Two cats and a parakeet get in a car


After twelve hours in a car with two cats and a parakeet that I’m still able to speak  in moderately coherent and complete sentences is a testament to the pioneering spirit of the American people.  Our ability to endure adversity abides! But why would anyone put themselves through that?  Especially after having spent the last four weeks getting rid of furniture, assembling Ikea (anyone need a few dozen Allen wrenches?) and making about fifteen trips to donation sites getting rid of things not to mention the various organizations that came and picked stuff up?  Family.  My grandmother used to say “if you want to have family you have to be family”.  In this case it means spending a few months in North Carolina as my mother completes her hundred year plus residence on planet earth.   So I loaded up my car with baking equipment (Christmas baking!) including my kitchen aid mixer,  computers, Firestick, speakers, clothes and, oh yes, two cats and a parakeet.

Those of us who share our lives with cats know that the true song of their people is “The car is the instrument of the devil.”  Now I’m pretty fluent in contemporary cat but it took Heather Campbell to give me the more accurate translation from the original feline.  I’d always known it as “this sucks and I hate it.”  My cats, however, took it in through their DNA.  Just one of those mystery cat things that are clearly genetic. One assumes that the original feline for “cart” became “car” mid to late 19th century.

My kitty boy did his usual warmup including running scales to stretch the top and bottom of his vocal range and ripping a new seam in my arm as we discussed the carrier, then he started the prelude as the car hatch closed.  As Heather says, the song has something like 1,200 verses.  There as never been a really accurate count because of regional variations–note to graduate students, there’s a dissertation topic just waiting to be taken on.  (can you imagine the orals?)  He was a bit sluggish, it being 4 am, so it took him the full drive from South Bend to Indianapolis to get through the full song.  Just as I was hoping that he might call for an intermission Sarah (my tortie) called out ONE MORE TIME.

The second rendition got us south of Cincinnati where upon they tried it as a duet with Sarah improvising a descant at least an octave higher than the melody.  As the finished off the final verse around Knoxville with a sforzando that was positively Homeric. I was hoping that they’d made their point.  Sadly, no. Those of you familiar with torties will be shaking your head at my naiveté.   How could I have underestimated her creativity so completely?  After a short discussion they dug deep and sang it backwards.  I don’t mean in reverse order, I mean backwards.

I’ll be damned if I didn’t start to recognize some familiar passages.  The entire White album of the Beatles,  the alternate lyrics to Louie Louie and I’m pretty sure I heard the Die Walkuerie with references to other passages from Der Ring des Nibelungen.  And who could fail to gasp when learning that Haffner ripped off  the Katzen of Koenigsberg for the libretto of Die Fledermaus?  In retrospect that really should have been obvious.

The real surprise of the day turned out to be Richard Henry Lee.  With exception of my first parakeet I’ve named them all after signers of the Declaration of Independence.   (The first was female and Abigail Adams) Richard Henry follows Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Josiah Bartlett.   Richard Henry Lee, unlike his namesake, is a bird of very little brain.  In fact, he’s never yet figured out that there’s millet on both side of the sprig and, that by leaning over just a bit he could get the seeds on the bottom of the sprig.  Keets. 

There must be some discrepancy in his heritage because rather than being alarmed at two cats yowling, pardon, singing, directly under his claws he kept time with rhythmic sways of his body and even joined in on occasion.  His emphatic CHIRP chastised them when they failed to enunciate the consonants and his more encouraging chirps to help them through the difficult transition when the time signature jumps from a nice comfortable 2/2 to 9/8 without warning.  Heck, I have problems with that myself.   We really do have to remember that “The car is the instrument of the devil”  predates our customary chromatic scale and standard notation.

After arriving at Mom’s house both cats decided to use the litter box and then dematerialize into their component atoms.   About midnight they began their exploration with much of that exploration involving walking over my head and sniffing my mouth.  I’m guessing that sometime in the next three months they’ll have adjusted to their new digs and will even come to love the screened in porch.  My bet is their acclimation will occur shortly before I load them back in the carriers for their encore performance. 



College football rules, fan edition


This weekend starts the college football season or, as I prefer to call it, the One True Sport which means it’s time to review the rules of college football for fans.  Yes, there are rules, honestly how did you get to this age without knowing that?!

First, there’s no such thing as a spectator at a college football game–it’s a full participation full contact experience.  You’re there to cheer your team on, pretend you remember the words to the Alma Mater (except at Notre Dame, they know it) and release a lot of tension; following these few simple rules will make it all easier.

Primary Team Allegiance:  your college football loyalties follow your undergraduate degree. If your team sucks, sorry, you’re stuck with it.  No cheating and using your graduate school–it’s your undergraduate school and there’s an end to it.  No switching around if you transferred either, it’s the school on your diploma. If you transferred to Michigan from Ohio and finished up at Michigan during the Brady Hoke years then you had to ride it out until Harbaugh came on the scene–no switching sides and cheering for the Buckeyes until the Wolverines get good again.  If you went to IU Bloomington then remember they generally kick ass at basketball. BTW,  you are not obligated to follow your graduate school’s team at all.  If your college doesn’t have a team or if you didn’t attend college you are free to follow any team you wish but once you’ve made your choice that’s it. It’s your team now. Choose wisely. (Indiana Jones Last Crusade–I’m faculty emerita, I can quote the classics.)

