Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Feast of Saint Jack


This week we celebrate the 60th birthday of Jack Handey, the comic writer of Saturday Night Live fame has also written for Steve Martin, National Lampoon, and the New Yorker. He's best known for his "Deep Thoughts." I've gotta say that there are very few writers who can consistently get me into an uncontrollable chuckle like Jack Handey.

"Instead of a trap door, what about a trap window? The guy looks out it, and if he leans too far, he falls out. Wait. I guess that's like a regular window."

"If God dwells inside us, like some people say, I sure hope He likes enchiladas, because that's what He's getting!"

"There should be a detective show called 'Johnny Monkey,' because every week you could have a guy say 'I ain't gonna get caught by no MONKEY,' but then he would, and I don't think I'd ever get tired of that."

"The crows seemed to be calling his name, thought Caw."

"If you ever have to steal money from your kid, and later on he discovers it's gone, I think a good thing to do is to blame it on Santa Claus."

"If you ever go temporarily insane, don't shoot somebody, like a lot of people do. Instead, try to get some weeding done, because you'd really be surprised."

Happy birthday, Jack Handey. Thanks for all the laughs.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, February 27, 2009

Infectious Disease: Anecdotal Evidence Anyone?

Is it me or has this been a really bad year for infectious diseases, colds, flus, and the like? Just getting over a round myself and my classrooms at Gettysburg and at the middle school have been decimated by it this year. It's always bad this time of year, but this year has seemed worse.

Of course, there will always be fluctuations. some years the strains of flu become more easily spread, some years harder to fight off, some years more potent in the body. But when I had Lyme the other year, went to see an expert in infectious diseases down near DC. Smart guy, former head of the really smart doctors studying infectious diseases group (I forget the official name), and after the consult we started chatting. He said that at their last meeting, Al Gore came they had a session on the effects of global warming and the spread of infectious diseases.

We can't, of course, draw any inference from a single data point, but how's it in your neck of the woods?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Attempted Murder

Why do we have a crime called attempted murder? Isn't the problem that you tried your best to kill someone -- whether you succeeded or not? Should it really make any difference if you were too much of a screw up to figure it out? Is the idea that by missing your target, you probably had a last minute change of heart that caused your hand to flinch? By distinguishing it from real murder are we rewarding incompetence or conscience?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Virtue of Without

The idea behind Lent is that there is something cleansing, something virtuous about self-deprivation. The question is what? Is it the ability to empathize with the suffering of others? If someone can afford X -- which s/he really enjoys -- and opts to avoid X, but another person simply cannot afford the desired X, is there a difference in the virtue of these two? Are they both getting the same thing from not engaging in X or is the intentionality of saying no to X an essential part of what makes self-deprivation useful?

Is it the putting of spiritual needs before the merely bodily? In a secular version, Aristotle in "Nicomachean Ethics" and John Stuart Mill in "Utilitarianism" make a similar move arguing that humans will prefer the higher to the lower activity and that the life of seeking pleasure is a life for cattle or pigs. But suppose you deprive yourself of the higher, of the spiritual or intellectual? Is this harmful, so that it is not self-deprivation itself that matters but what you choose to deprive yourself of?

Hopefully you have not all given up commenting on blogs for Lent...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


LilBro just got back from a conference in Orlando and, of course, brought the fam to spend some Disney time. One of the regular events at the park is getting autographs from the characters. Are these real autographs? Apparently, it does not matter who is in the suit, they are trained to sign in a uniform way, so that Mickey's autograph will look identical on any given day. Does this matter?

Shoeless Joe Jackson was illiterate and would have his wife sign autographs for him. Were these autographs? Joe Jackson autographs?

What is the difference between an autograph and a signature?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why Do You Know That?

Let's have some more fun with this one. It's the converse of "auto mechanics to quantum mechanics," where the idea now is to contribute those bits of knowledge that seem really cool even if they are not directly applicable to anything.

My contribution:

The book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written by Ian Flemming of James Bond fame and the screen play was written by Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The famous mathematician Kurt Godel was so concerned about being poisoned that his wife tested all of his food. After she died, he all but starved himself to death.

