Friday, May 30, 2008

The Feast of Saint Fred

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week we celebrate the feast of Saint Fred. Fred Allen would be 113 years old.

Best known for his radio programs in the 40s (many of which can be downloaded here), Fred Allen was a comedian ahead of his time. He was the first to make fun of his sponsors and the control they had over content. It was Fred Allen who introduced the fake news program that would become a standard part of American comedy from Rowan and Martin's "News of the Future" to Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" to Michael Feldman's "All the News That Isn't." Allen would read up to nine newspapers a day to find his material which included fake man on the street with people of a wide variety of nationalities and news maker interviews. The usual suspect in the news maker category was the fictitious Senator Beauregard Claghorn who was the inspiration behind Foghorn Leghorn.

While Allen was as quick an ad-libber as there ever was, he was in fact a perfectionist editing and re-editing his scripts for twelve to fourteen hours a day. His mastery of timing and linguistic flow in a joke make his work still funny all these years later.

Perhaps, he will be best remembered for his on-air running feud with fellow Sunday night radio comedy star Jack Benny. Allen and Benny were good friends and one evening after a young violin virtuoso played "Flight of the Bumblebee," Allen took the opportunity to ad-lib a joke about Benny whose poor violin playing was a running gag of his own. Benny, upon hearing this, made sure to put an insult to Allen in his next show and they were off and running with the goofing between them getting wilder and wilder through the years.

A couple of Fred Allen classics:

A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.

The last time I saw him he was walking down Lover's Lane holding his own hand.

I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy.

Imitation is the sincerest form of television.

Hanging is too good for a man who makes puns; he should be drawn and quoted.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Elementary School Ontology

Yesterday was the last day of school for the shorties. The shorter was in kindergarten and the question arose whether he is now a first-grader. It was generally accepted that he now has the status of "going into first grade," but the question was whether that was a sufficient condition to be a first-grader. If he is asked "What grade are you in?", could he answer "First grade" without having yet attended a single class in first grade? Is it walking into the classroom on the first day of school or having completed all of the requirements necessary to walk in that confers the elevated status of first grader?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Philosophy of Chemistry: Why Only Now?

Taught a class this semester on the philosophy of chemistry with a friend who is a physical chemist. (You can always tell the physical chemists, they're the one's with the bruises -- much tougher crowd than those chemists who don't get physical.)

What is interesting for me is that it is a rare chance for an academic to be able to teach a field that is in its infancy. There are two journals -- Hyle which has been around since 1995 and Foundations of Chemistry which began in 1999. There are a handful of scholars devoted to the field, Eric Scerri from UCLA is probably the biggest name and, as editor of Foundations of Chemistry and a number of very nice authored and edited volumes, one of the main organizational engines driving it forward. I was fortunate enough to attend the annual meeting of the International Society for the Philosophy of Chemistry a couple of years back when it was at Georgetown. A dedicated group of smart folks who together fit comfortably into a good sized classroom.

This is certainly not the case with philosophy of physics which has a long and storied history. Philosophy of biology and psychology likewise are significant intellectual forces in their own right. Political, sociological and economic theory go back to ancient Greece with significant advances in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Even the philosophy of geography has been an organized field of study for the better part of at least half a century. Why so late with chemistry, a study whose alchemical roots go back to the ancient Egyptians?

This was the last question on the final exam, and it's one to which I'm not sure I know the answer. Why has there been no serious movement around the philosophy of chemistry until the late 1990s?

Seems like there are four possible answers:

(1) There are no big questions in chemistry that are not already somewhere else.
Physics has the origin of the universe, biology has the nature of life, but chemistry doesn't have anything deep that is particular to chemistry.

(2) Chemistry does not actually exist -- or at least it won't forever.
Maybe the reason is that chemistry is not really a science, just a placeholder connecting physics to biology and once we have the proper physical theory to reduce everything chemists do, it'll all go away. Right now we have chemists because physicists haven't completed the reduction yet, but it's really just a matter of time.

(3) It's the chemists -- they just aren't a philosophical bunch
Chemistry is to its core a practical science, funded by corporations in order to find practical solutions to real life problems. Chemists think in terms of things they can manipulate and solutions they can create. Theory is only important as far as it serves practical, hands-on chemistry. As such, there is no philosophical culture amongst chemists to worry about the philosophical questions there.

(4) It's the philosophers -- they just don't know any chemistry
Maybe the problem isn't that the philosophical problems aren't there, it's just that we don't have chemically trained philosophers the way we have philosophers who have backgrounds in physics, biology, psychology, mathematics,... Philosophically-minded chemists could only do so much until they actually had legitimizing figures in the phil depts -- and those folks simply were not to be found.

So, which one is it? A combination or some other factor?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bullshit or Not: Ayn Rand Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits in the film is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, In Search Of... called, "Bullshit or Not?" which featured the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." It's a line I like so much that I've stolen it for an irregular series of posts.

This time it is a passage from Atlas Shrugged:

Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns--or dollars. Take your choice--there is no other.
The marketplace forces you to see other human beings at least as consumers or partners in commerce. As such, the line goes, it establishes a restraint on brutality and keeps order and ideology at bay. As long as worship of the market is basis of the your ideology, more harmful ideologies will be eliminated.

So, bullshit or not? You decide. As usual, free free to leave a one word response or a dissertation.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Evolution and Degradation of Language

So, at a wonderful BBQ at YKW's place, the conversation turned to language. I mentioned that the short people had discovered MadLibs at the same time I was grading student papers, and this led me to think about parts of speech. I remarked how the adverbial form of words is disappearing from colloquial (and formal student written) English being replaced with the adjectival form -- "He writes bad" or "She runs slow" -- and how even people whom one would describe with the word "learned" (when used as an adjective with two syllables) now almost universally employ the word "quote" (a conjugated form of the verb) in place of the noun "quotation," as in "I found a great quote to support that point."

Gwydion, whose livelihood is language, remarked that it should be seen not as a degradation of language, but as a natural part of the evolution. Language is a living thing, he argued, alive and changing in the usage of the linguistic community and that there is a natural and proper pull between linguistic conservatives trying to maintain some sense of purity and the forces of linguistic selection introducing alterations into the way we speak.

This is, no doubt, true. But to play on the evolutionary metaphor, surely some mutations are advantageous and others not. Biologically, we spot successful adaptations through successful propagation, that is, if natural or sexual selection are aided by them. Should we use the same standard for linguistic changes? Is the suffix "ly" like the appendix, simply a useless relic of a former time? Is "quotation" a dinosaur that is rightly going extinct? Or is there reason to be protective of parts of speech for sake of clarity, eloquence, or some other linguistic virtue that may, always or in some cases only, stand above utility, simplicity, or whatever else it is that is spurring these changes?

