in an organism, including eggs and sperm;  thus, the changes will be passed on to future generations.  This is in contrast with somatic gene editing, which affects only certain cells of the patient being treated.

[4] After which the scientist, He Jiankui, who carried out his own experiments on human embryos to try to give them protection against HIV, was convicted of violating the Chinese government’s ban on such experiments.  For acting  “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain”, seriously disrupting “medical order” and crossing “the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and medical ethics,” He was sentenced to three years in prison and fined three million yuan (roughly $430,000 ).

[5] He made not one legitimate sale of his paintings.  His brother Theo bought one ( so VG could claim to have sold one and thus be a professional artist, which was the requirement to have his work shown at a certain gallery), but that doesn’t count. 

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