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The Tribalism I’m Not Embracing

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What would ushering in the holiday season be without The Dropkick Murphys?

 

 

Speaking of holidays, since 2008 I’ve kept track of how many greedy candy mongers trick-or-treaters have graced our porch.  The numbers range from a low of 25   [1]   to a high of 63, with an average of 45.  This year we had 26.

 

 

 

 

Only twenty-six?  MH and I were speculating about the downswing (last year’s count was 60). Combination of a school night and the (at times heavy) rain?  It couldn’t be the latter…oh, c’mon, kids (and parents), this is Oregon.

Last year we gave out full-sized   [2]  candy bars.  This year (before moiself  knew what would be the lame turnout) I wanted to do something different. I walked up and down supermarket aisles, looking for inspiration.  And found plenty. 

Here are the things I wanted to give out to trick or treaters:  Small jars/cans of pimentos or black olives or cornichons or sweet corn or Liquid Smoke or soy sauce or…Beanee Weenees!  Of course, if word got out that we were distributing the latter, the kiddies would leave skidmarks from our neighbors’ porches to our own.

 

Accept no substitutions.

 

Here are the things we *did* give out to trick or treaters:

 

 

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Department Of The Perspective That Could Save Us   [3]

From the podcast Unexplainable, The Gray Area:  “On the first episode of Vox’s new podcast, The Gray Area, host Sean Illing talks with Neil deGrasse Tyson about the limits of both politics and science.”  What caught my attention was NDT’s assertion that taking a “cosmic perspective” is the most rational and helpful– and arguably the only– thing that can solve our myriad of social, political and environmental challenges.  This is an excerpt from their discussion:

NDT:
What’s the most intelligent species there ever was on earth?

SI:
 Oh…you’re setting me up. Um, since you’re asking me, it can’t be people…

NDT:
No, it *is* people; it’s not a trick question.  So now I ask, who declared that humans are the smartest animals there ever were?  Humans did.
Whereas a cosmic perspective would say, imagine a lifeform smarter than we are:  Is there anything we have done in the history of civilization that (this smarter-than-us lifeform) would judge to be clever?

 

 

This was a great 1980s, one-woman play (written by Jane Wagner and starring Lily Tomlin), which was being revived in early 2022, starring Cecily Strong.

 

 

NDT:

It’s a simple thought experiment, when we compare ourselves to chimpanzees, our closest genetic relative.  We have 98, 99% identical DNA to a chimp. Now, if you’re really into homo sapiens you say, What a difference that 2% makes! We have philosophy and the Hubble telescope and art and civilization! And all the chimp can do is maybe extract termites from a mound, and the smartest of them will stack boxes to reach hanging bananas from the ceiling.
 But I pose you the question: suppose the intelligence difference between chimps and humans was actually as small as that 2% might indicate.  What would we look like to some other species that’s 2% beyond us in intelligence – just the 2% that we are beyond the chimps?
Continue on that line. The smartest chimps can do what our toddlers can do.  By that analogy, the smartest humans would do what the toddlers of this species can do.
Putting all that in context, all I’m saying is that for you to say we’re pretty clever… another species 2% beyond us, there’s nothing we could do that would impress them.
So, that species visiting earth on the rumor that intelligent life had surfaced, after seeing our rampant irrationalities – the wars we fight against our own species, because you live on a different line in the sand, because resources are unequally distributed on the land and in the ocean, because you worship a different god, because you sleep with different people – and we slaughter each other and enslave people….  Those aliens will run home and say, “There is no sign of intelligent life on earth.”
It’s a cosmic perspective, offered for your consideration.

SI:
This …is (your) central plea…that we take a more cosmic perspective on things…

NDT:
On *everything.*

SI:
 …on everything, and achieve some clarity about what really matters and what doesn’t, and how stupid so many of the things that we *think* are important really are…

NDT:
I wouldn’t say stupid so much as just kind of irrelevant. You think it’s important and it’s actually not. That’s a more significant value of a cosmic perspective: it forces you to rebalance your portfolios of concerns in the world.

 

 

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Department Of A Cosmic Perspective Is Definitely Needed Here

The LA Times is one of four (online) newspapers moiself  subscribes to, and I’ve been watching (as in, reading about) the following scandal unfold for…yikes, is it weeks, now?  The machinations of local/Los Angeles politics may be way off most people’s current events radar; however, even those with no interest in such, even those with their heads under the proverbial rock when it comes to west coast politics, by now have likely heard of the LA City Council recording scandal.

The scandal in a nutshell:   [4]   An anonymously leaked recording of a private conversation among LA City Council members and a labor leader making racist and classist remarks and political scheming regarding redistricting has prompted a state investigation, and led to the resignation of the LA City Council president and said labor leader.

“Behind closed doors, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez made openly racist remarks, derided some of her council colleagues and spoke in unusually crass terms about how the city should be carved up politically….
Martinez and the other Latino leaders present during the taped conversation were seemingly unaware they were being recorded as Martinez said a councilmember handled his young Black son as though he were an “accessory” and described the boy as “Parece changuito,” or “like a monkey.”…
Martinez also mocked Oaxacans, and said “F— that guy … He’s with the Blacks” while speaking about Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.

( “Racist remarks in leaked audio of L.A. council members spark outrage, disgust,”
LA Times 10-9-22)

 

 

 

 

Moiself  listened to excerpts of the recorded audio tape…as much as I could stand, before switching to reading the key moments of the transcripts.    [5]    In private conversations among three council members and an LA Labor leader – all Latino and all Democrats –  Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin De León and Gil Cedillo scheme with LA county labor dude Ron Herrera re redistricting plans; Martinez disparages Oaxacans as “little short dark people” and “so ugly” and refers to a (white, gay) councilmember’s Black son as a monkey who, in her opinion, needs a “beatdown.” Re LA County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, Martinez said, “Fuck that guy. … He’s with the Blacks.”  None of the others present and participating in the conversation disputed or called out Martinezon her remarks –  which also included crass and bigoted comments about Jews, Armenians, and other groups….

I felt a little bit left out at some point.  Martinez insulted just about everyone but middle aged white ex-Californians who moved to Oregon.

When reading about the scandal, I was reminded so much about what I think is a fact being overlooked here.  Nury Martinez was caught acting out one of our collective human traits on steroids:  she was revealing her tribalism.

 

Picture from 4-2-12 Newsweek article by biologist E.O. Wilson,
Why Humans, Like Ants, Need a Tribe.

 

We home sapiens are a tribal species. It’s too bad that the whole concept of race has entered human consciousness, as we are not different “races,” whatever that means. We are not racial – that term is a misnomer invented by European naturalists and anthropologists in the early 18th century.    [6]

“More than 100 years ago, American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was concerned that race was being used as a biological explanation for what he understood to be social and cultural differences between different populations of people. He spoke out against the idea of ‘white’ and ‘black’ as discrete groups, claiming that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity.
Science would favor Du Bois. Today, the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning.”
(   Race Is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue,”  Scientific American 2-5-16)

“(The tape’s) comments about Black and Indigenous people displayed a prejudice against darker skin that, while not ubiquitous, still runs deep in the community and is rooted in the colonial eras of Mexico and Central America.
‘This is not just four bad apples,’ said Alejandra Valles, chief of staff of SEIU United Service Workers West.
‘We have to use this opportunity as reflection and honesty about the anti-Blackness, the anti-Indigenous colorism and racism in the Latino community. Because that’s happening.’ ”
(“ L.A. Latinos grapple with familiar colorism against Black and Indigenous people in racist tape,” Rachel Uranga, Los Angeles Times, 10-17-22)

Interesting, to me, that comment about the bad apples. Because that’s it – that’s the dang the thing about “race.” We are all from the same apple tree, and yet we pick at each other.

