Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Factoids in the History of Psychology

"Just the facts, Ma'am."
            -- Sergeant Joe Friday

I've taught History of Psychology on a few occasions, and in covering each major figure I liked to throw in a few anecdotes:

1.  René Descartes had a fetish for cross-eyed women.

2.  Immanuel Kant was so punctual that burghers in Konigsburg used to be able to set their clocks by when he passed.  They were too lazy to consult

3.  B. F. Skinner experimented with the possible use of pigeons to guide missles.

4.  John Mark Baldwin and John B. Watson were involved in sex scandals as department heads at John Hopkins University. Both were fired.

5.  Henry H. Goddard climbed the Matterhorn.

6.  G. S. Hall originally studied for the ministry; but when he gave a trial sermon, the President of Union Theological Seminary, instead of critiquing it, knelt and prayed for his soul.

7.  William James starting writing The Principles of Psychology while on his honeymoon.  Mrs. James's opinion was not recorded.

8.  Johann von Goethe wrote on color vision.

9.  G. T. Fechner wrote on the comparative anatomy of angels, the mental life or plants, and life in the hereafter.

10.  Wolfgang Köhler was a spy for the Imperial German Navy.  He later fled the Nazis.

11.  Sigmund Freud, while serving in the Austro-Hungarian Army, was tossed in the brig for going AWOL.  He also dabbled in cocaine.

12.  Arthur Schopenhauer was a pessimistic mysogynist drunk who used to abuse tavern girls.
13.  Ivan P. Pavlov was rolled in Grand Central Station when he visited New York City.  He never went back, demonstrating one-trial conditioning.

14.  James McKeen Cattell named his daughter Psyche.

15.  Jean Charcot's son Jean-Baptiste was an important Antarctic explorer in the first decade of the twentieth century.

16.  Konrad Lorenz was briefly a member of the Nazi party.  He was a prisoner of war of the Russians.  Maybe that's where his goslings learned to goose-step.

17.  John Watson's father ran off with two Indian girls.  John remained sympathetic to Custer for the rest of his life.

18.  B. F. Skinner trained pigeons to guide missles toward targets.

19.  Blaise Pascal is famous for Pascal's Wager. However, he would not have enjoyed a trip to Monte Carlo or Tunica because he belonged to a group of religious nutters.  Being French, he might have enjoyed Paula Deen's recipes at Tunica, however.

20.  William James never forgave James Cattell for giving the very verbose Wilhelm Wundt a typewriter.  Wundt wrote Volkerpsychologie, which went into ten volumes.

21.  Hugo Eckener, a Ph.D. under Wilhelm Wundt, was better known as the pilot of the Graf Zeppelin.

22.  G. T. Fechner's father was a free-thinking Lutheran pastor.  He broke tradition by preaching without wearing a wig, and placed a lightning rod on the church, which was taken as insufficient faith in Divine Providence.

23.  Richard von Krafft-Ebing, author of Psychopathia Sexualis, coined the term masochism after the soft-corn porn writer Ritter Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and sadism after the hard-core porn writer the Marquis de Sade.  One wonders about his reading habits.

24.  Émile Coué developed autosuggestion: a patient's mental state could amplify the effectiveness of a medicine.  He was originally a pharmacist from Troyes.  Hopefully, not a homeopath.

25.  Edward Bradford Titchener lectured while wearing an Oxford gown.

26.  Gertrude Stein was a student of William James who did research on normal motor automatism that was published in Psychological Review.

27.  John Watson and Harvey Carr did the Kerplunk experiment: they trained rats to perform a complex sex of voluntary motor behaviors until they became automatic or reflexive in nature.

28.  William MacDougall hired Joseph Banks Rhine to establish a Parapsychology Laborory at Duke University.

29.  Hermann Ebbinghaus reported his research in four sections: the intruduction, the method, the results, and discussion.  The clarity that it produced led colleagues to adopt it widely as the standard for reporting research findings.

30.  Franz Brentano was originally a priest; but he resigned over the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.  He later married a former nun.

These are examples of factoids in the history of psychology.  Are they part of the story, or distractors?  I'm not sure in all cases, but I found them interesting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More About the Jesuits

I attended a Jesuit high school, ultimately, for a very strange reason.