The set of even numbers is the same size as the set of all positive integers, even though one is a proper subset of the other. At the same time, there are different sizes of infinity -- the number of real numbers between 0 and 1 is larger than the number of positive integers.
So, what do you know and why do you know it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Feast of Saint Sholem

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sholem Aleichem. Born Sholem Robinovich in Perevaslav in the Ukraine which was part of Russia at the time, he grew up in a poor family in a small Jewish town, son of a merchant who had interest in learning. His mother died while he was young and his father remarried to a nasty woman who verbally abused the children.

Sholem was sent to a Russian school where he received a secular education, studies at which he excelled. He tutored a wealthy young woman for a while, but when a romance blossomed, the father dismissed him. He went on to become a rabbi and a writer for various periodicals. When his former pupil found one of his articles, they reconnected and married.

Rabinovich adopted the pen name "Sholem Aleichem" which is a casual Jewish greeting (literally, peace be with you) and began writing character studies based upon the small Jewish villages -- shtetls -- of his youth. His characters were all too human, with comic flaws and tragic lives. His gentle playful way showed that no matter who you are, live will make you a schlmazel. He paved the way for the sort of Jewish humor we would see a century later with people like Gary Shandling and Richard Lewis.

Most famous of his works are his stories of Tevye the dairyman -- stories that formed the basis for the musical and film Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye was the archetype of Jewish humor. He was witty and good natured, but always downtrodden. Nothing ever went right for him no matter how well it seemed to be going. And all of it taken in stride with Tevye always misquoting scripture to make his point. The misquotes both made him seem humble, uneducated, and ignorant, but also extremely clever, wise, and poignant. did he know less than you or did he know more but was playing you? He was a perfect vessel for all that oppressed Russian Jewry was. Plain and poor, but spirited and joyful in the face of pogroms and hatred. "I know we're your chosen people, but could you choose someone else just for a little while?"

This raising of the humble led him to champion the Yiddish language. Hebrew was the Latin of the Jewish intellectuals. It was the true language of wisdom. Yiddish was the dirty language of the villages. For this reason reason, Sholem Aleichem championed Yiddish language literature trying to elevate it to a place of legitimate respect.

But always with a twist, always with humor.

He tells of the rabbi's wife who faints when finding upon the lectern a strange object. Finding her, someone calls for help and people from all over the village came running. They were horrified to find "a picture of a bearded man -- obviously a Russian Orthodox priest -- with an odd black cross at his side. And not just one priest, but two priests and two crosses, one priest upright and the other one standing on his head." No one would touch the the thing until the cantor's son-in-law picked it up and said, "It's nothing. What's there to get excited about? It's the king of clubs." He thought he was allaying everyone's fears, but how does the cantor's son-in-law know about the king of clubs?...

Thank you Reb Sholem. Shalom aleichem.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

The Value of Late Assignments

So, I've taken in my classes to having students come to each class with short reaction papers to the day's reading. They have to find a paragraph, quote it, and respond to it. Not only does it make sure they read, but it also means they have to come prepared to start an interesting conversation and once it is started, it gives them something to say. We can spend less time working through the readings and more time doing something with them -- analyzing, weighing objections, seeing how to extend them...

But it also does two other things. First, it keeps them writing. The more you do it, the better you get. Second, since these are check/zero grades, it gives them a chance to take a risk without fear of it affecting their grade. My students tend to be risk averse, don't swing for the fences if it might mean striking out. Mediocrity is safe. They are encouraged to be provocative in these papers and by in large it works.

The question, then, is about late papers. Should I accept them? On the one hand, once we've discussed the topic, half the point is gone. It means that the work trying to wrestle with a hard text has been done for them. It means they already have others' ideas to use. Further, it means they won't be prepared to contribute to the classroom. On the other hand, if I accept no late papers, then if they miss one because it was triaged out, they write it off and won't bother going back to read it. This way they still have to be in the text, even if it doesn't help me in the classroom, it does keep them engaged. Are these pedagogical advantages for slackers worth the cost?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Are We a Nation of Cowards?

Just as we get on a roll of questions about race, Eric Holder, our new Attorney General has made a wonderfully provocative claim -- we are a nation of cowards,

"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."

