Jan 31, 2013
I was bullied when I was in school. It was a small school, and I was the one everyone seemed to choose to pick on. A lot of kids from my own class and from grades ahead of me. Even some of the popular kids younger than me got in on the action. I never fought back, so I was a particularly easy target. It never got physical other than one time when I was de-pantsed in the locker room after PE and thrown outside in my underwear, yelling for the coach the entire time. But as I'm sure you know, the physical stuff is only a small part of it. I think maybe being punched in the face would have been easier. At least it would have been something visible that the teachers and principal couldn't ignore.
I don't know your situation, Noah. I don't know what reason the bullies are using to justify making your life miserable. I don't really care. Because it doesn't matter. I can tell you what it was in my case. I was a geek, unathletic, got straight A's, and liked learning just for the sake of learning. I was a bit of a late bloomer, as well. I liked reading more than sports.
But that's me. Your situation may be similar, or it may be entirely different. But here's the thing that I want you to understand.
Whatever. They're. Saying. Is. Wrong. Don't let them define who you are. Don't let them make you feel bad about enjoying or not enjoying something. Don't let them convince you that you deserve how they're treating you. Don't let them take away who you are because they demand that you be something else.
And please, don't let them convince you that the world would be better off without you in it. Because it won't.
I was constantly harassed: during homeroom, some classes, recess, lunch, and especially PE. I was not invited to parties. Or if I was invited, it was obvious that it was because their parents had made them. I was called names. I once had a "kick me" sign taped to my back, and even one of the teachers found it so funny that she had to laugh.
I wasn't laughing. It was awful. I wanted the people who were doing this to me to suffer the way they were making me suffer.
Somehow, though, I made it through. I had a couple of friends and we hung out and did our own thing. I found things I liked to do and people to do them with. In my case that was art classes after school. Piano lessons. Writing. Reading. Dungeons and Dragons. When I was doing those things, I didn't have those other people around me. The people who were constantly calling me stupid names and making me feel less than worthless.
After a particularly bad few weeks where the constant harassment got really bad, my mother came into my room after she got home from work. She said she needed to talk to me. She sat down on the edge of my bed. I sat next to her, my head down, sure I had gotten in big trouble for something.
What she said to me was that she knew some of what was going on at school (teachers talk). But that I should rise above it. Not listen to the people telling me I was worthless because I didn't do or like the same things they did. To "march to the beat of a different drummer." To do my own thing and not worry about what other people said or thought.
I know now that my mother was hurting, too. She saw what was going on, and she felt the pain, too. But she didn't want to make it worse. I still remember that conversation. I still think about it, and I still try to follow that advice.
Your mom is hurting, too. She wants desperately to help. She would move Heaven and Earth to make everything better for you.
But you know what? It got better. Things got a little easier as time went on. Maybe because I managed to stop caring so much what those people thought. Maybe because some of the people who'd been picking on me actually grew up a little and realized that what they were doing was hurtful, and stopped. Not all of them, but a few. It helped. I went to the prom with a pretty girl. We danced. We had fun. We went to a party afterwards and didn't get home until 2 AM. I was in the school play. I wouldn't trade any of those memories.
And then something truly awesome and amazing happened: I graduated from high school. And do you know what that meant?
I didn't have to be around those people anymore! I could choose to hang out with who I wanted. To do the things I wanted to do. I went to college. I made a bunch of friends who liked me for who I was. And here's the crazy part: they liked me for exactly the same reasons those kids in middle school and high school had picked on me, teased me, and harassed me.
I have incredible friends, now. I'm still very close to a lot of people I was friends with in college. But you know what else? I don't even remember the names of most of those kids in school who picked on me. I look at my yearbooks, and I think, "Who are you? Why did I care so much what you thought of me?" I haven't seen those people in 30 years (I'm old). And it doesn't bother me in the least. Those people are less than nothing to me, now.
My friend, you have some amazing things in store for you. Sure, there's going to be some awful stuff, too. And chances are, a lot of it is going to hurt. I'm not going to lie to you and try to tell you it's all laughs. But that other stuff is going to make up for it. Big time.
It gets better. It really, really does.
Jan 18, 2013
Take a deck of 52 standard playing cards (remove the jokers and any ad cards), or, if you have them handy, you could use a standard deck of 78 tarot cards as well. If you want to be evil and possibly murder some random person.
I keed, I keed! You won't cause random murder with a tarot deck. Probably.
Shuffle them at least six times to ensure a more random order. (Seven if using the tarot deck.)
Cut the deck. Or don't. I don't really care.
Now, deal the cards out one at a time, face-up, on a table, floor, or other flat surface so that you can see all the cards.
When you're done, carefully examine the order of the cards that you've laid out, from left to right.
That particular sequence of cards that you laid out was so improbable that it was impossible, by all practical definitions of the word. It had roughly a 1 in 8.06582 x 1067 chance of occurring! (Or 1 in ~1.13243 x 10115 if you used the tarot deck.) If a machine that could sort and deal the entire deck of cards in one second were to start doing so at the moment of the big bang, it still would not have exhausted all the possible combinations of cards in the 52-card deck, much less the 78-card tarot deck. The universe is only a bit over 432 quadrillion seconds old. That's ~ 4.3233 x 1017 seconds. You'll notice that 17 is much smaller than both 67 and 115.
And yet, this extremely improable event occurred right before your eyes. You watched it unfold before you! How astounding! You've just witnessed something that has almost certainly never occurred before, and will almost certainly never occur again in the history of the universe.
Do you feel privileged? As though you've witnessed a miracle that requires a "guiding hand" from elsewhere so that it aligned just right?
Eh, probably not. I mean, it's just random card order, right?
People tend to ascribe higher "impossibility" to sequences of events that mean something to them. Like flipping a coin a hundred times and coming up with heads every single time. In reality, any sequence of a hundred flips of the coin is equally unlikely as a hundred heads, a hundred tails, or fifty of each, intermingled (HTHT . . .).
Admit it: if you did the shuffle-then-layout thing and the cards managed to be in order from ace to king by suit (spades, hearts, diamonds, then clubs), or in a similar order for the Tarot cards, with the minor arcana first by number and suit, followed by the major arcana, you'd be much more likely to get a cold chill up your spine. But those "special" arrangements are exactly as likely — or as unlikely — as any other one.
Or if you shredded a catalog into confetti, then tossed it all up into the air over a fan, and as the pieces drifted to the ground, it happened to form an image that looked like Jesus or the virgin Mary, suddenly, it's a miracle! Whereas, if it formed the equally unlikely picture of, say, Flo the cashier from those Progressive Insurance commercials or Pepe le Pew, the Loony Toons skunk, it would be kind of neat . . . but hardly miraculous. They only seem miraculous because the image formed means something to us.