My mother's paternal grandparent was a well-read Irish bartender in New Orleans.  He read a lot while vending spirits (keeping the Irish in good spirits metaphorically, if not in fact), and one of the books he read was Eugene Sue's book The Wandering Jew.  Anyway, the book portrayed the Jesuits as slick and sneaky, so he determined that his eldest son would be educated by the Jesuits.

My grandfather loved to tell that story; strangely enough, some of his more Catholic offspring were less thrilled by it.   He had an irreverent side; maybe it's due to irreverent genes that my bartender great-grandparent had.

I bet that's also where I got my love of Guinness from.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Movies I've Liked

First off: I watch movies, I don't hang out at an art theatre to watch films or the cinema.  So take these on that level.  These are Chuckie Movies: movies to be enjoyed, not to show off with.  I don't go into cultural or moral pretentions.  These are not to edify, but to be entertained with.

1.  Stripes -- Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Warren Oates in what has to be the classical service comedy.  I can watch it over and over.

2.  The Boondock Saints -- Two nice Irish boyos from Boston put the hurt on the criminal element there.  William Devane plays a gay FBI agent.  Think Walking Tall Goes to Southie.

3.  Bring It On -- The quintessinal cheerleading comedy, with snappy dialogue and a great story line.  It dukes it out to the anti-cheerleader crowd as well as satirizes the cheerleader culture, thus being a little more fair than the reflexive cheerleaders-are-bad-airheads that tends to be the usual fare that panders to the teen crowd.

4.  The Kamikaze Girls -- A Japenese comedy, with a lolita girl and a biker chick finding that they have an unlikely friendship in common.  It's a feel-good buddy comedy.

5.  Leon: The Professional -- Jean Reno and Natalie Portman costar in this fantasy about an unsuccessful hitman who takes care (sort of) a preteen girl.

6.  Sixteen Candles -- This is one of the reasons why John Hughes may have been the great American director of the 1980s; he is the only one to sympathetically and honestly portray typical teens as they are, not as adults would like to imagine themselves as being.  Molly Ringwald starred. A classic line, "I can't believe I gave my panties to a geek."  The wedding scene is a classic.

7.  Dirty Harry -- Harry Callahan is a San Francisco cop who is rather hard on crime.  Great action.  I first saw it in a theatre in a crime-ridden neighborhood; after it was over, the audience cheered the movie.  That was the only time I saw people cheer a movie, and it told me a lot.

8.  Animal House -- I don't know how many times I've seen this comedy set in a college setting; each time was great, repeats do not cause it to lose its luster.  John Belishi shined in it.  Tag line:  "Being fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

9.  The Frisco Kid -- Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford star in this buddy comedy featuring an unlikely pairing of a hapless rabbi and a bank robber.  Damn it, I'll call it heart-warming.

10.  Patton -- George Scott played in this biopic; it's worth viewing.

11.  Thunder Road -- You can call it a hillbilly film noir if you want; Robert Mitchum produced and starred in a movie that spoke to Southern males in the 1960's.  He even recorded the title song!

12.  Tampopo -- The first noodle western!

13.  The Magnificent Seven -- This may be the quintessinal western.  Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner recruit five other gunmen to rescue a Mexican village.  Memorable theme music by Elmer Bernstein.

14.  What's New, Pussycat  -- A slapstick comedy from the 1960's, starring Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen, Peter O'Toole, and others.

15.  Broncho Billy -- This movie of Clint Eastwood's is overlooked; but nontheless is great!

16.  And God Created Woman -- You can enjoy it on different levels.  Don't do it as cinema.  I don't do Traffaut.  Curt Jergens is surprisingly unintentionally funny; and, of course, there's Bardot.

17.  Adventures in Babysitting -- Elizabeth Shue starred in this comedy that was absolutely hilarious.

18.  The Loved One -- A black comedy about the Hollywood way of death, loosely based on the book of that title by Evelyn Waugh.

19.  Red Dawn -- A fantasy in which high schoolers from Colorado fight against Russian and Cuban invaders.  Its politically incorrect script puts some people's panties in a knot; thus it's worth it in itself.

20.  Twelve O'Clock High -- Gregory Peck starred in this black-and-white movie about the Army Air Corps in World War II.  It was the first to sympathetically portray posttraumatic stress disorder and was well-acted.

