Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Along Came a Spider

A long time ago, a mortal called Arachne angered a god. Arachne was a great weaver, who even boasted that she was a better weaver than the goddess Athena, who was apparently a weaver, in addition to being the goddess of roughly everything. Seriously, goddess of wisdom, warfare, Athens, architecture, and apparently weaving too. There's all these gods who only have one job, and then there's poor Athena, doing all the hard stuff. I mean, Ares. Being the god of war is his only job. So how come Athena's got to do half his job for him even though she's got got all that other mess going on? Isn't that just like a man?
Anyhoodle, Athena, despite being way too busy for this nonsense, hears Arachne's boasting and challenges Arachne to a weave-off, which I'm sure is way more badass than it sounds. When she sees that Arachne actually might win, she employs a new strategy - tearing up Arachne's work and then ripping her face off. Like one does. 
Eventually, once she's done mauling the lady, Athena decides that's not good enough and turns her into a spider for good measure. That's why Arachnida is the name for the biological class spiders belong to, and why we've got words like arachnophobia. 

Of course, Arachne isn't the only one who gave her name to make a word. A word that comes from somebody's name is called an eponym. And it turns out Arachne's not the only one who inspired an eponym with some drama involving weaving. Who knew something so domestic could be so controversial? 
The word Luddite was first used to describe some nineteenth century textile makers who, feeling their jobs threatened by new knitting and weaving technology, got a little out of hand. In a futile attempt to block the inexorable flow of progress, Luddites ran around smashing the looms and frames. The movement got their name from a young man who may or may not have existed, Ned Ludd, who may or may not have started the trend some decades before. Nowadays, a Luddite is a person who opposes the tyranny of technological advancement.
Ned Ludd's pretty lucky in the eponym department. Hopeless as the cause may be, at least he's remembered for fighting for what he believed. He could do a lot worse - think of poor Prince Albert.
Who did not, by the way, have or invent the eponymous piercing. The men who developed and popularized the piercing just made that up. Probably because they wanted to avoid the possibility of giving their own names to the procedure.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Show Me the Money

I was at today, where I was most certainly not removing the smut from my browser history. Not that I would be trying to remove the evidence if there was, hypothetically, a bunch of smut in my browser history; just so that I could open Amazon and not be flooded with images of heaving bosoms and improbably muscular pectorals. That is why I would have been doing what I was not doing.
Anyway, I discovered this tag: $9.99 boycott. Assigning a tag to something on Amazon is sort of like giving a micro-review of a book. If a lot of people gave a book the same tag, then that book would show up when other users searched for books that have that tag. The 9.99 boycott tag was part of a campaign to demand that publishers charge less for books. All of this is in the past tense, since Amazon discontinued the feature. I would assume because it let users encourage each other to spend less money, and that's not great for business.
I don't get the whole idea of people getting indignant over having to pay high prices for things they don't need. First of all, ebooks and the devices that read them are pretty much indistinguishable from magic. The idea that we can purchase an entire library's worth of books and read them without leaving the comfort of the toilet is something technology geniuses weren't even dreaming of when I was a kid. Less than 20 years ago you needed a dozen floppy disks and a degree in computer science just to install Windows, and you paid through the nose for the privilege. Now, the tens of thousands of books that Amazon just gives us for free aren't enough; no, we're entitled to pay however much we decide we should have to pay for the sweat of some writer's brow.
This doesn't just apply to ebooks either. Every few months, the hoax that Facebook is going to start charging for its services flies around, with all manner of righteous indignation and threats to boycott. Facebook is freaking science fiction at our fingertips. For no money, at all, I get to interact with my far away friends in ways that a year's salary worth of postage stamps wouldn't allow. I get to coo over baby pictures from friends around the world the moment they're taken. Watch videos of that one thing my friend in China's dog can do. Not to mention playing hundreds of video games, all for free, a million times more technologically advanced than the games that used to require months of careful parent manipulation to own. How are we entitled to this? You know, capitalism is based on this principle where people make things and other people pay money for them. If people don't make money for delivering magic into our hands, they don't have much reason to keep delivering the magic. No, the billionaire owners of these companies aren't hurting for cash. They could eat Faberge omelets every morning for breakfast and not feel the slightest pinch. This does not, however, make them obligated to throw free things at our feet. Especially considering that, while Facebook execs can spend the rest of their lives swimming around in their giant money bins ala Scrooge McDuck, there are thousands of regular working stiffs like me, who also expect to get paid. And dude, I am hurting so bad I can barely afford to fill my giant money bin with nickels.  Also, Facebook does not now nor does it ever plan to charge for its services, so you can expect to continue enjoying cat videos and blog posts and recipes and chats and videos and so on without paying a dime. Which reminds me, there's this other whole magical treasure trove of information called, which can tell you that the story about Facebook charging is a hoax in less than the time it takes you to join a Facebook group on Facebook to tell Facebook that you refuse to pay for Facebook
Now, I do think it's pretty rotten when corporations gouge people for stuff they can't live without, like the companies that overcharge for things like diapers and formula just because they can. To express my outrage, I totally boycott diapers and baby formula. But are smut consumers really entitled to get all indignant over the price of their mommy porn? It's not as if you can't get heaving bosoms and smooth, hairless pectoral muscles at the library, used book stores, or your friends' houses. Is it really not enough that Amazon lets me get around paying for my Fabio fix by "borrowing" ebooks from my friends? 
Or if you're really in a bind, being forced to choose between formula and grey-eyed dream oats, you can always cruise on over to the Fan-Fiction sites for a free sneak preview of the smut you'll be reading on Amazon next.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rules Are Rules

