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The Culture I’m Not Relativizing

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Content warning: content, much of it cranky. If you’re not cranky, you’re not paying attention.

*   *   *

Here is the understated headline of the article MH alerted me to, in Tuesday’s NY Times:

Clash of Values Emerges After Afghan Child Bride Burns to Death

I find the passive voice repugnant – burns to death? The girl didn’t just spontaneously combust. She was beaten and set on fire, after being bartered away as a 6th grader to settle a family dispute – treated and discarded as the piece of dispensable property women ultimately are in such brutal and backward cultures.

Clash of values. What an obscenity it becomes, being put so mildly. And how many times have I read variations of this grotesque play out of cultural values?

* Afghan woman, whose genitalia was severed by her husband, fights for justice amid rising violence against women

* Banished or battered at home, Afghan women share stories of surviving abuse.

*  … the images show an Afghan woman beaten to death by a mob…savagely beaten not by bearded Taliban but by very young men, wielding sticks and carrying mobile phones.

Go ahead, do the search yourself. You can Google until you gag with this subject, and also with the knowledge that for every story of the barbarous treatment of women and girls that makes the news, thousands more are not headline grabbers; rather, it’s just Life Goes On in Afghanistan and other Islamist cultures.

Back to the shiny happy first story. In the final paragraphs of the NY Times article, the story tells of how a relative of the family suspected in the girl’s torture and murder was questioned, by a criminal investigator and local activists, as to whether the girl was even old enough to consent (to the bartered marriage) in the first place.

“Why are you asking me? Go ask the Prophet,” (the relative) said, explaining that they were merely following traditions from the Prophet Muhammad’s time.

 

 

warning

 

 

As I have no doubt noted before in this space, I am not a cultural relativist. I abhor the fact that there is even such a concept as cultural relativism. And if you support it or defend it and I find out about it, I am going to go all medieval judgmental on your ass. Because the idea that people’s backwards and bigoted beliefs and cruel behaviors should be understood in terms of their culture leads to backwards and bigoted beliefs and cruel behaviors being defended or even excused…because it’s their culture.

You bet your ecumenical ass I’m gonna judge that. Judging cultures – any and all cultures – is what we all should be doing.

Discerning differences and making choices are good and necessary practices. It is wise to judge a tree by the fruit it produces. If your pear tree consistently produces sour-tasting, parasitic-ridden pears that rot before they ripen despite your best horticultural and pest control efforts, you’d best leave it to the bees and get your Anjous elsewhere.

 

 

bees

 

 

Don’t let any mush-brained cultural apologist fool you into thinking there are not valid criteria for testing or judging beliefs, world-views or practices, whether religious or non-religious. There are criteria, and they focus on the centrality of that most humanist value, compassion.  Analyze a belief, worldview or practice – does it lead to compassion and loving kindness?  Or does it produce in its adherents certainty, self-righteousness, belligerence, and the domination of the powerful us over the vulnerable them? [1]  

A worldview that teaches humility, gratitude, love and compassion and fosters equal responsibility and equal justice for all, is “better” than one that justifies or permits slavery and/or inequality and/or values (or even demands) incuriosity and ignorance re the natural world and/or preaches fear and guilt or the domination of the majority by a plutocracy.

Way back in the ’60s and ’70s I heard the argument that the ideology of Apartheid was part of the Afrikaaner culture; thus, who are we, as non South Africans, to understand or judge South African society? When enough of us worldwide stopped accepting that excuse, Apartheid was ended.

As a brown-skinned person with a Muslim name, I can get away with a lot more than you’d think. I can publicly parade my wife or daughters around in head-to-toe burqas and be excused out of “respect” for my culture and/or religion, thanks to the racism of lowered expectations.
( Pakistani-Canadian writer and physician and self-described “Atheist Muslim” Ali A. Rizvi )

 

allah says

 

  

“Go ask the prophet.”

Fuck your prophet.  Fuck anyone’s prophet. Fuck your shitty prophet’s shitty, primitive, ignorant, Iron Age, intellectually dysenteric misogyny still practiced as “traditions” by the various prophets’ blinkered, small-minded, ignorant followers Find some kind of shield, place it over prophet-following countries, and remove it when there’s nothing left but the cockroaches. [2]

Some days, that’s how I feel. Which is one reason I so love Bruce Cockburn’s song,  If I Had a Rocket Launcher …because it reminds me why it is a good thing I don’t have a rocket launcher. [3]

So. On my good days, I try to remember the individual women living in such cultures. I try to think of the almost 500,000 women sponsored via an organization I’ve supported for many years, an international organization which works directly with “marginalized women in 8 countries  [4]  affected by war and conflict…to offer support, tools, and access to life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency,” via offering these women  “job training, business and life skills, access to opportunity and more.”

On my bad days, [5]  I consider the email I got from said organization informing me of the new “sponsored sister” I’ll be supporting for the next 18 months and think, What’s the point? I think about the fact that this woman lives in Afghanistan, and I am sponsoring her…for what? To “access opportunity” in a culture of this?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Tried, I Really Tried…

…to force myself to watch a live telecast of the Republican Convention.

 

 

REALLY

 

 

Yes, really. Civic Duty ®  and/or Informed Citizen ® , and all that.

Five minutes into it, I thought it would be more intellectual stimulating [6] to enjoy re-watching one of my favorite Star Trek TNG episodes, appropriately titled, Disaster.

 

 

Has there ever been a larger assemblage of metaphorical Number Twos, Number One?

Has there ever been a larger assemblage of metaphorical Number Twos, Number One?

*   *   *

 

Speaking of disasters,

Department Of This Should Come As Little Surprise, But Still…

I’m shocked – shocked! – that anyone associated with the self-anointed Law and Order candidate would engage in such bald-face, bare-assed thievery.

Please tell me someone is planning to sue for plagiarism, after many journalists and bloggers pointed out that portions of Melania Trump’s convention speech contained “striking similarities” – i.e., word for word pilfering – of Michelle Obama’s address at the 2008 Democratic convention.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Oh – cynical moiself. Who am I to judge? [7] It was difficult for Melania, growing up as a black woman in Chicago. Just ask her daughters, Sasha and Malia.

*   *   *

Department Of Yes It’s True I Live To Burst Your Bubble

In our over-stressed and under-thought society, we esteem the concept of taking time out from our busy lives to notice, admire and appreciate the simple pleasures in life. We even have an advisory adage for it:

Remember to stop and smell the roses.