Is he correct, and either way what accounts for it? I think there are five possibilities. The first is simply denial, ignore it and it might go away. This was evident in a number of discussions on race that I heard during the election season. A lot of the racial fear about an Obama presidency was based around concerns about retribution. We deny our horrible racist traditions, but when there is the possibility of a minority taking real power the first thought is "I'm in trouble if it's payback time." When someone says, let's look towards the future, not play the blame game about the past, it is usually because they are to blame about the past. We are cowards afraid of admitting what is true because admiting it would force us to change it and we are afriad of the consequences of making things right.

The second is that we are still a nation of racists, but one in which social norms have changed such that making our views clear is subject to social stigma. It's not that we are afraid to talk about it, it's that we know we shouldn't say what we would say if we decided to speak freely. We are cowards afraid of speaking our minds.

The third is we are not afraid, merely disinterested. The notion of race has become so muddled and complex that the old black/white dichotomy doesn't make sense any more. We see the conversations as having nothing to do with contemporary life. It's so 20th century. We are not cowards, we're post-racial.

The fourth is not that we're afraid, just tired of it. There is a cultural exhaustion on the part of white people with regard to race. Reagan played brilliantly on white guilt exhaustion and we've not gotten our energy back. It's been on the agenda so long, we just got sick of it.

The fifth is that we are cowards, not because we don't want to talk about it, but we're afraid because we don't know how to do it. The PC movement of the 80s and 90s made us so touchy about innocent sentiments and legitimate questions being interpreted as offensive and bigoted that we simply try to avoid the landmine altogether. since we don't know how to do it well and since we are afraid that even touching the subject will blow up in our faces, better to simply let it go.

So, are we cowards and if so which of these is the most operative element? Or is it something else?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

International Adoption and Racial Attitudes

Another race question. International adoption is a wonderful thing allowing children to find adoptive parents who love them, who deeply want children, and who live in sufficient affluence to give children who might not have such opportunities in the lands of their birth a chance to find their own dreams. It is becoming not uncommon because of this to see children and parents of noticeably different ethnic backgrounds. My children have several friends who look nothing like their parents and think of the parents, simply as their friends' parents. Heritable properties and family resemblances will not be part of their lived sense of family.

Will this result in a separation between race and culture? We had a candidate a couple weeks ago who argued that Latino identity was a result of culturally constructed, but lived community experience. In the case of international adoption, the lived experience may have nothing to do with the culture of the birth parents. Is there a loss if the culture of your birth is not a part of your life, but the culture of your raising is? If a Jewish adoptive father and English adoptive mother together raise a Salvadorean child, does it even make sense to ask whether she is Salvadorean or Latina? Is it how she is treated in the culture or in the community? If it is in the wider culture, will the prevalence of international adoption change how we treat people who aren't white?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Steven Chu, "Positive" Stereotypes, and Asians as "Model Minority"

We had a candidate give a wonderful talk last week on the effects of stereotypes on members of the Asian American community. It is made interesting by the fact that many of the stereotypes are on their face positive -- hard-working, smart, disciplined. For everything prescribed by the Protestant work ethic, the Buddhists supposedly have you beaten.

She gave an interesting discussion of the effects of these expectations within and across social boundaries. Of course, for those who do match some aspect of the stereotype, you get no credit because that's just the way you are supposed to be and the mythical status means you are never smart, disciplined, or talented enough. For those whose talents, interests, and personalities are otherwise, you are looked at as if you were defective just for being normal, just for being you.

But, of course, the "positive" stereotype is not really positive. Asians may be viewed as a "model minority," but supposedly possessing these virtues gets turned into a character flaw by virtue of being apart from the norm. Hard work gets turned into works too hard, isn't independent enough. Disciplined becomes "isn't creative or resourceful." By supposedly making the majority look bad, it surely doesn't reflect problems in mainstream white American culture, but is made to reflect badly on the minority -- truthful or not. So, these "positive" stereotypes are not really positive.

This led me to think of Steven Chu. Surely, being a Nobel Prize winner in physics and Energy Secretary at a time when energy is of crucial national importance makes him a role model for anyone. But, of course, communities love when members of their own excel and they have every right to be prouder than proud. The question is what happens when your quite legitimate role models also reinforce stereotypes? Should the role be played down if the person both helps and hurts the community by being nothing but positive?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Unifinished Work

On President's Day, 200 years after his birth, it is worth thinking about Lincoln's second inaugural address, which ends, of course,

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
The phrase "let us strive on to finish the work" is very similar to the words
"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us,
" from his Gettysburg Address delivered three months later.