Secondary Team Allegiance: This is a bit more flexible.  If you work for a college or university then you should take them on as your team 2 or at least not root against them where people can hear you.  Basically, you can pick any team you want for your secondary team and you can switch as much as you like.  If you worked for the University of Spoiled Children (USC) and get a job at Cal Tech then you can ignore USC.  This means that yes, if you are that good person who wants to support the league then you can cheer for THE Ohio State University if they make the playoffs and you’re a die-hard Terrapin fan. Sadly, I personally am not that good person.

When BOTH your teams play each other:  It’s tough, I’ve been there.  Michigan grad working for Notre Dame.  You might just want to stay home or, do what I did and let everyone know, up front, that you’re going to cheer every good play no matter who makes it. I wore one Block M earring and one interlocked ND earring.  Really, I did, there are witnesses.  The school colors for both universities were close enough that I didn’t have to Frankenstein a t-shirt.  The only year I didn’t cheer all good plays was when Michigan really needed to get a new coach and I figured that a loss to Notre Dame would help that process along.  Just realize that you’re going to take a lot of guff from all sides. 

National Anthem:  Take your hat off and stand (If you can) sing unless it’s being lead by some singer who is all about personal style and wastes everyone’s time with a crap load of pentatonics. Yes sweetie, you can sign one, three, five intervals.  Great, congratulations, have a cookie.  If you’re the one organizing the national anthem for the love of gawd it’s OUR national anthem, not an audition tape for ‘America’s Got Talent’. The people in the stands aren’t there to be backup singers.

Protests: if you’re protesting and the National Anthem is your platform then make it 1) silent and 2) clear.  Don’t blow your vuvuzela, just take a knee or turn your back or something.  If all you do is stay seated or keep walking to your seat with a soft pretzel and overpriced pop we’ll assume you’re an asshole, not a patriot exercising your 1st amendment rights.

Bands:  Hey, the bands work hard, they don’t get paid, they love their school, too.  Never, ever boo the band. Seriously, don’t, just don’t.

Last seconds field goal:  It took the team a whole four quarters to get to the point where a field goal wins, ties or loses the game.  Don’t take it out on field goal kicker.

They and We:  If you say “we won” then it’s also “we lost”.  None of this we won and they lost.  It’s either your team or it isn’t.  Learn it, live it.

Leaving early:  This isn’t a rule as much as a dignity-saving tactic. If you KNOW, up front, that you’re going to leave early let the people around you know.  You’ll get razzed anyway if your team is losing but at least you’ve got plausible deniability. 

Remember: it’s a game, enjoy it, appreciate the skill and grace of disciplined athletes performing the skills they’ve trained for, shout your approval and groan your disappointment.  Don’t be an obnoxious jerk no matter the score or how bad the officials are.  No one is snubbing out cigarettes on your mother’s arm and no one’s kitten is going to die because your team lost. You’re there to have a good time and release a lot of frustration and stress hollering about something that ultimately doesn’t “pick your pocket or break your leg” as Jefferson put it.  

Eat the loaded tater tots, happy trash talk with your seat mates, wear your spirit gear and follow the rules.



Mendenhall, East glacier loop literally by the seat of my pants

Pro tip, when the description says strenuous, believe it.  I’m one of three reasons why we were almost late getting back.  The other two were a couple (very nice) with a husband with worse knees than mine and even less sure footed on wet rock. About two dozen of us climbed into two vans ready to take on the east loop.  Our guide asked if we wanted strenuous or super strenuous, the other van was doing strenuous.  Not getting out and climbing into the other van was my first mistake.  When our guide suggested a short cut that was steeper but would give us more time at the top and I didn’t say ‘hell no’.  In retrospect it’s amazing I’ve lived this long when I clearly have no survival instincts and am prone to making poor decisions. 

First, let me make it clear that it was a beautiful hike and that the views of the glacier were amazing and that our guide was super knowledgeable.  She’s been a consultant giving training to contestants on shows you’ve heard of but shudder at the thought of watching.  If you need training on how to survive with nothing but your fingernails for tools, she’s your gal.  She carried  large, waterproof back pack which I assumed carried emergency gear to set broken bones and treat hypothermia, maybe a defibrillator.  All I know is I was breathing hard enough to pop a vein in my forehead at the top of some of the climbs. Second, the Mendenhall Glacier is in the Tongass Rain Forest.  That middle word should give you a clue about what to expect. Amazingly I was prepared for that aspect. Third, my gear wasn’t all brand new, it just looked that was because I clean my gear but it probably looked as if I had just bought everything for the cruise.  Okay, actually I had bought it for the cruise but I had older, well used versions that I used to cruise as an excuse to upgrade.

Another thing about our guide–it was really important to her that we learned something about the area and its importance to the ecosystem and how all the parts of the planet work together to create and support life.  Which is why we stopped by a stream on the way to the glacier to see piles of dead salmon being eaten by ravens. Yes, it was smelly but we did get to actually see salmon spawning and how that process works.  She showed us a dead salmon by the side of the trail with its head and belly gone–the bear that caught it had eaten the brain and belly and didn’t bother with the rest.  “Bears are salmon snobs”  It was a fresh kill, within the hour because no insects had found it yet.  Knowing that somewhere close there was a bear full enough not to bother with the rest of the fish was not as comforting as you might think. The same BTW, wasn’t true of my neck which became part of the circle of life of a fair amount of no-seeums and mosquitoes.  She also showed us some berries growing by the stream and which were edible (thimble berry)and which were not(Devil’s Club).  BTW, every berry in Alaska is red; I’m pretty sure even the blueberries are red.