21.  The Three Musketeers -- A slapstick rendition of Alexandre Dumas's book.  It can't be better done.

22.  The Outsiders -- A teen melodrama.  Okay, take it as documentary if you wish.

23.  The Lady and the Tramp -- Possibly Disney's finest: well-drawn dogs, sentimental and romantic story line, mandatory happy ending.  No, they learned in an earlier movie that offing Bambi's mother was a BAD idea.

24.  Breaker Morant -- Based on a true incident from the Boer War in which Australian soldiers served as scapegoats for an alleged atrocity.

25.  Godzilla  -- The best of the Japanese monster films of the 1950's.

26.  Blazing Saddles -- A western classic, with Cleavon Little.  Great dialogue.

27.  Paths of Glory  -- Movie about the pity of war, set against the mutiny in the French army in 1917.  Kirk Douglas played the lead.

28.  Fast Times at Ridgemont High -- It has more to offer than Phoebe Cates.

29.  The Caine Mutiny -- Humphrey Bogart starred in this military drama based on Herman Wouk's book.

30.  The Sweetest Thing -- Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair star in this raunchy comedy.  'The Penis Song' is a real hoot, even if they won't do it on television.

31.  Witness -- Harrison Ford among the Amish, with Kelly Gillis.

32.  The Searchers -- John Wayne excelled in this western of a man obsessively hunting his niece.

33.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- Brit comedy.

34.  No Country for Old Men -- Tommy Lee Jones established himself as the Great American Badass in this one.

35.  The Ref -- Dennis Leary as a burglar in this satiric comedy.

36.  Inherit the Wind -- Drama based on the Scopes trial; though quite more bombastic than the real life version.  Frederic March and Spencer Tracy were the protagonists; with Gene Kelly as the asshole Menckenesque figure.

37.  Kelly's Heroes -- Clint Eastwood in this military comedy.

38.  Napoleon Dynamite -- One for the nerds.

39.  Hoosiers -- Sentimental, yet action-packed.  I liked it.  Gene Hackman at his best.

40.  Bullitt -- Steve McQueen kicked serious butt in this one.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Henri Poincaré on Creative Discovery

Jules Henri Poincaré, a French mathematician, described his method of arriving at a solution to a mathematical problem:

"For fifteen days I strove to prove that there could not be any functions like those I have since called Fuchsian functions. I was then very ignorant; every day I seated myself at my work table, stayed an hour or two, tried a great number of combinations and reached no results. One evening, contrary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak., making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions, those which came from the hypergeometric series; I had only to write out the results, which took but a few hours.

"Then I wanted to represent these functions by the quotient of two series; this idea was perfectly conscious and deliberate, the analogy with elliptic functions guided me. I asked myself what properties these series must have if they existed, and I succeeded without difficulty in forming the series I have called theta-Fuchsian.

"Just at this time I left Caen, where I was then living, to go on a geologic excursion under the auspices of the school of mines. The changes of travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry. I did not verify the idea; I should not have had time, as upon taking my seat in the omnibus, I went on with a conversation already commenced, but I felt a perfect certainty. On my return to Caen, for conscience' sake, I verified the result at my leisure."

Poincaré apparently found that an indirect approach to problem-solving was successful in these cases.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Seagull Administration

A form of administration in which the performer drops in, squawks, deposits a lot of shit, and flies off to new parts.
Example:  Our unesteemed boss conducted seagull administration: he liked to drop in occasionally, randomly criticize without inquiry or understanding, and then go on, never to bring up the matter again.   We came to regard that as part of the on-the-job entertainment.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What If Both Major Candidates Suck?

The two-party system in the United States has become in fact institutionalized.  Now, with all due respect to the Republicans and Democrats, those two parties encompass a broad range of opinions and perspectives in each case.  However, we should remember that political parties are essentially alliances that provide a framework to fund candidates so that they might run for public office.  In other words, there's an element of pragmatism involved primarily, not philosophy.

The philosophy that the parties present in their platforms is basically window dressing; for people that need a reason to vote for a candidate, whether it's because he has a nice name or she is nicely botoxed or she's the member of my civic group or he has attractive kids.

And since we have two major parties, we basically have two shots that one of the parties will produce an acceptable candidate for governance.  Obviously, the ideal is when the Democrats and Republicans both nominate excellent candidates.  Then the choosing, while more effortful, will be with a happy outcome regardless of who wins.  Usually, though, only one of the parties manages to do the job of nominating a suitable person.