"With malice towards bind up the nation's wounds," these do seem to be the notions guiding Obama's bipartisan approach. Are they more than nice words? Are the wounds we have now scars from those of Lincoln's time? Is the unfinished work we have now the same as that Lincoln envisioned? Do the political realities allow for the wounds to be bound?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nerd Valentines

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This Valentine's weekend, I recall that a certain Playground regular has an alternate romantic use of the word "logic," and so inspired let's come up with the geekiest ways to describe aspects of romantic encounters.

Here are my entries:

"Making love to him was like reading Hegel. He went on and on, but I never understood quite what he thought he was doing."

"She was like an exponential function with an asymptote."

"It reminded me of going out with a Latin teacher. Things were fine when we were just dative. But once we started conjugating the genitives, she got possessive."

"Sure we bonded quickly, but he refused to follow the Pauli exclusive principle."

Your turn.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Live, love, love, love, love, nap, love, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, February 13, 2009

True Love vs. Romantic Love

Great quotation today from Margaret Anderson,

"In real love you want the other person's good. In romantic love you want the other person."
So, is there a distinction to made between real love and romantic love?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


What is the difference between flirting, talking up, and hitting on? Is there something ethically wrong with flirting if you are in a relationship? Is it merely silly meaningless play or is it a signal of dissatisfaction to your current partner?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Does This Blog Make Me Look Fat?

A question is a request for information, but, of course, we use sentences that sound like questions for all sorts of other things. In my Critical Thinking class last week we started thinking critically about the question, "Do these pants make my butt look big?" In light of the coming of Valentine's Day, it seems worth thinking about a few days early.

It seems that there are four possible things this sentence could be doing:

(1) It is an honest, authentic request for information. The person asking really wants to know if the pants do give what is certainly the illusion of his/her backside being larger than it is.

(2) It is a leading question, that is it is a question asks what it seems to be asking, but does it in a way that guides the listener to what the speaker takes the right answer to be. When asked if this makes me look fat, there is, of course, one and only one correct answer for those of us who do not have comfortable couches.

(3) It is what Hanno terms "a pointer," that is, one sentence that points to another that it really is expressing. In this case, the question "Do these pants make my butt look big?" points to another question, "Do you think I'm attractive?" and it is this second question that is really getting asked. H. P. Grice has an intricate account of how we figure out, seemingly without thinking, what sentences point to others in conversational contexts and if you haven't yet figured out what this points to, try answering it wrong one time...

(4) It is a disguised command. Consider the question, "You're not wearing that, are you?" May look like a question, may sound like a question, but it ain't a question. That utterance means "Go change now. I will not be seen in public with someone wearing that."

Which one is it or is it something else altogether?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Self-Less and Unenlightened?

Guest-post from C.Ewing today (let me repeat my invitation to anyone who stops by the Playground to send me something as a guest post):

So, I was thinking the other day (I don't suggest it as a hobby, 'tis rather burdensome), and realized that I don't think our interpretations of self-less acts, when thinking about ethics, aligns very well with how we use it in more common language, which (amazingly) I think is a more consistent, forgiving, and proper understanding of the term in relation to moral concerns. That is, much as some people (you know who you are) have attacked me for being too strict and too stringent when dealing with a notion of knowledge, perhaps when we attack self-lessness/altruism in ethical debates, we are simply being too severe. Self-less, then, becomes labeled as something other than what it is in the common understanding and application of the term, and so we've stopped communicating and started bickering, or as my father used to call it: having supper.

Let us say, that you're in a relationship with a lovely woman. You're both very much in love, and during the day she calls you up and complains about what a horrible day she is having at work. You know that she is a fan of orchids. After work, you stop off and pick up some flowers to bring over.