 

“You want bad apples? I’ll show you bad apples.”

 

Race.  It’s an unfortunate entry in our Lexicon of Life. We are not racial, but we are definitely tribal at our core…maybe I’m just quibbling re semantics.  However we define “we,” we spend our lives scrambling like roaches across the floors of an old San Francisco apartment kitchen, trying to make sure we get (what we perceive to be) our share but wanting to hide our maneuverings when the light comes on.

We have obsessive concerns, so majorly illuminated in the LA Council tapes, of alliances between our various tribes and the tribes within the tribes – woe to anyone naive enough to think that, for example, all White or Latino or Black politicians are a monolithic bloc.  Read the transcripts; listen to the tape and hear the concern over alliances, over who is from where.  Listen as the entrenched Mexican-American politician spews (and thus reveals) the colorism of her ancestral roots as she derides the “short ugly” Oaxacans (who are so irritating as to also want political power    [7] ) and that DA who, although he has a Hispanic surname, “Fuck him, he’s with the Blacks.”

Who is in power; who wants power; who can we trust to share the power?  Who is one of us; who could be one of us, but “us” doesn’t really want “them” included.

 

 

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Department Of This Needs Repeating

The cosmic perspective flows from fundamental knowledge. But it’s more than just what you know. It’s also about having the wisdom and insight to apply that knowledge to assessing our place in the universe. And its attributes are clear:

* The cosmic perspective comes from the frontiers of science, yet it’s not solely the province of the scientist. The cosmic perspective belongs to everyone.

* The cosmic perspective is humble.

* The cosmic perspective is spiritual—even redemptive—but not religious.

* The cosmic perspective enables us to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.

* The cosmic perspective opens our minds to extraordinary ideas but does not leave them so open that our brains spill out, making us susceptible to believing anything we’re told.

* The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life but as a cold, lonely, hazardous place.

* The cosmic perspective shows Earth to be a mote, but a precious mote and, for the moment, the only home we have.

* The cosmic perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.

* The cosmic perspective enables us to see beyond our circumstances, allowing us to transcend the primal search for food, shelter, and sex.

* The cosmic perspective reminds us that in space, where there is no air, a flag will not wave—an indication that perhaps flag waving and space exploration do not mix.

* The cosmic perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth but also values our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself.

(“The Cosmic Perspective” By Neil deGrasse Tyson
Natural History Magazine, April 2007, The 100th essay in the “Universe” series.)

 

 

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  Department Of Regarding Next Week’s Elections,
This, Unfortunately, Says It All   [8]

“Liz Cheney and I are not brave. We are just surrounded by cowards.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger ( R ) Illinois

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Punz For The Day
Political Tribes Edition

I don’t approve of political jokes; I’ve seen too many of them get elected.

Republicans should build their border walls with Hillary’s emails
because nobody can get over them.

I knew Communism was doomed from the beginning – too many red flags.

What’s the difference between Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green and a flying pig?
The letter F.

What do you call a Russian procrastinator?
Putinoff.

 

I’ll laugh about this later.

 

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May a cosmic perspective help you to rebalance your portfolios of concerns in the world;
May you be cognizant of your own tribalisms;
May you value your atomic kinship with the universe itself;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

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[1]  Did not do in 2020.  Hmm, I wonder what was happening then?

[2] Not the “fun” size featured in most stores, as Halloween staples. For kids, since when does fun = smaller?

[3] From…ourselves?

[4] An appropriate container…if nuts were the size of 747s.

[5] As of this writing I think investigators still have no idea who did the recording, and who “released” it.

[6] Marked by the publication of the book Systema naturae in 1735, in which the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus proposed a classification of humankind into four distinct races. (“Race and History: Comments from an Epistemological Point of View” National Library of Medicine, )

[7] Indigenous Oaxacans expressed frustration and anger at Martinez’s comments referring to them as “little short dark people” — a racist stereotype often used to demean Indigenous communities. “I was like, I don’t know where these people are from, I don’t know what village they came [from], how they got here,” Martinez said, before adding “Tan feos” — “They’re ugly.”  (“For Oaxacans in L.A., City Council members’ racist remarks cut deep,” LA Times, 10-11-22)

[8] And I hope, after next week’s election results, we won’t still be saying it.

The Advice I’m Not Giving

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Department Of Groovy Natural Phenomena
Part One Of Two In This Post

King tides; we got ’em.  The first of the season along the Oregon coast are today through Sunday, coinciding with overlapping storm fronts and high wave warnings.

Magnificent to observe – from a safe distance, y’all.

 

 

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And Speaking Of Groovy Natural Phenomena…

What would ushering in the holiday season be without The Dropkick Murphys?

 

 

 

 

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Department Of More On Stormfronts

Dateline: earlier this week. Moiself  saw a post from a FB friend, in which they announced that it was their son Oden’s   [1]  birthday…and that they would be celebrating without him, as he is in another state and wants nothing to do with his parents and is “angry angry angry.”

There are few relationships sadder than those involving parent-child alienation. The emotional part of me took hold first.  I wanted to message them privately, until the rational part of me said:

 

 

As in, WTF are you – moiself  – thinking?

Because my message would have been along the lines of:

“Oh, ____ (friends’ names) I am so sad to read this…and the fact that I’m reading this on social media makes me even sadder.
Is Oden on Facebook?  Will Oden’s seeing or becoming aware of this post help him to be less angry?”

Of course it won’t help. Nor would my rhetorical question to them have been of help, no matter how many times I would have tried to “gently” rephrase or reframe it.  And I refer to this hypothetical question as rhetorical, because I can’t think of a sensible reason for someone to believe that making such a public statement  [2]  would help their cause of reconciliation.  Unless…

 

 

duh and ahhh, unless reconciliation is *not* their cause (at this point).  Rather, the only cause I can think of which would be served by such an announcement is to receive pity/sympathy from their friends and family – reactions which could have (should have, IMHO) been garnered privately, by speaking or messaging personally with those who are aware of the long, complicated, parents-child relationship here, rather than by exposing the already-alienated-and-angry son to public scrutiny and even shame.   [3]

If feeding the parents’ sense of martyrdom heartache was the true purpose of the post, then, well-played.

It’s still sad.  No matter what.  I wish that seeing a picture of a *Baby Sloth Wearing Magic Pajamas Of Reconciliation* would make it all better, for everyone.

 

 

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Department Of Yeah What He Said

Moiself  occasionally checks comedian and author and TV host Bill Maher’s “New Rules” segment, and his one last week, Rule: Words Matter , was a doozy.  Maher starts out proposing that instead of putting bibles in hotel rooms people should put dictionaries,

“…because apparently, nobody knows what words mean anymore.”

Maher goes on to illustrate one of my pet peeves – the fact that you dilute the importance of words when you misunderstand and misuse them.  And I couldn’t have given a better example of misusing/redefining than the cringe-worthy one Maher provides. It involves a standup comic, some of whose work I have listened to and liked, commenting on the standup special of another comic, some of whose work I have listened to and liked (and some…nah).

I refer to Hannah Gadsby commenting on Dave Chapelle.