Path started out fairly level and no more than the usual amount of roots lying in wait to break your ankle.  It was what you expect from a trail head.  Even the first part of the “up” portion was easy and well within my capabilities.  Then things got steeper and rockier.  If you’ve ever done LeConte you’ve climbed trails like that.  Then it got rockier where it didn’t really matter that the surroundings were amazing because you couldn’t look up to see them–your eyes were looking where to put your foot so you didn’t either trip on an outcrop or put your feet between to rocks that you’d never get your foot out of.  At least I was watching every step but then again I’d had my teeth whitened for the cruise and wanted to keep them in my smile and not in a drawer.

We finally gained the elevation of the lake below the glacier.  Our guide walked right in,  Keen sandals and all, to show us the water color and talk about the run off.  And that’s why she’s a survival expert, she’s impervious to cold and wet.  I am not a survival expert and stayed where it was dry (mostly anyway).

I’m still feeling pretty good, all of this well within my skill level and endurance.  Que the wake up call.  After holding up the entire group while I climb and study each step for the rock least likely to give way I’m heaving my lungs out and wishing to gawd we’d take a rest long enough for me to strip off some of the layers the hike description had encouraged us to wear.  Thankfully we did take a bit of a rest, only long enough to either take a drink of water or strip off a layer, not both.  I went with the layer.  As with any trail there are little down sections, not just all up. Yes, everyone else did climb down it but seriously, I’ve seen extreme slides in water parks with less intimidating angles.  Apparently there were cracks and little jutting out parts you could step on.  Everyone else could see them but I sure as blazes couldn’t.  At that point I took my approach from said water parks, sat down and went down on my rump.  That alarmed many of the hikers but hey, it’s a perfectly valid technique.

Oh, did I mention that by this point the path was about 87% rock with running water over it?  With therapy I may be able to forget the next section of the hike or at least be able to retreat to my safe space when remembering it. That’s when our survival expert guide suggested a short cut that would cut about 8 minutes off the time.  I take a look at the short cut and ask if we’ll be going back DOWN the same way.  I may be a slow learner but I am still a learner!  Nope, we’ll go down another trail.  On to the most vertical hiking I’ve ever done.  I could have kissed the rock with a queenly incline of my head.

Got to the top and was rewarded with some magnificent views of the glacier along with some information about why no calving for awhile because the overhang is gone.  Of course I’m thinking that I’m past the worst.  Oh, child, you are so cute when you’re naive! At this point the park has taken pity on the poor souls and put up stretch after stretch of cabled sections.  I do wonder how in the hell they got those rock anchors and cables UP there but I’m glad they did.  Probably only the illusion of security but as Trollope’s Lady De Croursey would say, I did not need to be reminded of the beggar’s ability to choose.  I hung on to those things as if my life depended on it which, actually, it did.  If I did that stretch a few more times I’d have a grip that could crack macadamia nuts!

That’s when I overheard our guide mutter that in about five minutes we were about to get very wet.  Remember, RAIN forest.  The cloud ceiling had sunk dramatically and the helicopters had stopped flying.  Que the special effects and bring on the rain.  We were given the option of five more minutes of climbing with no views, the world being socked in by rain and fog,or heading back now.  There might have been those in the group who wanted more death-defying experiences but I used my authoritative instructor voice and said “down.”  Apparently a couple of weeks of retirement hasn’t diminished the power of the professorial tone.

Down it was and yes,that included all those terrifying cabled stretches again, this time down which is much harder and yes, it was raining and the wet rocks were now little creeks.  Thank you Black Diamond poles, those puppies are the only reason I’m alive to write this memoir.  By the way, when your survival expert guide is going slowly you know it’s treacherous footing.  Just in case we didn’t take the hint she stopped and pointed to a spot where she announced that we needed to be careful because three of her hikers had fallen off the mountain at that spot.  No need to tell me that twice!  No cable in that stretch but I clung to each hand hold like a lichen to a stone.

Finally gentler slopes where all you had to worry about were wet roots and loose rocks on a mission to humiliate the unaware then back in the van where I took a selfie showing the joy of one who has escaped death and can’t quite believe their luck.

Back to the ship to shed wet clothes and hiking gear and onto shore to be a serious tourist for a couple of hours by which I mean buying t-shirts and avoiding aggressive gem salesmen.  My best decision of the day?  An hour in the hot tub with the jets slamming my quads.  Today yes, a little sore, mostly my triceps but glad I made the hike even though the fact that I successfully made the hike doesn’t mean my skills were equal to the task–it means the denim covering my butt was.



The Thing about Poison Ivy

The thing about Poison Ivy is that every part of it is toxic, all the time. The leaves, the roots, the stem, the berries– all toxic.  The toxin is Urushiol and it’s amazingly stable.  One spring several years ago I got PI from gloves I’d worn the previous summer.   I’ve gotten PI from my cat’s fur when she snuggled against my bare skin. Take a saw to the stems when the leaves are off and it’s in the saw dust.  Pull down the vines and burn them in winter and it’s in the smoke. 

That nasty vine is hearty, too, and doesn’t care if it grows in the sun or shade.  It grows around English Ivy or Wild Grape. It loves to grow around berry vines as anyone who has ever picked wild raspberries knows.  Descriptions don’t always help,  lots of aerial roots and it’s probably PI but when it gets bigger, stronger, they might not be there.  The leaves as usually jagged but I’ve seen very mature plants with leaves 5 inches across and not a jag in sight.  The clusters of white berries is a pretty good indication but only if they’re there. The leaves turn red when the season turns but what if it’s not fall?