But what if both parties manage to nominate dolts?  Well, although there's the consolation that you have your choice of doltishness to choose from, your choices reek and the result is not so good whoever wins. [This has happened more than once: remember 2004, anyone?  Both major parties managed to nominate useless wankers.]

Of course, you could simply refrain from voting; but then you would be seen as apathetic, and as a bad citizen.  Now I know that's unfair; there's a difference between a principled refusal to vote and a lazy failure to do so.  But that's how it gets presented.  Let's say there's only a 52% turnout.  The nonvoting 48% is portrayed as shiftless, uncaring, uninvolved, and so forth.

Remember SGA elections in college?  Those are typically voted in by only a small percentage of possible voting students.  And the SGA hacks and the school administration reflexively declared the nonvoters as 'apathetic.'  I confess to apathy; and  I was proud as punch when more people voted for Miss Campus Chest than for SGA President for my graduate institution.  Now that showed that we understood what was important and what was not!

But getting back to alternative to not voting, what about voting for a third party?  Now, rarely, this might be a starter; but third parties often are populated with cranks and nimrods.  While a vote invested there does not go to either the Democrats or Republicans, effectively punishing those parties, it might be construed as support for the opinions of the nimrods and cranks.  And there's something else:  larger minor parties sometimes have their agendas subsumed by a major party.  Remember the Prohibitionists?  Or the Progressives?  Oh crap!

No, I see only one solution.  Let all ballots for public office offer an option.  All would allow a vote for "none of the above."  Who knows, Mr. None of the Above may be sworn in to state or federal office.  At the very least it would give the Republicans, Democrats, and third or fourth party de jour a definite word:

You suck.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Which I Sort of Play the Peacemaker

I've always claimed that I was a lover, not a fighter and I thought back in elementary school that the Beatitude "Blessed are the peacemakers . . .  ." might be the only one that I could pull off with my level of reverence.  Actually, in the early 1960's, despite the alarums and drums of war, we lived pretty violence-free lives.

However, word came to me from a friend that two friends of ours had differences over a girl, yclept Gloria, and that they would fight over her at a particular time and place.  In short, an old-style New Orleans duel, but with fists or bats, rather than swords or pistols.  Now I thought that their fighting would suck in that they would get injured and not be worth shit for running, and there would be discord, and I'd have to choose sides, and there would be a general bad scene.  Besides, truth to tell, they were both lousy fighters.  Also the mutual friend expressed a half-hearted notion that I could stop this altercation, somehow.

Now I know that my 17-year-old leadership quotient was somewhere in the range of Paris Hilton's IQ (room temp), so it was a grand waste of time on my part.  And who was I to stand in the way of True Love? 

However, I ran into one of the future gladiators, and he seemed to be quite unsure of his motivation; but did not want to lose face.  A little further limited reconnaisance indicated that the other friend was also getting second thoughts as well.  Therefore, I proposed a possible bloodless method of solving the problem.

Here was it:  I inquired whether they would consent to arbitration by coin toss.  One of them would call "heads" or "tails," and whoever won got the girl.  Furthermore this duel, while not following the strict rules of the Code Duello, would be done in a secret place under the mututally-agreed rules.  One rule was that there would be strict silence.

So I tossed.  And one called heads or tails.  Whoever lost gracefully accepted the results.

I must say that the girl in question who was the subject of the duel lorded it over her classmates for many months.  Indeed, she was regarded by the other girls as an early 1960's femme fatale.  The coin toss loser (I refuse to declare him the loser) laid low for  few days, presumably to recover from his loss.

This was one occasion in which three people did keep a secret successfully.  Maybe it's because it was seen as somewhat subversive in the natural order of things, and we were all, in our own ways, co-conspirators.

Incidently, the one who won kept her for a little over five weeks.  Sic transit gloria mundi.  That Gloria was a bitch, too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

High Diction as a Cultural Marker and Cognitive Influence

Paul Fussell, in his work The Great War and Modern Memory, referred to the high or elevated diction often favored by writers, both professional and lay, at the time of World War I.  A horse was a steed, a friend was a comrade, the dead are the fallen, to conquer is to vanish, bravery is valor, a draft notice is the summons, and so on.  This language survived the Great War, as World War I had been called before an even greater conflict happened over twenty years later. 