If it actually formed the unmistakable image of anything, I'd be highly suspicious. That our brains see patterns where there aren't any is called "pareidolia," and it's a well-known explanation for such things as Jesus-tortillas or Virgin-Mary-grilled-cheese-sandwiches.1
This is why I tend to be scornful when I hear things like "the universe has to have had a creator because there's no way everything just happened to line up to allow our kind of life!" If you look into it a bit, you realize that there's more beauty to the universe without a guiding intelligence than with one, or at least that's how I see it.
- Frankly, the Virgin Mary grilled cheese (see the image at the top of this post) doesn't look like much of anything to me, but sometimes I can sort of see an image of Tracy Scoggins, if I look slightly to one side and squint. And it's dark enough. And someone tells me I'm supposed to see Mary/Tracy.
Oct 4, 2012
I listen to a podcast called A Way With Words. The hosts talk about language and take calls from listeners (it's also a weekly, syndicated radio show). One caller had a question regarding something the teacher taught his daughter.
He was taking his 8-year-old daughter to school, and she was reading the packaging of some product or other. She was going down the "page" saying "Fact. Fact. Fact. Fact."
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Practicing identifying facts."
"What do you mean?"
She replied that the teacher had shown them how to identify facts. And then she explained that the teacher had told her that "facts" are statements that could either be proven true or false. (They're doing a section in her third-grade class on fact vs. opinion.)
"Whoa!" he thought. "That isn't correct. Maybe she just misunderstood."
So he spoke with the teacher about it. The daughter hadn't misheard or misremembered. This public school teacher told this concerned father that the word 'fact' has changed its meaning so that it now means . . . a statement. Or perhaps an assertion. That could either be true or false. That the entire requirement of truth and provability is moot. The hosts disagreed, and so do I.
Every dictionary the hosts checked—and that I've checked—disagrees with this . . . monument to everything wrong with our education system. A "fact" must be true/exist. That's in the definition. If this idiot is teaching kids that a "fact" can be wrong, that explains so many, many things. (The media springs to mind.)
Has anyone else encountered this? Please say it's isolated . . .
Sep 10, 2012
Back in June, I was accepted into a week-long writing workshop called Viable Paradise. It takes place the second week of October, 2012. I'm quivering with anticipation. Since then, I've been reading suggested works by the instructors (all published authors & editors) to get some idea of what their styles are like.
On pages 101 and 102, I came across these gems.
- Never take on the necessity of a negative proof, or argue with someone about their own thoughts and intentions.
- Causality is lots of fun to think about, but is never at home when you phone. Correlation isn't as attractive at first, but is friendlier; you can call up and make a date.
- Keep a close eye on violations of statistical probability, but bear in mind that you yourself must always constitute an inadequate sample.
- The tidier a story is, the less I tend to believe it. I can't demonstrate that this is necessarily effective, but so far it's never steered me wrong.
- And watch out for eyewitness accounts that, on consideration, require the eyewitness to have been standing in an unlikely position relative to the alleged events.
- Watch out for thought systems that have built-in explanations, valid within the terms of the system, for why someone disagreeing with that system is doing so and is wrong.
- You can't logically refute bullshit.
[Any misspellings or typos are entirely my own responsibility.]
Wow. There were a few others I left out that were less applicable to the idea of skepticism. And I'm quoting this without any permission whatsoever and if asked, I will take it down (albeit with much pouting).
But my point in posting it is that Ms. Nielsen Hayden says these points better than I see them explicated on many a skeptical website that spends many thousands of words saying the same things.
First, I cannot tell you how many times I've encountered someone online telling me what my thoughts and intentions are. Thoroughly convinced, these people are, of what goes on in my head; but it's obvious to me from the way they argue their case that they have little to no idea what goes on inside their own skulls, much less mine. You can doubt someone's stated thoughts and intentions, but keep your mouth shut. You do not actually know what goes on inside another person's mind. And if you can prove you do, please apply for the 1 million dollar prize offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). The Nobel Prize will follow, as well.
The second one is brilliant. It humorously states the skeptical mantra of "correlation does not equal causation," but does it in a way that makes one smile instead of glaze over in boredom and oh look a butterfly and I need to pick up milk and bread and did I turn off the iron?
The third one I take as an exhortation against making the "Argument from Ignorance" fallacy and pareidolia, all in one admonishment. (Argument from ignorance shows up a lot. You can recognize it by listening for the key phrase, "I don't see how that can be true.")
The fourth one is also quite brilliant, to me. It neatly unties all the connections of every conspiracy theory that I've ever heard. All of them manage to explain everything from inside the bubble of whatever premise the believer adheres to. If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Real life is seldom (not never, but seldom) that tidy.
Number five is great. Sometimes, you'll hear someone talk about how they saw thus-and-such with their own eyes (Could they see it with someone else's eyes?) and therefore it totally happened exactly as I said so there. And then later, you find yourself in a position to examine the story and you realize that to have seen what they claimed to have seen, they would have had to be somewhere improbable or impossible, such as in two places at once, or hovering in mid-air above. This one is easy to fall into, as well. Our brains love stories – crave them, even – and if something doesn't make sense, our brain will conveniently fill in details that we never actually saw.
Number six, though . . . Number six is why I decided to write this post. OMFSM, I can't even estimate how many times I encounter this. "You just hate God, and you're lashing out at Him." "You had a bad experience as a child and now you're rebelling against the Church." "You're denying what you know in your heart is true. Why don't you just admit you're wrong?" Recognize it? I'll bet every atheist has heard one or more of those on more than one occasion. Because you don't believe what the speaker believes, they have to come up with some rationalization that fits inside their own belief paradigm to make it make sense to them why you don't agree with what they see as self-evident. Our brains hate cognitive dissonance, and will go to almost any length to get rid of it.
Or how about, "You've been brainwashed by the ______, and you just won't let yourself hear the truth." That one comes from most conspiracy theorists, and people who wholeheartedly believe in some form of quack medicine, like homeopathy or iridology.
Make no mistake, though: I've heard number six from atheists and skeptics, as well. We accuse believers of being too stupid or closed-minded to see what's so obvious to us.
And then we arrive at number seven, which I often hear stated as "You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into." In other words, no amount of reason is going to talk someone out of their belief/faith. It just isn't. The very best you can hope for is to present your case to them and let them follow the path on their own if they're interested. It has happened. People have heard skeptical podcasts like the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, for instance, and have sent letters later saying, "Something you said in an episode made me wonder, so I started researching, and now I'm a skeptic."
But the change had to come from within themselves, not from without. Another way of stating this one goes around FaceBook from time to time as a silly meme: "'Your constant yelling and screaming at me about how wrong I am totally convinced me,' said no one, ever."
So even if I remember not one other word Ms. Nielsen Hayden said, I'll always have these words of wisdom to remind me of this little book of essays.
Mar 19, 2012
Second Life Time is the same as US Pacific Time, so that's 6 PM on the west coast, 9 PM on the east coast, and 10 PM if you live in those extreme eastern provinces in Canada. You can probably do the math to find your local correct time.