I am someone who stops to smell the roses, whenever I’m out walking and come across a particularly alluring one. Thus, I feel entitled to add a cautionary addendum to that adage.

 

 

How quaint; she's going to bollix it up for us, isn't she?

How quaint; she’s going to bollix it up for the rest of us, isn’t she?

 

 

If we (claim to) appreciate taking the time to seek the beauty in the everyday world, I hope we also appreciate telling the truth about performing such acts. Because the thing about stopping to smell the roses is that if you do so you will, at times, feel sorely disappointed – even betrayed.

As MH can testify, many is the time I’ve paused on our walks or hikes to sniff a beautiful flower, only to indignantly exhale, What is this – they call this a rose!?

Not every rose smells like a rose, or like any blooming thing at all, for that matter.

Not every visually enticing flower has a fragrance worthy of its name. Some of the most visually stunning roses seem to have no scent at all, as if they’ve had their monoterpenes bred out of them. The beautiful grandiflora salmonie that caught your eye may not have a whiff of anything remotely floral  [8]  emanating from its delicate, salmon-colored petals.

 

 

 

Keep Calm and pretend you relish the aroma reminiscent of your grandmother's mothballed woolen stockings.

Keep Calm and pretend you relish the aroma of your grandmother’s mothballed woolen stockings.

 

 

*   *   *

May you, like Trump Missus #3 in a series,
have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood and call bullshit (and plagiarism) when they hear it;
May you beware of trees producing rotten fruit;
May you take the risk and stop to sniff the blossoms anyway;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Be it men over women, true believers over infidels….

[2] I would like to find a shield that would let the innocent flora and fauna survive, but the people, I’m not so sure are worth preserving. Even the “victims” of such cultures go on to victimize others, as that is how they are raised.

[3] Ah, but if Trump were president, a rocket launcher in every garage!

[4] Afghanistan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan.

[5] Or perhaps, realistically, those are also good days?

[6] And less psychologically disturbing.

[7] Oh, that’s right – I settled the judgy thing in the previous rant.

[8] Or remotely salmon…for which you may be grateful.

The Slough I’m Not Kayaking

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

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

 

 

tacomafirefighters

*   *   *

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

sadieconvertible7-16tacoma

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Screw The Slough

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

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

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

 

 

columbiaslough_general

 

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

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

 

 

yeahright

 

 

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

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

 

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

I really wish I was joking about this.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Whaddya mean, old enough to understand?

Whaddya mean, old enough to understand?

*   *   *

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

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

 

 

SOAPBOX

 

 

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

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

But what about the Florsheims!

 

 

Wingtips Matter

Wingtips Matter

 

 

I’ll try again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

privelegejpg

 

 

*   *   *

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

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The S*** I’m Not Fixing

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Department Of Now Who Can Argue With That?

 

 

 

“You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”
(Jim, aka The Waco Kid, Blazing Saddles)

 

 

Happy (belated) birthday to Mel Brooks. He shares a birthday with my nephew, BPV, who turned 26 on Tuesday while Mel is…can it be…90?

In Mel’s honor, I had to watch a certain movie Tuesday evening. I have three of his films in my DVD collection; Blazing Saddles won out.

I am ever so fond of Brook’s boisterous Western spoof for many reasons, [1] including that it has come to remind me of my offspring.

 

 

explain

 

 

Gladly, Neil. The weeks preceding each of K’s and Belle’s births, I had an après-diner DVD (or video rental) film fest – two movies per night, screening my then-current or all-time favorite comedies. I was trying to laugh ’em out.

While watching Blazing, I wondered yet again: if the movie were made today, how likely is it that the film’s dialogue would include such copious usage of the N-word?  [2]

Brooks was an equal opportunity offender and master genre satirist. Blazing includes some of my favorite movie dialogue, including the authentic frontier gibberish speech opening this post. One line from the movie (can you guess which?) was nominated for the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Movie Quotes. [3]

 

 

And, of course, there is the scene which altered the art of the western cinematic genre. For decades after the release of Blazing Saddles, directors complained that they could no longer include any incident involving a campfire, due to Brooks’ lampooning of that iconic Western setting.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of This Is Going To Make For Interesting Dinner Table Conversation

It’s been a movie-watching week at dinner time. MH was late getting home on Monday, and I settled into one of our comfy chairs and put in a Netflix video: the documentary, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.”  A few minutes past the title sequence MH returned home. He began watching the documentary, which included having to watch me squeal with delightful recognition as one of my college professors, journalist and historian Ruth Rosen, made an onscreen appearance.

MH asked me a few questions about the documentary’s subject matter – the resurgence of what historians call 2nd wave feminism (circa 1960-1972). This prompted me to ask him if he’d ever read The Feminine Mystique, or Sexual Politics, or The Feminist Papers, or….I gestured toward the shelf on our family room’s ceiling-to-floor bookcase where those books, and other seminal (so to speak) writings of the feminist movement may be found. Uh…no?

Alright then, what about Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice? Nope?  Okay, not even (I did not use those words) Black Like Me?

MH said something about one disadvantages of not going to a liberal arts college (he attended Caltech) was not having those books on his reading list.

 

 

REALLY

 

 

And I was flummoxed.

I sat there thinking…stuff I mostly didn’t say. Once again I indicated our bookshelf by the fireplace. I read those books, and not because I attended a “liberal arts college” where they were required reading. I attended UC Davis, a public research university with (at the time) a mostly science/agricultural bent and reputation. Some of those books I read were mentioned in a couple of the classes I took, in the classes’ supplemental/extra reading syllabi, but were not “required” reading. All of them (and many other titles) should, in my opinion, be required reading for every citizen, regardless of their academic interests. Because of THE PROFOUND SOCIAL, CULTURAL, AND ECONOMIC CHANGES both documented and/or foreshadowed in them; because….  Oy vey.

 

Consider yourself warned.

Consider yourself warned.

 

 

Equality of opportunity for all people, regardless of any ism, is something MH and so many Good Men ® like him espouse and practice…and also, in some ways, IMHO, take for granted, often times because of how they were raised. But MH is no historical ignoramus; thus, I sat…and wondered. I wondered why so many men of his age, class and ethnicity who are (considered to be) well-educated, seemingly display little curiosity about why those books were written and the historical context in which such manuscripts and manifestos could be – had to be – produced?

People who have a science- or evidence- or reality-based view of the world (I consider both MH and I to be in that category) want to know how the world works. That is one of the strongest incentives MH and I had for eschewing the religious indoctrination of our respective childhoods and families: “It” (religion) is not a rational explanation for How Things Work. ® .