And it gets worse.  When they first start out they look just like Virginia Creeper.  It isn’t until Virginia Creeper grows the extra leaves that the difference is  obvious.

The only way to get rid of Poison Ivy is to kill it from within, and you need the right kind of weed killer because there’s a waxy gloss on the leaves–you need to break through that barrier to get the poison into the plant.  When you do it withers and dies and, sadly often poisons the ground around it. 

I know about PI. The last 9 years I’ve taken it on myself to clear the walking paths through the woods.  My goal is to keep the area clear two feet on either side of the path so parents with a child in tow don’t accidentally expose their kids. 

When I started it would take 12-15 gallons every bout of controlling sprays several times over the summer.  Now it’s just maintenance–once at the start of the spring, once around July4th and maybe if there’s been lots of rain again in the fall.  About a gallon and the job is done. 

Point is, Poison Ivy is persistent and so completely toxic that you can’t just take on the parts you see and if you try to pull it or cut it out all you’ll do is spread the poison. You have to know its weakness and you have to be patient, consistent and vigilant.

Prejudice is a lot like Poison Ivy.  It can start out small, it can look like something else, it can hide in plain sight.  It poisons everything it touches. And you can’t just lop off the parts you see, you have to get to the root and let it die from within, and it may take some time.

It’s why there are words you just can’t use anymore.  A Brazil Nut is not that other word.  A transgendered person is not the T word.  And no, you don’t get to call homosexuals the F word.  You don’t make fun of disabled people and you don’t call people liars when they tell you their experience with law enforcement is different than yours.

Do I think that the Harvard brouhaha over the professor’s letter suggesting that it isn’t the role of the university to tell people what they can or can’t wear for Halloween was over blown?  Yes.  Do I think that U of Wisconsin was right to protest against Milos Yiannopoulos?  In retrospect yes, the man doxed a student while he was there.  No, Milos, it’s not your place to out someone. Do I think that Notre Dame was right to invite Pence to speak at commencement?  Yes.  Do I support the students who walked out on him?  Yes, symbolic speech is still speech and all they did was walk out–they didn’t disrupt his speech nor did they prevent anyone else from listening.

That’s not being politically correct,  it’s being vigilant about not letting the poison grow and spread.


Why are articles about gun studies so wretched?!

I teach a couple of credit-bearing courses here in Camelot on finding and evaluating resources–critical thinking. With students accessing things electronically, based largely on key words and meta data they lose all of the context of the article.  When was it published? What was it published in?  What kind of a publication is it? What are the credentials of the author?  What (if any) bias?  What else was going on at the time? For example, reading an article in The Observer on free speech on campus that references the U of Chicago’s letter is a pretty strong clue that you ought know what that article is about.  Ditto the whole Yale Halloween bizarre controversy.

The information literacy framework has some great concepts, authority is contextual, scholarship as a conversation and so on.  Scholarship IS a conversation but so is responsible citizenship.  One of the exercises I have my students do every term is to read 4-5 articles that all talk about the same study.  They then need to identify and find the study and evaluate the articles.  Which (if any) accurately represented the findings?  Which (if any) have distorted it beyond recognition.  I use gun ownership research as the topic because frankly it’s very easy to find good, bad and whackadoodle responses to the studies. In fact it’s way too easy to find whackadoodle responses.

This is the week when the students work through the exercise in class.  I came across a reference to “The Stock and Flow of US Firearms” Results from the 2015 National Firearms Survey.”  I’d give you the link but it’s been down and the research is due to be published this fall.  A special BIG thank you to the lead investigator, Dr. Deborah Azrael   who very (!) graciously sent me a copy for classroom use when I told her about the assignment.   Here’s the sentence from the report “Put another way, one half of the gun stock (~130 million guns) is owned by approximately 86 percent of gun owners, while the other half is owned by 14 percent of gun owners (14 percent of gun owners equals million adults of 3 percent of the adult US population).”  It’s not even in the conclusion, it’s one sentence in the discussion on page 7 of a 34 page report.    Here’s how Zero Hedge reported it “The Obama Gun “Super Owner”–New Study finds 50% of Guns Owned by Just 3% of Population”     If you follow that link you’ll see it has the report, or most of it but it doesn’t tell you that it’s not the complete report.  Guns America says “Study Targets Obama “Super Owner”  Now,  I’ve read the study three times and ran a word search on it.  The term super owner never appears nor does any reference to the presidency, this was added later in articles about the study.  And targeting? Not a hint of anything other than how this MIGHT be used to reduce suicide.

Yeah, those articles are in the whackadoodle category.  Before you decide I’m one of those damned liberals that only support liberal speech, read my “I’m offended, well so f*cking what?” post.  These writers don’t mention the study findings on the rise of female gun purchasers, they don’t mention the slight drop in gun ownership, they don’t mention the drop in long gun sales that seems to correspond to the drop in hunting.  It’s all about finding something to be threatened by and that, my fellow Americans, is bat crap crazy if you actually go back to the study.

The Obama super owner idea comes in by looking at the number of guns added in connection with elections.  The following table is an excerpt from the study itself, the headings reworded  slightly for readability on this platform. The original chart begins with 1899-1945 as a single number and appears on pages 21-22 of the report.  I chose start with 1999, the year of the Columbine school shootings.