Are all changes in language evolutionary or do some leave us with an inferior language?

Monday, May 26, 2008

In Memorium of Body and Soul

Memorial Day always makes me think of my grandfather who served during World War II. He had stories about the war that were curious, funny, sad, shocking, mysterious, and telling of the human condition. My sense of war comes in large part from the man, many tales he wove from his Lazy-Boy as I sat on the couch.

He had lived a full life: raising a family, running a business, raising orchids and making bonsai trees, kibitzing with everyone he met. But the defining time of his life had been World War II, during which he had been a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, jumping behind the enemy lines before D-Day. As a teenager, I would mow my grandparents lawn and then sit with him for hours listening to old Yiddish jokes, arguing politics, and hearing the war stories. He always made sure that I knew that it was the convicts, colorful criminals with off-color pasts, let out of jail so they could serve in this unit that brought him home alive. And though it remained unsaid, it was always clear that in some indirect way I owed my existence to these people I was very lucky not to have had to associate with. Big Boy Buchanon, Jimmy D, the whole cast of them led to stories that might have been left on the editing room floor after shooting the Dirty Dozen. They were exciting, they were funny, they were poignant. Those were Pop Pop's stories and I heard them all countless times.

I was very fortunate that he and my grandmother lived only minutes from Johns Hopkins, where I was finishing my dissertation, so I could be close by. His last couple of weeks were clearly his last couple of weeks, so that I and the family as a whole could be with him. In the end, it was the cigars, not the Nazis, that finally got him.

But one thing about my grandfather's death that will haunt me until mine, was the way the war would not let him go. Even though he was surrounded by the people he loved most in the world, the war commanded his soul with an frightening ferocity. We all sat with him up in his bedroom; but in his last two days he drifted back to Europe and north Africa during the war. Sometimes it was hallucinatory, other times he knew he was in his bedroom, but he couldn't pull his mind off of the war. I saw in my grandfather's face something I had never seen before, it was beyond fear, it was true horror. And he would not talk about it. I tried for two days, hoping that describing it would exorcise it from his spirit. His agony was not from the disease of his body, but something in his mind. It was so painful to see my beloved Pop Pop in this anguish that I gladly would have taken the burden. But he would not speak. He would not dare expose me to whatever it was. His last act on Earth would be to protect his loved ones from his deepest demons the way he had protected the country decades before.

I will never know the particulars of it, but I know full well what it was. It was post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. With the advances in medical technology and so many returning from Iraq with grave injuries that would have killed them in wars past, we are all too easily turned to the body in thinking about permanent disfiguration. The loss of limbs or paralysis will be this generation's version of the homeless Viet Nam vet muttering to himself. But it is the psychic injury that will linger. Some will not recover from it, others will go on to be able to lives lives that seem normal and productive from the outside. But the effects of war on the mind will linger dormant. But they will be there.

And not for soldiers only. Indeed everyone who lives in the affected area will themselves be touched in a way that will never allow for life to be completely normal. We have entire nations now full of children whose brains have been altered by exposure to what we are capable of doing to one another.

So, on Memorial Day, when we think of those who have sacrificed their lives, we think not only of those who never came home, but also those who did, forced to leave part of their soul behind.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Say Good Night, Dick

Brothers, sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

It is with great sadness that I report that Dick Martin is with the Cosmic Comic now (hat tip to YKW). He died of respiratory failure last night.

It was 1967 and NBC was getting clobbered in the ratings, so they threw out some young comedians just to fill the slot, having little hope it would do anything against the likes of Ed Sullivan. But Rowan and Martin's Laugh In became a shot in the culture wars of the late 1960s. Dick Martin was tuxedoed update of G. Maynard Krebs designed to lampoon Hugh Hefner. Ironically, he would go on to marry, divorce and remarry Playmate Dolly Read.

His delivery was always joyful and his timing flawless. While Rowan and Martin represented the new generation in terms of content, they were perhaps the last of the great traditional American comic teams in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Lewis and Martin whose names theirs so closely resembled. In fact, it was as short term replacements for Dean Martin that they got their big break in moving from nightclubs to television as an act. Watching the two of them play off of each other, you always had the sense that these two not only knew their craft, but had a good time.Rest in peace, Dick. Thank you for all the laughs.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Passing the Plate: Sam Snead, 19th Hole Edition

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

It is that time again when we pass the plate and ask for donations. Other religions ask for money, but in Comedism we tithe jokes. So, for the good of the congregation and the community at large, please dig deep and be generous.

This week sees the anniversaries of both the birth and death of the great Sam Snead, the legendary golfer. It's a game I do not play. My father tried to introduce me to it years ago, but I quickly realized that I could get the same effect while saving the greens fees by simply taking a long walk and yelling obscenities. So to honor the memory of Sam Snead, please give us your best golf jokes.

Here are my offerings:

A couple was having breakfast when the wife asks, "If I were to die, would you remarry?" The husband looks up from his paper, shrugs his shoulders and says, "I don't know. I guess so." A few minutes later the wife asks, "Would you live with her in the house?" Looking up again, the husband responds, "Um, yeah, I suppose." The wife asks, "Would you sleep in our bed?" The husband answers, "Yes, I guess I would." "Would you let her use my golf clubs?" she inquired. "No," he says shaking his head, "she's left handed."

Tom and Bill are playing a tough par five when Tom's drive hits a tree and ricochets hard to the side. As they look for the ball, they notice that it hit a golfer from the next hole on the head, killing him. Staring in horror at the body, Tom asks, "What should we do with him?" Bill responds, "I'd leave him there. As an immovable obstruction, you get a two club-length drop."

Your favorites?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is There a Relationship Between Teaching and Scholarship?

The following claim is made on the University of Vermont's philosophy department's website:

The Philosophy Department at the University of Vermont is committed to pursuing philosophical scholarship while offering our students the highest quality undergraduate instruction. Our faculty are expected not only to be knowledgeable, but to be active contributors to their fields... We believe that students learn best when interacting directly with professors who are engaged in making philosophical progress.
Is there reason to share this belief?

I suppose the two arguments in favor of the claim are (1) those who are not up to date in the field will not have the complete sense of the topic when teaching it, and (2) the excitement that comes with mining the edge of a field would be communicated in the classroom, if the questions are live in the mind of the instructor, they will more easily be made live questions in the minds of the students.