The reading will occur in the Workshop building, on the second floor beside the traditional meeting circle. Our area is in the Pen Station region. The reading is a voice event, so attendees are encouraged to come with their "ears on" and their microphones off. Since the event is also being recorded, we request that you refrain from using audio "gestures" or other devices that create ambient noise.
If you get on, my name on Second Life is "Sathor Chatnoir." Contact me or "Timothy Berkmans" (our host for all things podcasterrific) for a landmark to the event site, or click on that link above (on "Workshop building"). Show up early (15 to 20 minutes, I'd say) so you can adjust your settings for voice.
The recording (or perhaps a cleaner one) will appear on our podcast in the next couple of months.
Those of you who are not already on Second Life can get on (For free!) by going to the web site (See that handy link earlier in this sentence?), downloading the software (For free!), and creating a character (For free!). Those of you who don't want to be on Second Life can wait for the podcast. (For free!)
Those of you who <sniff> don't want to <sniff> hear my story (that I worked so hard on), I <sniff> understand. Really. It's <sniff; wavering voice> OK. <sniff> Really.
For free! Did I mention that? (For free!)
[Crosspost note: I don't think there are many people who read this that don't also read my Facebook, LiveJournal, or writing blog from which this is cross-posted, but hey. :)]
Feb 29, 2012
It's a pretty comfortable place to be when you have a friend you can disagree with and have it not end the friendship, but actually make it stronger.
But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about one of Jack's favorite laments.
Jack is—or used to be—a bit of a news junkie. A Republican who has morphed into a Libertarian over the years I've known him. For the entire time I've known him, no matter his political affiliation, he's complained about how liberally slanted the news media is.
Now, I tend to disagree with him, but that's because I'm in many ways a bleeding heart liberal with some Libertarian overlays. I have often quipped that it's funny how reality is usually described by non-liberals as liberally slanted.
Oh, the humor.
Jack laments the lack of truly objective reporting. Unbiased, just-the-facts-ma'am, bare truth.
I've pointed out many times how this is simply not going to happen. We can't help but inject our writing and speech with words possessing connotations that indicate how we think about something.1
Many (most?) words have one or more denotative meanings. These are the dictionary meanings of the words, themselves. But a lot of words also carry connotative meanings, as well. These are meanings that aren't stated, but are implied by the words, usually in context.2
It's not just our opinions that come through in our word choices. Words carry other connoted meanings, as well. To give an easy example, let's say there was a fire in an apartment building in a certain part of town and you're listening to a local newscaster tell about it.
"Today, a fire broke out in an apartment building in—"
The next words he speaks to describe the part of town the apartment building was in are going to convey not only the strictly informational geographic area of town in which the fire happened, but it will carry with it a blortload of connotations. Everything has connotations.
Let's say the next words were "Little Five Points." Here in Atlanta, that will immediately conjure up an image of the "type of people"3 the listener would expect to be in an apartment building in that section of town. We would see their wardrobe, their living spaces, the types of cars they drive, and could make assumptions about their lifestyles . . . it's all there encapsulated in the phrase "Little Five Points."
Let's say the next word had been "Dunwoody." This would conjure up a completely different image of a completely different "type of people" one would expect to be involved. With a whole different set of wardrobe, car, lifestyle, and living space assumptions.
If you talk to an Atlantan for any length of time, you'll likely hear the phrases "inside the perimeter" or "outside the perimeter." Interstate 285 completely encircles the city of Atlanta and effectively separates "metro" Atlanta from "the suburbs." Inside versus outside. But there are other connotations of the words "inside" and "outside," aren't there? I'm an insider if I live inside. I'm in the real Atlanta. But outside, I'm just a suburbanite. I don't live in Atlanta. I live in one of those lesser places that only touch Atlanta proper. OR . . . Certain types of people live inside, and they can have it. I live outside where a better class of people lives. (Disclaimer: I am neither espousing nor endorsing either of these opinions, but pointing out that they exist, although not for everyone in either location.)
Think about your own city. What parts of town would conjure up similar images for you? What's your "artsy/bohemian" district? Where do your "rich people" congregate? What's considered "downtown" and where do the "suburbs" start? Do you have suburbs with nicknames that immediately colors what people think of it? We have Chamblee which some people call Chambodia because of the high concentration of Asians that live there. The nickname "Chambodia" carries a plethora of connotations. (Not to mention being pretty insensitive and racist. I use it to illustrate my point.)
So, right away, anything that comes after the phrase above would have connotations. We cannot escape it unless we are new to the area and don't know what is implied. But that's temporary at best.
One of my favorite "jokes" I've heard over the years was, I believe, from Saturday Night Live back in its heyday. You know, when it was funny.4 The fake newscast had a fake story that went like this.
Today in Singapore, two loaded 747s collided in midair, killing 573 people. But that's okay, because there were no Americans aboard.They were lampooning a particular style of story I used to hear a lot, but can't say I've seen recently. News anchors would always have a story of a plane crash—or volcano eruption, train derailment, bus going over an embankment, earthquake, tsunami, etc.—and they would say something like, "two hundred seven people were killed. Eight of them were American citizens." The implication was that the only eight people who mattered were the eight Americans. In that case, it wasn't a connotation but a denotation: they came right out and just said it. Is that what they meant? Probably not. But it certainly stuck in my head, and it was prevalent enough that SNL lampooned it. And they stopped doing it, as far as I can tell.
But what about subtle word choices? That one had all the subtlety of . . . well, two planes colliding.
Bare facts: John Smith was found guilty of the rapes and murders of 17 young women over the course of 5 years, although he pleaded not-guilty during his trial. He is currently serving a life sentence, but his parole hearing is about to come up.
Reporter 1: "Some of you may remember this man, John Smith, who twelve years ago began a five-year reign of terror over the Atlanta community with the brutal rapes and murders of seventeen innocent victims, all young women. Channel 21 has an exclusive interview with him on the eve of his potential release onto an unsuspecting Atlanta."
Reporter 2: "Coming up, Channel 17 has an exclusive interview with this man, John Smith, who is currently serving a life sentence for the alleged rapes and murders of seventeen young women over a five-year period. His parole hearings are tomorrow, and we wanted to get his thoughts."
Each version gives the facts, but you may have noticed an ever-so-slight </sarcasm> bias in the first one. The reporter interjects opinion using words like 'reign of terror,' 'brutal,' and 'unsuspecting.' Also, by bringing up the word 'innocent' in relation to the victims, the implication of 'guilty' is laid out there for Mr. Smith. This reporter also does this by directly stating that he committed the acts, when in reality, he was only found guilty of having done so, but maintained his innocence. Those are the only "charged" phrases, but what phrases! With just a few well-placed phrases, the reporter has told us what we are supposed to think about this story. You would likely be more inclined to think John Smith guilty and hate him after listening to the first reporter. The second reporter doesn't do that, so we are free to think what we want to think. (Or are we?)