I am puzzled by people who hold a reality-based worldview and yet seem to lack the curiosity to understand the many other ways in which the world “works.” Perhaps it’s simply because those other ways are just too damn complicated. Even as complex as understanding the biology, chemistry and physics of life is trying to understand and dissect the pesky, messy, human political and cultural processes…including how a person may be an unwitting beneficiary of systems he did not design but by which he profits and therefore has no vested interest in dismantling…or even fully recognizing.

 

 

yeahright

 

 

Our brief exchange on the matter made me think of a term which makes many people defensively (unfortunately) cringe. It’s in the category of those terms which can be seen as cultural yellow alerts – ala “microagressions” or  “heteronormative” –  terms which cause a certain number of people to close their ears, minds and hearts the moment you use them.

I intuitively understood “privilege,” the first time I heard the word used to frame matters of social inequalty, [4]  because it was a concept I’d previously defined to myself as “luxury.”

Many men – including MH and our son, K – are decent folk who would never (consciously) think of oppressing, limiting or defining someone because of race or gender or sexual orientation or economic or social class.  Nonetheless, MH and K and manparts-people like them, as people born into this country’s dominant/normative gender/race/class, have the luxury of not having to think about their dominant or privileged status, simply because it isn’t part of their daily experience (unless it is “required reading” in some academic or theoretical setting).

The thing about privilege is that it’s invisible to we who have it. The ultimate privilege is the fact of not having to think about privilege, or to even notice that it exists.

Oh, and this privilege, luxury, or whatever you want to call it – it’s not inherently a bad thing. As scientist and atheist/feminist writer and activist Jen McCreight has pointed out, we all have some kind of privilege over somebody. What matters is whether we’re aware of it, how we use it, and that we not dismiss the concerns of the people who don’t share our particular form of it.

 

Young man, if you honestly think this country doesn’t care about religion or race, then you are privileged. You have grown up in an America that has enabled you to not know otherwise.
And I don’t need to you to be sorry about it, because you didn’t create that. I’d just love for you to someday understand it.

(Mary Elizabeth Williams, We Don’t Need Your Apology, Princeton Kid written in response to an essay published by a Princeton student who claimed he’d “checked his privilege” and decided he need “apologize for nothing.”)

 

Okay; deep, cleansing breath. Writing this makes me feel…old. Like I’ve failed my kids. Wasn’t my generation supposed to fix this shit?

 

 

Yep – totally your job!

Yep – totally your job!

 

 

*   *   *

Speaking of generational shit:

Department Of Saving Time And Heartache And Maybe An STD Or Three

“Booze gave me permission to do and be whatever I wanted.”
(Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget,  by Sarah Hepola)

 

I wish I could get all teens through twenty-somethings to listen to author Sarah Hepola‘s interview on the June 21st  edition of Fresh Air, in which she discusses her participation in the “hook up” culture of college and the reality of sex without the “liquid courage” of alcohol. It would be wonderful if young men and women could have the insights at age 19 that Hepola didn’t recognize until age 35.

 

*   *   *

May you feel responsible for fixing a modicum of shit attributable to any generation;
May you appreciate the well-written campfire scene;
May you remember the insights at age 35 when you’re way older than that;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Not the least of which is singing along to the marvelous title song. I still can’t believe Brooks got the singer of so many iconic Westerns, Frankie Laine, to do it with a straight face…or straight vocal cords.

[2] According to an interview with Brooks I read many years ago, co-screenwriter Richard Pryor is to thank for that.

[3] Yes, it’s now official – there is a list of Best 100… for everything.

[4] E.g., white privilege or male privilege.

The Syllables I’m Not Pronouncing

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They’re Baaaaaaaaack

The FBFD, that is: Former Boyfriend Dreams.

FBFD are dreams in which former boyfriends of mine have significant co-starring roles, or sometimes just make cameo appearances.

Some of my FBFD are “historical-realistic; i.e., they take place within the time frame when I knew the particular FBF who appears in the dream. Other FBFD take place in present (or near future) scenarios, with or without my current family members as part of the cast.

My brain concocts FBFD under certain circumstances of which I am aware, and, I assume, for other reasons effervescing in my subconscious. FBFD as seem to occur during certain Life Passage ® moments; e.g., when I’ve started a new project or am stuck on an old one, or find myself flustered by the passage of time and reflecting on roads not taken and the like.

Sometimes I wonder if other people experience the equivalent of FBFD. [1] I used to think that they must, but then I rarely see FBFD mentioned in lists of most common themes in adult dreams, which usually include

* Falling

* Showing up to school/work/a job interview naked

* Teeth falling out

* Missing a school exam and/or taking a test for which you are totally unprepared

* Flying

* Being chased by someone or some thing

* Showing up late for an important event

All of the scenarios listed above have made frequent appearances in my dreams. [2]  But I’ve yet to see FBFD on anyone else’s dream-theme list. Just wondering.

 

 

follow your dreams

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Since Someone Recently Asked

Sometimes, very rarely, [3] I am asked to “explain” my views as a Humanist/Freethinker/Bright/Atheist, or describe how my views evolved  [4]  from my religious upbringing.

I can, when prompted, offer an articulate exllanation. However, as per the timeworn trope, a picture speaks louder than words.

 

what religious people see

*   *   *

Department Of Not Exactly OCD

 

But a quirk of mine, nonetheless:

I don’t like it when people pronounce all four syllables of the word, comfortable.

Don’t they know, it’s not kuhm-fer-tuh-buhl, it’s kumf-ter-bull.

BFD, right?  I am almost ashamed to admit that I’ve actually argued with people over this.

 

 

siriusly

 

 

Yes, seriously.

I know: the four-syllable com-for-ta-ble way is the correct way to pronounce the word, no matter how snooty or Masterpiece Theatre-ish it sounds to moiself. But there are a whole lotta us commoners who use the shortcut. Thus, for the sake of linguistic harmony and world peace, I think we all should switch to using comfy, the pronunciation of which is fairly standard.

 

 

*   *   *

Terrorist Night Club Shooting; Alligator Baby Snatching….
Department Of Fun Times In Orlando This Week

 

On second thought, no comment.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Changing The Subject

In my blog post of  July 24, 2015 (an elephant’s memory ain’t got nothing on me), I mentioned one of the few advantage so of having a birthday close to Christmas: getting multiple gift checks – which is what we aging children get from our parents – at or near the same time.