One day, my friends and I were out antiquing, for reasons I'm not clear on. It's not like we can have nice things (see bit about Puck eating laptop cords in previous post). Luckily, this shop wasn't particularly full of nice things. Couple of ratty wigs, the same collection of broke down pillbox hats you find in every vintage store, some random high school art class assignments and, swear to god, a fur-lined chandelier (I'm not sure which is more shocking: that it exists, or that I didn't buy it).
In one room, we came upon a coffee table with something on it that appeared to be a vaguely vase-shaped arrangement of pointy glass shards.
Things you find when you Google
"glass shard vase"
The group of us happened to have recently seen the cinematic masterpiece Hologram Man about a dystopian future in which prisoners are put into holographic stasis instead of prisons. Because sure.
Now in this film, several people, holograms and non-holograms alike, get thrown very far. In all but one of these instances, the person being thrown landed on a coffee table, which subsequently broke. The reason the acting, special effects, premise, etc. were so terrible was that the movie used up all its budget on coffee tables. If only the director hadn't insisted on Faberge tables.
5000 Russian peasants starved
to death so you could smash
this table.
This made me remark to my friends that if the coffee tables in Hologram Man had held glass shard vases like this one, the movie would have been a whole lot more interesting.
One of my friends replied "Sure, this is Chekhov's coffee table."
Oh that's where I was going with this. Totally forgot.
Okay, well despite my having been a theatre major and an English major at points during my college career, I had never heard the expression my friend was perverting, "Chekhov's gun." Probably because I spent most of my high school and college years concentrating very hard on not learning anything. At least I succeeded at something.
The expression "Chekhov's gun" refers to the rule in drama, first articulated by Anton Chekhov,  that if a gun is shown in Act 1, someone will be shot in a later act.
I have come up with a couple of very important corollaries to this rule.
  • The Coughing Corollary: In any period film, if a character coughs even once, they will be dead of consumption before the film is over. Name me a single work in which this is not the case.
    • There was a sub-corollary for about two decades in mainstream films in which if a character coughed once, and that character was even a tiny bit gay, that character had AIDS. 
    • I mean, actually, for most of that time, if a man was gay in a mainstream film, he already had AIDS.
  • The Terminally Transgender rule: While TV and films make clear that transgender-ism isn't necessarily fatal, it can be, if untreated. Angel in Rent, Hillary Swank's character in Boys Don't Cry, an episode of pretty much every crime drama.
  • The Transgender Terminator: Those trans people - death and mayhem follow wherever they go. When they're not busy dying in touching and inspirational ways, it's because they're out on a killing spree. Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, The World According to Garp... Public service announcement: Trans people are no more likely to horribly murder people than, say, gingers. Okay, maybe gingers are a bad example, what with the soul stealing...
  • The Condom Curse: In the world of movies and books, if you have sex without using a condom, there is a 100% chance you are pregnant. Unless you're trying to get pregnant, and have sex without a condom, there's a pretty good chance you're infertile. Sorry kids.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fear Itself

I used to be terrified of the dentist. I mean light-headed, sick-to-my-stomach, terrified of the dentist. I had a root canal once and I was shaking so hard that the entire chair was shaking, even the light over my head was shaking. I think I cried.
Then I couldn't afford dental care for a long time. My mouth hurt and broken teeth collected in my head like overdue bills. And when I finally had the funds to get back in the black, dentally speaking, there were a whole lot more abjectly terrifying visits to the dentist. Every time I went, I'd sit in the chair and quake - heart rate speeding, stomach roiling, and hands shaking so hard I couldn't hold the magazine still enough to read it. 
On one of those visits, a hygienist saw my shaking and said "yeah, Novocaine does that to me too."
Wait, what?
Turns out that first of all, the stuff they stick in your gums is totally not Novocaine. Dentists stopped using Novocaine something like 30 years ago in favor of more effective and less allergenic topical anesthetics like lidocaine.  (Fun fact: Google Chrome's spell-checker flags lidocaine as a misspelling. Right-click for suggestions, and you get Novocaine.) 
Lidocaine is in the same family as its predecessor Novocaine and both descend from cocaine. That is not, however, why the stuff my dentist shoves in your gums makes me shake. Seems that most dentists use a solution of lidocaine and epinephrine - also known as adrenaline. The thing  that controls your fight or flight response. Among epinephrine's side effects: increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and tremor. 
It wasn't so much that I was afraid of the dentist; it was that the medicine the dentist gave me made me experience the physical symptoms associated with fear. I was afraid of fear itself.
In addition, I was afraid of the dentist. Just not shaking-, panicking-, hysteria- afraid.
Reframing is a psychological term for changing emotions or behaviors by changing your response to the thing that triggers them. For instance, I was once very angry with someone and texted my friend Maya to ask her to remind me why it's a bad idea to beat people about the head with heavy things. Maya suggested I pretend the person with whom I was angry was a Zen master giving me a particularly difficult kōan. 
A kōan is an exercise used in Zen Buddhism meant to stimulate great doubt, which is supposed to lead to deep thinking and eventually enlightenment. Kōans are stories or questions that appear to be nonsensical and unanswerable riddles, like "imagine the sound of one hand clapping." However, Buddhism holds that they are not nonsense at all, and that finding the insight to find the answers leads to awakening. 
It has just occurred to me that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is essentially a kōan. The doctrine holds that when a priest consecrates bread and wine, the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ, even though they appear unchanged. It always irks me when people speak derisively about the sacrament - with many going so far as to mock the Catholics for practicing cannibalism. The Eucharist is a sacred mystery that Catholics begin to ponder as children and ponder throughout their lives. Perhaps it is a reminder that all things are sacred - and thus all things are the body of God. Or perhaps it is a reminder that the people are now the vessel that holds the divine. Or perhaps it is a tool to find the insight that leads to awakening.
Another kōan: I must once again replace my laptop power supply because Puck once again chewed through the old one. Yet I have not murdered Puck; in fact, I love that stinking cat like you can't believe.
Okay, maybe that one is a nonsensical and unanswerable riddle.
In summary: dentistry>pharmacology>psychology>Maya>Buddhism>Catholicism>Cat story.

Monday, April 8, 2013

And speaking of evangelism...

Once, several apartments ago, there came a knock at the door. We were sitting upstairs and could see through the window that they were carrying suspicious pamphlets - so with all self-respect we could muster, we quickly ducked out of sight and pretended we weren't home.
Thing is, the door wasn't locked, and apparently wasn't latched, because the door swung open the next time they knocked.
So they left. Without pulling the door shut. Good thing we were only pretending to not be home. 
That story doesn't really have a point. Other than "who the hell does that?"
Also, there was a client at the group home who called them "door-to-door God salesmen."

This post quite possibly brought to you by the Vicodin that the dentist gave me.

Sunday Morning Message: Confessions of a Loser

Here are my notes from the message I gave Sunday morning. 

Warning: This message was intended for a UU audience. I talk a lot about my faith in the blog because obviously, my faith's important to me. But I try to avoid saying stuff that could be taken as evangelism - I came to Unitarian Universalism because there was a hole in my life where faith was supposed to be. If you don't have that hole - either because you already have a religion or because you are happy with having no religion, I'm certainly not going to try to make you think you do, or that I know what will fill it, if that makes sense. 

Point being, I'm going to put on my skinny tie and knock on your door. If you don't want to hear it, just pretend you're not home.