The first reporter also does something subtle with the opening statement, "Some of you may remember . . .". By saying that, the reporter is gently chastising anyone who could possibly forget what this man did to all those victims. S/he is also subtly giving you a pat on the back if you are one of the smart ones who remember. "Oh, yes, I do remember that despicable, low-life murderer!"
A lot of pundits and talking heads use these tactics. Watch Nancy Grace, Rachel Maddow, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, or Keith Olbermann for any length of time, and you'll see them manipulating how you think about the facts they're presenting using words both subtle and blatant. Hell, Limbaugh (and others) invents words. "Feminazis," anyone?
Okay, so those still weren't terribly subtle. How about something more subtle?
Here's a random headline I took straight from a news website on the day I happened to be typing this particular paragraph. Well, not really random. I carefully chose it from dozens because it can be used to illustrate my point. :) But by telling you it was random, I was leading you to believe that there might have been dozens to choose from, when in reality, I had to search very hard to find one I could play with.5
Dr. Oz Slammed by the FDA Over Apple Juice Arsenic InvestigationNow, let's rewrite that a few times to change your reaction without changing the information.
Dr. Oz Criticized by the FDA Over Apple Juice Arsenic FindingsThey all say basically the same thing, right? But each change in the two words I altered changes the tone of the headline. "Slammed" implies a hard punch to the face, whereas "Scolded" suggests them holding up one finger and shaking it while saying "Naughty, naughty!" In the same way, "Investigations" implies that there was foul play, whereas "claims" suggests that the whole thing was of no importance. To me, the "criticized" and "findings" one is the most neutral. What do you think?
Dr. Oz Chastised by the FDA Over Apple Juice Arsenic Allegations
Dr. Oz Scolded by the FDA Over Apple Juice Arsenic Claims
When it Goes Awry
It used to amuse me greatly when I'd peruse6 my friends page on LiveJournal the day after a political speech aired the previous night. I would often read three posts back-to-back from different friends with different political affiliations. One would be praising what the politician said, another would be blasting the same speech, and a third would be somewhere in between. The funny thing to me was that each one would use the same quotes; they'd just interpret them through a different set of filters to glean completely different meanings. Words occasionally mean different things to different people, and there's not a thing you can do about it other than trying to explain your meaning, which can get tedious.
Of course, I had to mention my amusement on my own journal. It was just before the 2004 elections, and I opened this way.
I haven't watched any of the debates. I'll just get that out of the way up front. I'm not interested in blah-blah about how horrible a person this makes me, so keep it to yourselves.This angered one of my friends who read my tone as mocking. Which it may have been, at some level, but I certainly didn't consciously attempt to mock him or anyone else. It really did just amuse me that three people could hear the same speeches and get such different things from them. He reacted to my (perceived) snarky tone rather than the point I was trying to make. I communicated badly, because I allowed something else to show through (I'll explain what shortly). Here's what my friend said in response.
That having been said, I've found it amusing to read other peoples' critiques of what went on during the debates. You know, who won them, how well each candidate came across, etc.
Ya know what?Did he have a point? Eh, I don't know. I can see a little 'you humans amuse me so very much' in my tone, but . . . well, humans do amuse me! I wasn't intentionally calling anyone stupid (I in fact never used the word 'stupid' at all). But he read something into my words. I was a little defensive with the 'I'm not interested in blah-blah' comment. (And if you read my first comment, you'll see the fledgling beginnings of this very post. :)
No, you dont get to scold people who watched the debates, and pontificate about how stupid we all are, when you have no interest in the process. At least, not without some mention of how absurd this position is, in itself. How incredibly arrogant to pass judgement on people trying to see some good in the world, trying make the process work and talk about it.
I'll defend your right to say whatever you like, that's American, but that doesnt mean I agree with it. And I dont. They're completely different scenarios on dozens of points.
Laugh at someone else—someone who doesnt actually give a damn.
And looking back on the incident from 7 years later, I think that was partially because of Jack. :) Jack has been on me for decades because I have a high apathy quotient toward politics in general and elections in particular. I guess I just view the world more cynically than he does, but he berates me about not caring about the future of America, baseball, mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet (you should imagine Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American" playing under this; I always do). I do care, of course. But it was the frustration of the argument I imagined in my head that Jack and I would have when we talked that I was responding to when I penned the "blah-blah" part. My friend who responded up there titled his reply "Blah-blah?" It was that choice of words that apparently got under his skin. My dismissal of his entire opinion summed up in only eight letters and a punctuation mark.7
The first time my friend Jack and I got into a discussion about anything remotely political, we'd been friends for . . . maybe a year or two. He called me one night and had me turn on the TV to see something he was watching. (This was in the days before IM. We used to have these things in our homes called "telephones" that were actually wired into the wall and you had to stay in one place while talking to someone. Some of you may have seen them in museums or perhaps on reruns of ancient television shows on Nickelodeon.)
Now, I stress here that he didn't give me any cues as to whether I was supposed to be amused, appalled, angered, or whatever by what I was about to see. Had I been in the same room with him, I might have been able to use his facial expression or body posture to figure it out, but with just the neutral words, I didn't know how he wanted me to take it. So, without any cues, I had only my own background as a filter.
It was Rush Limbaugh's show, back before he let his own unfiltered speech get him in trouble several times. This particular night, he was comparing some politician—I neither remember who nor do I care—to a gorilla. The gorilla clips were displayed in kind of a picture-in-picture manner that he used to use a lot. The gorilla clips were obnoxious. Aggressive, teeth bared, roaring, staring . . . the very epitome of a raving beast who is about to rip your head off.
Which is not what gorillas typically are. I responded in instant anger. "That idiot! Gorillas are nothing like that! He's portraying them as savage beasts when in reality they're gentle vegetarians!" (I probably didn't say it all grammatically correct like that, but dis my blog; I get to look better than I was. :)
I didn't care a whit what Limbaugh was saying about whomever he was lambasting at the moment. What disgusted me was his blatant, manipulative use of the images of gorillas behaving aggressively—which they only do when threatened or when trying to intimidate a rival male gorilla—and—I thought at the time—implying that all gorillas are like this all the time. Misleading his audience deliberately to make whatever point he was attempting to make.
I have hated Limbaugh's guts out since then, even though I occasionally find myself agreeing with certain of his opinions from time to time.8 And certainly not solely because of the gorilla incident. I find him reprehensible. But it occurs to me only now as I type this that Limbaugh was probably using the gorilla footage purposefully to mock the empty posturing of the politician he was making fun of. Gorillas tend to look big, threatening, and scary, but they often rush at an opponent as a feint, then stop and back off to do it all again. It's all intimidation and . . . well, posturing. (Probably) Exactly like the politician in question. And it was, in fact, probably a valid point. Hmm.
Anyway . . .
Jack didn't get my furious reaction. I honestly thought he'd be as appalled as I was. (Another post idea I've been playing with is how we all project ourselves onto others.) But he thought it was funny how Limbaugh was making fun of whatever Democrat he was making fun of that night. He wanted to share the amusement with me. My extremely angry reaction surprised him.