Now, there are various reasons why you could be doing this. You could be doing it because you know she'll be vulnerable, and she'll be so relieved that you thought of her, and tried to cheer her up that you'll likely get some play. A little stress release/grateful sex. You could be doing it simply because you're hoping it'll brighten her spirits. You could be doing it because you think she'll expect something like that, and you don't want to get in trouble for being thoughtless. We can continue, but you get the idea.

In order for it to be self-less, however, all that seems to be required is that you do it "without regard to self" or to couch it in different language, "you and/or your own goods/wants/desires are not the impetus of the action". So, in the case of wanting to turn this into some sort of booty-call, you're being selfish, and pretty much just a douche. In the case of wanting to escape getting in trouble, you're doing it to save your own butt. In the case of wanting to cheer her up, it would seem you're being self-less.

Of course, then we get the enlightened self-interest boat rowing ashore with Mikey and his posse. And sure, it's feasible that some where down the line this will play out in your favor. Then, there's the case of the warm fuzzies. Surely, you get some sort of joy out of making someone you love feel better. Her happiness, seemingly, is intrinsic to your own, so you're helping yourself out as much as you're helping her.

A common retort is to say all of this is strictly coincidental, but not actually part of the deliberation. Well, likely it isn't. Most people simply aren't that calculated. Oh, but they'll say: it was in the back of your mind all along. Certainly, you've been in enough situations like this that you can be reasonably assured of how it'll play out. And certainly, we aren't assuming you're so irrational or lacking of such a capacity as to not see it coming.

The thing is, I don't think we need to worm our way out of this. Let's accept it. Yes, I'll get warm fuzzies. And I like warm fuzzies. Damnit, I want warm fuzzies. Yes, it'll make her more inclined to recipriate. And despite its being a bad word these days, I'd very much like it if she were to recipricate. Yes, I'm even aware that if I don't do something, I'll seem like a bad boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/SO. It could come back to bite me in the butt later, and certainly I don't want that. I'm even aware that if things go really well I might be getting some tonight, and that certainly doesn't seem like a bad turn of events.

So what?

All that's required is that her interests, her needs, her wants, etc., are sufficient for my action. Are they? Yes. And so without regard to self, I still perform the action. All the various accoutrements are beside the damn point. They're extras. They're fluff. They're filler. They're like the air pumped into a twinkie. Sure, it's nice, but it's not like you're eating it (whatever the Hell a twinkie actually is) for the friggin' fluff. But, "How could you know?" one might ask. I'm the one doing the deliberating. I'm the one making the choices. I'm the one performing the action. I might not know with certainty, because I'm a human being, and we're complicated creatures. I could be mistaken. I could be in error. But I'm in a far better position to discern this than you are. And surely, the easiest, simplest, and most consistent answer is that I'm doing this for precisely the reason I evince. Now, if you can overcome your own epistemic difficulties in order to correct me, have at it. But I don't see that happening anytime soon.

In short: you can have your cake and eat it too. Delicious cake. And you can do it simply because it was a very, merry unbirthday, indeed.

Thoughts, questions, comments, ice cream anyone?

Monday, February 09, 2009

James Dean and Modern Cool

Yesterday would have been James Dean's 78th birthday. In just three films and a tragic accident, the man defined the modern notion of cool -- disaffected, alienated, but good-hearted. Is there anyone alive today who deserves mention in the same sentence as James Dean in terms of coolness?

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Feast of Saint David

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week we celebrated the feast day of Saint David. David Brenner is 73 years old. The son of a vaudeville performer, growing up in the tough parts of Philly, he became a pivotal figure in stand-up. Originally, a documentary film-maker, he tried comedy and caught the bug. His early work in the 60s was geared to the young in-crowd, but he took off by placing his jokes in the heart of the mainstream.

He tells the story two different ways. One version has Brenner talking to Dangerfield.

"He came up to me one night and said, 'You know, your stuff is very hip.' And by the way, he was one of the hippest. He asked, 'What percentage of Americans do you think are hip?' I said, 'I don't know, maybe 10 percent.' He said, "I'll tell you what. You take the 10 percent and I'll take the 90.' And I went home and de-hipped my act."
The other lays it at the feet of Carson's booking agent who told him his stuff was too hip and he changed in order to get on The Tonight Show, which he did more than any other performer, 158 times.