Chappelle, who above all else seems to (consider himself to) be a free speech advocate, is once again testing the limits of that in his new streaming special on Netflix. Certain remarks he has made in the special have raised the hackles of many in the LGBTQ community.  [4]

 

“Dave Chappelle does not make it easy.
He is one of the most brilliant stand-up comics in the business. But he also makes a sport of challenging his audience — putting ideas in front of them that he knows are uncomfortable and unpalatable to those invested in modern notions of how to talk about feminism, gender, sexual orientation and race.
Sometimes, he does it to make a larger point. But at times, especially during his latest special for Netflix, ‘The Closer,’ he also seems to have a daredevil’s relish for going to dangerous places onstage and eventually winning his audience over — regardless of what he’s actually saying. “
(“For Dave Chappelle, punchlines are dares. His new special, ‘The Closer,’ goes too far.”
( NPR, Morning Edition, Tv Review 10-5-21 )

Australian standup comic Gadsby, a lesbian who often features LGBTQ issues in her routines, characterized Chapelle’s special as “…hate speech dog-whistling.”

 

 

Maher points out the glaring misuse of two terms which essentially cancel each other out:

” ‘Dog whistle’ refers to when someone puts something in code because they’re afraid to come out and say what they really think.
That’s what you get from Dave Chapelle –
he’s afraid to say what he really thinks?”

Maher also on touches on my second semantic pet peeve: attaching “-phobic” to any reaction you don’t like.

“…and it’s not hate speech, just because you disagree with it.  Nor is it phobic.  Phobic comes from a Greek word meaning something you fear irrationally, like spiders, or germs. But now it is used as a suffix for something you just don’t like.I’ve been called ‘commitment-phobic.‘  No, I don’t *fear* commitment, I just don’t want any.  Other people do; great!  I don’t call them, ‘single-phobic.’

….And if I talk about how wrong I think it is to force women to wear a beekeeper’s suit all day, that’s not Islamophobic – I just don’t like it.”

 

Objecting to this is not Islamophobia, it’s forcing-women-to-wear-burial-shrouds-while-they’re-still-alive ophobia.

 

“A phobia is a persistent, excessive, unrealistic fear of an object, person, animal, activity or situation. It is a type of anxiety disorder.
A person with a phobia either tries to avoid the thing that triggers the fear, or endures it with great anxiety and distress.
( “Phobia – what is it?” Harvard health a-z.edu )

For those who fling the –phobic suffix with Woke®  impunity: y’all ever met a person with an actual phobia and seen that phobia manifested?  [5]   True phobics endure debilitating symptoms that can mimic a heart attack.  It is a frightening, humbling thing to see.

If you’re gay and someone disagrees with you, about LGBTQ-related public policy or personal relationships – or if he flat out say that the idea of a gay “lifestyle” (translate: sex) makes him uncomfortable, he is just that – uncomfortable…or perhaps immature or ignorant or close-minded or whatever. But unless he slobbers and hyperventilates and screams and has to run out of the grocery store when Ru Paul enters, he is not (homo- or trans-) *phobic.*

If you’re a woman and, come time for the annual extended family Thanksgiving gathering, your strip joint-frequenting cousin Bubba Bocephus argues with every feminist principle you espouse, and freely and loudly expresses his opinion that women’s places are in the kitchen and bedroom as he tells jokes belittling his female co-workers, it is possible that Bubba actually hates women.  But unless he exhibits behavior that indicates he has an irrational, anxiety-producing *fear* of any female relative at the gathering, he is not a “gynophobe.”  He’s a misogynist asshole.

 

Moiself’s screams upon encountering Ru Paul at the grocery store would be those of sheer delight.

 

Related (moiself  sez) to the misuse or “rebranding” of certain words and terms is safe spaces, a concept I find ominous, and even the opposite of “safe.”  Those school boards trying to outlaw any form of Critical Race Theory being taught, or even mentioned, in schools?  They took a page from the far left playbook: they’re trying to keep students (read: white students) “safe” from the reality of the USA’s history of systemic racism.

Ever since I first heard the term safe spaces I’ve had an almost visceral loathing of it (but, I am not safe spacephobic). This is because I think that institutions – in particular universities, which are supposed to challenge and enlighten – being asked or even required to produce “safe spaces” produces just the opposite, and stifles development of one of the most important human qualities higher education should aspire to engender: strength of character, along with the character-building-and-expanding skill of being able to listen to and consider opinions you disagree with, or even find offensive.

 

 

And now I know why I have this reaction, thanks to the series of talks I’ve been listening to (“The Stoic Path,” via this meditation app) .  In the episode, “The Upside of Negative Thinking,” stoic philosopher William B. Irvine puts a name to perhaps the most vital yet an underappreciated part of our body’s defensive systems:

“Most people are born with an immune system.  But for it to be maximally effective it has to be developed, and the best way to develop it is by exposing it to germs.  Suppose then that you’re a parent, who wants her child to grow up strong and healthy.  You know that germs cause illness. The obvious thing to do would be to keep your child’s exposure to germs to a minimum. If you acted on this reasoning, though, and tried to raise your child in  a germ-free environment, you had better be prepared to keep him there for the rest of his life.  Otherwise, as soon as he stepped into the real world, his underdeveloped immune system would likely be overwhelmed by germs.
So what’s a caring parent to do?  As paradoxical as it may seem, she should expose her child to germs, but in a controlled fashion….

The Stoics didn’t know about the biological immune system…but they did intuit the existence of what I am calling a psychological immune system.  Whereas your biological immune system protects you from sickness caused by germs, your psychological immune system protects you from experiencing the negative emotions triggered by life’s setbacks.

Consider the following scenario: suppose that parents, in order to reduce the number of negative emotions that their child experiences, worked hard to prevent bad things from happening to him. They never shared bad news with him; never criticized or insulted him and did their best to prevent other people from doing so.  And whenever a problem arose in the child’s life they would deal with it on his behalf.  Although these parents might have the best intentions in the world, those intentions would likely backfire.  Their child’s psychological immune system would end up dysfunctional; indeed, he would be the psychological equivalent of a bubble boy.  He would be hypersensitive to comments other people made; he would be angered and frustrated by the smallest setbacks, and he might burst into tears upon hearing bad news. 

Caring parents…will take steps to develop their child’s psychological immune system… Their goal is for the child to be emotionally ready to face the imperfect world into which he will emerge in a few year’s time.  He should able to hear bad news, criticism, and even insults, without getting overly upset. And when he encounters a setback, he should be able to calmly and coolly set about to overcoming it.”

 

If only our psychological immunity could be so easily boosted.

 

Ponder this:  Allowing yourself to be exposed to contrary, harsh, even insulting thoughts, words, and opinions is the psychological equivalent of getting a flu shot.

As he expands on the concept of psychological immunity, Irvine considers how the Stoics would respond to “hate speech.” (my emphases):

“One of their (stoicism’s) key psychological insights is that what harms you the most when you’ve been insulted, maybe by a racist or a sexist, is not the insult itself, but your reaction to that insult….

We are presently in the midst of a great human social experiment involving hate speech. The Stoics’ advice for targets of such speech is to toughen themselves up; they need to strengthen their psychological immune system.…
Lots of people reject this advice out of hand. Instead of encouraging people to toughen up, they tell them that they have every reason to be upset.
They might also provide them with “safe spaces’ in which they can recover from understandably devastating insults.

The stoics would argue that dealing with hate speech in this manger inadvertently  undermines people’s psychological immune systems. Even worse, such actions can trigger a kind of downward spiral with respect to hate speech:  the more people are protected from hearing offensive remarks, the more upsetting they find those remarks, and the more upsetting they find them, the more protection they need.  The target of hate speech can thereby end up as the psychological equivalent of the Bubble Boy.”