Yes, there is a correlation between gun sales and politics, people motivated by fear (and zero understanding of the process required to amend the constitution) do tend to make purchases or decide not to purchase in anticipation of or, reaction to election results.  2017 has seen a fall in sales post Trump, though interesting people afraid of Trump e.g. LGBT and POC have increased. BTW stocks, react rather the same way–uncertain outcome stocks fall, certainty and stocks rise.

But is Obama the only explanation? It seems unlikely, especially given that in 2013 with the largest increase in gun sales the legislative branch had a Republican majority. Let’s go back to that contextual information literacy threshold.  In addition to the basic numbers from the report I added in mass shootings and advances in social media to give additional context.  There is no legal definition of mass murder that I was able to find but an FBI report on Serial Murder describes it as “a number of murders (four of more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders. These events typically involved a single location, where the killer murdered a number of victims in an ongoing incident…” When you look at when the accelerated growth in guns added it’s after Myspace, FaceBook, Twitter were all available.  The ability to spread news, rumors, fears etc. easily, widely and freely seems to be a fairly significant motivating force for gun acquisition; the study states that 76% of handgun owners cited protection and personal safety as the reason they have a gun .

Sources for shootings:

Year                               Millions of Guns Added      Δ           Adjusted (guns gone)

1999                                            261                                 5                                        201

  • Columbine (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, 13 killed)
  • Atlanta (Mark Orrin Barton, 9 killed)
  • Wedgwood Baptist (Larry Gene Ashbrook, 7 killed)
  • Honolulu (Bryan Uyesugi, 7 killed)

2000                                            265                                 4                                        203

  • Edgewater Technology (Michael McDermott, 7 killed)

2001                                            270                                 5                                        206

2002                                            274                                 4                                        208

2003                                            279                                 5                                        211

  • My Space launched
  • Meridian, Ms  (Doug Williams, 5 killed)

2004                                            284                                 5                                        214

  • FaceBook launched

2005                                            289                                 5                                        217

  • Red Lake Indian Reservation (Jeffrey Weise, 9 killed)

2006                                            295                                6                                        220

  • Twitter launched
  • Goleta Ca. mail processing center (Jennifer San Marco, 6 killed)
  • Nickle Mines  (Charles Roberts, 5 killed)

2007                                             301                                6                                        224

  • Omaha shopping mall (Robert Hakins, 8 killed)
  • Virginia Tech (Seung-Hui Cho, 32 killed)
  • Salt Lake City shopping mall (Sulejman Talvoic, 5 killed)

2008                                             308                                7                                        229

  • Northern Illinois University (Steven Kazmierczak, 5 killed)

2009                                             316                                8                                         235

  • American Civic Association (Jiverly Wong, 13 killed)
  • Fort Hood (Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 13 killed)

2010                                             325                                 9                                        241

  • Manchester, Connecticut (Omar Thornton, 8 killed)

2011                                             334                                 9                                        248

  • Tuscon mass shooting (Jared Lee Loughner, 6 killed)

2012                                             347                                13                                       258

  • Sandy Hook (Adam Lanza, 26 killed, mother also killed)
  • Accent Signage Systems (Andrew Engeldinger, 6 killed)
  • Aurora Colorado (James Holmes, 12 killed)
  • Oak Creek Wisconsin (Wade Page, 6 killed)
  • Oikos University (One Goh, 7 killed)

2013                                             364                                16                                        272

  • Santa Monica College (John Zawahri, 5 killed)
  • Washington Navy Yard (Aaron Alexis, 12 killed)

Of course there were many more shootings but I’ve only listed those with 4 or more deaths exclusive of the shooter in keeping with the FBI definition.  I’ve also listed only the number killed, not the number wounded.

Gun sales also spike after mass shootings and in response to change in state initiatives. Bloomberg’s 2016 report post the Pulse nightclub shootings shows surges in gun sales in relationship to changes in state laws.

From my research the pattern seems clear. Mass shootings plus mass media results in outrage and calls for restrictions on guns. Social media magnifies the outrage and fear. Calls for restrictions on guns drives gun sales.  Certainly the party in control of Federal law is part of the discussion but in no way is it the complete explanation. To talk about ‘Obama super owners’ lacking any other environmental context is a serious mistake.

So, why are articles about gun studies so terrible?  Because they lack all nuance, they lack all context, they assume that their readers are incapable of reasoning beyond ‘this option good’ and ‘this option bad.’  Given the rhetoric of the 2016 election, they might be right.

Drinking from skulls, bathing suit edition

Mrs. Slocombe (Are You Being Served) was known to say “the things you see when you don’t have a gun.”  Not PC but it’s a phrase that has come in handy–like when I had to wait until my Ohio place closed before I could rehab my new house in Indianapolis.  The previous owner had had unfortunate tastes in wall paper and fixtures.  While I was carrying two mortgages I was stuck with what I dubbed the pepper mill-infested chandelier.   That phrase has come in handy on vacations, too.

This being about bathing suits and the danger of skating close to body shaming I’ll start with a couple of caveats–everyone is welcome at the beach and pool.  Color, texture, shapes and size of skin EVERYONE should is welcome at the beach and pool.  Well, if you have open oozing sores you probably shouldn’t get IN the pool, ditto if you or your kid has a full diaper.  Whales get to poop in the ocean, you don’t.