In a similar vein, The Great War marked the end of the belief in the inevitability of progress, the superiority of Western Civilization, and general cultural optimism.  The 1920's were the era of the Lost Generation. 

The language of a later time was studiously lower diction:  chipped beef on toast was shit on a shingle, unnecessary harassment was chickenshit, and so forth.  I remember my dad referring to the discharge button issued to all American participants of World War II as "the ruptured duck."  Clearly, this was a generation that took itself less seriously.

Or did they?  They wanted to live and prosper as much as their fathers or grandfathers.  It's just that they had a different cultural ethos than the earlier time.  And this attitude continued to the present time.

Alainis Morrisette did not develop irony in the 1990's.  It antedated her.  She, like us, were influenced by this cultural shift.  Can anyone seriously believe that wars might be fought to make the world safe for democracy?  Screw it.  Nikita Khruschev said, "We will bury you."  He meant it.  Literally, not philosophically.  The Cold War was waged for survival.

In 1940, Benjamin Lee Whorf introduced his linguistic relativity hypothesis.  In its strong version: language influences thought.  High diction championed adopting a view of life as potentially elevated, meaningful, teleological.   Of course, the opposite can hold true as well.  A danger of dysphemisms is that they degrade what is referred to.  And they may make chipped beef taste worse than it really is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere!

In one of my more misguided moments, I became a minor degree college administrator.  For a paltry $4000 a year, I was rewarded with massive amounts of paperwork, meetings that go on forever (rough if you have prostate trouble), and command performances.  Actually, Richard Russo in his book Straight Man described the lot of an academic department chair as like being proclaimed the winner in a shit-eating contest.

How to cope with this?  Many strategies have been developed; but mine is to say occasionally, "There must be a pony somewhere!"

This is, of course, the tag line of an old joke, linked to President Reagan, among others:

There are twin boys of five or six. Mom was worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities -- one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist -- their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. "What's the matter?" the psychiatrist asked, baffled. "Don't you want to play with any of the toys?" "Yes," the little boy bawled, "but if I did I'd only break them."

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. "What do you think you're doing?" the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. "With all this manure," the little boy replied, beaming, "there must be a pony in here somewhere"

So remember that.  When you find that life seems to pile on, just say, "There must be a pony in here somewhere!"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The PITA Syndrome

The PITA syndrome refers to a person consistently being a pain in the ass to other people. This term can be occasionally used by psychologists to refer to a pattern of being consistently annoying or unpleasant.

Look at it this way: just because a person is annoying, does not make him psychotic, psychopathic, neurotic, hysterical, or using recreational drugs.  And, in all likelihood, both heterosexuality or homosexuality can be found in people with the PITA syndrome.
Bill went through life consistently manifesting the PITA syndrome.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In Which I Was Encouraged to View Things Differently

A damned long time ago, when I was a high school junior, I had encountered another adult-generated annoyance, and I was taking it out on the physical environment: specifically, slamming my locker and kicking it for good measure.

My friend Darryl asked what was wrong, and I (in the role of Captain Obvious) answered, "I'm just pissed off!"

His response was quick and very effective: "It's better to be pissed off than to be pissed on."

That timely little comeback has served me repeatedly in later life.  Certainly, life can give us a ration of shit that causes us to be pissed off; but it's better than to be pissed on.

Darryl:  Here's one for you, good buddy.  May your live be prosperous!

In Which I Assist in a Cover-up

When I first started college teaching back in 1969 0r 1970, I had an office in the second floor of a stadium, along with members of another department which shall be unnamed.

It happened that one member of that department, formerly an air force light colonel, provided himself with some means for Dutch courage against office hours and interminable meetings, and he would get neatly tipsy by late afternoon.

One afternoon, he availed himself of liquid consolation more so than usual, and was pretty hors de combat (nothing to do with camp followers, by the way).  Anyway, I was delegated to take him home; and I embarked on one of the less-often cited corporal works of mercy.  Strangely, the Bible failed to cite, "Blessed are those who carry those who had too much to drink home, for their's is an additional fortifying tote."

So, I did, I helped the Colonel to the car with some assistance from one of his colleagues and took him home.  He indicated that he had a pressing engagement.  I didn't know he did laundry.