That particular advantage can (possibly only) be appreciated from an adult’s POV. As a kid, having a birthday on or near a holiday can be…shall we say…inopportune. [5]  I was reminded of this recently when I had to provide my birth date on An Official Form Of Some Sort ®, which caused the Form Reader to commiserate, “How awful it is to have a birthday so close to Christmas – yours is even worse than mine!”

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, my parents suggested that our family celebrate my birthday on my half-birthday, June 16, in order to offset the fact that my actual birthday, December 16, seemed to get short-shrifted in the Christmas brouhaha.

My parents always tried to insure that my birthday was as special and stand-alone important as anyone else’s, and not just one-more-thing-to-have-to-do during the holiday season. They never, not once, gave me a present with the preamble, This is for your birthday and Christmas. Also, while my relatives’ and friends’ birthday gifts to moiself were usually presented in Christmas themed boxes, my parents’ gifts were always wrapped in birthday paper, and our family’s Christmas tree was not put up until the day after my birthday. Little things, sure, but the intention – which I recognized and appreciated – was to make sure my birthday wasn’t lost in the holiday shuffle.

However, the first time my parents suggested that I might want to move my birthday celebration to June elicited the kind of self-righteous retort only an eight year old can muster: You should have thought of that when you decided to have me in December!” [6]

As for the gift thing: I learned at a young age to stifle my instinctive riposte to the standard excuse  comment from those who thought the best way to deal with my “inconvenient” birthday  [7] was to convince me that theirs was a combo gift:

Faux Enthusiastic Gift-Giver:  This is for your birthday and Christmas!
Moi Smartass Self: Well then, it better have cost twice as much!

 

 

xmasbday

 

*   *   *

Department Of While I’m On The Subject Of Family Celebrations

Last month (May 22), would have been my parents’ 63rd wedding anniversary.

I’ve had the good fortune to know widowed spouses who truly cherish talking about their deceased partners – they treasure the memories and stories that keep their loved one “alive” for them in the present. I’d hoped that my mother would reach that place, eventually.

As I have previously noted in this blog, my father died seven years ago, a fact my elderly, physically and mentally frail mother often…which has evolved into almost always…forgets.

My mother’s present day circumstances are not pleasant, in many ways. She is geographically comfortable, [8] but physically, cognitively and emotionally feeble. Of particular annoyance, embarrassment and pain to her (and to moiself and my siblings) is the fact that the one thing she is consistently aware of is her forgetfulness: she knows that she cannot be sure of what she knows or does not know.  [9] Thus, the life that she cherishes [10] is in the past…but I can’t even go there in telephone conversations, because of what it may trigger.

There have been rare moments, these past seven years, when she’s mentioned my father without the fear/guilt/ agony of bereavement. But I always have to let her take the initiative re mentioning him…and when she does, 99.94 % of the time, it’s not good.  [11]

I wish that I could have talked to her about the date last month. I wish I could have shared stories: Remember when we (their children) surprised you on your 25th anniversary, and Chet posed with the loving cup trophy we bought for you….

But that was then and this is now. And, as Compassionate Communication With The Memory Impaired reminds me, memory impairment is a disability.  Reminders are rarely kind. They tell the patient how disabled they are – over and over again. Reminders of the recent past imply, “I remember; I’m okay; you don’t; you’re not.” Refer only to the present or the future.

 

 

Chet anniversary

*   *   *

May your life reminders bring you comfort and not anxiety;
May friends former and present be kind (or at least entertaining) agents in your dreams;
May you be comfy in your pronunciations of choice;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Well, do you?

[2] I like my flying dreams the best. I have epic flying dreams.

[3] People who know me and “approve” or agree with or are neutral (or couldn’t give a flying squirrel’s ass)  re my worldview don’t ask. Family and others who disagree and/or don’t approve have learned not to ask.

[4] Most (not all) religious people don’t use that word.

[5] Or just plain suck.

[6] I was not quite cognizant of the fact that my parents did not “decide to have me” at any certain date.

[7] Mostly adult relatives who used this term. This should be a no-brainer, but folks, never tell a child their birthday is “inconvenient.”

[8] Able, so far, to stay in her home – which is her resolutely expressed desire, no matter the emotional and financial detriment to others – with 24/7 care, arranged for and supervised by her children.

[9] I’ve learned the hard way never to go on autopilot and do the how are you? greeting, as she does not like to answer the question. “Well, I’m still here,” is her most optimistic (t) answer.

[10] And often re-writes to make it more cherish-able

[11] She wonders where he is, why he left her (as in, deserted her – she doesn’t remember he died), and why he and we (her adult children) are hiding this information from her?

The Chemicals I’m Not Balancing

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Department Of Sometimes I Just Can’t Help Myself

Last week I ordered some Star Trek birthday cards, featuring the visage of Captain Jean Luc Picard, from an Etsy vendor. The vendor emailed me to verify the order:

I just wanted to contact you to say thank you for your order and to confirm your shipping information. So, you would like a set of 5 Star Trek Next Generation Birthday cards, shipped to ______(my address)

I of course had no choice but to respond: Make it so.

 

 

facepalm

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Love Learning New Things

And here are four New Things ®  I’ve recently encountered. [1]  The first, via my “reupping” my volunteer status for C.A.T. (Cat Adoption Team).

 

 

flank

 

 

The typical female kitten or cat is (or once was) spayed via an abdominal incision. For several years now veterinarians have had the option of performing a “flank spay” – which uses a lateral entry. A lateral entry is especially useful for cats that are lactating, as it reduces chances of infection and makes it easier to monitor the incision as the cat does not have to be handled (turned on its back and its tender belly exposed) to do so.

 

 

How intriguing. Do tell us more.

How intriguing. Do tell us more.

 

New thing #2 is the third meaning of the word, abduction.

I was aware of the first two meanings of the word (1. The act of forcibly taking someone somewhere against their will; 2. The movement of a limb or muscle or other body part away from the mid-line of the body), but didn’t know that abduction is also a form of scientific reasoning, abductive  aka inference) reasoning:

…a form of logical inference which goes from an observation to a theory which accounts for the observation, ideally seeking to find the simplest and most likely explanation.

 

This came courtesy of a Freethought Radio podcast interview with physicist Sean M. Carroll,

 

 

Get on with it, please.

Get on with it, please.

 

 

New Thing #3: “Your brain has a chemical imbalance.”