The arguments against are (1) undergrads come nowhere close to the edge, so as long as the person has a solid grasp of the field, it is a matter of pedagogical talent and care which has nothing to do with an active research program, and (2) given that there are only 24 hours in a day, it becomes a zero sum game and time devoted to research is time not devoted to teaching and expecting your people to be active contributors to their fields will mean they will not be able to spend that time with students or mining the edge of recent pedagogical advances that would make them better teachers.

So, do you buy the UVM philosophers' claim? Is an active research trajectory either necessary or sufficient for successful college level instruction? Why or why not?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pity Party: Whom Do You Feel Sorry For Today?

This week, I feel sorry for Neville Chamberlain. Here's a guy who has been utterly and completely vilified and all he did was agree to split the Czech. I mean, c'mon, give the guy a break. After all, it was Hitler who wanted to go Dutch...and go Polish, and go Austrian, and go Belgian, and go Danish, and go French, and go Russian...

I feel sorry for Joe Lieberman. I know holy Joe really, really, REALLY wants to be McCain's VP pick, but this is going a step too far:

And I thought Obama meant it metaphorically...

Finally, I feel sorry for Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman. Reporters suggested that a crude double entendre was inherent in the name of his ex-model wife's new hair care product, the "Blo and Go." Never mind, that Senator Coleman lives a short drive away from his former colleague Larry Craig's favorite hangout at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, the mere insinuation of such a reference surely offends his sense of family values. With irony like this, how can anyone doubt the existence of a Cosmic Comic and our theory of humorous design?

So, whom do you feel sorry for today?

Shapes of Racism

In Kentucky's Democratic primary election yesterday, according to the exit polls conducted by CNN, 21% of the voters reported that race was important to them in making their decision and of those 81% voted for Hillary Clinton. More than one out of every six Democrats polled in Kentucky were comfortable telling a complete stranger that the fact that they voted against Barack Obama at least in part because of the color of his skin. And those were the ones who had no problem admitting it. Racism is alive and well and receiving both fuel and oxygen.

What is interesting are the tactics used to conceal it. No longer are open and explicit racist statements acceptable in most mainstream outlets (rightwing talk radio is different because they have created a discourse space in which it is acceptable, indeed they hope to have it pointed out allowing them to play the victim card demonstrating that the PC police are trying to deny them their freedom of speech).

The standard move is to use the sort of dog whistle coded racist language perfected by Ronald Reagan. When Reagan referred to welfare queens" or "state's rights," no one had any doubt what it was he was talking about, but you could never point to the explicitly racist content. The meaning was clear, but required what philosopher H.P. Grice called a conversational implicature, that is an inference from the listener to unpack the meaning of an utterance.

This has been the sort of move used by the Clinton campaign, for example, when referring to working class and lower middle class white voters as "hard-working Americans." This distinguishes this group of white voters from their African-American economic peers, an inference that is unpacked in part with the stereotypical racist presumption of the laziness of oppressed minority groups.

We must be careful to distinguish between descriptive statements that include race. These are not necessarily racist. Race is a sociological factor and discussing the way that factor plays out does not make an utterance racist. Take Obama's comment about the bitterness of white working class voters. In this case, we have a discussion that involves race and class and discusses the complex interrelation among them, policy positions, and voting patterns is a perfectly legitimate topic of conversation.

In this way, some of the comments made by Geraldine Ferraro were on the acceptable side of the line. One could argue that in light of the history of racism in this country, there is a reticence in certain parts of our society to be seen to be critical of rising African-Americans and that the overwhelmingly positive treatment that Obama was receiving in the media was in part a result of this. Maybe it is true, maybe it isn't. We can look back to the Democratic Senators' squeamishness during the Clarence Thomas hearings as evidence that such a thing could be operative here, but whether it is or not is an empirical question that requires support.

But when Ferraro took the next step and argued that he is in the position he occupies because of his race, implying that he shouldn't be leading in the race for the Democratic nomination and is only there because of the treatment he receives because of his race trading on historic antipathy in parts of the white community to affirmative action programs, now what she is doing is diminishing the man on the basis of race, and that statement was explicit and open.

We see more egregious examples of racism from the right. Michael Medved, for example, argues that

The idea of a distinctive, unifying, risk-taking American DNA might also help to explain our most persistent and painful racial divide – between the progeny of every immigrant nationality that chose to come here, and the one significant group that exercised no choice in making their journey to the U.S. Nothing in the horrific ordeal of African slaves, seized from their homes against their will, reflected a genetic predisposition to risk-taking, or any sort of self-selection based on personality traits. Among contemporary African-Americans, however, this very different historical background exerts a less decisive influence, because of vast waves of post-slavery black immigration. Some three million black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean arrived since 1980 alone and in big cities like New York, Boston and Miami close to half of the African-American population consists of immigrants, their children or grandchildren. The entrepreneurial energy of these newcomer communities indicates that their members display the same adventurous instincts associated with American DNA.
The move here is a classic example of what I have termed the "cage and frame" rhetorical strategy which is frequently used by conservatives.

Cage and frame is the trick wherein one takes a set of questions that one does not want discussed and puts them in a cage, allowing out only one sacrificial question, a question carefully selected to be easily framed in a way that generates loud, divisive debate. In this way, there appears to be open conversation despite the fact that the real questions never get considered.

Conservatives work very hard to make sure that all questions about the sociological factors leading to social injustice never get asked. This is the reasoning behind the "personal responsibility" canard. What we see from Medved is a longstanding conservative move dating back to the Social Darwinists of the 19th century wherein the conversation is kept on the biological level. It is racist bait and switch. The real questions of social structure and remedies to unfair distribution of wealth and power need never be asked as long we stay focused on questions of heritability.

Further, it allows the racist to falsely hide behind the sort of legitimate natural and social scientific questions about the role, function, and ramifications of race. By couching it in biological terms, the racist can claim to merely be looking at the science and that is objective, non-racist. By allowing only an empirical question out of the cage, the racist motivation behind the strategy can be concealed.

A third rhetorical strategy of contemporary racists is to conflate racist and non-racist notions, thereby hiding the racism behind the innocent. In a recent piece by Kathleen Parker, we see this move.
"A full-blooded American." That's how 24-year-old Josh Fry of West Virginia described his preference for John McCain over Barack Obama. His feelings aren't racist, he explained. He would just be more comfortable with "someone who is a full-blooded American as president."

Whether Fry was referring to McCain's military service or Obama's Kenyan father isn't clear, but he may have hit upon something essential in this presidential race. Full-bloodedness is an old coin that's gaining currency in the new American realm. Meaning: Politics may no longer be so much about race and gender as about heritage, core values, and made-in-America. Just as we once and still have a cultural divide in this country, we now have a patriot divide. Who "gets" America? And who doesn't?