At this house I rang the bell after assisting him to the door.  His wife answered, and gave me total holy hell for leading him astray!  Yes, like I spent the afternoon getting pied with him!

I only later learned how to handle that sort of eventuality when I first viewed Animal House a few years later:  You leave the person there, ring the doorbell, and run like hell!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Jesuits

One of those pleasures involving a tinge of schadenfreude that some intellectuals indulge in is Blaise Pascal's Provincial Letters, a polemic work in which he takes the Jesuits to task for their real faults and adds quite a few more for good measure.  Actually, the Company of Loyola is perhaps guilty as charged for casuistry -- the splitting of moral hairs so as to allow extra latitude to humans.  However Pascal might have been angelic in his Penseés, the fact was that he was a member of a group of religious cranks that demanded a very harsh moral accounting: the Jansenists.  It was a damned good thing that their cause did not win out in 17th century France.  The Jesuits, with their comparatively easygoing approach to morality was more in line with human psychology.

The Jesuits provided some room for exceptional circumstances that would mollify what would otherwise be overstrictness.  Indeed, St. Ignatius himself was a saint who warned against scrupulosity -- the condition of having an overrefined conscience: being disposed to interprt innocuous actions as being sinful.  By providing a lower moral judgment bar, and offering the prospect of tolerance for individual differences, the Jesuits deserve our thanks.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!   

Friday, October 1, 2010

Duckbutt Gets Asked to Support the Missions

So I come home today, tired but not dismayed from the usual daily ration of fecal matter and shinola that is the lot of the sturdy middle class.   Life is good; or at least it's manageable with the possible glorious assistance of Mr. J. Daniel and philosophy (Boethius or Pascal -- I save Descartes for the serious existential crises).

My wife declares that I have received a letter from my chubby nephew, whom I only see at funerals or other occasions that require me to assemble with my kith and kin.   Alas, his mother in heavily into religion, and gotten him to be likewise most committed way.  (My family tended to regard religion as an optional thing, kind of like getting a Ford or Chevrolet at one time, but more lately a Honda or Toyota.)  Anyway, I open his missive, thinking it's some benign family-oriented message.

Dad burn it (and stronger language even)!  The beknighted little tad is asking me, that's moi, to kick in some money so that he can go to Honduras with some suitably chaperoned other adolescent whelps to do the spiritual works of mercy on behalf of his parochial school. I swore in three different languages and swore that there would be some remarkable thermal happenings in Hell before he got a red cent!

A fiendish thought came to mind:  I could send a request for a donation to a birthday party for his Uncle Jim, toiling in vain to teach the unnumbered Mississipians mathematics in a distant county and eating the feral food of the province!  What I had in mind was to do it right: a birthday party for Jim at Hooters', since he did confess that he was Jonesing for some hot wings.  This would cause my sister-in-law to pronounce anathemas on me with her hyperreligious brothers.  But, this could produce fallout of the worst sort. My poor younger brother, a decent but henpecked sort, would never hear the end of it from his megashrew wife, and I would have performed the status of Awful Deed of the Decade, and ever be mentioned whenever family members come together.

No, my wife suggested an alternative: the little sneak might be sending out lots of letters in hopes of making a profit on his 'religious mission.'  Maybe there's hope in nephews yet!  Who knows, maybe he could move someday to Nigeria and be royalty!

The possibility that he might be emerging into a con man gives me comfort.  It goes in the family.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Need Help? Call Jesus

I saw a billboard with this message:

Need help?
Call Jesus.

So I did and a Mexican showed up with a tow truck!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The 'Sex and the City' Billboard

Okay Losers, I have a question to pose for you in the dying days of what is a truly sucky year.  This letter appeared in the local paper.  It is presented here for your enlightenment, amusement, or whatever reactions you may have. (More than one is allowed.)
"To the editor:

I am writing in regards to a billboard on U.S. 72 advertising the show "Sex in the City."  I have tried unsuccessfully to contact Fox 54 about this billboard.

I am a mother of five children, four of whom are teenagers.  I was disappointed and shocked to see this billboard in our town. Every day, my kids and husband are exposed to this larger than life replica of Sarah Jessica Parker lying in a sultry manner with her thighs bare and her breasts exposed. Not only is this visual image ingrained in their minds on a daily basis, they become desensitized to these things that are sacred.