That statement always sounded fishy to me, even when I was using it, with family members suffering from depression, to discuss their situation. Sure, it sounds scienc-y…but what does it actually mean?  As it turns out, in cases of brain disorders (aka depression and other mental illnesses), probably nothing, according to professor and psychologist Elliott Ingersoll, [2]. Ph.D. , who has given a provocative TED talk on the subject.

Unlike chemical imbalances in body organs or systems that can actually be measured (e.g. the insulin/blood sugar imbalance in diabetics, which can be measure through blood and urine tests), brain chemistry is highly complex and not completely understood. There is no way to measure levels of neurotransmitters, hormones and other messenger transmitters which may be involved in clinical depression, nor even an agreement on which ones are involved and what a “balance” of those would be.

I spent a decade researching psychopathology and psychopharmacology and neuroscience…but, I kept thinking I was missing something because I never came across what the actual chemicals were in this mysterious ‘chemical imbalance’ everyone kept talking about…. I came to realize that there was no such thing, and that, for years mental health professionals were telling clients, ‘You have a chemical imbalance in the brain,’ (A) there was no way to measure brain chemistry – it’s too complex and you can’t get it through peripheral measures like spinal fluid and, (B) I was more horrified to realize that this was being driven by marketing and pharmaceutical companies….”

(Dr. Ingersoll’s interview with Freethought Radio, 6-5-16

 

There is no New Thing #4.

 

rejoicing

*   *   *

Department Of Kids Say The Darndest Things

Background info to apropos to this Department:

  1. Our annual family Solstice/Christmas/Year’s end letter to family and friends opens with a quote from each family member, chosen by each person to be somehow representative of the year for that particular family member…or to just confuse people.
  1. Son K is reveling in young adulthood: gainfully and happily employed, he’s residing in a house he rents along with four of his friends.

On Monday, apropos of seemingly nothing, K initiated the following exchange via FB Messenger:

K: Okay, my Christmas letter quote will be, “I am the Folks.”

Moiself: Nice to know in advance. I’m sure an explanation will be forthcoming.

K: door to door sales type guy asked if my folks were home and that was my response.

 

 

They are the folks.

They are the folks.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of All Things Must Pass

 

Buh-bye to our Honda Odyssey minivan. It joined our household…over sixteen years ago – can that be?  That’s the longest period of time MH or I have ever had a car.

MH decided to get the van during the height of his company’s stock boom years. While many of his (male) work peers were opting for what Perspicacious Friend ©  SCM describes to her daughter as, The kind of car a man buys when he has a small penis,” MH opted for the Practical Family Car ® . Indeed, the van served our family well over the years, with little output in terms of repairs, until recently, when that mutha Father Time turned it into a new-transmission-needing money pit.

Although I came to see the logic of acquiring a minivan, I was initially and strenuously opposed to the purchase. (“If I want to drive a bus I’ll get a job with Trimet,” I huffed to MH). And then, I found a way to make it  – driving a minivan, FFS – more tolerable to me: I bumper-stickered the holy crap outta that vehicle:

 

 

 

VanBumperStickersArgus

 

 

The above picture was taken (unbeknownst at the time, by me) by a reporter for the now defunct [3]  Hillsboro Argus, and appeared on the paper’s front page, circa late 2009. Although we subscribed to the paper MH and I had no idea the back of our van front page news, until a friend e-alerted us to check out the paper’s latest edition (“That HAS to be your van!”). The photo was accompanied by a sweet – if misleading – caption, written by someone who AS to be yourobviously didn’t read all the stickers:

No Personal politics on display, but a bumper crop of humorous stickers to make fellow motorists smile at stoplights.”

Over the years, after shopping at New Seasons Market or running some other errand, or returning to our van after, say, seeing a movie, we discovered hand-written notes pertaining to our stickers left on the windshield. On more than one occasion I returned to the van as someone was in the process of writing such a note. I enjoyed sneaking up on them, pretending to be Not The Owner, and usually greeted them by indicating the back of the van and cracking, “Get a load of these weirdos, eh?”  to gauge their reaction.

It’s hard to believe, given the political and freethought nature of many of the stickers, that not once did anyone leave a negative comment (or slash our tires). Most of the notes expressed sentiments along the lines of this one, the only one I kept:

 

 

vannoteJPG

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Not Exactly Late Breaking News

 

In fact, I was wondering why it was even considered news, when I read that Rep. Speaker of the Houser Paul Ryan announced he will support Trump.

What an earth-shaking, bone-breaking, tooth-rattling, sphincter clenching surprise that absolutely no one could have predicted: The Republican Party leader announces he will support the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.

Please, someone bring me the smelling salts.

DO YOU SEE WHAT GAY MARRIAGE HAS LED TO ?!?!?!?!?!?!?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Snakes on a Plane! ( Actually, in terrariums…. )

That was the subject line in ads MH and I placed on Craig’s List and the FB page for Oregon Reptile Association. We are trying – successfully, if current arrangements go well – to re-home our cornsnake, T’Pol, and ball python, Andy.

The snakes were acquired many years ago by our offspring, along with the late great bearded dragon, Belle (from whom my daughter took her pseudonym for the purposes of this blog).

 

 

Blueberry-loving Belle

Blueberry-loving Belle

 

 

All were captive bred, acquired during the kids’ Reptile Are Cool Years ®  (Belle the BD has since gone to join the great Beardy collective consciousness). In the past couple of years the snakes weren’t getting much pet action, what with son K and daughter Belle out of the house; thus, MH and I decided that finding another home for them was a Nest Cleaning ® thing to do.

 

 

T'Pol on a hot day, enjoying a dip in her water dish.

T’Pol on a hot day, enjoying a dip in her water dish.

 

 

We let K and Belle know of our intentions. [4]  Even as they understand our reasons for re-homing the reptiles, I imagine they’ve a certain sense of poignancy re the matter: another piece of childhood passing by.

 

 

 A rare picture of Andy not curled up into a ball (which ball pythons like to do).

A rare picture of Andy not curled up into a ball (which ball pythons like to do).

 

*   *   *

Department Of Signs Of The Times

The first (and not last, I hope) political yard sign of the season that’s made me laugh.

 

 

suck

 

*   *   *

Department Of Current Events: In Case You Hadn’t Noticed

I am not planning on addressing the case of the Stanford Student/Swimmer who raped an unconscious women in this space. The despicable incident is just now coming to the general public’s attention due to the sentencing of the rapist and the revealing statements from the victim, the rapist’s father, and the rapist himself. I’ve let just a smidgen of my disgust and outrage leak out onto FB, but I just cannot go there…here.