I am a loser. Have been all my life. 
I grew up in a frugal, religious family, one that didn't prize superficial things and had no interest in keeping up with the Joneses. We read books instead of watching TV, we shopped at Value City, and we devoted a whole lot of our time to church and the sacrifice and service that goes with living one's faith. 
And then I went to grade school. I was a Sesame Street kid in a WWF world. I tripped over my feet at dances and was terrible at sports. I played basketball for three years in grade school and scored a grand total of three points. For all the years put together. I never learned to talk like the other kids – I intentionally picked up the bad spoken grammar habits that I can't kick to this day (like using "me” as a subject pronoun). I swore. I tried to use slang, though I was generally at least a year behind the curve (you jive turkeys). But I couldn't keep from peppering my speech with big words no matter how I tried. In fact, I couldn't stop saying words no matter how I tried. You may find this hard to believe, but I used to talk way too much; and when I talked, I said what was on my mind.
Once, when some of the other girls jeeringly asked if I was going to try out for cheerleading that year, I replied that no, cheerleading is sexist – jumping up and down praising boys for their achievements rather than trying to achieve things on their own – I had more self respect than that. In retrospect, this was probably not a wise thing to say in front of a horde of pubescent cheerleaders who already hated my guts. Man, cheerleaders can kick.
Being a loser in grade school was rough, but I can't imagine being the person I am if I'd been popular. The thing is that eventually I came to accept that I was always going to be a loser – that the cool kids were never going to like me. You know that Janice Joplin lyric "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose”? If I couldn't win no matter what I did, then I got to play the game how I wanted to play it. I listened to the music I wanted to listen to, watched the TV I wanted to watch, and read the things I wanted to read. I never felt peer pressure because I had very few peers. And I got to live my conscience – be a feminist, renounce bigotry, be friends with the other losers.
The ending to my loser story, by the way, is a whole lot happier than most other losers. Or at least, it came sooner. Instead of going to the same Catholic high school that all my classmates went to, I made a clean break and went to an all girls' school as different from my grade school as night and day, and then I just fell in with the right crowd. There were so many losers at my high school that we couldn't even fit at the same lunch table.  We used to joke that the only peer pressure we felt was to eat tofu. 
It wasn't utopia of course, it was high school after all, but it was a hell of a lot better than before.
Actually, being connected to a vast network of freaks, geeks, and other assorted weirdoes was probably my first taste of what it was like to be a Unitarian Universalist.
You see, Unitarian Universalists are kind of losers. 
If all of the world's religions got together to play baseball, when they picked teams, UUs would undoubtedly be picked last. And fairly so. You know we'd just be out in right field picking wildflowers and wanting to know if the animal whose skin was used to cover the ball was killed humanely. 
Unitarian Universalists  make up only .3% of the American population. It takes fifteen minutes and a flow chart to explain what we believe, and John Adams was elected over two hundred years ago and we're still bragging about it.
Actually, John Adams was kind of the quintessential Unitarian loser. According to biographer David McCullough, he was "Not a man of the world. He enjoyed no social standing. He was an awkward dancer and poor at cards. He never learned to flatter. He owned no ships… there was no money in his background, no Adams fortune or elegant Adams homestead.” McCullough goes on to state that John Adams wanted to be liked, wanted to be popular, but his conscience and sense of duty to faith and country always got in the way. Some people thought he was obnoxious; a gadfly. McCullough says "…he loved to talk. He was a known talker. There were some, even among his admirers, who wished he talked less. He wished he talked less." 
I was in eighth grade when we watched the movie musical 1776. It begins with John Adams giving an impassioned speech to the continental congress about the need to take a vote on declaring independence. He closes the speech with a flourish, and the entire congress stands up and sings "Sit down John, sit down John, for god sakes John, sit down!" Sitting in my eighth grade classroom I thought "Holy cow, that's me!" Twenty years later, I realize "holy cow, that Unitarians!"  See, in the musical (which is a very exaggerated and fictionalized account), everybody else wanted to debate army uniforms and whether or not to open a window. They were stalling, dragging their feet, afraid of sticking their necks out and doing what they'd come to Philadelphia to do. Tellingly, the "Sit Down John" song ends with one congressional delegates singing "Will someone shut that man up?" and John Adams crying "Never!”
And you know what? Nobody's going to shut UUs up either. For better or worse, whether popular or unpopular, the UUs don't shut up. And you know what? We've been on the right side of history since our inception. We openly advocated freedom of religion while governments were burning heretics. We were abolitionists when people were being lynched for opposing slavery. And the very year that Hitler took power, the American Unitarian Association passed a resolution stating that they "greatly deplore the persecution of Jews in Germany as a violation of equity, tolerance, and humanity.” But come on, that's a no-brainer, right? Nope. When Unitarians passed that resolution in 1933, a whole lot of people in the US were behind Hitler. The US was a much different place then, with a whole lot of the most respected scientists and institutions embracing the concept of eugenics – improving the world by removing undesirables from it. Early in Hitler's reign, American scientists were openly praising Hitler's trailblazing work in purifying the human race. 
Unitarians didn't just pass resolutions either. Unitarians and Universalists all over the world gave time and money to help endangered people escape the Nazis as well as to provide care and comfort to refugees. Despite our tiny numbers, members of the Unitarian and Universalist service committees, working closely together, helped save a thousand or more lives. 
Unitarian Universalists were also some of the strongest supporters of the civil rights movement in the 60s. While many religious leaders condemned the cause of racial equality, and leaders of the more sympathetic but predominantly white Northern churches were calling the actions of civil rights leaders "unwise and untimely,” Unitarian Universalists were out on the front line. 
James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister living in Boston, was one of those front line soldiers. One night, he saw television news coverage of police attacking Civil Rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama. The next day, Reeb learned from a local office of the Unitarian Universalist Association that Martin Luther King had put out a call to clergy all over the country to come to the aid of the protesters in Selma, and James Reeb was on a plane to Selma that same evening. He was dead within a few days, clubbed to death by white supremacists, for the crime of participating in a demonstration against discrimination. Martin Luther King called Reeb "a shining example of manhood at his best," and that "he demonstrated the conscience of the nation." 
Of course, learning about Reeb made me think about a more recent civil rights protest, this one in 2009 to oppose Arizona's newly enacted immigration laws, the most draconic in the country at the time. Once again, the Unitarian Universalist Association put out a call. Ministers and other religious leaders were called to go to Phoenix Arizona to protest the legislation, with a small number of those leaders, including UUA president Peter Morales, engaging in an act of planned civil disobedience. This group, 29 in all, blockaded the prisoner intake entrance to a Phoenix jail, one of the facilities to which undocumented immigrants are taken upon arrest.
I had mixed feelings about this, as did a lot of other UUs I talked to. It all seemed a bit over-dramatic and attention-seeking. What was the point, other than to make something of a strident public display? It seemed to me like it would just confirm the opinions of those who think we're annoying. 
But then the stories began trickling back from Phoenix. Those arrested talked about the conditions in the detention center where they were taken. They said the place was filthy. They were kept overnight, crammed together in small cells with no place to sit or lay down. Even though the law required they be given sleeping mats after a certain number of hours, they weren't, and those who demanded them were put into isolation. People were denied medical care, including their needed prescription medications. By all accounts, the members of the group who were minorities were treated noticeably worse.
I guess what really changed things for me was hearing the story of Melissa Carville Ziemer from the UU congregation in Kent, Ohio. I was passionately opposed to the legislation already, but my opposition had been abstract. I shouldn't have been surprised at the horrible conditions in the jail, but I guess I'd just never seen this stuff as something that happens to real people. Hearing this story made me feel called to speak out where I'd previously been silent. To donate to the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. It even got me thinking about the rights of prisoners in jails and prisons around the country, a cause that has been important to me ever since.
So I guess what I'm saying is that Unitarian Universalism is a lot like the weird creative kid who talked to herself and spoke her mind without regard for social standing. Maybe what I'm saying is that this congregation is a lot like the group of friends that weird creative kid made in high school – a big mess of weird creative kids who came to school covered in paint, lived their beliefs passionately and unapologetically, and peer-pressured each other into eating tofu. 
I guess what I'm saying is that Unitarian Universalism is a lot like the portly, unpopular guy who (once again in the words of biographer David McCullough) "could be high-spirited and affectionate, vain, cranky, impetuous and fiercely stubborn." A man who was "ambitious to excel- to make himself known" but had "nonetheless recognized that happiness came not from fame and fortune, but from ‘an habitual contempt of them,' as he wrote."
I'm proud to be a Unitarian Universalist. I'm proud that we step forward when more prudent people retreat. I'm proud that our kids are passionate, creative, and kind people. I'm proud that people think we're weird, strident, even annoying. I'm proud of our congregation in particular; our rag-tag bunch of weirdoes and misfits, who come to church covered in paint, live our lives passionately and unapologetically, and peer pressure each other into eating tofu. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sleepy Cat