The answer has nothing to do with a flag lapel pin, which Obama donned for a campaign swing through West Virginia, or even military service, though that helps. It's also not about flagpoles in front yards or magnetic ribbons stuck on tailgates.

It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots. Some run deeper than others and therein lies the truth of Josh Fry's political sense. In a country that is rapidly changing demographically — and where new neighbors may have arrived last year, not last century — there is a very real sense that once-upon-a-time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity.

We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants — and we are. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations of sacrifice.
Did you catch it? Let's play that old game from Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others: "heritage, core values, and made-in-America" and "blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values" It's not racism, it's about commitment and hard-won values. Racism is bad, virtues are good, I use virtue referring terms to justify my racist views, therefore my racist views are not racist.

It comes in all shapes and sizes, folks, from open and explicit to hidden and coded. One could even say that it mutates as it replicates, but that would be to use a cheesy genetic metaphor and no one giving a legitimate argument would stoop to such nonsense.

Monday, May 19, 2008

TO on KO

I love Countdown with Keith Olberman. He was the only media voice with the courage to speak truth to power when all others were giving us no truth, just cower. Usually, he's very good in terms of pointing out reasoning errors and inconsistencies in political rhetoric and making cogent, passionate arguments himself. But there were two last night that need to be called out.

The first occurred in his conversation with Rachel Maddow concerning John McCain's recent flood of major advisers who have had to step down when it was exposed that they not only were lobbyists working for the man who supposedly stands up to lobbyists, but actually were paid agents of foreign governments including the brutal regime in Burma, a warlord in Somalia, and Ferdinand Marcos. Pointing out the hypocrisy was fine. Arguing that major players in the campaign are those who become major players in the administration and arguing that putting people in positions of great authority who, up until very recently, were getting large checks from very nasty people would amount to at least a perceived conflict of interest and possibly a recipe for disastrous policy is well above board.

But he ended the piece (I'll get the exact wording as soon as I can find it) by saying to Maddow something along the lines of since we're out of time this will be a question for next time, but when will we be able to look into the income of Mrs. McCain and see where her fortune is invested and what other interests may or may not be having an effect on McCain's decisions.

That is a cheap argument by innuendo. I agree that Cindy McCain is being held to a different standard than, say, Teresa Heinz Kerry. Pointing out the double standard is perfectly kosher. I agree that the disclosure of candidates sources of income -- including their spouses' since things can be easily hidden -- is a good thing as transparency is a key to good governance. BUT the insinuation by KO was clearly there, pointing the listener to guilt without evidence. Call for the release, fine, but to frame it in a way that rhetorically asserts conflicts of interest without having the goods is fallacious.

The second one came during the "Worst Person in the World" segment. The "winner" for the evening was Oliver North who criticized Barack Obama for saying that he would negotiate with Iran. Of course, North himself negotiated with Iran at a time when they were ruled by an even more anti-American leader and he was not negotiating peace, but rather negotiating a price for military weapons that we were illegally selling them.

Yes, the irony is ironic. But, of course, there are problems here. It is a clean example of tu quoque. Just because I do it too doesn't mean it isn't good advice not to. If Keith Richards tells you to keep away from drugs, if Michael Moore tells you to eat well and get plenty of exercise, and if Dick Cheney tells you hunt safely, you should listen to them. Just because they don't listen to their own advice doesn't mean that the advice is necessarily bad. We all do things we shouldn't. There are doctors who smoke, policemen who steal, and seventh grade grammar teachers who dangle their participles in public. Evaluate the claims on their merits, not on who makes the claim and whether they themselves act in accord with it.

Further, to compare Iran/Contra to legitimate diplomacy is a very faulty analogy. Yes, North negotiated, but that bears little resemblance to the high level diplomatic talks Obama is proposing. I agree North's comment is funny in a sick and twisted sort of way, but the merits of early contact between world leaders is a subject of much greater complexity than it is generally receiving.

Keith Olberman is a gem, but even the good ones have bad nights and as I always tell my critical thinking students, it is important that we not only analyze the arguments of those we disagree with.

Seemingly Trivial Unanswered Problems In Discourse

I just read Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up yesterday (thanks Gwydion), and thinking back over his early albums (all of which I still have memorized), it inspired me to start a new occasional series of posts that I will call "Seemingly Trivial Unanswered Problems In Discourse" which will go by the acronym D.U.C.K.

The theme will be to take a question that should not be asked, a question that seems to have no answer or a perfectly trivial answer and actually have a discussion about it for no good reason.

Our first one is inspired by both Steve Martin and Hanno.

Comparing apples to oranges, which one is better?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Conundrum from the Congregation

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week, I received a plaintive plea from one of our own, good Brother Ron. He has a problem and I think it may take the community as a whole to help:

So, here I was, working on a piece about the Warner-Lieberman Global Warming Bill. And, into my mind popped the words, "Of course, we all know that the penguin is mightier than the swordfish." Not in context. Not with a joke attached. Just the words. It was like a shaggy dog story, but without the dog. It was, in fact, the leavings of a shaggy dog trimming. It was intellectual dander, from out of nowhere.

Now, I'm not concerned with coming up with the rest of the dog. I don't care. I don't even like shaggy dog stories. (Well, when I was a kid I loved the one about the snail in the sports car that ended with, "Wow! Look at that S-Car go!" But I've gotten older, and my appreciation of the divine has gotten better.) That's not why I have a problem.

My problem is that there are two strong possibilities. It is possible that I have been selected by the divine comedian to have a humorous insight, to be one of the few not forwarding, but rather *inventing*, a joke. And while I recognize that there is no holier moment, I must, like Moses before the burning bush (or Howard Beale in Network) stammer that I am neither worthy not a fitting vessel. I used to do stand up comedy. Trust me; I'm not that funny.

But it's equally possible that I'm just losing my marbles. Assuming I ever had any marbles to begin with. (Sorry, son. Those aren't marbles. Those are kidney stones...)

As a devout comedist, what is the prayer one says to be shown the way to either holiness or antipsychotic drugs? How *DOES* one tell if one is holy or off one's rocker? And is that merely a false dichotomy?
Good brother Ron, anyone who would claim the domain name "" has his comedist marbles firmly in place (I'll not comment on the state of your marbles beyond that, thank you).

Joke writing is one of those strange affairs where sometimes the complete joke hits you at once, other times, like this, the Cosmic Comic shows you the trailhead and you must climb that mountain to humorous holiness. I say that you have had a riotous revelation, you have been given a Divine punchline.