On the other hand, folks, remember that the rest of us do have to look at you and for gawd’s sake have a little consideration.  There could be children present and there are things that just can’t be unseen.  This last vacation it was the old guy in the skimpy tight suit with the splayed legs apparently forced apart by his massive genitalia or perhaps just inviting us to imagine what his scrotum looked like.  If you simply must prove your masculinity with the man spread at least turn your chair around to face the foliage.  The rest of us really would like to look up from our book now and then without visions of your testicles intruding on our thoughts.  Seriously, to quote Shakespeare,  that’s “an honor I dream not of”.   When old guy turned over and we all got a good look at several inches of his crack.  Imagine #45 in a swim suit, you get the picture.  Welcome to my nightmare.

Then there was the scrawny old guy sunning himself on the beach wearing a thong with a front pouch roughly the size of a travel-size tissue packet.  I’m not sure which was worse, when I walked past him when he was laying tissue side up or on my return trip when he’d turned over and the thong was so far up his butt it might have been checking his prostate.  Must have been avoiding tan lines in anticipation of his next modeling gig.

While we’re at it, let’s just accept that if you’re a competitive swimmer then those tiny briefs are fine but they look like hell on everyone else.  One of the creepiest things I ever saw was a guy with what’s referred to as an aging jock body wearing a speedo that I might have overlooked if he actually swam laps.  That wasn’t the creepy part.  All week we thought that young woman was his daughter then we saw them kiss.  If that was his daughter, then, ewwwwwwww.  If that was his wife I hope she read the prenup carefully before she signed because a guy that desperate to reclaim his youth will inevitably discover that there isn’t a fountain of youth between her legs.  Heck, even Marilyn Monroe complained that guys were always expecting something different than the standard issue and how disappointed they were when they found out she had the standard equipment.

I’ll hold off on men with chest hair that looks like they’re cross dressing as a Magutu woman……

Women don’t get a pass on this either–ladies while I absolutely support your right to dress in a way that pleases you it’s also true that it’s better to dress for the body you have than the body you wish you had.  Tim Gunn would back me up on this.  Everyone gets to wear a tank suit, it’s a practical swim garment and designed to be swum in.  Bikinis?  At least consider how much of your dimpled, wrinkled, flabby or massive butt cheeks should be on display.  Restated, if you look like a fugitive from “people of walmart”  don’t wear it.

The ‘oh dear’ for women tend to come in two flavors.  Women wearing a suit that is way too small or worse, the women trying to compete with their daughters.  Too small?  I know, the struggle is real, I’m two very different sizes top and bottom so I opt for a suit that’s got a bit more room in the seat and hip than I need so that I’m not spilling out of the top. IMHO spilling out of the top is still marginally better than the “I’m her mother but I want you to think I’m her sister.”  Yeah, no, you’re not fooling anyone.  It makes you look insecure, desperate and you’re embarrassing your daughter.  MILF is NOT a complement, learn it, live it.

And don’t forget that it’s a swim suit.  Pools I’m less worried about but if you’re going into the ocean that suit has a job and its job is to not weigh you down and not catch on anything while keeping you visible so boats and other swimmers don’t run into you.

I’ve saved up the worst for last.  Matching suits.  No, just NO.  I have never understood those and why they still make them is yet another example of humans having that “indelible stamp of his lowly origin”  (Charles Darwin)   Is it because you want to make sure that everyone knows you’re a couple?  You have short-term memory loss and if you can’t remember what your wife looks like you just have to find someone who matches your shorts?  Arranged marriage orchestrated by the Duggars? You fell prey to a salesperson on commission?  It’s not cute, really it’s not.  It’s not cute with Aloha shirts and muumu’s at luaus, either BTW–it’s a failed reality show pilot.

I’m still trying to recover from the sight of a tuber-shaped man with a bald spot wearing the same canary-yellow thong as his hot young wife.  I don’t know what the back story was on that marriage but I’d like to think those suits were her idea. Now, to be fair, that bright yellow thong bikini looked good on her, she had the body for it and the confidence to wear it.  Him, he only had adoring Beagle eyes for her and they probably ended the vacation with matching tattoos of rainbows saying ‘just Mauied’ while she had scored an armful of Maui Divers gold jewelry.  Well, they appeared to be smitten with each other but I have the feeling that their bedroom now has ‘hello kitty’ bed sheets and a fuzzy ‘my pretty pony’ toilet seat cover in the bathroom.

Dress for the body you have, not the body wish you had.



Holy Week, two memorable snaps

Good Friday services are over and we’re in the weird not Lent not Easter period.  Some theologians say this is the harrowing of hell but who knows.  Maundy Thursday at my church and Good Friday at St. Matthews and then at First Methodist in the evening.  Good services, I got to play Person One as well as Woman  in the passion because Man One got sick and couldn’t make it.  I was just as glad, Woman only had one line and I’d have felt silly up in the “speaking parts” section with one sentence.

This week reminded me of the two most memorable Holy Week services I’ve attended and each one had a brutal snap. The first was Maundy Thursday at Linworth Methodist in Columbus Ohio.  We had a dinner, not a fancy meal, sort of a coordinated pot luck, but an actual dinner with food interspersed with readings and singing.  Much of the usual stuff but others as well.  Think Jesus Christ SuperStar Last Supper  I’ve always had a soft spot for that song, buzzed disciples thinking about retirement “then when we retire we can write the gospels” even though likely most of them couldn’t write.  Heck the gospels even say that Peter and John were illiterate (agrammatoi) .  It ended with Pastor Terry picking up the Bible from the alter and slamming it shut then in silence we stripped the church. That snap of the book being slammed shut has stuck with me all these years.  I don’t think I’ve attended a Maundy Thursday service without remembering that service and how that sound brought home that this was not a holiday about chocolate eggs, it was about the brutal execution of, if nothing else, one of the world’s great ethicists and for many our connection between the human and the devine.

