Thursday, May 19, 2016

An Impolitic Convocation of Words, words, words

I was speaking with the wife yesterday, bemoaning my ability to maintain a weight of which I can be proud. She said I looked fine. She might be right, but I don't see it. I'm constantly 5 pounds over what I want to be.

"The thing is," I said, "I am trying to have a girlish figure and ANY figure you have is, by definition, a girlish figure. It's just not fair!"

She gave me the kind of laugh that spouses of so many years give when the actual message is "I'll laugh if you promise to stop talking, NOW."

But the thing is, if we want to talk about privileges inherent in language, we have to start acknowledging that some groups have an automatic advantage. Women don't just have a lock on their figure. They also have girlish laughter and their own mystique. I can never have that mystique. And definitions? There are Broad definitions, but no male ones! And Flicks? Chick flicks. No male movies. Lady fingers, Dame Fortune, Lass-o's and (imported from England), Bird feed.

And they aren't the only ones -- different professions have co-opted certain things and we are forced to pay homage to them. Fireman's carry! Do I get a carry? No. Secretary hand (that's an old fashioned term for proper handwriting). Principal investor! Why should we have this inherent bias which gives principals the advantage linguistically? Where are the teacher investors? And golfer Gary Player gets his own piano!

Languages are complex and dynamic. They don't always mean what they say or say what they mean. Slangs, figures of speech and conventions drift in and out and it might serve us better to work on speaking and writing clearly, and working to understand ideas instead of grasping at straws to be offended by the words. Don't confuse the medium with the message or you will be offended by baby oil.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A boot to the Education

Today, I celebrate my ignorance. Yes, I work in education, and yes, I think that I think that education is important, but there is so much stuff that I don't know and yet I get along just fine. Before you say anything (anything at all), I know that Paul Reiser discussed the issue of not knowing things in 1986. But he seemed troubled by it. I refuse to be.

A student asked me today, "What's the difference between a primary and a caucus?" I told him I had no idea but that in the real world, it isn't really an issue. Most of politics is the same with me. Unless Marvel is planning on making a movie about them, I intend to ignore Super Delegates. And math? Yes, it is nice to know basic algebra because I often have to solve for X, or some other letter, but pre-calc? For that, if it ever comes up, I'll use a pre-calculator. I'm joking of course -- it will never come up.

Does anyone not currently in the field of not having any friends really consider it important to balance redox equations? Spoiler alert: redox has nothing to do with the color red or oxen (or cookies!) so who cares? If I drop a brick, does it not fall? When do people worry about how fast it will fall? Are my mitochondria any less mighty if I have no idea what they do? (This one, though, I remember...they are the powerhouse of the cell. I never understood what that meant, but that's the phrase.)

Surely someone could say the same for English -- does anyone really need to know what motivated Holden Caufield? Does anybody really care? No. The truth is that English teachers think it is nice if you recall the plot and such of a book you read 10 years ago but the goal is in the skill at being able to approach any OTHER text. But does learning about co-secants (who apparently share top billing with other co-secants) equip me with the skills to confront any whatever it is that co-secants do or are? I really have no idea.

This is not to say that I don't know stuff. I know a ridiculous amount of stuff. More properly, I know an amount of ridiculous stuff. I know trivia and a collection of random facts and bits about many different fields of learning. I can contribute fascinating (and sometimes true) minutiae about disciplines ranging from Astronomy to Zoology with special stops at Theology and Cynology, and the occasional Nephology. These are what have gotten me through the social situations that confront me. These are what have shaped my success, not knowing who participated in the Hundred Years War [hint, not the Hundred-yearsians. I know, right?]

We should replace our entire curriculum with Trivial Pursuit competitions, almanacs and reference books. We have to push the kinds of things people need to know, like why some pencils are number 2 and others aren't. Because that comes up all the time. Celebrate the ignorance by realizing that knowing how to drive does not require understanding how the engine works.

So the next time you are kicking yourself because you suddenly need to compute a factorial before you put that quarter in the meter realize that that never happened. Factorials are stupid.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy just day

I don't like "days" -- special days set aside to codify what should be a constant mantra, "Be nice to people and overtly recognize how great everyone is, consistently." I don't like birthdays, Fathers' Day, Mothers' Day, Siblings' Day, Grandparents' Day, and the loads of other days made to fill the coffers of card makers and assuage the guilt of people who forgot to be nice the other approximately 364 days of the year.