Stay up all night playing elaborate April Fools' Joke, she said.
It much better than posting history of April Fools' Day, she said.
You no be passed out in the middle of ur cubicle tomorrow, she said.

Friday, March 29, 2013

I'm Slacktastic

I learned a fun new word today: slactivism. According to, it's a pejorative term for the act of paying lip service to a cause without actually doing anything to further it. A much needed word and a portmanteau. What's not to love?
 The term was being applied to the deal on Facebook in which a bunch of sheeple changed their profile pictures to a modified version of the Human Rights Campaign symbol. To, you know, raise awareness and show solidarity as the Supreme Court hears arguments on allowing same sex marriage. I don't actually think these people are sheep, by the way, especially since I'm one of them. But I couldn't resist a second portmanteau. 

People on Facebook are always doing this sort of slactivism. Posting your bra color to raise awareness of breast cancer... somehow. Though I suspect everyone on Facebook is already pretty aware of the whole "cancer" thing; I think the awareness market is saturated. 
People always seem to be posting random crap to Facebook in the name of some cause. Changing your profile picture to a cartoon character raises awareness of child abuse. Because nobody knew that was going on. People post things like "repost this to show you hate cancer." "If you don't change your profile picture, you are a racist communist." Rarely do you see people posting things to Facebook about what we can actually do - where we can donate, how we can volunteer. It's just posted and reposted pictures of a rainbow's worth of ribbons. Slactivism. 
Now, I will point out that I also changed my profile pic to the HRC logo myself. It was just so heartening to see my whole friends list light up in red and pink. So hopeful to see democrats, republicans, preachers, teenaged kids all unified or something. Knowing how many people I care for support a cause important to me makes me feel good.
Know what the crazy part about this is? I don't technically believe in legalizing gay marriage - I don't believe that the government has any business legislating love. Marriage is a sacred compact between people their higher powers. Such a personal and holy thing can't be reduced to a notarized piece of paper. 
Let the government notarize papers for whoever wishes to enter the legal contract to whichever consenting adults have reason to enter such a contract.
Because here's the thing about the legal contract portion of the deal. There are no sacred texts that forbid a person from loving someone of her own gender, it's only the sex acts that are forbidden. So even if this were a theocracy in which religious folks got to decide what a person's allowed to do in their bedroom, there's not a thing in that contract about sex. And to think that marriage is a sin because gay sex is a sin is to reduce marriage to only one tiny fraction of what marriage is about. In fact, many people are of the opinion that marriage pretty much the antidote to sex. If you really wanted to prevent gay sex, you'd support gay marriage.
And one more thing. Marriage comes to us from the Latin maritatus, which also means marriage. So it was the heathens of Rome who gave the word marriage its definition. If the Romans created the foundation of modern-day Western marriage, and we wanted to be true to the word's definition, there would be animal sacrifices and livestock exchanges involved.
Side note: Jeremy and I may well have agreed to exchange livestock when we got married - neither of us has any memory of the actual ceremony. It's just sort of a blur of tears and hugging. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'm Rather a Horrible Person

My husband went out to get Bioshock 3, the sequel to a couple of really awesome X-Box games that he loves. He was so excited to play it that he left the house to buy it as soon as he found out it had come out. When he got home, I was half an hour into watching Les Miserables with tears streaming down my face.
That's right. I'd been making myself weep for half an hour just to mess with him.
He saw the tears and told me to go ahead. He wasn't even bluffing. He is a far better husband than I deserve. Sucker.
Did I plan that whole scene out just to use it as a segue into this blog post? It's possible. As we've seen, I'm kind of a calculating bitch. 
In honor of the fairly recent DVD release of Les Mis, I have something to say about singing over one's head.
When I talked about Hugh Jackman's musical/mutton chops, I failed to mention one fairly insignificant detail - the fact that Jean Valjean is a very high tenor role and Hugh Jackman is not a tenor at all. And it shows. There are times when you can almost feel him straining for the high notes, and the suspense of not knowing how in the hell he was going to hit the high F at the end of Bring Him Home had me on the edge of my seat. 
So WTF? Why didn't they just have him do it in a lower key? They moved Stars down for Russel Crowe and Master of the House down for Sasha Baron Cohen. Hell, why not just lower the key for everything Jackman sings?
How does a guy who sings like this:
My mom used to sing this to me.
She and her voice are even prettier than Jackman.
turn in such a strained performance?
A film professor once told a class that every second of a major motion picture costs thousands of dollars to make (although this film had a surprisingly modest budget at $61 million - were all the actors working pro-bono?). Nothing is an accident. When an Oscar-winning director and a Tony winning actor collaborate, they don't just decide that a sub-par performance is good enough and walk away. The stretch and strain in Jackman's voice was deliberate. Especially when you consider the fact that my Janice pointed out, which is that Jackman almost never used his falsetto, singing all of those high notes in full voice. 
The thing is that Jean Valjean lives his life in a constant state of uncertainty, always a moment away from being discovered and losing everything. During Bring Him Home, Valjean is trying to protect the man his daughter loves in a nearly hopeless fight, knowing that if he saves the man, he will give up his daughter to him. Fail to save him and his daughter's heart breaks. Win or lose, life as he knows it is over forever. His singing is the sound of a tired heart breaking. 
I've heard a million golden-voiced performances of this song, and never one that brought me to tears (although at that point, I'd been crying so long, who can really say whether it was the song or inertia).
Does anybody else think that Colm Wilkinson kind of 
looks like a mule eating an apple when he sings?