Suggestions, good comedist brethren and sistren as to a narrative theme or wording for a set up to this magnificent line?

Along with good Brother Ron, I wish everyone:

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's The Stupidity, Stupid

There are so many angles from which outrage should flow from Bush's "appeasement" comment in front of the Knesset. Making a cheap Nazi reference in front of the Israeli legislature that is celebrating the founding of the nation which was came about in no small part because of the actual horrors of Nazism is tasteless. Taking a nation's celebration of their 60th anniversary and hijacking it for domestic political shots is rude. Misrepresenting diplomatic engagement for appeasement is dishonest. Overlooking the fact that Bush himself is engaged in exactly this sort of diplomacy with fellow axis of evil leader Kim Jong Il and that the Israelis have a history of diplomatic engagement with their national enemies, not to mention criticizing a fellow American overseas after the Dixie Chicks fiasco, is nothing short of hypocritical.

All of this is disturbing, but what is truly stunning is that here is George W. Bush, the man whose policy of pre-emptive war, whose infantile black-and-white, with us or against us mentality, whose antipathy towards well-established and effective means of diplomacy put not only our country in greater danger, but which has made Israel significantly less safe. This man then stands in front of the government that now has to worry more about the safety of its citizens because of his policy stance and then in his embarrassingly adolescent manner lashes out at one of the adults for suggesting that we need to stop shooting ourselves and Israel in the foot, something everyone in the room knows we have to do. This is nothing short of oblivious.

At an occasion at which it would have been entirely appropriate to give a serious, thoughtful conversation about the state of the region coupled with a sense of what could be and some sophisticated analysis of the way we need to go forward towards a just and secure Middle East, instead we get oratory on the level the last hour of Bill O'Reilly's radio show. That the President thought this to be appropriate for that time and place shows a complete lack of understanding of the job he has held for the last seven years. It is not merely that this comment is a case of doing his job badly, it is the second order flaw, it's the person who screws up and is not even aware of what he is doing to the point where he recognizes that he has screwed up.

There are jerks who act like jerks and know they are acting like jerks and display a sense of arrogance, who put it in your face that they full well know they are being a jerk, know you are upset by their jerk-like behavior, and just don't care. But then there are the ones who act that way with a completely difference sense of arrogance, one that is coupled with the obvious fact that the jerk just doesn't get it. If the President went to Israel and was defiant in his tastelessness, rudeness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, that would be bad enough. But it is the complete lack of understanding of the brutal stinging irony of his obliviousness that is the most upsetting. To try to insult the intelligence of someone in a way that illustrates your own intellectual flaws, which then reflects on us as a nation is enraging.

Contrary to what you may believe, Mr. Bush, you are not helping. You are not helping John McCain. You are not helping Israel. You are not helping your own legacy. You are helping the terrorist recruiters in the same way you have been for the last six years.

You have made yourself into a cartoon character and you did it in a country where people actually read newspapers, not just the comics; where sophisticated arguments about current events is a standard way of life; where simplistic approaches to terrorism are known to fail; where your own policies have made their lives more dangerous. They know this. They get it. They have no choice. Fortunately, we do. Our days of national shame and embarrassment are mercifully numbered. We simply ask that you stop trying to help. It's not the partisanship. It's not the saber rattling. It's not the immature rhetoric. It's the stupidity, stupid.

Bullshit or Not: Seneca Edition

There's an old sketch film called Amazon Women on the Moon and one of the bits is a parody of the old Leonard Nimoy show, "In Search Of..." called, "Bullshit or Not?" with the tagline "Bullshit or not? You decide." It's a line I like so much that I've stolen it for an irregular series of posts.

Today's quotation comes from the roman orator Seneca, specifically number 90 of his letters:

"My dear Lucius, who can doubt that life is a gift from the immortal gods, but that the good life is the gift of philosophy? And so our debt to philosophy would undoubtedly seem to be greater than our debt to the gods by the same degree that the good life is a greater blessing than life, were it not that philosophy itself was bestowed on us by the gods. They have given to no one the knowledge of philosophy, but to everyone the faculty of acquiring it."
So much in there. Does philosophy really contribute to the good life? Do we owe a debt to philosophy? Does everyone really have the faculty to acquire it?

Bullshit or not? You decide.

As usual, feel free to leave anything from a one word response to a dissertation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

RIP Robert Rauschenberg

The artist Robert Rauschenberg died yesterday of a heart attack. After the abstract expressionism of Pollack and Motherwell, the question was legitimately asked, "Where can art possibly go?" Robert Rauschenberg was one of the people who took it there.

One of my favorite works ever is one of his early works called "Erased de Kooning Drawing." He got Willem de Kooning, an artist of significance, to give him a drawing that de Kooning himself considered to be of some importance in his overall catalogue. Rauschenberg then proceeded to erase it, placing the blank sheet in a frame and displaying it as his own work of art.

Is it art? Is it Rauschenberg's piece if he ended up with nothing that de Kooning didn't already have before?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What Is Common Sense?

"Sure he's smart, but he's got no COMMON SENSE." Man, I hate that.

What is this "common sense" of which they speak? How do I know for any given sentence X whether X is common sense? Does that mean it is simply widely known? Is it self-evident? Is it a pre-theoretical truth, that is, something whose justification requires only everyday experience and no general theory?

Is common sense unrevisably true? If something is common sense, could it be wrong? If so, what good is it?

Those of you who supposedly have common sense, what is it?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Transgendered Children, Permission, and Fairness

As I listened to a heart-wrenching story on NPR last week about two young transgendered boys receiving very different parenting and psychological care, I was hoping some smart people would reflect upon it. Aspazia has a wonderful post on the story that shows her continental roots, while Richard comments here and here in a way that is cleanly analytic. But while the two differ in their methodological approaches, they share a common sense that the treatment of young Bradley, who after being beaten up by two older bullies (10 year olds) for not being masculine enough and preferring to play with girls.

His parents were rightly scared for their child's well-being and sent him to see a specialist in Toronto who believes that gender at a young age is entirely malleable and whose treatment required a complete removal of all his favorite toys, a prohibition on playing with girls, dictating what colors he can and cannot color with, what he is allowed to draw when he colors (he must draw male not female images), and on and on. It was seemingly right out of A Clockwork Orange.