 

 

 

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Department Of Mama Nature’s Psychedelics

Last Saturday and Sunday, we Oregonians had the rare opportunity to witness the aurora borealis, aka, the northern lights.

“A storm that started more than 92 million miles away is sending a spooky light show to skies above the Pacific Northwest…. a powerful solar flare left the sun on Thursday. Now charged particles are heading toward Earth… That’s likely to result in visible aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, in areas where the lights are rarely seen.   The ghostly night-sky phenomenon, which at its brightest can fill dark skies with glowing, dancing sheets of translucent green and purple lights, occurs when electrons from the sun’s solar flares collide with the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere….     ( opb.org )

Of course, light pollution in our area (Portland Metro)  bscured any view MH and I and other “space enthusiasts” might have gotten.

 

 

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Department Of Atmospheric Phenomenon Providing A Memory Segue

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – when I was pregnant with That Who Would Become MH’s And My First Offspring ® –  moiself  made the mistake of sharing some of my baby-naming ideas with my mother.

We now pause for the following announcement.

Hear me, ye who are newly pregnant: do not share your baby name ideas with anyone other than your partner, unless you are actively seeking input (read: criticism) as to your choices.  Because if anyone, especially the expectant grandparents, think there is a snowball’s chance in a California wildfire to change your mind, they will try.  As a Stanford Hospital employee (the records clerk responsible for recording the newborn’s name on vital documents) told me, “Don’t tell *anyone* the name until it’s on the birth certificate – because until it’s on the certificate, *someone* will try to get you to change it to a name they think is sooooooo much better….”

 

 

The afore-mentioned mistake happened during a phone call with my mother, a few days before I’d received my amniocentesis results.  Since my mother had asked I said yes, when we are contacted with the amnio results we would want to know everything, including the 23rd chromosome pair arrangement.  MH and I had just begun to think about names; if the test showed we’d be having a girl, one of the names I was considering was Aurora.

I liked Aurora for several reasons. It can be a tough world for girl-childs, I told my mother, and being named for an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon – the aurora borealis! – is a sign of strength.  Also, Aurora Dupin, the real name of the author George Sand, was a trail-blazing, stereotype-defying, 1800s French writer….    [6]   Aurora was my front runner for a girl, and if we chose that name we’d probably call her “Rory.”

My mother, born of Irish-Norwegian peasant stock, had royal blood when it came to her ability to indirectly express negative feelings rather than openly address them.  Thus, my family’s Queen of Passive Aggression made her standard, “Oh, that’s interesting,”  response to my Aurora story…which rolled right past me until she telephoned the very next day, and the following exchanged ensued.

“I’ve been thinking about your baby name choice,” my mother said.
“Do you know that the ‘R’ sound is the hardest sound for children to make – it’s usually the last consonant they learn to pronounce correctly.”

I asked her if that was a statement or a question, then reminded her that, yep, as one of the THREE of her four children whom she saw fit to give R names – ahem! – I was familiar with that phenomenon.  I thought it was kinda cute that I was called ‘Wobyn’ by toddlers, my peers, kids I babysat – and even by my younger siblings, ‘Woofie’ (Ruthie) and “Wobert’ (Robert) – until they were old enough to master that devilish R consonant.  So, her point would be…?

“I want you to go stand in front of a mirror,” she said.  “Then look at your mouth, and what happens to your face, when you say, ‘Rory.’ “

 

 

Holy fucking non-issue, moiself  marveled.  She’s apparently/actually done this. She stood in front of her mirror, and did this.

I concentrated on keeping my tone as gentle as possible (more gentle than she deserved), but also as firm as the reply demanded:

“Mom, I want *you* to go stand in front of a mirror,
and look what happens to your face when you say, ‘Buttinsky.’ “

There were no further baby name suggestions (or discussions) between us.

 

K, and the freshly hatched Belle. “K, I’m happy you are who you are, even as I want you to know you would have made a fine ‘Rory.’ “

 

 

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Punz For The Day
Baby Names Edition

Seriously, you’re going to name your son, Almondine?
That’s nuts.

Seriously, you’re going to name your daughter, Cintronella?
That’s repellant.

Seriously, you’re going to name your baby, Insurrection?
That’s revolting.

Seriously, you’re going to name your baby, R.E.M.?
You must be dreaming.

Seriously, you’re going to name your baby, KenKen?
That’s puzzling.    [7]

 

*   *   *

May you, some day, be able to see both the aurora borealis and king tides;
May you never have an occasion to look in the mirror and say, Buttinsky;
May the Baby Sloth Wearing Magic Pajamas Of Reconciliation be of comfort to you;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Not his real name.  Not even close.

[2] And as far as this public statement of mine (blogging about this) goes, moiself  is 99% certain they do not read this blog.

[3] for holding a grudge against his parents, who are just sitting there, posting alone in the dark, oy vey….

[4] Disclosure: I have not watched the special in its entirety; just clips.

[5] I have seen several phobic reactions, including this memorable one:  I had to help a friend to the floor and raise her legs, when she began to hyperventilate at just the suggestion that my child might consider getting a pet tarantula (and keep it in the garage, in a covered terrarium, when the spider-phobic friend came over, so she would never see it).  She was horribly embarrassed by her reaction, which she realized was over the top and irrational…but that’s what makes it a phobia.  Quite different from the many people who don’t like spiders or “bugs” but who don’t turn into a quivering mass of quasi-sentient protoplasm at just the *mention* of them.

[6] who, like most if not all women writers of that time, had to use a male pen name in order for her work to be published.

[7] Yeah, but KenKen is the best puzzle, ever.  Sudoku, in comparison and in MHO, is like watching paint dry.

The Post-Election Rant I’m Not Posting

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Because there is too much post-election uncertainty for moiself  to compose anything else, it’s time for the annual intro to the holiday season.  Brace y’all selves.

 

 

 

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)

 

*   *   *

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

 

What do vegetarians, egans, 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]

 

*   *   *

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

Three 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.

 

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.”  [4]

Because of its known pagan origin, Christmas was banned by the Puritans, and its observance was illegal in Massachusetts until 1681.  [5]

 

 

“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 old celebrations, and so the church, eventually and effectively, simply renamed most of them.    [6]

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 the 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.   [7]   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.  [8]   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 sheisskopf who took the Woden out of Woden’s Day!”

 

The Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest amount of sunlight, and the longest night. In the northern hemisphere it falls on what we now mark as December 21 or 22.  However, it took place on December 25th at the time when the Julian calendar was used.   [9]   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  [10]   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.   [11]

In other words, why are some folk concerned with keeping “the Christ in Christmas”  [12]  when we should be keeping the Saturn in Saturnalia?

 

 

*   *   *

Whatever your favorite seasonal celebrations may be, I wish 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, compared to the usual shit I write.

[4] “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.

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

[6] “Paganism in Christianity.”

[7] “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

[8] 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.)

[9] 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.

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

[11] 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.

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

The Tree I’m Not Climbing

1 Comment

Shall we get this over with?  I mean of course, you just can’t get enough of The Dropkick Murphys when it’s “…that time of year.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Words Matter, Which Is Why We Use Them When We Argue

“We live in an age of overstatement and overpraise.  Something isn’t merely good, it’s awesome.  A movie or a TV show isn’t just enjoyable, it’s epic. Any performer over the age of thirty who manages to do good work isn’t just a solid professional, he or she is an icon.”
( Fresh Air Rock Critic Ken Tucker)

Moiself has been seeing the following cartoon shared several times (on Facebook), and it makes me want to tear someone’s hair out.  [1]   Let me edit it, I plead into the void, please oh please oh please:

 

 

The thing is, I like the cartoon and its sentiment that not all creatures have the same abilities, nor needs, nor environments; thus, to judge, say, a fish for its tree-climbing ability (fish live underwater and therefore cannot – and do not need to – climb trees) or critique squirrels (partly arboreal mammals which have no reason to swim) for its pathetic backstroke is unfair, even nonsensical.