Julie Taymore used this strategy to great effect in Across the Universe. In this scene, Lucy's life has been thrown into chaos. She lost her first boyfriend in the war, another has been deported, and her brother comes home from the war so depressed that he has to stare at water all day. The pitch of the song is at the very tippy top of Evan Rachel Wood's vocal range. When you listen to the high note a minute in, you can practically hear all the hours she spent with her vocal coach working to hit it.
Look at him just staring at the water. Just staring. Tragic. 
Also, sorry mom, this gentleman is prettier than you.

Jackman wasn't the only one accused of a weak performance. Oddly enough, Russel Crowe does have a decent singing voice - I think his performance was meant to serve his interpretation of the character he played (granted, I think his interpretation of the character was completely wrong, but it was cool he played Javert as something other than the comic book super-villain that every other Javert has gone with). Or it's possible, as one of my coworkers has suggested, that Russel Crowe can't sing and act at the same time. Long story short, I didn't like his performance, but I don't think it was a bad performance, if that makes any sense.
I can offer no excuses for Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Why was Cohen's Thenardier (spelled right on the first try) the only character who sang with a French accent? I mean, other than the fact that Cohen's only acting skill is talking with a funny accent. I'm not even sure Helena Bonham Carter was fully conscious for most of her scenes. She seemed to be in the throes of terminal boredom. She even seemed bored when she performed at the Oscars. 
So has  anybody actually read this far? Because there are a whole lot of words up there...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kids Can Be So Cruel

That's the thing people always say. Parents take the cruelty of other kids into account when they name their babies. Kids say things to each other that your boss would get fired for saying. Kids do things to each other that, if adults did them, they'd be arrested and charged with assault. 
Why do we say it with such resignation? We can all agree it's bad, but we all accept it's inevitable. 
I'm curious if this is universal across cultures. I wonder if there's something more that can be done about it besides some YouTube videos and an occasional school assembly. 
But you know what? I remember this once in grade schools I flipped the hell out on some kids who were picking on me. I just snapped. I can't remember which bullies or what they were doing that resulted in my flipping, but you know, occasionally other kids spit in my hair. Made games of bull-rushing me and knocking me down as soon as the recess lady was otherwise occupied. 
Someone took me (and not the bullies, by the way) to the office and sat me down with the principal. I can still remember how I was sobbing so hard I couldn't breathe. My hands were shaking so hard I couldn't wipe my nose with the Kleenex the secretary gave me.
The principal honestly thought she was being helpful when she sat me down and explained to me how I needed to grow a thicker skin. How my life would be much easier if I wasn't always trying to be different (as if this was something I had a say in). She told me it was okay to lie a little and pretend to like the bands the other kids did. The other kids wouldn't change, she said, so if I wanted them to leave me alone, I would have to.
This isn't a sob story so much as a hopeful one. They've finally started caring about bullying, stopped being so resigned to its existence. If that woman is still a principal, I highly doubt she's as tone deaf as she was then. And I suspect it's more common for the bullies to get the talkings-to. 
Know what's funny? I know all that bullying made me stronger. Made me more empathetic; made me care less about what other people think.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'll be Back when the Day is New

It's no surprise that Fred Rogers is among my heroes. I think we all know I still live in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. But I do find it kind of surprising how ubiquitous my generation's love for him is. Yesterday, I couldn't open Facebook without reading another birthday tribute to the late PBS star. My generation was once defined by how jaded we were, how cynical. We're way too cool for syrupy sentiments like "you're special just the way you are."
And yet we'll spend half an afternoon watching and weeping over YouTube clips of his speaking with childish sagacity when there's a whole Internet full of pr0n and cat videos out there. 
And among the chest thumping and political opportunism that followed the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary, people my age posted, re-posted, read and re-read the words of Fred Rogers with tears in their eyes: 
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world.
And you know, I think maybe the reason we love him so much is the same reason that we're so jaded. We love him because he's one of the few heroes we've had who never let us down. While politicians lied to our faces, kids' show hosts got arrested for jerking off in a movie theater, sports stars killed people, and wave after wave of our favorite entertainers drugged themselves into oblivion, one of our idols was exactly what he appeared to be.

But this post is meant to be more than just oddly ardent hero worship. This post is about one of those quotations a friend posted yesterday. An article in Esquire revealed that Fred Rogers swam every day, ate a healthy vegetarian diet, and maintained the same weight his entire adult life. He said that this was his way of saying "I love you" to himself.
I've been having the damnedest time keeping my plates spinning lately. Eating terribly, coming up with every excuse to avoid exercise, not writing, even though I know those things only make me feel more crappy and exhausted. So maybe instead of pushing and punishing and all of that, I'll try and look at getting my act together as a way to say 'I love you' to myself. And that's a horribly cheesy thing to think and even cheesier to say, but Mister Rogers said it, so that's okay.
Remember when I used to post pictures I took?

Monday, March 18, 2013


Hey all. I'm sorry I've been such a bum. Truth be told, I've been exhausted lately, and I don't even know why. It's been all I can do just to get to work, church, and physical therapy lately. I'm running with the theory that it's the changing of the season. Either that, or my rigorous schedule of sitting down all day has finally taken its toll, making me unable to do tasks that involve further sitting down.
Speaking of weak segues, yesterday while being exhausted, I was watching an episode of My Cat from Hell, a show on Animal Planet wherein a gentleman named Jackson Galaxy makes poor choices with regard to his facial hair and fixes crazy cats. Generally by giving cat owners a feather on a string and telling them to take the lids off their cat boxes.
If he looks like a cross between King Tut and
a white supremacist, no one will notice that
his answer to everything is a $2 cat toy.
In one episode, Galaxy meets one cat who can't be cured by a cat toy or by taking the lid off the litter box. This cat's issues went beyond simple behavioral or environmental triggers - he felt the cat was mentally ill and needed to be medicated. Galaxy says hates to give the advice, since he's in favor of holistic health, but in some cases it's needed.
Interesting thing, though, holistic, which apparently comes from South African English, actually doesn't necessarily mean "non-medical," although some wheat-germers (as we'll call them) insist otherwise. Holistic therapy is actually the practice of using multiple approaches to a person's wellness. For instance, if I were to go to a holistic health provider with back pain, that provider might try a combination of physical therapy, chiropractic, meditation, medication, and diet. It doesn't eschew Western medicine, but sees it as only one component of treatment. The holistic philosophy is widely accepted in the medical community in the US, although some of the components, such as homeopathy and acupuncture generally aren't.
And speaking of homeopathy, that's another thing that people often use incorrectly. Lots of people think that homeopathic is another term for alternative therapy, and that stuff like acupuncture,  vitamin therapy, and magnets and crap fall under its umbrella. Totally untrue. The term homeopathic only refers to the totally debunked belief that poison and other random crap, highly diluted, can magically cure diseases. In fact, these substances are often so diluted with plain water that there's maybe a molecule of the snake oil in a bottle of "medicine". But it's cool, because water "has a memory." If you detect a tiny note of contempt here, it's because I'm not a fan of snake oil salesmen actively discouraging seriously sick people from getting actual medical help, while making absurd claims about actual effective treatments. These hucksters are freaking killing people.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Last year when she turned 30, my friend Janice's husband commissioned this birthday cake:

That's Janice's brain (I mean, well, it's a picture of her brain, obviously, real brains taste terrible. And also if they had used her real brain for the cake, she wouldn't have made it to 30). The white spots that look like they don't belong there aren't icing, they're the lesions that accompany multiple sclerosis. 
And if this cake seems more appalling to you than funny, then you don't know Janice. Janice wears blatant eff-me pumps when she goes out in her wheelchair because, if her feet are going to be purely decorative, then she's going all out. She insists that she'd be safe in a zombie attack because zombies would turn up their noses at her brains (I'm dubious, but who am I to argue with the crippled lady?).
Through medication, determination, and a hell of a lot of work, Janice is in remission; she's doing so well, in fact, that she's participating in Walk MS Akron this year. You might think it's greedy of her to demand more donations, what with her having raised over $1,300 already. But come on man. Throw the crippled lady a bone.