 

*   *   *

May you heed the signs of the times;
May you leave kind notes on other people’s windshields;
May you be able to there when you are here,
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] New to moiself, although other people may find some of these tidbits old nets.

[2] Yep, related to (a great-grandnephew of) the greatest American few people outside of the Freethought and atheist communities have heard of, the 19th century civil rights champion, orator & lawyer Robert G. Ingersoll.

[3] as an actual, as opposed to virtual, community newspaper.

[4] And overrule it, should they be able to provide a home (read: get a landlord’s approval) for one or both snakes.

The Parents I’m Not Blaming

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Or, am I?

*   *   *

Department Of Not Ignoring The 800 Lb Gorilla In The Room

That would be the 450 lb gorilla named Harambe, an endangered silverback who is no longer in the room (at the Cincinnati Zoo). As you’ve probably heard by now, Harambe was shot and killed last week by zookeepers to protect a three-four year old [1] boy who had somehow climbed under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall to get into the gorilla’s enclosure.

Visitors. Guests. The Public  whatever you call them (that is, us), zoological parks, National and State Parks and wilderness preserves and  animal conservancies couldn’t exist without them.  And, as any park employee [2] can tell you, the most dangerous animals to be found at such preserves are the humans.

 

 

zoo1

 

 

MH and I have been members of the Oregon Zoo for a long time. Both our son K and daughter Belle were active in the ZooTeens program and other zoo internships, service and educational programs for 5+ years. Through our membership level, our own years of attending the zoo, and our kids’ involvement with some amazing mentors, we’ve been privy to behind-the-scenes info and stories from zoo staff and volunteers…which is leading up to this: you wouldn’t believe the crazy, stupid, irresponsible (and sometimes just plain malicious) shit some people will pull.

Take this story, of the Very Tall Dad who, holding his infant daughter in his arms, pushed through shrubbery to get as close as he could to the railing guarding the concrete moat surrounding the tiger enclosure. While his wife aimed her camera at him, VTD stretched his very long arms out as far as he could to make it appear as if he were dangling his baby above the tiger enclosure.

I heard about this from zoo employee ZE, a much-loved mentor to many ZooTeens. The afternoon this debacle-in-the-making unfolded, ZE happened to be walking by the tiger enclosure on her way another area of the zoo. She quickly approached the parents and pointed out that they were endangering both the tigers and their child. The parents were shocked out of their astonishing act of idiocy by the reality check from ZE, and thanked her accordingly:

Oh my goodness, you are so right, and we are so sorry! We were thoughtless and acted rashly, and set a bad example for other parents and children, and put you in an awkward situation. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

 

 

REALLY

 

 

Of course they didn’t. Snap out of it!

The actual reaction: the father glared at ZE and snarled, Fuck you as he and his equally white trash negligent immature partner wife scurried away.

Over my two decades plus of zoo-going, I’ve received similar responses from The General Public ®  when I’ve kindly yet firmly pointed out to people that their children were climbing over/under barriers (not into animal enclosures, but barriers meant to keep people on the trail and not trample plant habitats) or tossing their litter into animal habitats or pounding their hands against terrarium walls or shrieking in front of enclosures (in defiance of signs clearly pointing out that the animal inhabitants were sensitive to loud noises) or otherwise yelling/roaring at/taunting the animals [3]….

 

 

zoo2

 

So. We have the template, of both intentional and unintentional negligence and even willful harm, that is part of what happens when you have people at zoos.  [4] And then, there are the accidents. A kid got away from his mom, somehow got into an animal enclosure, and a beloved, valuable member of a highly endangered species is dead.

Social media is doing what social media does: casting blame, seemingly without pausing for a moment’s reflection, and abetting what has become our new national pastime. Why pay $ for tickets to a baseball game when you can, for free and in the comfort of your own living room, shame/vilify/judge the parenting skills of other people? The parents should be brought up on child endangerment charges/shot and skinned and their hides sold and the money donated to endangered gorilla/wildlife  reserves….

 

 

Yet another thoughtful rumination.

Yet another thoughtful rumination.

 

 

My Unofficial Survey On The Matter ®  indicates that most people commenting online on the matter are blaming the parents (read: mother), while a smaller percentage fault the zoo for not having a foolproof enclosure: …it could be argued that she (the boy’s mother) surely trusted the zoo to have an enclosure that was childproof.”

And I surely trusted that most people who have the slightest familiarity with children doubled over with thigh-slapping laughter after reading that statement.

 

 

 

CAMEL

 

 

 

An enclosure that was childproof.  I made no such assumption when I took my kids to the zoo, or anywhere, for that matter – even to another family’s home. [5] There is not an enclosure in the world that is childproof, or (adult) human willful stupidity-proof.

It seems there is the opportunity every day, skimming through the news, for us read about the consequences of the human propensity for doing stupid things/not paying attention/thinking “it won’t happen to me.”  Yet, like most blowholes concerned citizens ruminating over this tragic affair, I wasn’t there. Thus, I can only imagine how the tragedy unfolded…and, of course, cast hindsight judgments about what zoo officials should or shouldn’t have done, and what the gorilla would or wouldn’t do, after viewing the one video that has surfaced.

What with our Selfie Society, wherein everyone is seemingly documenting every minute of their noteworthy lives, there’s got to be another shaky cellphone  recording of the incident (or a zoo security videocam) that might shed more light on the situation. Until that or other accounts surface, we’ve only a few bystander reports, including the story of A woman who witnessed the boy’s fall said she heard the youngster say he wanted to get in the water with the gorillas. She said the boy’s mother was with several other young children and told him no.

There will continue to be a crap-ton of second, third, and twentieth guessings: the mother will be blamed (perhaps, rightfully) for not noticing the boy signaling his intent to get into the enclosure and/or for her negligent parenting skills (who is responsible for the fact that her son obviously didn’t take her “no” seriously?!?!!?), while others will point out the naiveté and willfulness of a three year old.  And, seriously folks, what parents reasonably suspect that toddlers will follow through on every desire they express? “Mommy, I wanna play with the gorilla” does not immediately translate into the almost unthinkable, Uh oh, this means my kid is going to run away from me and find a way to get into that gorilla enclosure.

The parents of the boy aren’t talking (as of this writing), except for releasing a statement through a public relations firm – a statement that froze my butt, almost as much as the whole incident itself:

“We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff…”

 

Typical.