 

Oh, but critique this, you cynic!

Stop. Do not be distracted by such foolishness.

Yep, I get the intention of the drawing, although I think the blanket criticism of Our Education System ® is unfair, as are most blanket statements (you know, like expecting all animals to climb trees).

But I’m wondering if the same person who drew the cartoon also wrote the caption?  If so, I’d like to judge them on their underwater tree-climbing ability, because the hyperbolic sentence, “Everyone is a genius” is a real butt-froster.

If everybody has a certain trait or is a certain thing, that no longer makes the trait/thing exceptional. It negates the definition of genius (used here and in that comic, as a noun):

Definitions of genius

1 (noun) unusual mental ability

2 (noun) exceptional creative ability

3 (noun) so,meone who has exceptional intellectual ability and originality

4 (noun) someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field….
( vocabulary.com )

Why was that sentence even included in the comic – what does the patently false/grossly mistaken declaration “Everybody is a genius” have to do with unequal consideration of different talents and abilities?

You can be very talented and intelligent and a hard worker, the top 10% of your high school class, and still not be a genius (don’t worry, there will be plenty of other hackneyed adjectives applied to you, most likely by your family, such as AMAZING!) It’s not all or nothing.

Your four-year-old nephew pounding out “Chopsticks” on his toy piano may be indicative of his interest in music,   [2]  but that doesn’t make him a genius. For a humbling comparison of true genius/exceptional ability, you may want to investigate the life of Mozart, one of the greatest (and most enduringly popular and influential) of classical composers, who began writing musical pieces when he was between the ages of 4-5 and who composed more than 600 works before his early death (age 35).  Better yet, just listen to his overture to the opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Would Someone Please Solve This Problem
(And Do So Before I Get Too Much Older)?

“It’s time to get serious about a major redesign of life. Thirty years were added to average life expectancy in the 20th century, and rather than imagine the scores of ways we could use these years to improve quality of life, we tacked them all on at the end. Only old age got longer….
‘….as longevity surged, culture didn’t keep up.
‘…. (we are) living in cultures designed for lives half as long as the ones we have.
Retirements that span four decades are unattainable for most individuals and governments; education that ends in the early 20s is ill-suited for longer working lives; and social norms that dictate intergenerational responsibilities between parents and young children fail to address families that include four or five living generations.”

(excerpts from “We Need a Major Redesign of Life,” Laura L. Carstensen, professor of psychology,
 Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity,
The Washington Post 11-29-19 )

Thank you in advance.  And whatever your solution is, make sure it includes dancing.

 

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [3]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

Nutrition Champs, by Jill Nussinow
Recipe:  Smoky Sweet Black Eyed Peas

My rating:

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher  [4]     

*   *   *

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.   [5] Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

 

*   *   *

May you be old experienced (or cool) enough to always be able
to identify this week’s Partridge;
May you know the definitions of genius, awesome, amazing, and other superlatives,
and apply them judiciously and accordingly;
May you remember that the solution to all problems should including dancing;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Not mine – what good would that do?

[2] Or, he may just enjoy annoying the adults in his life.

[3] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

[4]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it.
* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it.
* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin, a character from The Office who would eat anything, would like this.
* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.
* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.
* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.
* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.
* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

[5] In our pear tree.

The Nuts I’m Not Mixing

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Department Of Commenting On The Election Results

There was the good,   [1] and the bad, and the, We’ll see. Like the can my Aunt Gwen used to set out by the olive tray every Thanksgiving, it was….

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

Department Of How I Spent The Night Of The Election

*Not* watching the returns, but watching the movie, Dave. It’s one of my (and my daughter Belle’s) favorite political movies (yes, I do have movie categories, and political movies get a group of their own), with an appealing cast and a delightful (if admittedly goofy, far-fetched) plot and a hopeful ending…along with a heart-tugging performance by Sigourney Weaver as a determined, idealistic, and (understandably) bitterly lonely “First Lady.”   [2]

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Pipe Dreams

Dateline: a week ago Monday, after yoga class. Although it was too late for this (the next day’s) midterm election, I fantasized about organizing a nationwide demonstration – perhaps it should be called a presentation – outside of polling booths all over the nation.  The presentation would consist of a bunch of yogis standing by the polls (or ballot return boxes, for those states who have early and/or mail-in voting) doing vrikshasana ( “Tree Pose”), and/or other yoga poses requiring balance and focus and radiating a sense of calm.

That’s it.

I figure at least one blustery couple on their way to the polls would pause, take a look, then turn to one another and say, “Oh, sweetie, let’s not vote for assholes this year.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Who Does This, And Why

 

“The Mystery of the Cuckoo Bird Recycler has returned.”

It wasn’t the perfect analogy, but MH and son K understood what I meant.

Background #1: You may be familiar with the story of the cuckoo bird, which, as a brood parasite, lays its eggs in other bird’s nests.

Background #2: Wednesday is the trash and recycling pickup day in our ‘hood. When I return from my walk on Wednesday mornings, I check our glass recycling bin, which, along with the mixed recycling bin and our garbage can, we’ve set out for the morning pickup.  I check the glass bin to make certain that it contains only recyclable glass jars and bottles…which may seem like a silly thing to do, since we put it out the night before and after years of doing this we know what items go where.  But “we” are not the problem.

We’ve had a history of, every couple of months or so, finding items in the recycling bin that aren’t ours. Who cares, right, as long as the items will be going to recycling and are sorted appropriately?  But they are not, and that’s the problem.

 

 

It should be obvious that this is *not* the plastic duck decoy recycling bin.

 

 

 

 

It may seem funny (or obsessive) to you – as it does to me – that moiself feels the need to check the recycling bin for FOREIGN OBJECTS. The thing is, Mystery Neighborhood Cuckoo Recycler ®  has had a habit of putting items in the wrong bin.  I first discovered this several years ago, after the recycling trucks and come and gone and our full glass recycling bin was still by the curb, with an Official Notice ®  from the recycling service placed on top of it, informing us that they cannot take items improperly sorted…which means it will be another two weeks until they will pick up our glass recyclables bin.  [3]

I was confused, until I looked under the Official Notice ® . Sure enough, there were several empty tin cans someone had dumped atop the glass bottles and jars.  The glass recycling truck folks will not or cannot be bothered to simply take the cans out of the glass recycling bin and toss them in our mixed recycling bin. It would take maybe 10 seconds to accomplish that task…but, nope.  “Not their job.” They do have the time to go back to the truck and get the you’ve been a naughty recycler form and leave it in our recycle bin.

 

 

 

 

There is a tremendous size and color discrepancy between the small, four-sided, no cover, bright red, glass-only bin and the ginormous, gray, covered, paper and plastics recycling cart. We’ve been doing this for years; we know which is which.  Still, this thing – miscreant cans placed in our glass-only recycle bin, causing the recycling company to refuse to take our glass items – has happened several times. I know it wasn’t someone from our family who got the bins mixed up, as the cans have always been store brands from stores we don’t shop at and/or items we don’t use or buy.