The man was one of my comic heroes growing up. In the 70s, he was clean and clever, always topical. He all but created the brand of observational humor that Shandling and Seinfeld would ride to stardom a decade and a half later. To this day, he remains one of the most prolific joke writers out there. He said he stopped worrying about people ripping off his work when he realized he could write jokes faster than they could steal them.

To celebrate his 40th year in comedy, the man is planning a tour. If you get a chance, go see a master.

Happy birthday, David Brenner.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Pity Party

Time for a pity party. Whom do you feel sorry for?

I feel sorry for the line workers at Kellogg's. Here we are in a recession, their jobs hanging by a thread, and their management goes and drops Michael Phelps as a spokesperson because he smoked pot. Kellogg, one of the world's largest snack manufacturers, say he doesn't represent the image they want, doesn't attract the market they are seeking. After all, potheads are not known to be large snack food consumers. No, instead, they'll just go back to the skateboarding, English speaking tiger.

I feel sorry for Hilda Solis whose nomination for Labor Secretary is being held hostage because of her support for legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act. Republicans are saying that her support for laws that would be of great importance to working men and women makes her unfit to head the Department of Labor.

I feel sorry for the friend of Nadya Suleman, the woman who just had octuplets after already giving birth to six other children. According to the AP, "Suleman, who now has 14 children, says all were conceived through in vitro fertilization with sperm donated by a friend." Dude, next time a neighbor comes to the door wiht a turkey baster and asks all innocent-like if she can borrow a cup of semen, tell her you just ran out.

So, whom do you feel sorry for today?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rubber Truck Naughty Bits: Last Week's Set

Here's last week's set on cars. Major thanks again to LilBro for taking and uploading the video.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Secular Jews

Attending the funeral of an atheist friend while working on a chapter of Einstein's Jewish Science that I am writing with Confused, Maybe Not, the term "secular Jew" became lodged in my mind. It is a term that makes perfect sense. But it seems strangely unique. I've heard people refer to themselves as "lapsed" or "recovering" Catholics, but one never hears anyone call themselves secular Catholics, secular Presbyterians, or secular Baptists. Why can you be a secular Jew, but not a secular Christian? (Is, perhaps, the correct term for secular Christian "Unitarian Universalist"?)

One line seems to be that Jews are traditionally a minority and that forces enclaves which causes culture to be as defining as belief. But then "secular Amish" or "secular Mormon" also strike the ear strangely.

Yes, one could be a secular Comedist, but why not the others? What's different?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

How Much Concern Should Closeted Politicians Have?

So, we're patting ourselves on the back for electing an African-American as our leader and Iceland gives us the big, "Oh yeah? Watch this." They've elected their first lesbian Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir. I can't even imagine how long it would be before this country could elect a gay, lesbian, or atheist President.

Responding to the news was Matthew Parris, a gay conservative MP in Britain who said to the BBC,

"Speaking from my own experience, I was sort of in the closet when I was an MP, and I always imagined that the world would fall in if people found out. Well, when I finally did come clean, it turned out most of my constituents had guessed already and didn't give a damn! ...They tend to hear the reactionary minority that speaks out against homosexuality, not the majority who quietly approve. If they came out, they'd be pleasantly surprised by the public reaction!"
Would this be true in the US? The voters of Louisiana haven't seemed too upset about David Vitter's visits to prostitutes wearing a diaper, but would it be different if it were Larry Craig? Is it a vocal reactionary minority or is the concern warranted?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Groundhog Day, a Grain of Salt, and a Grain of Truth

Of course the coming of spring is not foretold by the seeing of a groundhog's shadow. The celebration came from Germany -- which is why its celebration occurs in central Pennsylvania, an area of significant German immigration -- and occurs exactly six weeks before the vernal equinox used to occur (the change is a result of the precession of the equinoxes, that is, the result of the Earth's axis of rotation itself rotating around another axis). So, spring will be six more weeks, no matter what -- that's just when spring is.

At the same time, the emergence of burrowing animals from their hibernation is a marker of the coming of spring. Like so many of our seemingly mystical rituals, there are perfectly natural and well-supported rules of thumb connected with them. We may have to take them with a grain of salt, but that's not to say that there isn't also a grain of truth there.

What other rituals have back-stories that are well-supported?