This rankles people (sometimes, people gotta get rankled, I always say). People say, "Sure we love ______ every day, but isn't it great to set a day aside to celebrate?" I don't celebrate oxygen on one particular day -- I work hard to be conscious of my addiction to it every day. I think isolating one day implicitly gives us permission not to pay attention the rest of the time. Yes, we still love and respect and all that, but we don't remember because it isn't the "right" Day to say we remember. I don't like that. I want to remember every day. I want to say "thank you" as frequently as I can. I want to shout out that I am in awe of what people do all the time. I don't want to define a 24 hour period when one person or group gets respect and then take him, her or them for granted when midnight rolls around again.

So, yes, my mom is awesome. She did a great job with me which allows me to ignore her performance when it comes to my siblings. My wife is the greatest. She birthed children and still had time (and inclination) to put up with me. My sister and sisters-in-law are models of motherly skill and compassion, and my other mom-type relatives, and friends and such are moms without compare. But a day? What about tomorrow? Would it be wrong to make breakfast in bed for someone next Sunday? Shouldn't I buy a card, or take someone out for a meal in November also?

People who are incredible everyday need to be acknowledged, thanked and put on a pedestal every day. If I am not already doing that then no cutesy post or card or quick phone call should make a difference. Here's to moms. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week and throughout the year.

So on Sunday, May 8, I want to do what I should do every day -- celebrate everyone. And I intend to do the same tomorrow. Maybe if we all got into the habit of seeing and celebrating the best that is all around us, all the time, the world might be a happier place.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Man Helping Men

A list of things a man can say to defuse his wife’s anger and therefore avoid an imminent fight or end one:

It’s fine.
You have nothing to worry about.
Just do it my way.
It really isn’t fair to expect me to guess that.
Well, if you say nothing's wrong, I guess nothing's wrong.
I’d really, really prefer Italian.
Here, take this pill. You really do need a glass of wine.
I believe I paid for this by working.
Well, maybe YOU should sleep on the couch.
Yeah, with that dress on, you look huge.
They are just a couple of old girlfriends.
Why don’t you just let the man fix this?
I can’t see the TV.
In fact I DO think it is a good idea.
You are making too big a deal out of this.
Before you say your side, I need a drink.
I totally get that you think that.
It’s nice, I guess.
But I DO have a preference.
It can wait.
But in my defense.
I’d rather spend time with my friends.
Say that again – I was looking up the score.
Are you still talking?
That’s a cute opinion to have.
And if I said that same thing as an excuse, would you be ok with it?
“Blah blah blah” that’s what you sound like, “Blah blah blah”
Why don’t you just make me a sandwich and we will move on.
Hold that thought – this is important.

You're welcome.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Ted talk

I'd like to write a letter to Mr. Ted Cruz, so if you aren't Ted Cruz, please get this to him. Thanks in advance.

Dear Mr. Cruz,

Recently, I watched a video in which you visited a factory/bakery and participated in the making of matzah, the ceremonial flat cracker tat Jews chow down on during the Passover holiday. You seemed the good sport, but I wanted to point out a few important ideas so that maybe you can understand some of what you were doing.

First off, you played the political game well. Jews everywhere can only tolerate a politician who is willing to make us dinner. It's like a thing. So by showing your skill, you have won our vote. We had a meeting. You're good.

Next, I apologize for the ridiculous singing perpetrated by the people at the factory while you rolled the dough. We generally do not sing while we work -- that was all a put on for you. And the song choice was egregious. Those of us who sing while we roll dough usually choose something more spiritual, like an Elvis tune from Blue Hawaii. It's in the Torah.

Then I watched as you tasted some of that matzah. You said one thing (at 12:50 or so) "superb."

If you want to be trusted as a politician, please don't lie. It was not superb. It isn't supposed to be superb. in fact, if the stuff you made was "superb" then you didn't make matzah, you made Snickers bars. Now THOSE are superb.