The mystery cans stopped being dumped in our glass bin after I printed out a brightly colored form of my own, which read GLASS ONLY NO CANS and affixed it to our glass recycling bin.  I’ve still been checking on a regular basis, which is why this week I discovered three wine bottles which were not ours  [4], placed atop our recycle bin. At least the hitchhikers were in the correct bin this time.

I can imagine a neighbor thinking, for example, that they don’t have enough items to justify schlepping their bin at the curb this week so they’ll just add the odd wine bottle or pickle jar to ours.  On the one hand, it’s no big deal.  On the other hand… it just seems like they should ask us, ya know?  [5]

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Segue To Another Avian-Related Anecdote

No cuckoos that I could detect;  nevertheless, I was charmed by the sight of this bird-covered light post, shrouded in the morning mist.  I immediately thought of my Swenadian   [6] friend, who is an ornithophobe. Coming upon something like this would be her Alfred Hitchcock nightmare come true.  They’re waiting for you to walk by….

 

 

*   *   *

 

*   *   *

Department Of Words And Phrases I Hope Are Never Applied To Me

 

☼  spry

☼  quirky

☼  feisty

☼  “Bless her heart…”

☼   “She means well…”

☼  such an inspiration

☼   a national treasure

☼   emeritus

*   *   *

Department Of It’s Here

 

 

I’ve seen enough you-know-what decorations and merchandise in stores that I feel justified sharing my favorite song about the matter, the Dropkick Murphy’s deliciously subversive ode to the holidays:

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The View From The Floor

 

Sometimes, someone joins me during my morning stretches.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of , And My Response Would Be, “That Is What You’d Call It When They Finally Impeach #45, Aka The Tantrum Thrower-In-Chief.”

Dateline: Thursday am, I am exercising on one of those elliptical machines while listening to the podcast Serial, which, this season, is focusing on stories about the Cleveland criminal justice system. The episode I am listening to contains several mentions of when/why courts may try juveniles as adults, which causes MH to wonder aloud, “Do they ever try adults as juveniles?”

 

 

 

*   *   *

May someone join you during your après workout stretch;
May #45 be tried as a juvenile, an adult, an irradiated alien….;
May you prepare a “presentation” of your own for the next election;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Specifically, the GOP (Grumpy Old Pissants) losing the House majority.

[2] What a horrible, horrible title/role.

[3] Garbage pickup is weekly; recycling alternates other week, between yard debris and glass/paper/plastic.

[4] Varietals we don’t drink.

[5] As neighbors have done so in the past when they had extra garbage and wondered if we had space in our garbage can. We are always happy to help out in that case.

[6] Our friends, a Sweden married to a Canadian, refer to themselves and their (now-adult) children by this delightful ethnic hybrid.

The Monthly Novel I’m Not Writing

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November 1?  Gotta get this out of the way. National Novel Writing Month.

Reality check re this write-a-novel-in-month jive.  This is from the Authors Guild Bulletin Spring 2013, Along Publishers Row article: “Temperance Hasty-Gonzales (not the author’s real name) wrote a 50k novel in 30 days.  Five years and 15 drafts later, the novel, he The Quick and the Dead (a real novel, but not written by TH-G), was published in February.

She wrote a novel in 30 days!  Except that she didn’t. The very second sentence of the blurb reveals that she didn’t write a novel in 30 days, hello.  She had some kind of first draft that was awful/incomplete enough, by her own description, that it took her FIVE YEARS and FIFTEEN DRAFTS to get into publishable form.

National Novel Writing Month. I smite the concept as well as the acronym: NaNoWriMo.  It sounds as incomplete and shoddy, as baby-talk dribbly, as a novel “written” in a month is likely to be.  But wait, there’s more.  The author featured in the blurb goes on to say that she considered herself a perfectionist, and that NaNoWriMo forced her to ignore her incapacitating inner critic and keep going: “It forces us to lower our standards.”

Just what the literary world needs: lower standards.

Have an idea for a story?  Don’t fall for trendy/”motivational” stunts.  Take  time, make time, invest time.  Chances are you can get your final draft in two-three years rather than five.  And, yes, the world is full of crappy novels that took much, much longer than 30 days to write (Atlas Shrugged, anyone?)  Still. It doesn’t need any more. At any speed.

*   *   *

Less than one percent of the total published books released in a year get reviewed via a traditional book reviewing outlet; i.e., a reviewer hired and paid by a newspaper, journal, magazine, book review tabloid. [1]  When my publisher forwarded the reviews for The Mighty Quinn, MH asked whether they were “good.” Knowing the stats, I reminded him that TMQ was ahead of the game [2] by even getting a review in the first place.  It was gravy to me that the reviews were good – a quibble here and there, but mostly positive, and some downright glowing.  Even so I had to force myself to read them, force myself to drum up interest, which I did by thinking of my publisher (Good for them; they’ll like this one.).

It was peculiar to me, comparable to having an out-of-body experience, looking at myself looking at the reviews.  I knew what I’d written, how “good” I thought it was, and how good others whom I respect thought it was (enough to publish it, at least).  When it comes to considering my own reviews or publicity, composure and perspective, plus a dose of humility, are my mantras (keeping in mind the sage advice of Golda MeirDon’t be humble; you’re not that great.).  If a negative review won’t rock my boat then why should I let a rave review rock my world?

My ambivalence toward reviews stems from many facts, including what I know of writers and human nature. [3] Also, there’s the pesky fact that I moiself have never cared for book reviews and rarely read them. [4] I rely on choosing reading materials through my own particular triage of browsing, both in stores and online, and friend-talk.  Other than being alerted to the reviews by my publisher, I don’t check my own press.  I am also not one of those authors © who obsessively tracks her book’s sales rankings on the major online book sellers.  There’s not a strong enough antacid on the market to help me do that.  What I need to know about that stat will come with my royalty statements. [5] Gulp.

And then.

I was updating a website posting and checked The Mighty Quinn’s links to the major online booksellers: Powell’s, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The Amazon page featured a new industry review, or at least one I hadn’t seen, and had put it as their lead review (one of the reasons [6]  I’m going to steer readers toward Powell’s.)  Although the reviewer had some bits of tepid praise, the same supporting characters described by other reviewers as “memorable” and “delightful” she dissed as  “too cute” and “unnecessarily highlighted” (whatever that means).  The same dialog and action she found “cumbersome” and “drab” are cited by other reviewers as “engaging” and “fast-moving.”

I see no reason to alter my long held if not entirely original philosophy re reviews, which I privately (well, up until now) I referred to as the Rectal Theory of Criticism:

Opinions are like assholes – everybody’s got one.

As for the worth and relevance of online consumer reviews, my suspicions re their validity and potential for abuse [7] have oft been confirmed, most recently by this creepy story. A vengeful merchant, peeved at a less-than-stellar review posted on yelp  from a would-be client, googled client’s name, discovered client was a novelist, and took it from there: “When your book comes out on Amazon, I will personally make sure our entire staff reviews it in kind.”  Bad Merchant went on to threaten the novelist by getting people to post a “deluge” of “scathing reviews” for the novelist’s upcoming book.

Oy vey.

*   *   *

The Wisdom That Cometh With Age

Dateline, Monday afternoon.  I’d was in downtown Hillsboro to mail a manuscript, enjoying the opportunity/excuse [8] to do an afternoon walk on a crunchy autumn day, kicking through the leaves carpeting the sidewalks.  I rounded the street across from the Washington County Courthouse and fell in step behind two gotta-be-lawyers-to-dress-like-that-on-such-a-fine- day men walking side-by-side.  Or, I could describe them as “two men walking abreast,” but that conjurs up too many memories of fifth grade droodles.