This small incident colored my view of Jack for a while. He (unwittingly) had to overcome my initial political impression of him that was formed in the 30-second clip he had me watch. Without even realizing I was doing it, every time I heard Jack express his political opinions, I'd push back against whatever Jack said, even if I sort of agreed with him. I called it "playing devil's advocate" for a long time.
There is no such thing as an unbiased story, be it fiction or nonfiction. Our subtle word choices—or not so subtle—betray our opinions no matter how hard we might try not to. And sometimes, when those words are not there, you're not giving your reader/listener enough information to get more than just the bare facts, if you want to communicate more.
A couple of years ago, Bad Astronomer Dr. Phil Plait was the keynote speaker at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. His speech caused quite a stir. It was entitled, "Don't Be a Dick."
His message was simple: if you want to convince people that they are wrong and you are right—or at least have a reasonable position—the way to do that should never include calling them stupid or belittling their intelligence.
Yes, that simple. But it caused a splash in the skeptical community. Plait called out several big-name skeptics by name. Dawkins, Myers, Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Their styles are/were in-your-face and confrontational. Dawkins has publicly stated that he considers bringing a child up in the religion of the parents a form of child abuse. They call a spade a spade—or perhaps it's better to say that they call a perceived idiot an idiot—when they see one.
How many times in your life has someone gotten in your face and yelled at you that you're an idiot and changed your opinion? Go on, try to remember. Every day, right?
I started writing this post back in May of 2011. It has taken me the better part of nine months to get it to the point where I will consider posting it. Why? Because I kept thinking of one more point. I kept finding places where I either unwittingly used a loaded word or phrase or could purposefully use one to illustrate a point.
Is this post perfect? No. Bias abounds. Because I believe it is very nearly impossible to write without bias and still have what you're writing mean anything to anyone.
And I'm still likely to piss someone off with something I've said. Both Jack and the friend who took me to task over my "blah-blah" wording are friends of mine on Facebook, where this post will show up. Will they see it and recognize themselves? Probably. I can only hope they realize I'm not trying to belittle or scold them with this post, but to point out my own mistakes. In Jack's case, he was also the inspiration to write this rant. :)
My hope in posting this—for the few people who will read a 4100-word rant—is that you—and I—will think about our word choices more when we’re trying to write something persuasive. Or critical. And when reading other people’s opinions, try to overlook the manipulative language that they either accidentally let creep in or purposefully chose and think about our responses. Are they emotional or intellectual? Are we basing our response on the facts or the wording used to convey them? Are our words going to be received the way we intend for them to? Will the way we word our message obscure or overshadow our intended message?
- Exercise: How did my use of the word 'simply' affect how you feel about what I said? What if I'd said "likely" or "probably"? Or how about "demonstrably" or left it out altogether? I said that I've pointed out "many times," which probably made what I said have a kind of eye-rolling sound, as though it's something I wish we could move past. What if I'd chosen to say that I've pointed it out "over and over and over" or just left it out? What impression would you get from the same basic sentence, imparting the same information, but with slightly different word choices with slightly different connotations? Speaking of connotations . . .
- Or sometimes by the means in which the words are delivered. Exercise: When you're reading a blog post, do you remember that the presence of the post on someone's blog connotes that everything said is in that blogger's opinion? I think sometimes—all too often, perhaps—we all forget this, including those of us who write the blogs. :)
- Why did I put that in quotes?
- How many of you think I'm talking about the 70s? 80s? 90s? I thought I was conveying a specific time period; you may have thought the same thing, but we could be thinking of completely different decades. Have we communicated, even though I gave you just the facts as I see them?
- Now that you know it wasn't random, how did your feelings toward the headline I'm about to present change, even before you see it?
- Exercise: What does 'peruse' imply for you? If you're a native speaker of American English, probably something the word doesn't mean. I chose it on purpose to convey both meanings: the connotative one and the denotative one. "Peruse" means to examine or consider with attention and in detail, but in everyday usage, it has come to imply something much more casual, like "scan" or "skim." So I've just told everyone reading this the same exact thing, but a percentage of you interpreted it denotatively and a percentage went with the connotative meaning. And they're polar opposites. Which did I really mean? Have we communicated effectively?
- Exercise: Do you see that word 'just' in the third sentence in this paragraph? "Just" used in this manner trivializes—with one word—someone else's opinion. "Oh, he's just a liberal. [unspoken but implied: . . . therefore, his opinion doesn't matter.]" We hear it all the time in software development: "Can you just add another button to the app that [does x]?" "Just" belittles the amount of work it takes to do that. I happened to notice my use of it in one of the dozens of times I edited this post before posting it . . . and thought I'd leave it there to make a point. And while I'm making that point, the word 'berates' is a little belittling, too, now that I think about it.
- Sheesh. Did you see how I used the words "occasionally" and "find myself" and "certain" and "from time to time" to push myself as far back as humanly possible from a position of actually agreeing with Limbaugh? And then I used "actually" the second time to further distance myself. Clearly, I don't like Limbaugh, and it is distasteful for me to "be forced to" agree with him. Did you get that loud and clear, or should I state it more openly? :)
Oct 6, 2011
I mean, it's a perfectly cromulent word.
Let's look at it, shall we? We shall!
MacMillan Dictionary defines "stupid" as follows:
stupid /ˈstu•pɪd/ adj. 1a) not intelligent, or not able to consider or judge things carefully; 1b) behavior that is not carefully considered or sensible; 1c) used for talking about something that you think is silly or annoying; noun 2a) an insulting name for someone who you think is being stupid.WordNet boils it down to the following:
noun: a person who is not very bright; adjective: lacking or marked by lack of intellectual acuity; adjective: without much intelligence.And EtymOnline tells us the origins of the word:
1540s, "mentally slow," from M.Fr. stupide, from L. stupidus "amazed, confounded," lit. "struck senseless," from stupere "be stunned, amazed, confounded," from PIE *(s)tupe- "hit," from base *(s)teu- (see steep (adj.))(Note: PIE = Proto Indo-European. In other words, a language that is presumed from no actual evidence to have existed, other than a similarity among the languages of India and Europe, and based on known changes languages go through as they evolve.)
Calling something stupid simply because it is an opinion with which we don't happen to agree is undeniably childish. And yet, we've all done it. It's much easier, after all, to dismiss people's opinions if we can dismiss the person with a simple wave of a hand and a scoffing sound, followed by, "What does she know? She's stupid." Or sometimes we try to hedge. Not "she" is stupid, but what she is saying is stupid. Or her opinions are stupid (sometimes masquerading as "uninformed"). But we all know what we really mean.
But it's rarely that simple, is it? The non-stupid among you will have picked up on my usage of the past tense in my opening line. I used to think. I've started to come around to their point of view, at least in some ways.