She's been posting chapters from her story on her Facebook wall in honor of National MS month, and it turns out it's not all rock star parking and stripper shoes. 

Here is one chapter from May 2, 2007. I cannot imagine ever being this brave.
"It always seemed as though I lived in a state of cognitive dissonance. There were times I would lose track of where I was or what I was doing. I would look over my notes for class and see a jumbled replica of English. I learned how to translate what people were saying to me, I didn't interpret things the way everyone else did. People thought it was because I was lazy, or less intelligent, or incapable; in some aspects they were right. And I agreed with them. I remember times when I would ask Lucius to "remind me where my leg" was. He would lift it and we'd laugh and think 'gee that was strange!' 
Last year I spent the majority of it numb from the armpits down. People don't think of how much that affects. That's not just your legs but the armpits, breasts, stomach, hips, buttocks, thighs, calves, knees, ankles, heels, soles, toes... It started slow. I had a numb patch of skin on my right arm above the elbow underneath the armpit. It itched like crazy... and it started to spread through my chest. It was a few says before my toes started to go. It took a week from the first loss of feeling in my toes to spread through my legs. In the meantime I was taken ill with nausea. I was so incredibly weak, it was frightening at first. Then I was too weak to be scared. I spent a month eating next to nothing. For the longest time I couldn't feel if I needed to go to the bathroom. I purposely made myself get up and go 'just in case'. And even when I went... I couldn't be entirely sure when I was done. So I just had to wait. Even after that I can't feel if I'm clean... so I used babywipes to make sure. I couldn't even feel the moisture from that or the cold. I could just barely get in the shower and once there I had to rest before I picked up the soap. I could never remember what I had just washed. I could have washed my hair five times in one sitting... I had no idea. Once I finished showering I went to the bedroom and waited for Lucius to come in to help me. I couldn't bend over to put on my underwear. Once Lucius had dressed me I needed to rest for about 20 minutes. I hadn't dressed myself and yet I had no energy. After awhile Lucius would help me down to the living room. I don't even remember what I would do. It's amazing how time can pass without your noticing. If Lucius kissed me I could just barely feel it... I had to be careful how I moved my head because the vertigo was enough to make me fall over. I couldn't lie down for the dizziness and nausea. I couldn't lift my legs into the bed anyways. I slept in our recliner in the living room. I had been doing that awhile due to nausea. Now I know why. Funny. Newlyweds that can't even sleep in the same bed in the first year of marriage. And I thought it was all my fault. Guilt doesn't have to be rational. My diaphragm was shot, I was too weak to use it. I couldn't sing most of last year, and that pained me. I would get too dizzy from lack of air and effort. I would sit in church and sing inwardly the hymns. I would cry because I couldn't use my voice for something I loved and had always taken comfort in. 
Nowadays I fight psychological symptoms the most. During Alumni weekend that I had fought off dozens of panic attacks that day alone. Having to start conversation, keep conversations flowing, decisions of ANY kind... it all starts a panic. My mind shuts down and everything goes away. Decisions as simple as "should I use a pencil or pen?" can cripple me. It saddens me when i can't do things. I want to cry when I see my glass of water but know that at that moment I can not lift it. I feel defeated when I haven't the strength to open a packet of Tylenol.
I wish more people knew about this disease."

Don't forget to donate, kids. I don't know if science is anywhere near a cure, because I read the Wikipedia article and there were a lot of big science words. But I do know that any steps science can take to help more people with MS participate in more Walk MS events are worth it. 

As are you, J. and K. My thoughts and love are with you now as always.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Life Sentence

I've had fibromyalgia since I was 19, and it's been flaring up lately. Fibro, for those not in the know, is a disease that causes widespread pain throughout the muscles and connective tissues and it is wrong. The first half of the word, fibro, comes from the Latin word for fibrous tissues. The latter half, myalgia, comes from the Greek words for muscle and pain. Latin and Greek can't live alongside each other like that. It would be anarchy. 
The symptoms I live with are pain throughout my neck, shoulders, and arms. On a good day it feels like you might feel after spending an afternoon playing tackle football. On an average day, it feels like the aches you get with the flu. On a bad day, it feels like you've been run over by a car (this I have on good authority seeing as I have fibromyalgia and was once hit by a car). There are a bunch of other symptoms that can go along with it, the worst - for me - being fatigue and insomnia. 
The first doctor who diagnosed me gave me the verdict, then handed me a sheet printed up from the Internet that essentially called my disorder a highly-specialized form of hypochondria.  Rather than being angry at being told my problems were all in my head, I threw myself into believing it was true. If the disorder was psychological in nature, after all, it wasn't really there, and it would go away if I could stop believing it was. It didn't; it got worse. 
The fact is that the majority of the medical community now accepts that the disorder exists and is medically treatable; though the efficacy of various treatments varies from person to person. I've found a combo of meds, exercise, good sleep, and mindfulness meditation that gets me through the day most of the time. However, with pain flaring and Jeremy and my trip to Europe looming, I went to the doctor to ask him to put me back in physical therapy. He suggested aquatic therapy and it's amazing. The therapy pool is so toasty warm and the exercise so low-impact, that it's literally less painful to me than lying in bed. Which is why I find it funny how so many of the other patients seem to hate it. I had the same experience in the physical therapy sessions I did several years back. Folks would complain that their doctors wouldn't "do anything," for the pain or didn't take their pain seriously. Many seem to be of the opinion that prescribing PT is the doctor's way of blowing them off. In physical therapy, every time the therapist left the room, half the room would start cheating - lowering resistance on machines, doing fewer reps, or just stop work altogether.
Back when I did regular PT, I thought this was just laziness - people wanting the easy way out, wanting to take a pill and feel all better. But this time around, I'm starting to wonder if I'm selling everybody short.
Maybe the reason folks resist therapy is that the treatment forces people to face the fact that this thing isn't going to go away on its own, that there's no magic pill that will fix things. Maybe therapy seems distasteful because it means accepting an illness or injury as a part of your life - something you'll have to work on and manage; that you'll have to learn to live with and make peace with the pain or else keep on suffering.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fifty Shades of Retraction