My pace was faster than theirs but there was no room to pass them, so I slowed down and checked them out from the only view I had.  Both were of similar height and, from the rear view at least, attired almost identically, in tailored, expensive-looking, dark brown suits and white dress shirts and dark brown shoes.  I noticed that the one on (my) left wore bad shoes.  His shoe’s heels were very noticeably and unevenly worn down, toward the inside of the foot.  So incongruous with the rest of his lawyer suit.  Lawyer dude on the right had nice shiny shoes with no VHW (visible heel wear).

What an odd thing to notice.  Still, it bothered me.  I really, really wanted to say something to him, even as I was chiding myself for wanting to say something.  As a public service announcement, of course. Hey buddy – your over-pronation is, like, to totally ruining your Serious Lawyer Look.

At the end of the block they both moved to the curb, pausing by a brown (yes!) car that I assumed belonged to one of them.  I passed them. And said nothing

*   *   *

Stand back, I’m Going to Try Science

Calling all budding evolutionary biologists:  I can’t remember the prompt, but I recently woke up with an interesting first morning thought [9] :  How is it that omnivorous species came to “know” they were omnivorous?  How did our hunter-gatherer ancestors get to the hunter part? Or bears, for that matter.   Foraging through the meadow, by the stream, chewing on leafy greens and berries///who-what had the lightbulb moment:  “Hey, I bet that leaping salmon/hopping rabbit is more caloric and nutrient-dense than these camas roots, plus, no cud-chewing aftertaste!  Win-win!”

I posted that question on my FB page, and got many many hallow snarky speculations a few thoughtful responses and suppositions (okay, I got one).  I’m still wondering.

*   *   *

“If you talked into your hair dryer and said you were communicating with something out there in the nether space, they’d put you away.
But take away the hair dryer, and you’re praying.”  –Sam Harris

Dear Lord, please bring me a pony and a plastic rocket. [10]

November.  Already.  Like a pair of K-mart undies, the holiday season is creeping up on us.  Let us note that which is to come.  Back by popular demand, my favorite ode to the joys that are to come, courtesy of The Dropkick Murphys.

May the ho-ho-ho hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!


[1] Statistic from Publisher’s Weekly.

[2] Sadly, that’s what the publicity-review thing is: a game. With really scary rules.

[3] It’s way mo fun-ner to flaunt your devastating wit by writing snarky pans than heartfelt paeans.

[4] Unless it’s a particularly scathing review forwarded by friend/fellow author (and New York Review of Books reader) SCM, about an author we mutually loathe.

[5] And when people wish to inquire about such matters they often ask, “How is your book doing,” a seemingly innocuous, probably meant-to-be-supportive query, until I ask what they mean by that, and then they usually  ask about sales figures, at which point I have to refrain myself from perkily chirping, “I’ve no idea – how many copies did YOU buy?”

[6] Aside from the fact that Powell’s is the grooviest bookstore in the world. And yes, I’ve visited them all.

[8] A few years back I’d have the opportunity to do that walk every other day, but most editors and publishers take (and prefer) email queries and manuscript submissions.

[9] Other than the usual laundry list of feed the cats and get them to eat slowly so they don’t barf it all back up….

[10] Three cheers sci fi nerd noogie for those who got the Firefly reference.

The Car I’m Not Decorating

Comments Off on The Car I’m Not Decorating

Indeed, the season is upon us. If you need further evidence, let The Dropkick Murphys explain it to you.

Ah, but the season unfortunately includes you-know-what. I’ll get this rant out of the way. 

Ban assault weapons! No, ban violent video games! No, it’s the combination of mental illness and access to weapons! At least have the discussion about gun violence! Discussion, schmussion – arm every sixth grader in America!

The enormity of the Sandy Hook tragedy is almost beyond comprehension. Our society, for a slopbucket-load of historical and social reasons (that moiself shall not address at this time), is increasingly called to make even a few baby steps toward comprehension…and consistently fails to do so. Instead, we end up lobbing verbal grenades at one another, occasionally pausing for a moment of silence at yet another memorial service for “the ____ victims” (insert latest shooting locale).

And then of course, there’s Mike Huckabee[1], former Arkansas guv, part-time Republican presidential candidate, ordained Baptist minister and Fox News (surprise!) blowhole. Huckabee is highly regarded in scholarly circles for…well, for nothing. Nothing, that is, that has ever leaked from his lips, although he does get credit for jettisoning something like 300 lbs several years ago. Recent pictorial evidence shows that much of his bulk is returning to the mothership, and his recent rhetoric evinces that most of it is settling between his ears.

In his latest self-serving spewfest exploiting a national catastrophe pronouncement, MH attributes the “violence in our schools” to what he describes as the systematic removal of religion from our schools. Oh, Mike, Mikey Mike, you Hucka-hucka burning…something. The gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the brain train isn’t coming.

I suppose it’s just a matter of time before the Huckster and other religious righties brainstorm knock their empty coconut noggins with the NRA and come up with a plan to place AR15-packin’ preachers in every classroom.

There has been much religious speechifying about the Sandy Hook shootings, to which my reaction is: ick, and ick again.  But, it’s more than just ick-worthy.  Many of us who are mythology-free find the public prayers/religious invocations that typically accompany such incidents to be almost as galling, and ultimately more perplexing, than the incidents themselves.  The rhetoric and rituals are so ubiquitous, oft times it just seems like background noise or white sound, like the distant rat-a-tat-tatting of automatic weapons fire.

Okay.  Perhaps another analogy might be more…appropriate? Perhaps not.

Of all the mumbo jumbo about “keeping the victims in our prayers,” “pray for the families of Sandy Hook,” “our prayers were answered when we found out ___ had survived the shooting…” most mind-bogglingly ridiculous to me is when the political talking heads called upon to Respond To This Tragedy ® end their statements with the seemingly obligatory[2] – what is it, invocation? plea? command? suggestion? – “God bless America.”

I do think God Bless America, ala Keep me in your prayers/I’ll pray for you, is one of those phrases that, like much public god-talk, is almost always employed without the benefit of reasoned contemplation. It is used as a reactive response to certain situations – the intellectual/rhetorical equivalent of Gezundheit.  But to those who would claim to employ GBA etc., in all sincerity, what are you thinking?  I don’t expect an answer, but, really: What particular, magical word combination or incantation do you believe will appeal to your celestial, imaginary friend, whom you apparently believe “is watching over us” and has the ability to intervene in human affairs (to “bless” you) and who may, somehow, someday, do that, despite the fact that if said celestial being exists, on December 14 it was watching over a madman entering a grade school and then twiddling its divine thumbs while six year old children[3] were being slaughtered?

Human beings – in the form of a sad/lonely/alienated/angry/deeply disturbed young man, with – God bless America! – access to high-powered firearms, carried out this vile act. Human beings in many forms – including the principal who died trying to thwart the gunman as he forced his way into the school, the teacher who hid her students in cabinets and cloakrooms but stayed visible to deter the gunman and told him her class had gone to the gym (after which he shot her, and moved on to another location), the teachers who risked their own lives guiding their students to safety, the emergency responders, the community who reached out to friends and strangers alike with generosity and compassion – human beings rushed in to help in whatever way they could.

*   *   *

Writing this week’s post from Southern California, I’m as close as I get to being a Foreign Correspondent.