In Indianapolis (a very livable city with excellent restaurants and a vibrant arts community) I was a member of Meridian Street Methodist, under Pastor Anne we had the most memorable Good Friday services for various reasons.  One year when Pastor Anne came forward and raised her arms instead of starting the service she told us there were tornado warnings and we all went down to the basement.  The kids had never seen hail like that and we had a hard time keeping them away from the windows while we all figured that our cars would be dimpled like golf balls.  But the snap came from another year when Pastor Anne had a carpenter who was a member of our church build a cross during the service.  As the service progressed so did the construction, to set the upright he used a shim–the crack when he snapped it off shook me to the core.  It was the everydayness, the business-as-usual of the Roman domination became real.

This is what they did, if you defied the government they beat you just enough so you could make the spectacle of the walk to the place of execution without shouting rebellion. It was all about showing yet another rebel brought to heal by the Empire. You were a human bill board for obedience to Rome. We need to remember that the Romans didn’t execute Jesus because he claimed to be a God.  It was a polytheistic society, lots of gods, not a problem.  He died because of the claim that he was king of the Jews.  That threatened the Empire.  Jerusalem was a tinderbox, there had been riots before and the Romans were there in force to keep the peace.  You think they would have let hundreds, let alone dozens of Jews into Pilates court yard?  Hell no, way too dangerous.  As John Dominic Crossan said “and keep your hands where we can see them”.  And don’t buy into “all the people” and “let his blood be upon us” crap.  That was antisemitism introduced later when the church was giving up on recruiting Jews and was going for gentiles. If you want to convert Romans probably not a good idea to make them the super villains of the story.  Forget the warm and fuzzy Pontius Pilate, too, the man was removed from office for his brutality and being considered too brutal by Roman standards took some doing.

So, what’s this post about?  Part memories and part hoping that people will use this holiday season to go beyond crayon Christianity.  It’ll be more meaningful if you understand where the Bible came from.  But I’m still going to enjoy my chocolate eggs.

Drinking from skulls (adventures in travel)

Anyone who travels, especially on business, has stories at the ready.  The time you slept on the airport floor because of the blizzard, your suitcase that went to ORF instead of ORD, the screaming baby and sometimes fun things like the celebrity sighting or the flight where everyone goes a little nuts and starts singing show tunes.  And yes, all those things have happened to me.  In fact, my friends sort of expect it now.  When Mak travels the odds of Til Eugenspiel playing some merry pranks increases. If I’m flying alone it’s no longer a question of odds, it’s just math.  And yes, on occasion I’ve been known to howl at the moon or, more often call for the empty skull of the CEO to drink my Diet Mountain Dew.

There was the time in Roanoke when we got on the plane, then we all got off because of a flat tire.  No problem, it’s a 15 minute fix they tell us.  Of course, that didn’t include the five hours it took to drive the tire from IAD to ROA.  That’s also the time the gate agent was a real drama queen, equal emphasis on both words.  After four hours he stormed off. Considering that we’d been waiting for hours everyone was amazingly civil, no one had even raised their voices or cursed, we just wanted some updates now and then.  After we heard that door slam we all burst into laughter. When we FINALLY got on the plane we took over the cabin staff’s job and did the pre-flight orientation ourselves with each row taking a turn–my line was the “remember, the closest exit may be behind you.”

Then there was the time I had the middle seat between one very large man who had been drinking for quite some time and was dealing with some digestive issues.  The other side was a another guy from a culture that, well, doesn’t place the same value on personal hygiene as we Americans.  I turned the overhead fan on full blast to keep the stench down and ended up with wind burn at the end of that five-hour flight.

I still have fond memories of the dragon lady, snapping her fingers to get the attention of the cabin staff, arguing with me whether or not Ohio and New York were in the same time zone, picking up one end of the seat belt as if she were picking up a dead mouse by the tail and dropping it on my lap “this is yours.”  Complaining that she’d told the agent she wanted a window seat, which she had, but it was over the wing.  That was a flight from Chicago to Honolulu so dragon lady had time to molt at least twice along the way.   When she went to the bathroom I was shameless and looked through the papers in the seat pocket–she was on her way to a psychological society conference!  My friend and I are still convinced she was conducting an experiment on us to present at the conference.  I mean really, how can you be headed to Kauai and be in a bad mood?!

Ever been on a flight where there’s you, your buddies and about 80 people over 80?  That’s when I was flying to Tulsa with a bunch of very senior seniors on their way to Oral Roberts for something.  Not a single one could reach the overhead storage and they all had to carefully fold their coats, try, fail, refold and try again.  Reverse that scenario for getting off the plane.  Bless their hearts.  Actually I felt sorry for them because they really didn’t know how to travel and I can’t tell you how many of the little old ladies I had to show how to use the motion sensor faucets in the bathroom.

There was the landing where the pilot rethought things and did a 6 Flags roller coaster maneuver.  I told the terrified teen next to me that she’d have to pay big bucks for a ride like that at an amusement park.

Or the landing so sudden that all the oxygen masks fell.  Pilot apologized and said Denver had raised the runway 8 inches since the last time he’d been there.  Yes, he was joking, we were all just glad to get off the plane.

And the time when the wheels went down, then we heard the wheels go back up and we kept going–and landed at another airport.