Okay, I'm only going to admit this once. I was wrong; Fifty Shades of Grey is awful. I mean, not for any kind of oppressing women thing, it's just terribly, terribly written. How did I not notice this before, you ask? Well you see, I had been previously unaware that this genre existed. As far as I knew, there were just plain old vanilla smutty romance novels - porn for soccer moms, and then sneakily rapey romance novels - porn for secretly kinky soccer moms. I was not aware that there is a whole genre out there of porn for non-secretly kinky soccer moms, and most books in said genre look like Shakespeare next to old Fifty Shades.
I've read quite a bit of this kinky lady porn of late - in the name of research of course, all for you, my loyal readers. And I noticed some rather interesting common themes... but I get ahead of myself.
As you've probably heard, 50 Shades started its life as Twilight fan fiction, which is maybe the most pathetic thing ever. But Twilight wasn't the only thing to which there were startling similarities - actually, the similarities to Twilight were passing enough that you could easily pretend they weren't there. Other books, however... I read one about an ordinary girl who has never truly been in love before and who falls in love with a possessive kinky Seattle billionaire who has grey eyes and an a conniving evil ex; he buys her expensive clothes and takes her to fancy balls, and then a bunch of sex. Wow, what an incredible knock-off, I thought. Then there's the book set during the Victorian age in which an ordinary, bookish girl with grey eyes meets a kinky, possessive man with a tragic past who has never truly been in love before. And the book with the ordinary woman who meets a grey-eyed kinky millionaire who has never truly been in love before. Oh, and the book about the famous rich dude who has never done anything but hurt and debase women until he meets the ordinary, bookish girl with the power to make him change his ways.
I eventually had to come to the conclusion that EL James couldn't possibly have copied all the kinky soccer mom porn at the same time; especially since all of the stories had a bunch of stuff in common with each other too. And not just the kinky billionaire thing. If what I've been reading tells me anything, a whole lot of women have a whole lot of unoriginal - and bizarrely specific - ideas about their dream men. 
OR, all of these novels are actually set in an alternate universe in which the following are true:

  • With very rare exception, men come in three races: white, native American, and vaguely Hispanic.
    • Among white men, grey is the most common eye color.
    • Should you be lucky enough to encounter the rare, but elusive black man, he will have green eyes, and you won't have relations with him; he might, however, be the best friend of the man with whom you will have relations.
  • There are three types of careers for men:
    • Very rich man who does something vaguely businessy that requires suits.
    • Cop, firefighter, EMT, etc. Note: In this universe, most cops are independently wealthy due to an inheritance or something; in the interest of fairness, firefighters without an inheritance get paid enough money to live like the very rich guy noted above.
    • Agent for a secret spy agency that operates outside the law and just happens to be staffed full of hot, kinky men..
  • All hot men are obsessed with ordinary looking chicks. In fact, in spite of the fact that the smoking rich grey-eyed lovers could have any woman they want, they only want chunky, vaguely unattractive mates. And they say so. A lot.
  • Most women, and a significant portion of men, have prominent scars. 
  • Even though all the good men want to have sex all the time, they adore and respect women, never taking advantage of, or harming them.
    • Unless, of course, these men have Tragic Back-Stories, in which case, they harm and take advantage of women until they meet you, yes you, because you are The One.
  • There exist, all over this great nation, magical sex clubs where beautiful, big-hearted men troll for scar-ridden fat chicks in the hope of meeting The One. 
  • Men love to cook, unless you like to cook, in which case, cooking is the one domestic task they're not good at.
  • All men work out enough to have six pack abs and carry fat chicks around as if they weighed nothing, but they always do the working out when you're not around - the only thing more important than maintaining an unrealistic amount of muscle mass is You, yes You.
I have an ax.
So that's it. I know everything I need to know about kinky soccer moms. I thought, for a bit, that I could totally use this formula to create the next Fifty Shades. Turns out I start blushing and giggling like a school girl right around the time the grey-eyed billionaire unbuttons his shirt.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shut Up and Fix Me a Turkey Pot Pie

Just after the Super Bowl, I read an article from titled "Danica Patrick, Shut Up and Drive." It's all about how Danica Patrick, hugely successful Indy racer, is throwing women under the bus for being in some kind of sexist commercials for 
I'll grant that the commercials are in pretty damn poor taste - I mean, poor enough taste that I'm not embedding or linking to one, which is saying something considering the things I have embedded or linked to. I don't really fall into the camp of feminists who thinks that using sex to sell stuff is harmful to women, but that's not what this post is about.
This post is about the a comment that the article author makes about how especially offensive all this is in light of how sexist the technology industry is already.
Uh, it is? I would think I'd have noticed this rampant sexism, considering I work in the technology industry.
I've been working at the same company quite a while now, and I've never seen anything indicating that there's some kind of anti-woman conspiracy. Nobody calling me doll-face in the halls, no boss demanding I fetch his coffee. I mean, sometimes I feel like people don't take me seriously, but I think that's less because I'm a woman and more because of my Hello Kitty fetish and the fact that I have an uncanny knack for relating every conversation back to comic books. For instance, there have been a certain number of conversations that went something like:

  • ProgrammerWell, the customers are tired of the current user interface, but we don't want to just jump in with something flashy and new at the risk of giving them something the like even less.
  • Me: Like when Marvel replaced Dazzler the disco super-hero with Jubilee, who was pretty much the same character only an Asian teenager with even lamer powers and was more annoying than Jar Jar Binks?
  • Programmer: That's nice, doll-face. Why don't you freshen up my coffee?
Kidding aside, I'm well aware that the experience of one woman in one office is in no way a reflection of the industry as a whole. My experiences in this industry do give me cause to believe, however, that sexism in my industry is pretty rare, maybe rarer than in most other industries. The thing is, the fundamental building block of technology is logic. You don't create a computer program by intuition or personal prejudices; you create it by plugging variables into equations. It seems to me, furthermore, that most programmers apply the same thinking to everything they do, including hiring and interacting with coworkers. 
Gender discrimination isn't logical; on top of which, the process of hiring someone or evaluating them once they're already an employee is not particularly subjective. Somebody reads the resumes, decides which candidates best fit our requirements, and chooses the best qualified for interviews. From there, it's bubble tests and simulations; objective demonstrations of abilities. Nobody's going to say, "Well, this person scored higher than everybody else on all the tests, but she's a woman and we certainly don't want her getting her cooties all over us, so out she goes.
It's easy to see why someone might think that the industry's sexist, based on the ratio of men to women at tech firms. I mean, I have never seen any evidence in my 7 years at my company that the woman who hires the programmers has some anti-woman agenda, yet there's still never a line for the ladies' room, if you know what I mean. That there are so few women working in the field probably has a lot to do with the fact that only about 10% of people earning computer science degrees use the ladies' room.
So is it the colleges that are sexist? I suppose there might be some sexism in computer science programs (although I've never known a geek to complain about being in the same room with a woman who isn't his mom), but that can't account for such a huge disparity. 
So where does this imbalance come from? No idea. Maybe parents or kindergarten teachers or guidance counselors or TV or McDonald's Happy Meals. But where it doesn't come from is some kind of widespread institutionalized sexism. 
In fact, I've seen very little evidence, in the 9,000 industries in which I've dabbled, of widespread institutionalized sexism. And while I'm sure it exists somewhere, while I'm sure there are more than a few bosses out there calling their female employees "doll-face" and still more who subtly discriminate against said dolls, I just don't think it's as rampant or intentional as so many feminists want to believe.
The wage gap, the glass ceiling? Those are due at least in part to the fact that many women choose to put family before career, and there is nothing wrong with that. I appreciate the hell out of feminist fore-mothers who helped secure for me the right to choose to work and be independent and all of that, but I also know that there's nothing on earth wrong with a woman choosing to be barefoot and pregnant if that's what makes her happy, you know?
I'm in no way saying that gender discrimination doesn't exist (although I am saying that the discrimination cuts both ways a lot more significantly than a lot of feminists seem to think). I still think perfect equality is a ways off; and I do know that women are treated horribly in certain subsets of American culture and even more horribly in other countries. But I really think we've got to let go of the victim mentality that makes us think that the fact that there are more boy programmers than girl programmers, for instance, means that the technology industry hates women. I think we're wasting time tilting and windmills when the real giants are elsewhere.