Matzah is the bread of afflicition. It symbolizes the haste with which we ran from bondage -- our dough had no time to rise. What this means is that, given a choice, we would have slowed down to a more manageable pace and let the dough rise so we could have the other traditional Jewish bread, bagels, for 8 days. We do NOT want to eat matzah. We complain bitterly (note the Passover joke) about what it does to our teeth, our rugs and our digestive systems. It is a conveyance for cream cheese, butter and sometimes maybe a bissel fish. All things a bagel could be used for. We make pizzas out of it and complain. We grind it up and use the meal as a flour substitute, and complain. Basically, we have an 8 day whine-fest because of matzah. For you to say it was superb simply strains credulity on every level.

Some call matzah a bread of freedom. Yes, only in the sense that no one should ever have to pay for matzah. We did reach freedom from Egyptian slavery but the matzah is symbolic. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to eat.

So please -- we know you choked it down. It was very sporting of you to try it. But every bit of pandering has a limit, a moment when becomes unbelievable. I expect a full statement, an apology and a retraction of the offending "superb" lest our children grow up with the expectation that matzah taste like something more than overcooked cardboard, or the sense that our politicians lack taste buds.

No matzah brei, that's something else.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Everyone should state his or her (or whatever) own Gender

It doesn't take a lot to annoy me and usually, that works to my advantage. When I am running low on things that annoy me, I pick up the New York Times. The paper of record has a real knack for printing something which riles me up. Today, I picked up the NYT Magazine section and couldn't make it past the table of contents. So here is the anger kicking in.

The article ( was about the evolution of English as a language and the specific concern for pronouns that are appropriate for each and every/any of the modern gender-choices. So far, while I am irked, I am not angry. The politics around the fluidity of self-identification as it relates to gender confuse me and do cause a knee jerk reactionary position, that isn't enough to get me worked into a lather. People want pronouns, give 'em pronouns! But the article's point was the discussion of the progression of the word "they" into a singular, gender-nonspecific pronouns.

This I found offensive.

The article went through many reasons why people might use "they" in this way -- some acknowledged as problematic and some seen as reasonable, but I want to stake my position as completely dinosaur-istic. Let me be blunt. This is NOT about gender and identity. This is about NUMBER. I was reassured that many people in the comments section agreed with my feelings on this. I was troubled that many others did not. Those people are wrong.

The word "they" is, simply put, a plural pronoun. You can't convince me otherwise. Whether as a plural it is useful in certain situations which call for the singular can be argued (though I will most probably deride you for making such an argument) but redefining the word to be singular simply because new pronouns haven't caught on and adapting an extant word is most convenient is a personal affront.

I repeat: "they" refers to more than one person or things, regardless of gender. It can refer to a bunch of men, a group of women, a cluster of transexuals, a pair of transgendered, a trio of puppies, a sack of oranges (heck, even a sack of puppies), a school of fish, a grove of trees and a lot of cars (get it? "Lot of cars", HA!). I am NOT against introducing a new word -- language evolves and that's great. But the solution isn't just changing words that have a particular meaning (and changing in a way which will introduce other grammatical nightmares) because we are too lazy to innovate something else.

Call me old fashioned. Say that I am being insensitive. Accuse me of not wanting to accommodate the needs of a certain population here, but as I see it, I'm the victim, and by "I" I mean me, champion of the English language and Easily Offended English Teacher.

Pronouns tell us gender so maybe we don't need a neutral one, but a whole slew of more precise singular ones (and plural extensions) so that we can speak more accurately, or understand meaning more properly by seeing the correct pronoun used. In the title of this entry, "Everyone" is singular and it requires a singular pronoun. The solution is not to retool what we have because it doesn't reflect reality, nor is it to deny reality. It is to expand what we say to more completely represent reality.

In this election year, I promise that, if elected, I will work to ensure that "they" remains a plural pronoun. And if not elected, I will do the same.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Apocalypse Sync your Portfolio

I have been thinking about global warming recently. it is tough not to when one reads headlines proclaiming this past February as the warmest one recorded ever, anywhere this side of Venus. Along with concerns about increased temperature, there are predictions about extreme storms and wild weather. Wild those of us who have to walk from the house to the car are concerned, documentary film makers are salivating all around.