This was contrasted with another young boy, Jonah, whose therapist saw nothing wrong his his transgenderism. Jonah was happy and well-adjusted with his life as a girl. "She made it really clear that, you know, if Jonah's not depressed, or anxious, or having anything go on that she would need to really be in therapy for, then don't put a kid in therapy until they need it," the mother said. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Of course, broke isn't only defined psychologically, but also sociologically. Bradley was perfectly fine at home playing with Polly Pockets. It wasn't until the playground where the bullies came on the scene that Bradley was deemed to have a problem. The problem with Bradley is that others have a problem with Bradley. Bradley did not have permission to be different and difference without permission is vigorously punished.

I full well understood the concern. I'm now a parent and I was bullied growing up for being different. It lasted until I became a notably good lacrosse player. At that point, I obtained permission to be weird. I remained weird relative to the hyper-masculine posing that is the norm in athletic circles right on through college. When in a scrimmage in the pre-season of my freshman year, I played very well, I again received permission to be different. You get a free pass if you can show that you conform in a way that augments their masculinity -- he helped us win a game and therefore be more masculine than those wimps, so if he's a smart kid who doesn't play the rest of the bullshit game, we'll overlook it. That's not to say that it doesn't lead to plenty of ribbing, letting you know that your difference takes you away from the socially enforced norm, but that is different from the take-him-out bullying.

All of this has been incredibly prescient for me lately, as my son (the shorter of the short people) who is in kindergarten had a day in first grade last week to prepare him for the move next year and has just started little league. He does not have the issues that Bradley and Jonah do. He is very much a ball kid who is incredibly comfortable in his body,m much more naturally athletic than his old man. Indeed, he has been obsessed with baseball for the last couple of years and we often play in the basement or back yard and he has become pretty good for a pipsqueak.

At the same time, parents who are fully aware of the pernicious effect of traditional gender roles and stereotypes and an older sister who is his most frequent playmate. As a result, like Bradley, he loves Polly Pockets (he gets very upset if his sister will not let him play his favorite one), plays dress up, and went through a year of dance class.

What is interesting, though, is the reception he got from his visit in first grade. From his sister (the informant already in the class) the responses from the elementary school kids were "awesome," "great soccer player," and (striking fear into his parents' hearts) "Your brother is cute." His athletic ability and natural good looks (which he gets from his mother clearly) puts him in a privileged place, a place where he will get permission to be weird, permission I did not have. This permission, of course, only goes so far, but it does cover things that other children lower on the totem pole will not have.

At the same time, when he plays well in little league, it is clear that the indoctrination into guy culture is starting. The little comments, the complements subtly laced with gendered language, the praising of good play, all reinforce the connection between his beloved baseball and masculinity. I am helping the coach and hope to be able to counteract the influence, but seeing that it is there -- not through conscious design or explicit intent, but simply in the structure in which men naturally operate. It is so entrenched as to be invisible, but when one boy plays better than your son, you need to pull in the boy to save the masculinity of both yourself and your son. You get affirmation through association; the athletic youth is given some power to bestow permission, a power children quickly become aware of and a position of privilege and power that lasts into high school (being part of the cool kids), through college (often ossified in the fraternity and sorority systems), and on into the business world.

And here we come to the difference in the treatment of the transgendered boys and a question of fairness. The draconian treatment of Bradley may or may not be misguided and may or may not cause problems later in life, but either way it is designed to protect him. We live in a society where transgendered people are mistreated and the hope is that the treatment will allow Bradley to escape the hardships of life that he would face growing up in a society wrongly biased against the transgendered. Being transgendered is something which is is incredibly hard, if not impossible, to receive permission for. Jonah, on the other hand, is not being asked to change now, and may very well have it harder later, unless well-adjusted transgendered adults can alter the structure, making it so that transgendered folks do not need permission to be who they are. But the lives of those who blaze the trail for those who come later is a very difficult one. Jonah may make things better for transgendered children who come after him, but getting to that place will involve run-ins with the bigotry that is in our culture. One cannot listen to the voices of everyone involved and not wish that poor Bradley would get the support that Jonah gets. But then the question becomes whether it actually is fair to Jonah to ask him to be one of those who breaks down barriers, to oppose bigotry, to fight the good fight for innocent people who are simply living different types of lives. It is one thing for an adult to make the brave choice and stand up, but this is a child who can have no idea of the entrenched bias and unfounded fear and hatred that is out there for those who are different. Is that a fair load to put on a child's shoulders?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Type-A, Type-B and Type-O

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

A little finals week humor this weekend. I've been grading mounds and mounds of papers (speaking of mounds -- I've always wondered why Almond Joy's got nuts, Mounds don't -- what is Joy doing with the nuts, shouldn't she have the mounds?) and given enough typed words, even really good students will come along with really good typos.

Now, I'm not busting on these folks. I've made more than my share of typos, even recently. But there are some that go beyond the oops to the sublime and I've had two this year that are truly magnificent. They are the sort that slip through the spel chek, and end up expressing propositions perhaps never before intended in the history of human thought.

In a paper on the Manhattan Project, a student was expressing the concern of the times about a possible A bomb in the hands of the Nazis,

"The War had been going on as it had, but rumor stirred about a supper weapon in Western Europe."
Talk about a Wurst Kase scenario... Adds a whole new dimension to nuclear subs. When you can't brush, a trident missile after meals helps keep down the plaque that causes gingivitis.

But a real keeper came in a discussion of the sociologist of science Robert K. Merton,
"Merton states that in order to anal size the rise of modern science 'we must consider the scope and bearing of the contemporary religious convictions, since the might have been related, in one way or another, to the upsurge of science.'"
You can't make this stuff up, folks.

So, your favorite typos?

Live, laugh, and love,

Irreverend Steve

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

I generally avoid blog memes, but Janet tagged me with an interesting one -- and it's the end of finals week...

The challenge is:

Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.

Give your picture a short title.

Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."

Link back to this blog entry.
So here's my captioned image:

It's all connected.

The part I despise about these darn things is tagging others -- just what I want to do to other faculty folk, assign THEM work during grading season. Apologies to the following:

Hanno and/or Todd
and anyone else who wants to play.

Gender and Grades

Last week I was a teacher. Next week I will be a philosopher. This week I am a professional grader. So, a grade question.

Why are women better students? Not a universal claim, but on average my female students are better than my male students. A friend in admissions once said that if we went gender blind, the institution would be 75% female and this is the case almost across the board. Why is that?

Anecdotally, if I think back over my top of the top, A+, wow type students, there's gender parity. When I think about the next tier, though, the solid A/A- do really good thoughtful interesting consistent work, the women outnumber the men. What social factors account for this?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Laura Bush and the Need For Two New Words

We need to coin two terms, words that are powerful enough to fully capture what happened in Laura Bush's press conference Monday about the tragic deaths in Burma as a result of the cyclone.