Also, does anybody else think telling Danica Patrick to shut up and drive is a little, I don't know, sexist? Not in any way I can lay my finger on, it's just, I don't know, slightly more offensive than hot chicks doing inappropriate things.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Vocabulary Is (Etymologically) Unrelated

By Request:

I like curry, to understate drastically. Which is why I was surprised to learn that there's no such thing. Not in India anyway. 
Picture is Unrelated
 Curry is the English version of the Tamil word kari, which just means sauce. The English went to India and amid all their oppressing and such, they discovered a new favorite national dish. Or a new national favorite sauce anyway. Not surprising considering the fact that up until then, the national dish was meat and root vegetables boiled until gray.
Now, the curry powder in your mom's spice cabinet is only the best approximation white guys could come up with. Sort of like how UB40 was the best approximation of Bob Marley that white people could come up with. The thing that gives curry its unique flavor is actually a mix of spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, cloves, cardamom, and ginger.
Picture is Unrelated
(That's Bea Arthur wrestling with some velociraptors,
if you weren't aware.)

Now recently, I was hanging out with some friends, and one of them wondered where the expression curry favor comes from, and whether it's related to curry, the spice mixture.
On the bright side, I got nearly to the
bottom of the page of search results
before I found unholy fan art.
Being known, as I am, for spouting off knowledge at every opportunity, I had to think fast. "Well obviously," I said, "this is a reference to Christopher Columbus. As we know, back in Christopher Columbus' time, the spices of India were highly valued - and highly rare. Once several monarchs had denied Christopher Columbus' request for funding to sail around the world, he took a different approach with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. See, Queen Isabella was well-known for her fondness for throwing lavish dinner parties and prided herself on the exotic foods she served. Columbus used this to his advantage; promising the queen her weight in spices when he returned from the Indies. Intrigued, Isabella convinced her husband to fund the trip, and thus 'curry favor,' meaning to gain advantage by appealing to an individual's specific tastes."*
Turns out the curry in curry favor is etymological unrelated to the spice. The real etymology is kinda boring. Something to do with horses. So boring that I'm just copying the text from the Online Etymology Dictionary rather than trying to unearth some kind of joke material from some paraphrased version.
early 16c., altered by folk etymology from curry favel (c.1400) from Old French correier fauvel "to be false, hypocritical," literally "to curry the chestnut horse," which in medieval French allegories was a symbol of cunning and deceit. See curry (v.). Old French fauvel is from a Germanic source and ultimately related to fallow (adj.); the sense here is entangled with that of similar-sounding Old French favele "lying, deception," from Latin fabella, diminutive of fabula.
I added the funny pictures because this post
isn't very interesting.

* Okay, I said nothing of the sort. I don't think nearly so fast. What I really said was "mmmm want. curry."
But that's a pretty good story, right? I mean, that could totally be a real false etymology. Hey, if you all wanted to send that lie viral...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

One for the Funny Papers

In the past week, I've learned three surprising things about the funny papers, specifically how they influenced life outside of the funny papers.

Sadie Hawkins
We never had Sadie Hawkins Day dances at my high school, mostly because I went to a girls' school. I mean, you could sit around waiting for one of the boys at school, but you'd be waiting a while. Also, is that actually a thing that happens anyplace besides sit-coms? Because it seems awfully silly for the school to sanction who asks whom to a dance. But what would I know about dances? I went to my prom stag and in overalls.
They were adorable. And no, they are not why my boyfriend wouldn't go with me. Okay, yes they were. But, I ended up taking a way hotter date to the prom than if he had gone with me. But at least my date didn't discover he'd left his wallet at home halfway through dinner (like he actually did for his Homecoming dance).
Anyway, Sadie Hawkins, according to the Li'l Abner comic strip, was "the homliest gal in all them hills." Her father Hekzebia didn't want his daughter to be a spinster, so he hosted an event in which Sadie chased after all of the town's bachelors. If she caught one, he was legally required to marry her. The official Li'l Abner website tells me that the dance is about female empowerment. And here I thought we had to burn our bras.

*#@!$ Off, You Stinking &#$%@
My mom recently suggested that I try to be a lit more circumspect with the swearing on my blog. She was not pleased to know that I thought I was being circumspect. Okay, so I've got a bit of a mouth on me, but seriously, there are far worse things a preacher's kid could grow up and do.

If, however, I wanted to swear without offending my mom, I might try using something like $&#*. According to, this fanciful euphemism first appeared in Rudolph Dirks' The Katzenjammer Kids. Equally fanciful names for the string of characters include obscenicon (coined by blogger Benjamin Zimmer) and grawlix coined by Mort Walker. How is grawlix not a Pokemon?
I tend to agree with Mark Nichol of Daily Writing Tips with regard to swearing. He says:
Ultimately, the question any purveyor of prose must answer is, where do you draw the line? Certain four-letter words are either acceptable or anathema. But what about minor league profanity: hell, damn, and the like? If you prohibit these words in your publication, what about heck, darn, and gosh, which are all merely disguised forms of literally profane profanity? What about effing or bleep? Everyone knows what each means or could mean. Why permit euphemisms or evasive explications? Don’t you risk offending readers or site visitors who resent such coy conjurings intended to wink-and-nudge them about what you might otherwise have explicitly stated?
But then Mark Nichol doesn't have my mom for a mom, and I kind of owe her some consideration all I put her through during my high school and college years.