 

 

epicurious

 

 

The parents thanked their imaginary friend – for what? For apparently picking his holy nose while their child scrambled away from his mother and somehow got up/over/under barriers and fell into the gorilla enclosure? They thanked their “lord” for their boy’s safety, a “lord” who did nothing while the gorilla alternately (arguably) protected the boy and dragged him around the enclosure [6]?  What, pray tell,  [7] exactly, did that lord do to deserve thanks? Did their deity magically/invisibly aim the gun that the heartbroken keepers used to kill the gorilla – a beloved creature mourned by his caretakers as “a gentle giant” and “like a member of the family” –  in order to protect the errant toddler from his own folly and/or parental negligence?

Once again, I digress.

Look. The parenting thing: I’ve been “there,” and it is truly amazing, even frightening, how quickly a child can apparently vanish when you do the proverbial turn your head just for a moment to check on something.

But – you knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you? – I’ve also been to and witnessed the other “there.” I’ve seen the there where parents turn their heads for way more than for a moment –the there where parents carelessly and sometimes seemingly deliberately focus their attention elsewhere, and/or expect others to pick up their slack.

;

As animal expert Jeff Corwin put it, “the zoo is not your babysitter.” And, I would add, also not your babysitter is the candy aisle of the grocery store, the video and electronics section of Costco, the furniture section of the department store…nor any of the other public places and/or employees I’ve seen parents use as virtual/free childcare. Including the doctor’s office. [8]  [9]

 

*   *   *

May we all be accountable for our actions;
May we also be understanding of lapses in judgment and other human frailties;
May we work to ensure that empathetic humans are not an endangered species;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] I have read conflicting reports as to the boy’sage.

[2] If you know them well enough and can get them alone/willing to speak off the record.

[3] This seems to be, in my experience, largely the territory of late adolescent/early adult young males who, when they get near the larger felines, bears and or other predator species, are trying to prove…what are they trying to prove?

[4] Or at the DMV, for that matter.

[5] I was One Of Those Parents © who asked other parents, when my kids were going to their house for the first time, if they had firearms in the house (and if so, how/where are they stored) and if there were cigarette smokers in the house (smokers tend to leave matches and lighters around, and every small child is an inherent firebug).

[6] Depending on which animal behavior expert’s interpretation you read.

[7] On second thought, ignore the expression. Don’t pray, just tell.

[8] “Oh, I can bring him in the room with me and you can just watch him for a bit, can’t you?” Sure, lady, it’ll be no problem for me to use my other four hands to restrain your child while I’m prepping the pap smear slide for the doctor who is PERFORMING YOUR PELVIC EXAM.

[9] Yes, that scenario has happened to me, and more than once, during my former reincarnation as a women’s reproductive health care assistant.

The Genome I’m Not Sequencing

2 Comments

 

And, BTW, neither are you, even if you’ve forked over $199 to 23and Me, Family Tree, and/or the various other genetic testing organizations you can find online. Because…Science. Because…for reasons I’ll get to, soon. But first

 

 

No, not butt first....

No, not butt first….

 

 …a bit of background/digression.

*   *   *

Department Of We Hoped She Was “Just” French

I have a curious (to some people, myself included) lack of interest in my genetic family tree. More curious to me than knowing all about those who have occupied the various limbs of my family tree – aka, blood kin – is my lack of curiosity about the subject.

For whatever reasons, my bloodlines have never mattered much to moiself, in terms of my own self definition/image/worth, and also in terms of other bipeds whom I find interesting and acquaintance-worthy. [1]  Even so, I fully acknowledge, if not fully understand, the existence of a desire which motivates people to research their genetic history via ventures that, IMHO, run the spectrum from harmless interest to absorbing hobby to batshit bonkers obsession.

A recent casual comment made by someone who’d used one of the afore-mentioned DNA testing services testing made me realize I knew little of what the testing companies offer. I felt a brief…gasp…curiosity, re both the process of such testing, and the results. Could genome sequencing possibly shed light on a family mystery regarding a paternal ancestor? Specifically, a Chickasaw or Cherokee [2] who married into the Irish Parnells and whose new family tried to “pass” her (or him) off as white.

 

 Looks like someone else had a story to tell?

Looks like someone else had a story to tell?

 

 

 

Excuse my detour through what I feel compelled [3] to call The History of the Mystery.

From about age four onward – once I got over my blond phase – I heard, at irregular intervals, mildly teasing comments from both family and friends about my “Indian features,” which were attributed by family members to a Native American antecedent on my father’s maternal side of the family

I can’t remember how old I was when my father had told me there was a Cherokee or Chickasaw ancestor on his mother’s side. He also told me he couldn’t remember whether it was his mother’s great grandfather or mother, and that the family records on such matters were scanty and unreliable for many reasons, including the fact that “… people back then changed names and information they thought was embarrassing.”

 

 

Age three or four, as I was transitioning to my true hair color. Fortunately, no need for a separate bathroom.

Age three or four. I was transitioning to my true hair color. Fortunately, no need for a separate bathroom.

 

 

 

The she looks Indian comments became more frequent during my high school years, particularly when I wore my long hair in two braids. The observations didn’t impress me or make me think I was in some way cool or hip (I did not buy into the White People Think It’s Cool To Have Native American Ancestry mentality that seemed to flourish in the late 60s-70s), nor did they bother me. I mostly attributed the remarks to the general lack of imagination (long dark braided hair = Injun, Ke-mo sah-bee!) in what passed for humor [4] amongst my peers. And then, my maternal grandmother, “Bapa,” chimed in, one afternoon during my freshman year of high school.

According to Bapa, my Native American heritage from a great great grandparent  [5] was scant, yet evident enough that Bapa’s friend gave Bapa a warning. Friend of Bapa  advised Bapa to take down the framed picture of me Bapa had on her coffee table, because said picture emphasized my “Indian-features.”

 

REALLY

 

 

Yes, really.

Bapa laughed conspiratorially when she told me what her friend had said. I laughed in turn, then asked Bapa what she knew about the possible Indian-featured member of my family. “Oh, well,” Bapa sighed, “There isn’t much to know.” [6]

A few years after Bapa’s youngest child (my mother) was married (to my father) it was somehow revealed to Bapa [7] that there was Indian blood on my father’s side of the family (“It doesn’t show in your father, but you can tell by looking at pictures of his mother.”)[8] It was an Indian woman, Bapa thought, although one of my father’s sisters had tried to reassure the family that the ancestor was “maybe just French.”