I've seen it written that the British definition of irony is "sardonic speech or writing intended to convey the opposite of the literal meaning of an utterance" while the American definition is "the property of being like iron."

There's irony and then there's irony...and then there's THIS

"L. BUSH: ...although they were aware of the threat, Burma's state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm's path. The response to the cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta's failure to meet its people's basic needs. The regime has dismantled systems of agriculture, education and health care. This once wealthy nation now has the lowest per capita GDP in Southeast Asia. Despite the havoc created by this weekend's cyclone, as far as we can tell, Burma's military leaders plan to move forward with the constitutional referendum many scheduled for this Saturday, May 10. They've orchestrated this vote to give false legitimacy to their continued rule...

QUESTION: Why do you think that the government didn't allow the state-run media to publish those warnings?

L. BUSH: I don't know. I have no idea.

QUESTION: Do you think they have blood on their hands for that lack of warning?

L. BUSH: I just think it's very, very important that we know already that they are very inept, that they have not been able to govern in a way that let's their country for one thing build an economy. This is a country that's rich in natural resources. Their natural resources are being depleted as they sell them off. As far as we can tell from the outside, for the financial benefit of the regime itself and not the good of the people. We know that...
Yes, a representative of the Bush administration casting aspersions upon a government for not helping their people in a time of great crisis. You've got irony mixed with tragedy rolled in a staggering degree of obliviousness. We need a term ample enough to describe that. I propose "Antoinetting." Others?

And then there was the end of the press conference in which the First Lady deftly turns the conversation away from the tragic deaths of innocent people and the possible moves towards freeing a population from a tyrannical regime and onto the topic she really wanted to be talking about, a concern of much greater significance, her daughter's upcoming wedding:
"QUESTION: Is there any way for the Burmese leaders to salvage the referendum process or should they start from scratch?

L. BUSH: I'm not going to give them any advice. But it would be very, very odd, I think if they were to hold the referendum this Saturday.

QUESTION: All the best of luck.

L. BUSH: Thank you very much.
Wow, just wow. Any reporter who would have been the first to raise the topic in that context should have been drummed out of the press corps, but for the First Lady herself to steer the discussion that way in such a gratuitous fashion is nothing short of stunning. We need a word that captures the sheer self-centeredness, the utter inability to place things in perspective, the twisted sense of priority. It is quite understandable when it from three year olds, they simply have not yet developed psychologically in a way that allows them to have a sense of the world around them apart from their own wants and emotions. But this sense of privilege from a grown woman is awe-inspiring. We need a word that captures the self-aggrandizing act of raising one's own interests which are trivialities in comparison above the truly momentous happenings around oneself. We need something to capture the heights of "it's all about me-ism." "Flightsuiting," perhaps? Help me out here.

So, suggestions for either of these terms?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Agapē and our Mettā Obligation

Guest post from C.Ewing:

Linkage and here.

Recently, I had a discussion with TR about the linear assumption people seem to have. That is, if one appears to be acting in a kind way (performing a kind action) then we tend to assume that this relates back to kindness (as intention/emotion), which lies behind the action itself. We commonly assume such is the case, possibly due in large part to our own experiences, and the inclination we have to relate ourselves and our own experiences to others. In attempting to understand others, and their motivations, we make a lot of assumptions, some rather bold, and some less so, but they're always assumptions, since we can never known what's happening in another's mind.

But we can be, and have likely all been deceived at one point or another. One can act in a kind way towards us, but only be doing so out of self-interested pursuits, etc. Certainly love, kindness, concern, compassion, etc. can be avoided from being acted upon out of fear of potential consequences, embarrassment, etc. We can craft as many scenarios as we like to demonstrate this, and we can all take turns telling our individual stories, but this seems unnecessary to make the point.

Most of us can readily agree on kind actions. When your child is hurt, you comfort them and tend the wound. When a friend needs a few bucks for gas, you chip in. But in such cases we seem to assume the presence of something more. A friend is not merely someone who chips in as needed. A relationship must be present, and this requires more than acting in a particular fashion. When a mother tends to a scraped knee, it is more than bandaging and cleaning a wound. A friend performs actions out of friendship. A mother performs actions out of love. This is an assumption we readily make.

To merely go through the motions, however, seems to cheapen the relationship. A loveless marriage may well be considered a marriage only in name. Fair weather friends are more mere acquaintances than friends. This seems to indicate a lack of substance, or perhaps better termed, a lack of worth in the actions performed. They are not what they seem. It's a sort of social and moral dishonesty.

We often say to children, "Behave". We want them to act in a certain way. But we do more than this. We also tell them to, "Be nice". We do not say merely to act in a way others will interpret as being nice. We tell them to actually be nice. This is descriptive of their person, or rather how they are as a moral being, as a person in the world, a state or mode of being. This is unseen, but in their being nice we also expect demonstrations of this, otherwise we will not assume it to be present.

This is the linear assumption. If you are nice, then we expect you to behave in a fashion indicative of that niceness. When we describe someone as kind hearted, we do so after drawing the assumption from behavior. But this too falls into the category of assumption. Certainly, they can perform kind acts without ever having such intention as part of the impetus.

This seems to cheapen the behavior as well. There is dishonesty in the presentation. But if we are merely obligated to behave in a particular way, then there seems to be no harm. Indeed, there is not even the possibility, as the dishonesty is utterly unimportant.

I was visiting a friend in SoCal last summer. She was getting married, and I arrived early to spend time with her before the nuptials hit, and the mania began. We were sitting outdoors, having supper with several persons, who were all there visiting. I took the chance to head to the ATM and grab some cash. On walking to the ATM I passed a young woman (maybe early twenties) sitting on a bench, who had obviously been crying. I naturally had to pass her again on the way back. I wanted to say or do something, but I couldn't fathom precisely what. I didn't know this random young woman, and wouldn't have the foggiest how to broach the subject of her crying.

The previous examples all dealt with developed relationships. It does seem that there are other aspects assumed to lie therein, and the dishonesty can and ought to be reproved. We have not entered relationships of that type with random persons in the world. But does this alleviate any sort of obligation toward kindness?

If morality need be universalized, and is not merely based on reciprocity, self-interest (of whatever sort) or contractual agreements, then how do I escape my obligation towards the strangers of the world? Need I love them, care for them, and act upon that? Surely, I can care for them and not act. But there seems to be an avoidance there that is morally reprehensible. Surely, I can act without caring. But does that dishonesty only become problematic in established relationships? Is it their own damn fault for assuming that my kindness in action implies a kindness of the heart?

