It’s been a while since I’ve undocked my laptop from the mother ship and taken it to a coffee shop. I don’t need the caffeine but I will need the wifi in order to post this. Our landline/modem are down (as well as my cell phone’s voicemail, a glitch that has no technical relation to the former problems, but it all happened at once, all of a sudden and apropos of nothing, so WTF?).
When informed about my various technical/communications snafus, perspicacious friend SCM asked, “What have you done to piss off the NSA?”
* * *
The Grammar cop is always on her beat.
Tuesday’s New York Times featured a cover story about labor and safety demands made by Nepalese Sherpas in light of the Mt. Everest avalanche tragedy. The Grammar Cop is issuing a warrant for the arrest of the mountaineering company owner who was quoted in the story. The charge: illegal (yet admittedly impressive) usage of two torpid terms  in a row, thus creating an emphasis redundancy:
“The bottom line is, at the end of the day, if the Sherpas aren’t happy….”
* * *
Hoping the Terrorists Win This One
Saudi Arabia has issued a combination of royal decrees and legislation which, according to Human Rights Watch, will serve to criminalize virtually all dissent thought or expression, and which define terrorism as, “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
Oh-so-disturbing, but oh-so-hardly surprising. Saudi Arabia has a dismal, to put it mildly, human rights record.  Its inexorable oppression of women has been likened to gender apartheid, and – imagine this! – the Islamic monarchy remains one of the very few countries in the world not to accept the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yo, King Abdulla and your misogynist, racist, Islamite religionist, Stone Age stooges: this Royal Turd Trophy is for you.
* * *
Dateline: San Francisco, mid-1980’s. A friend and former college apartment mate, who’d moved to the East Coast to pursue his master’s degree, was back to The Coast for a visit, and arranged for us to meet up at the dive bar of his choice.
Much to the amusement (and sometimes, annoyance) of our other roommates, Yanny  and I liked nothing better than to chew the intellectual fat. That night in SF we were in fine form, chomping far and wide, so to speak. I can’t remember which one of us brought it up, but the night (and drinks) ended with us gnawing on this proposition: if you could be endowed with tremendous or fantastic abilities/features/talents in one area, what would you choose? And which trait do you think would have the most impact upon your personal and professional life?
You can have genius intelligence – you could understand at a glance Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity and see where Max Plank should have tweaked his quantum theory. Or, you have perfect pitch, can sight read music, possess a singing voice that causes Vladmir Putin to embrace kittens and weep with joy when he hears you belt out Time to Say Goodbye. Or, your athletic ability is such that the decathlon isn’t enough of a challenge for you, and the International Olympic Committee decides to add a fweptathalon (that would be the term for forty-one events, right?) to showcase your abilities. Or….
I mentioned the obligatory caveat, that many historical figures deemed genius were not all that content with or successful in their personal lives. Then Yanny and I, almost simultaneously, brought up the idea that one extreme attribute, the one that involved the least amount of aptitude and/or effort, was also the one trait most likely to affect your life in a positive manner: that of being good-looking.
In various psychology and sociology classes we’d read about the “perks of pretty,” or what was sometimes called the “Beauty Effect.”  Controlled studies show that, absent any behavioral or verbal cues, beautiful people are regarded to be more talented, kind, friendly, competent, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts, and that “people go out of their way to help attractive people — of the same sex and opposite sex —because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.”
Yanny and I, while hardly trolls, had long been aware of our place among the pulchritude-inally challenged. We swapped the-entire-lecture-hall-snorted-with-duh-osity stories about the times our professors had brought up a Beauty Effect story. Say it ain’t so, prof – beautiful people have an advantage/get special treatment in this world? Stop the presses! Alert the National Guard!
I don’t recall either Yanny or moiself confessing, screw integrity, we’d take the beauty superpower. I also don’t recall ifI felt we’d lied about that.
* * *
This, of course, brings me to Julia Sweeney.
Sweeney is a comedian/screenwriter/actor/author/essayist/playwright – yes, she’s one of those multiple slash identity people. Most folks know her as the creator and star of the “It’s Pat” series of Saturday Night Live sketches.