Of course I’ve had the usual lost luggage, the many gate changes (record stands at 5 for the same flight),  sitting out a hideous storm on the tarmac hoping lightening didn’t strike the fuselage,  having to change plans completely when between take off and landing a tornado had gone through my connecting airport.  One flight where the kid behind me spent the entire flight kicking the back of my seat–such an urge to break knee caps and I’m not sure there would have been a jury that would have convicted me.  Oh, and the family that brought brats (as in sausage, not nasty children) on board in Philadelphia when we sat in an unair-conditioned plane in 100 degree weather.  We all stunk of garlic at the end of that flight!

Oh, and the lady that pitched a world-class hissy snit when she and her husband weren’t seated together.  I changed seats so they could be together but as I got up I told the stewardess in a stage whisper. “If their marriage can’t survive a 17 minute flight apart then I don’t think my changing seats can help them.”

Most of those thing I can tell myself to ‘suck it up, buttercup’ and get on with things but it’s when the airlines just flat out lie that I lose my cool.  You do know that the reason they want you on the plane fast is because on-time departure means they pulled the blocks away from the tires on time.  It doesn’t mean you took off on time.  That’s why the 24 minute flight from South Bend to Chicago is shown as taking a full hour–it gives them 36 minutes to f*ck with you and still be on schedule.

When a flight says on time and it’s already 40 minutes past departure.

When a flight says on time and there’s no plane.

When 10 minutes before boarding they change gates and you have to hustle your butt from the F concourse to the far end of C. (Chicago).

When your suitcase doesn’t get on the plane (when the connection is long enough) because there’s paying cargo they want to transport instead but they tell you it will be on the next flight–and say that for three straight days. Ever go to an international conference without a change of underwear?

Or when the flight is already two hours late and they scold people for not getting on the plane fast enough for an “on time” take off.

Or when they’ve over-sold the flight and ask for people with flexible travel plans to take a later flight. On December 24th.

Today I’m hoping that my suitcase from the last trip shows up before I leave again in a few days.  How my suitcase was able to make it to ORF when the airline couldn’t get me there I don’t know but I did have to explain that no, I was not going to drive to Norfolk to pick it up. They’d need to bring it to South Bend.  “You’ll have to pick it up.”   Well, driving 5 miles to the airport is a much better deal than driving 795 miles so yeah I’m fine with that.

Now, where did I put that skull……

Small luxuries, big luxuries

Today I’m more aware than usual of the advantages that make smooth my path.  A few extra dollars allow me to use valet parking for this business trip.  I don’t normally use valet but it’s winter and I’ll be getting back late at night.  It won’t be much more than standard parking, maybe $8 max more and still cheaper than taking the cab. I live in a cheap area, but my car will be there, engine running and windshield scarped. Because of storms and rescheduled flights I have two very long layovers (7 hours in O’hare and 6 hours in Washington)  but a couple of years ago I decided that I did enough travel that I’d get a United Club membership.  It means I’ll have wifi, working outlets, clean bathrooms with no waits, food, comfortable seating and mostly safe. Certainly not crowded, not noisy and a staff constantly on the move keeping things cleaned. That I can say that means I have technology with me, lap top, very good head phones and more. It also means my luggage is tagged as priority so it’s one of the first off the plane.  Bottom line, this lay over will be far less hassle and maybe even productive.  My path will be smoothed for me in terms of parking waiting and even getting on the plane (I board in group 2)

I don’t completely take it for granted, I know I’m a lucky lucky person thanks to an accident of birth that landed me in a middle-class Caucasian family that valued education and lived in an area with college-prep high schools.   But there are other advantages I, and most of us have that are all but invisible to us.

When I take my Mom to events on campus I have to get there very early to get one of the few handicapped spaces near DeBart. I’m aware that I’m mobile, I can walk the four steps up to the auditorium level.  With Mom we have to take an elevator and not just any elevator, the one that opens in the back.  We don’t sit where the sound is best, we sit in the wheel chair area in the back, off to the side.  Often my view is partially blocked by a pillar. The people in the great sound seats have no idea that they’re getting a different performance than we are.  They’re sitting where the sound blends at its best, the balance  is at its best, where no pillar is in the way.

And it’s not just that, it’s also where other special needs people and their companions sit.  It’s not unusual for autistic or children with other challenges sit with their parents so our performance is often punctuate with an over stimulated kid who stands and waves their arms while their parent tries to calm them enough to stay or try to leave as quietly as possible. Other children with profound medical complications have machines that hiss and whoosh to keep them breathing or fed or whatever.  And, it’s also where considerate parents and grandparents with a passel of small kids will try to sit because they know their kids are going to be disruptive just because they’re kids.

The rest of the audience doesn’t know we’re there, they don’t know about the service dogs, the seriously disabled children, the medical equipment. They enjoy the concert free to pretend that the world also includes the very aged, the mentally ill, the developmentally impaired, the blind, humans of all ages on the autism spectrum, the cerebral palsy, the muscular dystrophy and all the other conditions that I don’t recognize but share the back of the auditorium with Mom and me.

My priority boarding, use of the United Club, valet parking–those small luxuries smooth my path, make my travel easier but the large luxuries we seldom consider.  The ability to walk up a flight of stairs, the ability to book seats based on where we want to sit, not where we have to sit. The luxury of not needing to know which bathroom stall has the best grab bars or not paying attention to how high the threshold is and can I get the wheel chair over it or do I need to turn Mom’s chair around so the big wheels go over the bump first.

It’s a good day to say thank you for those big luxuries we seldom notice.