By teaching a child to dismiss anything s/he doesn't understand or doesn't like or doesn't agree with as "stupid," we've giving them a lifelong habit of not even attempting to see all sides of an argument. We're derailing critical thought before it even has a chance to take hold. They don't know what a good argument is because they've never seen one. They dismiss the 'other' as 'stupid' and that's that. Case closed. I don't have to listen to you. You're stupid.
Religious people are stupid.
Atheists are stupid.
Day traders are stupid.
Gamblers are stupid.
Bull riders are stupid.
People who fling themselves out of perfectly good airplanes are stupid.
Smokers are stupid.
People who drink too much are stupid.
Parents who home school are stupid.
Parents who send their kids to public school are stupid.
<Opposing Team Name Here> fans are stupid.
President Bush is stupid.
Michele Bachmann is stupid.
Nancy Pelosi is stupid.
President Obama is stupid.
Sparkling vampires are stupid.
Vice President Biden is stupid.
Dan Quayle is stupid.
President Carter is stupid.
Sarah Palin is stupid.
Republicans are stupid.
Democrats are stupid.
"The Germans during Hitler's regime were just stupid! How could they not see what was going on and put a stop to it?"
Other drivers are stupid. Heh . . . actually, this one is true. Demonstrably so. :)
See? It's a quick and dirty way to reduce something to a straw man and then dismiss it without a second thought. I can't tell you how many times I've heard—I've said—"Jenny McCarthy is stupid." It's often followed by a selection of other words, such as "ignorant" and an epithet like "whore" or "bitch." I know because I've used some of those words to describe her myself. I will probably do another post at some point about word choices and what they reveal about ourselves, but for now, let's get back to "stupid."
The truth is, she's probably not. I've never met the woman, but she's apparently a pretty savvy business person, or is able to hire people who are. She's a loving mother who only wants what's best for her child. What she is is passionate to the point of obsession about a topic that I dismiss as having zero worth. (We can discuss the actual worth of her anti-vaccination stance at some other point.) By calling her "stupid," I conveniently don't have to examine her motivations. Her ideas. I just bundle them up in a nice, neat little package, write "stupid" on it in red Sharpie, and then toss it over my shoulder, not giving it another thought. Dismissed. So easy to do. So convenient.
The truth is, we don't know what other peoples' motivations are. We don't know what sequence of events caused them to come to the conclusion that is not our own. We don't know that we would not have come to the same conclusion given the same sequence of events in our own lives. We are each the result of every decision—good or bad—that we have made. Every event—positive and negative—that has affected us. Change enough of those and we end up being different people altogether. Maybe even people we wouldn't like or even recognize if we could meet them in some science-fictional manner.
Many times people base opinions on things that we would never, ourselves, trust. A TV preacher says, "God needs you to send me all your pension money." An email from a terribly persecuted widow in Nigeria arrives, and all she wants is to use our bank account to get her own money out of her country and away from the oppressive government who killed her beloved husband. And in return, she'll give us a fortune! A trusted famous movie personality says there's nothing to psychology, and anyone who uses it is an idiot.
There are a bajillion web pages out there encouraging people to believe in something that is not factual. And depending on the mental state of the person reading it—maybe they just lost a family member or were fired or had a baby or found out they got promoted—they may find it strikes a chord with them or sounds reasonable. Perhaps in other circumstances, they would decide otherwise. But forget "factual." What about things that have nothing to do with facts, like bigotry or what political party you prefer? Some people—for whatever reason—believe with all their heart that Jews are trying to take over the world. That certain political leaders are literally trying to undermine the very system that got them elected in the first place. No amount of facts thrown at them can turn that off. It takes . . . I'm not sure what it takes, honestly. But calling them "stupid" isn't a solution. It's an anti-solution. And teaching children to dismiss people as "stupid" is criminal. It ends curiosity. It ends the natural scientific process that all kids demonstrate with that three-letter word that is the bane of every parent's existence: "Why?"
When I was much younger and more impressionable, I believed in everything the least bit occult. Ghosts, alien abductions, out of body experiences, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, the Yeti, psychic powers, spoon bending, dowsing, Ouija boards—you name it, I bought it. After all, there were people on TV telling me it was all real. Books filled with how it was real. No one telling me I was "stupid" convinced me that all of this stuff was nonsense; it took literally years of me reading for myself and examining my own beliefs with a critical eye to finally tip me over into thinking more rationally and skeptically. There is no such thing as an overnight change on things like that. You don't go to bed on Thursday believing in Bigfoot and wake up Friday morning convinced it's all an elaborate hoax. It happens gradually over many years. Or it doesn't. Some people go the other way and continue fervently believing in something like Bigfoot. Is that harmful? Well . . . I could go either way on something as inconsequential as Bigfoot. Believing that a giant humanoid exists that science has yet found no proof of or that Loch Ness is home to a non-extinct plesiosaur or that mankind never actually set foot on the moon is, in the end, harmless. No one is hurt by these beliefs. Believing that vaccines cause autism or that you can manipulate chi and stop a sword from chopping into your flesh . . . those are harmful and the skeptical community should—and does, for the most part—focus on things like that instead of ghosts and el chupacabra.
"Stupid" doesn't permit growth. "Stupid" simply is. It's a state one can't recover from. And hanging that label on someone is one of the worst things we can do. It makes them dig in their heels. Makes them believe in whatever it is all the more fervently. Makes them completely dismiss everything else you ever say to them because you called them "stupid." No one has ever, in the history of our species, heard, "You're stupid!" and said, "Why, yes! Yes, I am! And you are brilliant for pointing it out! Thank you from the bottom of my stupid heart for enlightening me!"
I know whereof I speak. I had—note the use of the past tense—a friend I will call "Mark." Mark and I shared an office for a little under a year. We don't have a lot in common, but we're both generally nice people, both fond of books and movies, and both into computers and interesting news stories. We found a lot to talk about, and read books and saw movies the other recommended. After he left the company, we continued to correspond and meet up every few weeks to have lunch and catch up.
Then one day, he met me for lunch all excited over a great documentary he had seen. I was intrigued at first, but then I had a sense of dawning horror. This guy I was friends with and that I had a fairly high opinion of was telling me that the documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" was the best thing he'd seen in years. (For those of you not familiar with the film, it was supposedly an exposé of how the scientific community conspired against those who believe in Intelligent Design to deny them tenure, get them fired, and prevent them from teaching a perfectly reasonable "alternative" to the Theory of Evolution. I will not at this time go into why this film is misleading. My reaction is what I'm talking about.) I don't remember my exact words because at the time I wasn't thinking rationally. I was reacting viscerally as if he had thrown a spider into my lap. I told him it was all bunk, that the people in the film were lying, that Ben Stein was an idiot, and did everything but use the actual word "stupid" to describe him and his taste in movies. He encouraged me to watch it and that it might change my opinion. I told him that I didn't need to watch it to know it was "stupid," and that I already knew as much about it as I needed to because of the website expelledexposed.com and several skeptical-themed podcasts I listen to. Did I honestly think this diatribe was going to sway his opinion? I didn't stop to consider that. I just reacted with the word "stupid."