I greatly admired Letting Go of God, Sweeney’s moving and amusing memoir (and subsequent theatrical monologue show & movie), in which she recounted her journey to letting go of Catholicism and taking hold of a “precarious, messy, cruel, and glorious,” natural worldview. I’d heard her speak at two Freedom From Religion Foundation annual conventions, most recently during last year’s gathering, at the FFRF home base in Madison, WI. Sweeney’s speech included an uproarious excerpt from what was to become her latest book, and I made a note to self: get that one.
If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother is that book. It contains many interwoven stories, most of which revolve around how Sweeney adopted her daughter Mulan from China, and how she met the man she would later marry via an email solicitation from her future husband’s gay brother.
One of my favorite chapters concerned Mulan’s school experiences. A friend of Sweeney’s sent his three kids to the same upscale Santa Monica preschool Sweeney’s daughter briefly attended.  This friend provided Sweeney with a spot-on explanation of the abundance of Young, Beautiful and Thin Mothers ® at the school (in response to Sweeney’s astonishment at the spectacle– “It’s like a beauty pageant around here!”):
A lot of women come to Hollywood because they are very beautiful…they come here because this is where you can really exploit your luck at being born gorgeous. Maybe they want to be actresses. Maybe the part of being an actress they like most is the part where people admire your beauty. Sometimes they make it in show business. Most, however, do not.
Then, you have a lot of very successful men in Hollywood. Many of them were overlooked in high school. They have a deep psychological need to be with a knockout. This need is a gasoline that powers their desire to dominate. The women decide that their best bet is to marry these men and seal the deal by having a couple of kids. They’re like anyone assessing their prospects in the face of their declining value because they’re getting older. Can you blame them? It’s a smart move…And many of them do not work outside the home, and they have the time, and the desire, to hang out at the school, parading their beauty for all of us to enjoy.
(from Chapter Twenty-Two, “An Education,” If It’s Not one Thing It’s Your Mother)
I recommend the book for an entertaining read. If you read it in public – say, during your commute or lunch hour – you will also provide entertainment for those around you. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll retch. The chapter on her daughter discovering the mechanics of sex courtesy of a frog project at school made for laughing-so-hard-I-cried reading. As for the retching, that came from reading about Sweeney’s encounter at a playground, a few days after Sweeney and Mulan returned from a Hawaiian vacation. A Korean mother approached Sweeney and chided her for the robust tan Mulan had acquired:
“You know, we don’t let our kids get that dark…I mean she looks like she’s black,” the Korean mother said. Making a disgusted face, she added, “A Korean mother would not let that happen.”
* * *
Simple Pleasures of Spring: the Return of (our) Blue Man Group
Simple Pleasures of Spring, the Sequel
Walking home from lunch at a local Lebanese-Persian café, I got caught in a hailstorm. I had my trusty rain hat on, but discovered that my favorite “water resistant” pants have apparently adopted the Borg mantra: Resistance is futile.
* * *
May all of your man groups be blue, may your resistance be effective, and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
 Torpid terms are vapid words and phrases used in place of vital ones (e.g. using “the bottom line” instead of conclusion, keynote, upshot, main point), as per the Thesaurus of alternatives to Worn-Out Words and Phrases
 I feel kinda dirty even using the words “Saudi Arabia’ and “human rights” in the same sentence.
 The etiology of his nickname comes from a long involved story about my implying that there was a Norwegian somewhere in his family’s allegedly exclusive Jewish woodpile…a story I cannot remember in its entirety, for which you should be grateful.
Beautiful people get more of everything positive in life – from pay raises to social status and career and academic opportunities , and probably less crappy stuff, like mosquito bites and bedbug infestations and spam email….
 Yes, Mulan is her real/given Chinese name; she was not named after the Disney princess, as Sweeney will be explaining for life.
 Sweeney soon realized the school’s fancy, creepily opulent atmosphere was not for her, and enrolled Mulan in public schools.