I can't escape the idea that I did something wrong that evening by not doing anything at all. Simply caring does not seem to be enough. But simply acting seems to be somehow insufficient as well. Am I obligated to be nice, and not merely behave? If so obligated, is it only to those in established relationships with me, or must it be universalized? Need I love the world, and all such people in it? Does love have nothing to do with it? When you are told to hug your brother after a fight, it does not seem to be merely for the sake of the action, but because the action is stating a certain condition of affairs within the person, and between the two of you. Am I not similarly obligated to embrace the people of the world? Is lip-service ultimately good enough for them?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo and American Cultural Celebrations

Thinking about Cinco de Mayo. On the one hand, in these days of vilification of Mexicans, surely it is a good thing to have a mainstream celebration of Mexican culture. It must be helpful to have time set aside to create a positive association with all things Mexican, if nothing else, to serve as a counter-balance to the soft racism of Lou Dobbs, where making immigrants who are just looking to feed their families into national enemies fans the flames of the pre-existing subcurrent of anti-Mexican bigotry much in the same way that Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" rhetoric poured gasoline on racial tensions in the country.

It is interesting to see the changes over time in the definition of whiteness. When I was doing the research for "The Greening of White Pride, " a paper I co-wrote that examined the foundations of the environmental ethic of contemporary white pride groups, it was interesting to see in various racist circles how big or small the circle of whiteness was drawn. For example, in some groups, but not others, Italians were excluded. It really is strange to realize that it is just a couple of generations since Italian food was thought of as exotic cuisine. Surely, the normalization of food is one way that a subculture gets folded into the general society and food and drink are central to celebrations like Cinco de Mayo.

At the same time, this route does result in a one-dimensional image of the culture in which certain party-friendly aspects are picked out and played up in caricature. What gets assimilated isn't the culture itself, but an Americanized cartoon of it. We create mere icons that strip the real culture of its interesting and complex qualities, its multi-faceted truly human nature. Think of the way Irishness is reflected in our celebration of St. Patrick's Day.

The question then is whether we are celebrating the culture and thereby beginning to welcome it into the broader culture or whether it is merely a sterilized creation of our own that traps members of the group in a fake box designed to neuter the cultural influences and allow for our easy consumption.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Passing the Plate: Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar Edition

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

It is time to pass the collection plate again, my dear friends. As long-time Comedists know, where other religions ask for money we prefer donations of jokes. This week is the birthday of Sigmund Freud. In his honor, we're passing the plate for Freud or psychiatrist jokes. Dig deep, give generously to your congregation.

My first offering is a joke I wrote a while back:

Why did the Freudian chicken cross the road?

Because it was envious of the cock.
Perhaps the greatest Freud line, however, came from the old sit-com Cheers when someone asked Cliffy what a Freudian slip was and he responded, "It's when you say one thing, but meant to say a mother." Man, I love that line.

And then there's the great Steven Wright line,
"I sent my dog to a psychiatrist, but he wasn't sure if he was allowed on the couch."
Rodney's great,
"I told my wife I was seeing a psychiatrist. She told me she was seeing a psychiatrist, two bartenders, and a plumber."
So, what's your favorite shrink joke, folks?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Tough Love?

As an utterly inappropriate follow-up to yesterday's post, here's a question from C. Ewing:

This is a question that has come up at work periodically. We work with people who (typically) can't help themselves, but when doing any sort of volunteer or charity work there is always the risk of dependency, and the risk of people who are simply trying to abuse the system. The ideal scenario is that we simply get them where they need to be as best we can (the essentials for living), and let them take it from there. But I've had several clients come back to me later on, wanting other help. Now, when it's available I make the effort to give them that help, but I sometimes wonder: am I becoming a handy tool for them to utilize, and in being that tool am I preventing them from developing their own means and independence? Am I hurting more than helping? When is tough love needed/demanded? Is it sometimes best to let people "tough it out", and if so, when? How do you know? Now, sometimes it's obvious that the person doesn't have the financial means for certain things. But there are gray areas where it's not clear they couldn't manage it with effort. How do you know when to let them "sink or swim"?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Snark Bait

It's the end of the semester here in Ivory Towerland, meaning that everyone is alternating between punchy and pissy. What better time to unveil a new occasional series of posts I'm going to call "snark bait" in which a one-liner-worthy story is posted designed to attract your best shots.

The first one comes from Pittsburgh (with a big tip of the hat to JudiPhilly)

So Dr. David Wielechowski, a Pittsburgh dentist, had just married his beloved Christa Vattimo when...

According to a criminal complaint, the Wielechowskis had just checked into the Holiday Inn-McKnight Road in Ross and were ready to enter their room on the seventh floor when they began arguing.

Dr. Wielechowski "then used a karate-style kick with his leg to kick Christa, knocking her to the floor," the complaint reads.
O.k., assault and battery on the way into the honeymoon suite, irony enough for a good post. But it gets better.
Upon hearing her screams, two guests of the hotel who had been attending another wedding reception ran to Mrs. Wielechowski's aid. But when they attempted to restrain Dr. Wielechowski, he began fighting the would-be rescuers only to have Mrs. Wielechowski "turn against [them] and also begin to assault them," according to the complaint.

The fight moved from the hallway into an elevator, then spilled out onto the floor of the lobby, where Dr. and Mrs. Wielechowski picked up metal planters containing live plants and threw them into the elevator at the two rescuers, the complaint says.

Police said both Dr. and Mrs. Wielechowski punched and wrestled with the rescuers, who were left with injuries that included cuts, a tooth knocked out and a possibly broken thumb.

The complaint estimates $1,000 in damage to the hotel, including to the elevator, the planters and plants.
She turned on the people trying to help her. What was in this woman's mind? "Hey, they are trying to deprive my dear husband of something he cares about -- beating the crap out of me. How dare they. I need to stand by my man. I'll give them what for."
Dr. Wielechowski initially was taken to UPMC Passavant in McCandless for examination of possible injuries, then to the Allegheny County Jail, where his wife already had been booked. They spent the night in separate holding cells until they were released on their own recognizance late yesterday morning...

Mrs. Wielechowski, still dressed in her wedding gown, was picked up by her father and taken home. No one was awaiting Dr. Wielechowski, whose left eye was blackened and swollen shut. He was arraigned wearing tuxedo pants, a bloodied T-shirt and one shoe.
So, there's the snark bait. My shots:

"Boy, I don't even want to think about what they did feeding each other that first slice of wedding cake."

"I wonder if the mug shots go in the wedding album."

Have at it.