We have not spoken since that day. Not in email, not in person. I'm not even connected with him on LinkedIn anymore. My reaction—visceral and right as I believe it was—had the same effect on him that it would have on me if he had told me that gravity was stupid and that the reason we all think there's gravity is because everything is expanding at the exact rate to make it look as though gravity exists.
Had I reacted less irrationally and perhaps offered to at least watch the film, and then discussed it with him, we might have maintained a dialog. Might have merely agreed to disagree. Might have had many more discussions about the subject, resulting in him—or me? Doubtful, but it could happen, theoretically—changing his stance. But no, I just had to be stupid.
Yeah, that time, I think it's justified to use it. I was stupid. I've gotten better since then, or at least I've made major efforts to be better. You only have to hit me over the head three or four times with a brick to get my attention.
So I'm sorry to all those parents I've smiled condescendingly at for telling their children that "stupid" is a bad word. Because I now realize that it is. But no one told me I was stupid—I had to come to the conclusion on my own.
May 3, 2011
About this time (1460), there was a brigand taken with his whole family, who haunted1 a place in Angus. This mischievous man had an execrable habit to take all young men and children he could steal away quietly, or take away without knowledge, and eat them, and the younger they were, esteemed them the more tender and delicious. For which cause and damnable abuse, he with his wife and children were all burnt, except a young girl of a year old who was saved and brought to Dundee, where she was brought up and fostered; and when she came to a woman's years, she was condemned and burnt quick for that crime. It is said that when she was coming to the place of execution, there gathered a huge multitude of people, and specially of women, cursing her that she was so unhappy [as] to commit so damnable deeds. To whom she turned about with an ireful countenance, saying, "Why chide me, as if I had committed an unworthy act? Give me credence and trust me: if you had experience of eating men and women's flesh, you would think it so delicious that you would never forbear it again." So but any sign of repentance, this unhappy traitor died in the sight of the people.[Quoted from the aforementioned book, but with liberties taken to replace archaic words and Scots dialect with more modern equivalents to the best of my meager ability.]
So, let's look at this. She was a year old when her family was burnt for being cannibals. Although she could not remember it, no doubt she tasted human flesh as a child. Had they just left well enough alone and raised her not to know her past, she probably would have turned out a fine, upstanding member of the community.
But did they? No. They poisoned her with stories of her family's crimes throughout her entire childhood, making sure that she knew exactly what foul stock she came from. Some versions of the story (I looked it up) say that during her childhood, she would often bite other children on the fingers and suck their blood. I don't know how much credence to put to that, but the crux of the point is this: She would have had no way of knowing the crimes of her family if they hadn't bludgeoned her with it throughout her entire childhood. If she did later harm other children and attempt to eat them, who could blame her? (I'm getting to that.)
The part that chills my blood, though, is that on a website where I found this story, it had this to say.
There was no hope of saving this poor child and the only solution was to execute her. The Dundee authorities were not heartless, however, and could not execute such a young person . . . they waited till she was eighteen then burned her alive in the Seagate.So, once again: These good, "not heartless" Christian people burned an entire family alive except for one infant, raised that infant until she was 18, made sure that she knew full well for her entire life that she was evil, then, when she was 18, burned her for her family's crimes.
Yes, I'm speculating about the whole "making sure she knew she was the spawn of evil" part because we know for a fact that you can't "catch" cannibalism. She wouldn't have had any idea at all if they hadn't made sure that she did. Probably with every waking moment of every day of her miserable existence.
But, hey. What can you say? It's right there in the Bible, so it must be good and loving and moral and correct. Ex 34:6-7.
And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.Boy, I'm glad their god is a merciful, gracious, good, and loving god, because otherwise, their actions sure do sound like cold, calculated evil. To me.
But what do I know. I'm just an atheist. I have no morals. I can't tell right from wrong unless it's explained to me. I'm sure someone will come along any minute now to explain to me how it makes sense to blame an infant for the actions of her family. Yep, any minute, now.
Any. Minute. Now . . .
- In the sense of visiting habitually, not our more modern meaning.
Jan 28, 2011
|"Sparkling" © 2011 by Jason A. Samfield|
I saw a comment somewhere--maybe it was on Twitter or maybe it was on Facebook; I honestly don't remember--that said, essentially, this: I don't have to actually read Twilight to know how stupid and bad it is, all I have to do is read all the stuff on the Internet about how stupid and bad it is to know that it's stupid and bad. And the commenter then went on to call the non-teenage, adult women who read and enjoy the Twilight books names, insult their intelligence, and make rude assumptions about their hygiene, living conditions, etc.
And I thought, "Why are people so vitriolic over a silly book?"
Seriously, folks. Why? Don't get me wrong: I live for the day when people all over the Internet so love/hate something I wrote that they're willing to yell and scream and call total strangers names. I'd eat that with a spoon.
I've been known to jump on the "VAMPIRES DO NOT SPARKLE!" bandwagon more than once, and frankly without ever having stopped to consider why it matters whether vampires--a mythical creature--do or don't sparkle in sunlight, or burst into flames (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Let the Right One In, others). Or disintegrate (Fright Night, 'Salem's Lot, others). Or cause all the "younger" vampires they "turned" to spontaneously combust (Queen of the Damned). (Question: When Anne Rice wrote this in Queen of the Damned, did people vilify her like they are vilifying Stephanie Myer?)
I think we need to take a moment. Sit back. Chill. Take a deeeeeep breath.
Back in middle school, a new girl joined my class. I'll call her Mary. She was that most dreaded of all things in the history of teenage ever: The Outsider. She hadn't grown up with the rest of us. She hadn't been there. She didn't know us. She didn't act right. I remember hearing two other girls talking one day and the conversation went something like this:
Susan: Ugh! Did you see Mary in the bathroom?I have no idea why the conversation (the actual words faded, but the gist of it stayed with me) has stuck with me for so long other than that it illustrates something that I keep coming back to over and over and over again: people expect other people to think exactly like they think. And if they don't, it's inconceivable that there might be a reason for it, or that they might just have a different way of looking at things. It's just one of those little things everyone does, and maybe never thinks about.
Jessica: No, why?
Susan: She's in there, sitting on the toilet, and eating an apple.
Susan: I know! I could never do something like that. That's just disgusting!
Example: how many times have you heard a devoutly religious person say, "I don't see how people can be atheists! What's to stop them from just going out and raping and murdering and stealing? They can't be moral!"
It's the apple argument all over again. "If I could never conceive of doing something, clearly anyone who can conceive of doing it--much less actually do it--must be just wrong on some fundamental level." (One does wonder sometimes if the people saying these things ever stop to think what it says about what they, themselves, would do given the opportunity.)