Now here's the thing. I don't know if global warming is real. I don't know if there are normal fluctuations of temperature and if climate is cyclical or if the yeti is left handed. But I do know this -- it is better to prepare for the worst case and, if possible, figure out how to make money off it. In that pursuit, I present some of my thoughts of how one can cash in on the impending increase in temperature.

First off, if the temperature goes up, people will need less of certain fossil fuels. Fact is, we won't have to heat our houses so much so oil will be in less demand. To a lesser degree, natural gas will also be used less, at least in terms of heating. But don't sell off gas yet -- natural gas grills and outdoor ranges will become more popular because the weather will be nice enough to grill for more of the year. No one grills over cooking oil, you know. Further in that regard, invest in sun tan lotion refineries. The lands sitting on sun tan lotion deposits, and those countries which have established SPF reserves will be in prime condition.

Sell stock in tanning salons and ancillary materials like those dumb looking goggles.

More short sleeved products (including the fashionable short-sleeved men's suit) means less fabric being used, and lighter fabric. Do not invest in sheep. If we aren't eating them, their wool will become less useful in hot weather. Lanolin, though, will probably still be important. You can keep the sheep. Animals with fur will be less of a draw because the fur won't be needed to keep us warm. Mink futures will plummet. Adjust your portfolio accordingly.

Next, there will still be a call for electricity, probably even more than now. Air Conditioners will be made wearable so portable, rechargeable batteries will be a must. Increased sunlight will make solar power a necessary accessory built into most clothing, water reclamation suits will move from sci-fi to just sci, and there will be an increase in products that keep us dry and smelling yummy. Extreme weather means higher waves and winds. So wind power and tidal power generation farms are a must, but for the latter, because of melting polar ice, start establishing the tidal farms in what is currently land locked. Not only will prices be lower but there will be less competition for shore front property in Pennsylvania if you buy now. Remember -- exploiting a cataclysm requires planning.

Also, there has to be some sort of way of turning ambient heat into energy. Heat makes air expand, right? So if you fill balloons with air and they expand, then the pressure they generate when expanding can move some sort of thing which could you do to make lightning which turns into nine volt batteries. Or something like that. The details are fuzzy but you get the idea: if there is more heat, then the energy burned to make the world hot has to be turned into another form of energy which we can use. Maybe we should make those "drinking birds" that keep bobbing up and down forever, except attach them to some sort of grid.

And why isn't there rain power? Those drops come down pretty good sometimes. Why isn't that force being harnessed to do some thing. Hey, science! Get on this.

Because of the heat, corn will start popping while still in the fields. There will be a reduced demand for microwave ovens, but people will notice a shortage of artificial butter, and that's a shortage you can take advantage of.

Cars will all be white so will everything, or at least the light colors of Bermuda. If you have a garage full of dark paint, you might as well just spill it all out into the nearest reservoir now because it is of no use to you. Ice cream will be the province of the rich and elite. Even eating it will be a rare treat -- owning any will be reserved for the 1% who can afford to keep it cool. I'm not sure how we make ice cream but, you know, that.

Penguins will need a place to live once the poles close so new "Cold Air B and B's" will need to open and whoever invents the tastiest Penguin Chow will corner the market. Same with Polar Bears but they might just eat the penguins.

More ugly people will wear less clothing. I can't do anything about this except advise you to buy lots of sunglasses or go blind. Either/or. There will be a lot more sand but with the increased temperature, it will often turn to glass spontaneously. Sand castles by the sea shore will all become glass houses, so develop a service which clears areas of stones so as to protect the new living quarters from throwing accidents. Volcanoes will stop being awesome as will hot springs. We will just call them "meltains" and "springs." Houses will stop having fireplaces but instead will have built in iceboxes where families will gather around and cool themselves by the crackling ice. Less mess, no smell.

People will stop caring about the rain forests because with more wild rain storms, every forest will become a rain forest. If you can find a company which monetizes the dank rot from between my toes, you are set for life.

A few prudent decisions regarding your current holdings can amount to an incredible windfall when things start to go sideways, like cows.