I was able to question my father’s youngest sister (keeper of the family tree information) about our Native antecedent only once before she died  [9] . She said, in that lovely Tennessee twang of hers and totally sans tongue in cheek, that she’d “…heard from a reliable source that the story was unreliable.”  [10].  She then made a funny face, lowered her voice said that, yes, her Mama had once admitted to having some Indian blood “back there,” maybe Cherokee but “most likely” Chickasaw, but that “we were thinking” (the tone of her voice implied, we were hoping) “it wasn’t Indian,  just French.”

 

 

 

 

No, please, anyone but the French....

No, please, anyone but the French….

*   *   *

We Now Return You To Our Regular Scheduled Babbling Programming

 

I checked out a couple of genetic testing sites, and almost immediately lost interest when I read their come-on tags – teasers meant to exploit our culture’s wide-ranging celebrity obsession (Could you be related to someone famous?).

 

 

avengerstreejpg

 

Further interest was lost via having some of my concerns about the prematurity of the science of genetic testing confirmed when I listened to a recent StarTalk podcast.

The Promise and Peril of the Genomic Revolution is a fascinating interview with both a researcher in the field of genetic testing – bioethicist Robert Kitzman – and also someone trying to profit by popularize the testing among the non-scientifically inclined public – Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of the genetic testing company 23andMe .

You are made of cells. And the cells in your body have 23 pairs of chromosomes.
Your chromosomes are made of DNA, which can tell you a lot about you. Explore your 23 pairs today. 
Find out what your 23 pairs of chromosomes can tell you.
(from www.23andMe.com )

 

Wojcicki, of course, wants you to use her services, and thus touts how such testing is “empowering individuals to take more control of their own healthcare and to benefit from increased understanding of their own genome.”

Except that no genetic testing company allows you to sequence your entire genome, nor even come close to “understanding” it.  Dr. Kitzman brought up the seemingly little-known (amongst the scientific laity) yet major point that people who contract the services of genetic testing companies mistakenly think they are getting their entire genome sequenced.  

Another concern…there are 3 billion letters (in a human genome). 23andMe is not looking at all 3 billion letters. What they’re doing is looking at one out of every several hundred thousand letters. Imagine a wall of books…what they’re doing is saying we’re going to take one book, we’re going to give you the first letter on every three pages. So the first letter is A, three pages letter the first book is a C, three pages later the first letter is T…you don’t know what kind of book you’re reading… What 23andme is now doing is just giving you one one-thousandth of the information that’s there, so there are going to be false positives, false negatives, there are going to be problems understanding it….”
( Robert Kitzman, StarTalk, 4-29-16 )

The literary analogy: well, then. What do you have, and how can you tell? Are you previewing Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking? A surah from the Koran? A Quentin Tarentino script (no, lawdy, take me now)?

As to such testing’s application to healthcare  [11] : the science, while amazing, is still in its relative infancy, and, as the podcast warns, there are real and serious “…limitations of what we do and don’t know at this very early stage in what is proving to be a much more complicated process than we used to believe.” Given the dangers of false positives and false negatives, tread lightly, y’all.

So. Having my genome sequenced, for whatever reason? I’m not ruling it out; perhaps, Someday For Some Reason ®. But for now, I’ll be content with letting that Cagey Chickasaw Chick – I mean of course, Furtive French Femme – lurk in the not-too-far-distant background. Or, my braids, if I ever have them again.  [12]

 

 

cclown

*   *   *

Department Of Moments That Scream, Inspiration

I recently finished reading a book about the history of Los Angeles punk rock. The book is composed of twenty-four chapter length stories and essays about the infamous west coast scene (circa 1977-1982) by ~ fifteen narrators/participants of that era. I came away from the read with three impressions:

(1) I found it appropriate that the book’s chapters were as varied (read: uneven) in competency and coherency of their prose as the punk bands described therein were as per their musical talent and artistic vision.

(2) Vying for Best Musical Trivia Ever ®  is the following passage from the book, on how the band The Germs got their name:

They were proudly wearing their new mustard-yellow band T-shirts, emblazoned in velvet iron-on letters GERMS. The shirts had been made at a store where they charged by the letter, and their first choice of band name, Sophistifuck and the Revlon Spam Queens, simply wasn’t affordable.
(Chapter 5, Under The Big Black Sun: A Personal History of LA Punk )

(3) There is no impression #3.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Combinations That Call For Consuming Anti-Vertigo Medications

After finishing When Breath Becomes Air, the profoundly moving memoir of a young physician’s journey into what-makes-life-worth-living-and-what-the-heck-is-life-anyway territory after he receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, I couldn’t start another book for several weeks. Then when I did, I ping-ponged between the afore-mentioned expository of the LA Punk Scene and Secular Meditation: 32 Practices For Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, And Joy.

 

 

punkmeditation

 

 

 

*   *   *

May you be able to include Spam when naming some venture in your life; [13]  
May that blip on your genome turn out to be just French,
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] I’m not going to be predisposed to like a person, or find them more or less interesting or valuable, just because we are supposedly “related.”

[2] Chickasaw or Cherokee – I’ve heard/read different attributions.

[3] By the spirit of the love child of Jesse Jackson and Johnnie Cochrane.

[4] I never took the comments to be insulting, regardless of the commenter’s true intentions. One time there was an implied derogation:  a friend (who had a German last name) called me squaw, as if flinging an epithet. I informed him of the origins of his surname and called him a Nazi. Ah, the compassionate maturity of youth.

[5] Or more…not sure how many great-greatss, as the available family tree info is less than helpful.

[6] Despite her protestations, she’d obviously known enough of something to tell a friend about it.

[7] Bapa was sketchy on details, and like the rest of my family’s older generation, was reluctant to talk about it.

[8] Make that picture, singular. Like the rest of our family, Bapa had seen only one picture of my father’s mother: a tiny, grainy shot of my father’s mother and father and their brood, lined up against their ramshackle tenant farmer’s shack. I don’t know how you could “tell” anything from that picture, except that my father’s mother was a poor farm woman who had too many children.

[9] So difficult to get those pesky dead people to cough up any details.

[10] Mere words cannot describe how much I loved her phrasing, nor how difficult it was to keep a straight face when she said that.

[11] The more nobler excuse/rationale for such testing, versus the self-aggrandizing, gossipy Find Out If You’re Related To Royalty! ego-appeals.

[12] The pix is of from my high school’s senior award for Campus Clown. I am biting down on a doll’s arm, which I found at the beach the summer before my senior year and then wore on a chain around my neck for the rest of the year…because I could.

[13] As long as that venture isn’t a child.

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