With the very large words sex and city seen every day, they come to see sex as normal as getting hungry and seeing an ad for a hamburger.  Casual sex is more damaging than hamburgers and should be seen as such.

I cannot take my family to the mall because we have to pass by Victoria's Secret, where soft porn is illuminated in their display windows.  I can protect my family in my home by not exposing them to these things, by turning off the TV and teaching them about keeping themselves pure, but when I go out in public, they are bombarded by messages that say "have casual sex, you'll feel good."  "Dress seductively, your worth depends on it."  It makes parenting hard when our society bombards my kids and my husband with these temptations daily.

We moved from a big city in the hopes that we could raise a family in a place where these things would not inundate our family.  I would like to see the innocence of [city unnamed] stay that way.  Some may say these things are a progression for our city, but in reality, they are a digression.

Desensitizing our families to the sacredness of sex and purity can only lead to destruction of families in our society.  It leads to teen premarital sex, sexual crimes and teen pregnancies and disease.  This does not sound like progression to me.

As a mother hen protects her chicks, so will I cover my family with my wings and I would call on my city to help me.

[Name withheld]


My first reaction was that I was remiss in not feeling sufficient reverence for Sarah Jessica Parker's ta-tas, monumental though they might be.  I have been accused of insufficient reverence for convention in other forums, so this is not new.  Or maybe it's simply lésé majeste to the horsy set, I don't know.  And I always regarded Vicky's Secret as a local cultural landmark on the order of the football stadium, Rosie's Cantina, or the library.  Perhaps I need to appear before the City Council to request that said Sarah Jessica Parker billboard be declared a cultural landmark.  After all, we do pay attention to history in the South.
But I have a second thought.  The writer really wrote a clever parody, and she has gulled the complacent coffee-requiring reader into thinking that this is serious.  After all, this is a community in which ties its economic fortunes to a golf course and in which some regard swallowing goldfish as a way of witnessing for the Lord.

So what's your take, real or parody?

[I wrote this in 2006.]

Monday, September 20, 2010

To Hell With CNN

Arrrgh! Okay, okay, everyone's entitled to his own opinion, I concede that.  And I'm okay with news being essential in a democracy or whatever our government passes for nowadays.  But give me a break, already!

Why must wherever I go I have to have the background noise of CNN?  I cannot go into the hall of some academic buildings, or into the Student Union without there being numerous televisions all set to CNN.  Not that FOX or MSNBC is any better.  It's the same twaddle, just with cuter packaging in the case of Fox or that inevitable douchebag Olbermann in the case of MSNBC!  And if I'm unfortunate enough to get sick, why must there be the television monitor in the doctor's waiting room set on CNN?  Isn't it bad enough to be sick?  They treat sick horses better than this.  If I must have television, give me QVC or Sailor Moon or even 24 hours of Sonic Drive-in commercials!

Are we so afraid of our own thoughts that we need the cheap fix of that candyass Anderson Cooper or that schmuck Lou Dobbs, not to mention the unspeakable Nancy Grace to infuse our thoughts with their strident voices?  If that's the case, we are collosally screwed!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The First Dirty Joke I Heard

It's not often that a person can fix the exact date of some early memory, even to the approximate time, but I can.  And even better, the first pun I ever heard.

It was approximately 7:30 P.M. on October 31, 1952.  The reason why I can do this is because we had just returned from the west coast, Dad having been off for the Korean War previously, and it was the first time I went out trick-or-treating with my brother Phil, who was preschool at that time (lucky guy!).

We met a little girl, name unremembered.  She was pleasant, and asked me if I wanted to hear a joke.  I said, sure.  Here it is, approximately:

"There was this French woman who had just bought a big jar of aspirins, and she was riding on a city bus.  Unfortunately, her jar of aspirins spilled, and they splattered all over the dirty floor of the bus.

The unfortunate French woman said, (mimicking French accent) 'My ass-per-ins!'

The bus driver then said, 'Stick it out the window, lady.'"

I was always grateful to her for that pleasant joke, even though I knew instinctively not to tell it to Mom or in Catholic school.  In one fell swoop, she exposed me to a dirty joke, an attempt to mimic an accent, and a horrendous pun.  Many of us accomplished far less at that early age.