I admit to the same degree of this as each of you reading it. I look at people with piercings through parts of their body that I don't even want to think about being near sharp objects, and people are getting them pierced and tattooed and scarred... And I admit, a too-great portion of me tends to hold onto the "there's something wrong with someone who would do that" mentality. Sorry, friends of mine who are tattooed and/or pierced in "those places," but there it is. :)
There are some scathing reviews of Twilight out there on the Internet. One has only to search Google to find more words about the book than there are words in the book.
It seems like an inordinate number of them are negative, and written by people who proudly boast that they've never read the book. Never want to read it. Because it's so obviously awful and bad and bad and wrong and wrong and ick-ick-ptui!
But I wonder why. Why do people expend so much energy actively hating something that they admit they're never going to read?
I'm reminded of numerous toddlers I've observed over the years. Picture it: A family sitting in a restaurant, trying to have an enjoyable night out. They have, of course, brought their toddler with them because babysitters went extinct sometime in the mid-80s. (Oh, do not even get me started.)
The waiter comes and the parents order for themselves and their child. Flash forward 20 minutes. The food arrives. The food is placed before the toddler and s/he screams (at the top of its considerable lungs) "NO! I DON'T LIKE IT!"
And what do parents literally around the whole damned world say at this point, in whatever language they speak? That's right: "How do you know you don't like it if you never tried it?"
I have a housemate, now. A long-time friend who is getting a divorce (amicable) and needed a place to stay while she rebuilds her life in a new city. She's getting a place to stay, and I'm getting someone to talk to and she happens to be a very good cook. I've lost 25 lbs since she moved in. Because I eat at home and I eat less. But I digress.
This friend whom I'll call Velda (because that's one of her online aliases) is very into the Twilight saga. Writes and reads fanfic, has all the books, has seen all the movies, etc.
I never realized just how pervasive the "Twilight hate" is out there until I became aware of it through her. I'd go with her to friends' houses and the topic would come up and literally everyone in the room—none of whom have read a single word of the book—would start trashing it and all people who read it. I introduced her into one of my writing groups, and basically the same thing happened.
I immediately rethought all the times I've said "VAMPIRES DO NOT SPARKLE!" and made derisive remarks about the books, having never read a single word, myself.
So I asked Velda to loan me the first book, Twilight. I started reading it, expecting to just hate it.
Do I love it? No. Am I going to become a total Stephanie Myer fanboy? No. I'm about ten chapters in, and although it is definitely not my style (I've never been a girl, and while I have been a teenager, I was not a teenage girl, :), it does draw you in. It does read a bit like a Mary Sue. But if you just read for enjoyment and not to analyze, I can understand why so many people are so drawn to the books. The main character thinks she's ugly and clumsy, but apparently she has something that makes five very different boys fall head over heels for her, two of whom are a vampire and a werewolf. And who doesn't want to imagine desirable members of their preferred gender falling all over themselves to impress you? (People who read Playboy/Playgirl for the articles, I'm sure.)
And there are certain problems with the narration as well that I won't go into. Suffice to say that while I don't hate the book, I don't love it, either. I am finding it entertaining. I do intend to read it all the way through if for no other reason than to have a common ground to at least discuss the book's strong points and shortcomings with others who have read it.
So how 'bout we make a deal? Instead of saying, "That sucks!" if you haven't ever tried it, why not try it first? Then, if it doesn't appeal to you, you can at least say, "Yeah, I read that, but it wasn't to my taste. To each their own," instead of looking like a toddler yelling, "NO! I DON'T LIKE IT!"
Mar 10, 2010
- pre-summer, which starts just after spring and runs until about mid-April and is characterized by pollen, pollen, more pollen, temperatures in the upper 70s and 80s, and pollen
- summer, which starts in mid-April and goes to about Halloween and is usually characterized by temperatures in the 90s and 100s 24 hours per day
- pre-autumn, which starts in November and lasts approximately 2 to 3 weeks and is also characterized by lots and lots of lovely yellow pollen
- autumn, which lasts from 8:17 AM to 8:19 AM on a random Thursday in November, usually around Thanksgiving
- pre-winter, which lasts from about Thanksgiving to around Christmas, and is characterized by people wearing winter clothing even though they don't actually need it, because it's expected of them since it's December
- winter, which lasts from about Christmas to early/mid February
- pre-spring, which happens on a random day in early March
- spring, which lasts from 3:14 AM to approximately 5:37 PM on a random Tuesday in early March
Pre-spring was yesterday. There's no pollen, yet, but the birds are getting excited about the weather changing, and you can sort of feel spring hovering off in the distance, unsure whether to show its face. I think the birds must be cajoling it to come out and play.
It's been cold and warm in turns, wet and dry in turns, and we've had more snow than I can remember seeing in the entire time I've lived here (approaching 11 years, now).
But last night it was glorious. Not too warm, not too cold. With just enough moisture in the air to make things smell fresh and clean, but not so much that it was falling from the sky.
I slept with my bedroom window open, and the entire upstairs of the house smelled like spring even before I got into bed last night. After several months of my breathing the same air over and over, this is a very welcome change.
The cats enjoyed it, too. I woke up at some indeterminately early hour when the sun was not yet out to the sounds of claws scrabbling on hard plastic. I know exactly what this sounds like because I've heard it before: Matt climbs the window unit air conditioner I borrowed from a friend to help keep my utility bills low in the summer. He does this to look out my bedroom window when the shades are up, which is rarely.
The neighbors have a light in their back yard that aircraft use to navigate the city by. The astronauts on the space station see it and say, "We must be over Atlanta." The Nazis could easily have adopted it for questioning prisoners of war. "Tell uz ze location uff ze reziztanze. Ve haff vays uff mehkink you talk..."
So when I awoke to the scrabbling sound (Matt is not aware that, as a feline, he can simply jump. It's kind of sad, really.) I glanced in the direction of the window and saw his silhouette framed therein, the retina-searing light of the Gestapo lamp forming a fuzzy halo around him.
Then I heard a sizzling sound. Someone was making bacon.
Mmmm, bacon. I closed my eyes and tried to drift back into the dream I was having.
Wait a minute, I thought. Bacon? That can't be right. The only ones here are me and the cats, and if they could make bacon, I'd be out on the street.
Fighting my way back into consciousness, I finally recognized the sound as rain gently falling against the house.
"Great," I thought. I wrestled my way out of bed (I have one of those foam mattresses, so "getting out of bed" actually involves a bit of gymnastics.) and over to the window in which Matt was sitting. I felt the sill. Dry. So the rain was, indeed, gentle, and not blowing in.
I left Matt to his silent vigil and crawled back into bed and drifted away again. I think I tanned from the neighbor's back-yard light. (Have I mentioned that it's really bright?)
I woke up again some time later when Matt joined me in bed. Not by jumping (see above), but by grabbing the mattress and pulling himself up.
Graceful, he's not.
I'm hoping that I have a few more weeks of being able to sleep with the window(s) open before it's so stiflingly hot that the house becomes a sauna, but from past experience I fear that I'll be wrestling the window unit back in place before long, and making do with the soothing white-noise sounds of the compressor to lull me to sleep.