Thursday
Nov202014

I'll Just Have the Pie, Thanks

A week or so ago the local newspaper ran a story about a nearby school district that was struggling somewhat with the idea of Thanksgiving. I write “the idea” in order to make the point that they hadn’t one. At least, they hadn’t one they could agree on and at the same time hope to avoid controversy over.

In their deliberations it was taken as given that the old story of Pilgrims inviting Indians to a friendly lunch was just so much Whiggish history, intended to underscore triumphalist white European male hegemony, etc. The problem was, once that story had been dismantled, what was left to celebrate?

Making Indian headdresses out of construction paper, with or without real feathers, is, of course, absolutely a non-starter: too much latitude for giving or -- much more likely -- taking offense. And don’t mention the food; who provided what to whom is too hot a topic to mess with. Under the scrutiny of unsentimental historians the great occasion has been whittled down to just another Thursday (if it was a Thursday). Of all those tales that once were taught to children -- Pocahontas, Squanto, the first Thanksgiving -- about all that is left is succotash and smallpox.

Human nature, taking its cue from its greater namesake, also abhors a vacuum, and for some there is no profounder vacuum than a day without shopping. And so it is that our great merchants, including Messrs. Target, Wal-Mart, and я Us, have moved swiftly to provide a reason to wake up on Thanksgiving:  The Pre-Black Friday Sale!

I can’t recall the last time I opened the front door on Hallowe’en to a small person in a homemade costume threatening some unspecified “trick” unless I came across with the goods. I miss the little bastards, and I miss imagining the Pilgrims and Indians starting in on their little nutcups while awaiting the great stuffed bird.

We as a nation probably owe a great deal to the social critics and, ah, educators who have over the last half-century so patiently dissolved the tissue of gentle lies that used to help children into their roles as citizens and parents, and I for one would be happy to see them get what they have coming. Perhaps some of them, at least, will be among those early birds who get trampled to death next Thursday morning.

Saturday
Nov152014

Ten Years Later

Today is the tenth anniversary of my first venture into the public print -- or the public pixel. Or something. The piece I published then, in the now-defunct site TCS, was also my first attempt to explain what was wrong with the principle underlying the Wikipedia. I've long since lost that argument, not because I was wrong but because too few people cared whether the answers they got from a convenient and widely hyped source were, in fact, correct. Critical thinking is much honored in the abstract while often deplored in specific cases.

Well, I obscenity in the milk of their protestations, as Hemingway never wrote. If you care, you can read it here. Even if not, I offer here the infamous final paragraph, which was misread by so many zealous persons who just knew that I didn't get it. 

The user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject, to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him.

What I said.

Thursday
Nov132014

Calling Captain Renault! Calling Captain Renault!

Peter Suderman, at Reason.com, explains why the recent comment by one of the architects of Obamacare -- you know, the one about stupid American voters -- is so offensive. And it’s not just the voters! Even the Congressional Budget Office is stupid, stupid enough to have been taken in by an entirely unique, unprecedented, unforeseen trick by the wily Democrats:

For one thing, it is an explicit admission that the law was designed in such a way to avoid a CBO score that would have tanked the bill.

Oh, perfidy!

But the really dastardly trick was to hide the deepest and wickedest truth about the bill:

It's also an admission that the law's authors understood that one of the effects of the bill would be to make healthy people pay for the sick, but declined to say this for fear that it would kill the bill's chances. In other words, the law's supporters believed the public would not like some of the bill's consequences, and knowingly attempted to hide those consequences from the public.

Or, put another way, they declined to explain to the public how ordinary insurance works: Take money from those who, as it turns out, didn’t need protection and give it to the few who did. Can you imagine the uproar -- barely audible over the crash of such edifices as Prudential and Aetna and The Hartford -- if word of this gets out?

Boy! Just wait ‘til the Republicans take over, what with their high-mindedness and all. I just know they have a plan that will solve all our health-care insurance problems, and stop global warming at the same time.

Wednesday
Nov052014

Eggcorn or Just Malapropism?

My partner, a retired nurse-midwife and professor, reminisced the other day about some of her clinical experiences.

A woman came into the clinic complaining of abdominal pains. “I think I must have fireballs of the Eucharist,” she explained.*

----------------------------------------------------------------------


*Translation:  fibroids of the uterus.

Sunday
Nov022014

Our Digital Masters

Last night, just before turning in, I changed the clocks. I've been doing this twice a years for a great many years, and I've never encountered resistance. But last night, in a new place, I had a fight on my hands.

The clock on the stove was the usual straightforward push-"clock"-push-number-buttons-push-"clock"-again procedure. We all know how to do this. A couple of other assorted timepieces also behaved as expected. Then I came up against the Microwave from Heck.

I pushed "clock" and then the appropriate numbers and was about to finish up when a message streamed across the readout window. "CHOOSE AM/PM" it said, or letters to that effect. Surprised, I hesitated, and that was fatal. The ready-for-input period times out.

Begin again. At the command I pushed an "AM/PM" button I had not previously noticed. I could concede the sense in this: You'd want to be clear when setting up a delayed start, if ever that should arise in your life (it wouldn't in mine). Done now? Not so fast.

A new message began to scroll: "ENTER MONTH/DAY/YEAR AS MM/DD/YY."

Excuse me? You need to know the date and the year? While I recoiled from this directive, the whole thing timed out again.

Third attempt. Got through all the data entry and paused to see if I would have to enter a password. No, but I had hesitated long enough for it to time out again.

I'm happy to report that it took me only four tries to change the time on my microwave oven. Not bad for an old guy who for some reason is increasingly technology-averse.

Don't ask me about my new phone.