Trust me, you do not want to spend several hours of your holiday-season birthday online, trying to book the last seat on a flight that leaves in less than 24 hours. But this is what you’ll find yourself doing if, after making a pre-birthday phone call to your elderly mother, you decide to do A Good Thing ® and surprise her [4] with a visit.

All together now: “What a gooooooood daughter.”

On second thought, hold your applause. I am hardly worthy of such magnanimous regard.

I had a (mostly) enjoyable childhood, growing up[5] in Southern California, to which my increasingly furrowed, sun-blotched skin now attests.[6] Still, I headed north as soon as I could. Although ’tis good to visit with the kinfolk, I get in somewhat of a funk when I travel to the Land O’ My Birth. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of which I may mention in a much later, much less sober post. For now, suffice to say I find the area to be crowded, grimy, desiccated.[7]

As per the latter, considerate Oregonian that I am, I brought some precipitation with me. The mere hint of a light shower elicits the obligatory, “Oh, we need the rain!” from the locals.[8]  Out for a walk on Tuesday morning, I experienced a mild epiphany of sorts: I find SoCal almost tolerable in the rain. Even a moderate drizzle functions ala Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak – it serves as a mask or shield, temporarily veiling the area’s aridity, and…well…dirtiness.  This place looks, feels and smells different (better) when it’s wet.

THE APOCALYSE IS NIGH, AND IT’S WEARING AN ELF HAT.

Oh, oh oh oh oh, before I forget – another story! Pick me, pick me!

As I returned to my mother’s house after my walk, I spied with my little eye a Hummer parked in her neighbor’s driveway.  My self-righteous, what kind of person still has that gas-guzzlin’, manhood-mocking[9] behemoth snort was diverted when I saw something that made me approach the vehicle for closer inspection.  The Hummer’s armor was fortified by what appear to be an oversized pair of Mr. Spock ears…no, they’re…elf ears?  Plus, an elf hat was wired to the Hummer’s grill.

Soooooooooooooo, I sez to moiself.  Last night was not a fluke.

I’d notified older sister NLM (who lives ~ 15 miles from our mother) about my spur-of-the-moment visit, and she’d graciously offered to act as my airport shuttle transport. As was pre-arranged, I called her when my flight touched down Monday evening. “Look for the car with the antlers,” she said, as I was headed for the passenger loading zone.  I stood outside the airport terminal, in the dark, repeating “What?” into my cell phone as she in turn repeated her auto antler identification spiel. Sure enough, a red Lexus with antlers attached to the passenger door windows and a red fuzzy nose wired to the front grill pulled over to the curbside in front of me.

“The grandkids love it,” she explained to me. “It’s Grandma’s Rudolph the Red Nosed….”

Well, of course it is.

*   *   *

But I digress.  I was walking.

Walking around my mother’s neighborhood, I crossed the bridge over Santiago Creek (as usual, the “creek” bed was totally dry, even after the rain), to do The Loop.  The Loop is a secluded residential circle, composed of two of the nicer (read: most expensive houses) streets in the city. It’s been several years since I’d walked the Loop, but little seemed to have changed. The house’s front yards were, as always, buzz-cut short and impeccably manicured (do lawns have cuticles?).  Leaving the loop via the bridge, I walked up and down a series of streets which had apparently been visited by one of those Neighborhood Holiday Beautification Czars, who had intimidated threatened extorted convinced each household to participate en bloc.  Every one of the curbside sycamore trees on Ladidah Lane had green plastic wreaths wired to their trunks. I rounded the corner to Decorous Drive, where every curbside pepper tree had oversized, red felt gift bows wired to their trunks.  The next street over had multi-faceted, red and green, mini disco glitter ball-style jingle bells affixed to red, green and white ribbons which were…wait for it…wired around the trunks of every house’s curbside Icky[10] tree.

Just as I was starting to get creeped out by the uniformity of the arboreal embellishment I received a text from Belle: Goooood morning!! And by the way – it’s snowing!!

Snow is a rare and generally appreciated weather wonder in the Portland metro area. I phoned my daughter, anticipating the delight I would bring to an old woman when I returned to my mother’s house with the news that it was snowing in Hillsboro and Belle had a day off from school…except that a somewhat disappointed Belle told me that it was a light dusting of snow and school had not been cancelled.

My mother, who spent the first 18 winters in Northern Minnesota, has a kneejerk response whenever I share news of what typically happens after a snowfall in Hillsboro. She trots out a litany of scornful clichés concerning the wimposity of those who let half an inch of snow close the schools and paralyze the freeways and major roads of a major metropolitan area.  Every time she launches into her spiel my knee jerks in response, and I trot out my Litany of Justification (LOJ):

a. Unlike Minnesota, snow is not a regular/seasonal occurrence in the major metro areas west of the Cascades Range (Portland & Seattle).

b. Because of (a), the cities and towns of said NW metro areas cannot justify the expense of having and maintaining fleets of snow removal equipment.

c. Due to the geography/altitude and other climatological conditions that make (a) our default winter weather, it is not consistently cold enough in the Portland Metro Area to maintain snow, as snow, on those rare times when it indeed does fall. It will typically either rain a bit after a snowfall, or warm up enough to cause a brief melt, the temps drop overnight…

d. and we wake up to ice. Not fluffy powdery, stomp-worthy snow, but a slick, traction-resistant, accident-causing, coating of ice. Over everything.

And every time I do this my mother reacts to my LOFJ as if hearing it for the first time, and concedes the points I make in our area’s defense. The next time we participate in this ritual I should mention the upside to (d), which is that the phenomena of a thin but determined coating of ice makes for jolly entertainment for so many of us wimpy Pacific NWers.  We cup our hands around a warm, foo-foo beverage of choice, huddle by our TVs, and enjoy the petty, smug pleasure that can only be found by watching the local news channels air footage of the idiot hapless drivers whose vehicles are spinning out and sliding down the hills on The Sunset Highway and other major roads leading in and out of Portland.

*   *   *

Dateline: just about now.  Back up in Oregon.  I counted at least seven more variations of the Rudolph/Santa’s elf – decorated vehicles while I was in So Cal.  I’ve yet to see one up here.  Maybe I just need to get out more?

Hilarity ensues.

Happy Holidays nd Thanks for stopping by.

Au Vendredi!


[1] Rhymes with Fuckatree; how portentous is that? Must be a sign from a god.

[2] For American politicians, lest they be perceived as commie/atheist/homo-loving/socialist/Kenyanappeasers.

[3] Many of whom, if they came from religious families, were likely calling out to their god(s) to save them even as they were being gunned down.

[4] and your husband, and children, and Mastercard balance

[5] Or just living. The “growing up” part is still up for debate.

[6]  Waaay too much time spent at the beach. Before the concept of SPF.

[7] A years-ago trip to see my folks, our plane descends toward the Orange County airport, K and Belle have their noses pressed against the windows, their eyes widening in alarm: “What’s that brown stuff we’re flying through?” K asks. “Down here, they call it ‘air,'” I explain.

[8] Although it’s obvious they resent the need, or any interruption to their cloud-free, brown/blue skies.

[9] Nothing says overcompensation (read:  I have a small penis) like an oversized vehicle. ..or firing guns at a group of children — make that firing guns at anyone, any thing.  Except a block of wood.

[10] Mea culpa, botanists –  no fauna is in fact “icky.” Since I can’t remember the name/genus of these trees whose prolific, tiny, elliptical leaves are shed year-round, I resort to the moniker bestowed upon them by my Aunt Erva  (“they make such an icky mess all over the sidewalks.”)