Enfants Terribles

“It’s not safe to know how to swear but not how to deal with people… It’s like walking around with your mouth loaded and the safety off.”

― Katie Kennedy

The title of this post (for those of you who are unfamiliar with the French language) refers to (according to the dictionary), “Incorrigible children whose behavior is embarrassing.” It also applies to adults who are “Outspoken or bold persons who say or do indiscreet or irresponsible things”, as a child might.

A case in point is the bruhaha that has arisen over our president and his alleged public use of – pardon my French (and why is it that “my French” is a euphemism for cussing?) – the word “shithole” as descriptive of a certain non-white nation (Haiti) and an entire continent (Africa) in a discourse with congressional leaders over our immigration policies.

If it’s true he used that word (there is at least one who was present and swears he did, and several others who neither confirm nor deny it), then he opened his mouth before putting his brain in gear, his filters – he apparently has none – were “mouth loaded and safety off”.

Perhaps he should be given another title, Enfant-Terrible-In-Charge. He does seem to have penchant for saying and tweeting things boldly (or to use his vernacular, “bigly”) that most people find childishly embarrassing coming from a person in his position of authority, lessening respect for his public office, both here and internationally.

A year ago (Jan 2, ’17), I posted “No $#/+?”, a semi-humorous, thought-provoking musing about cussing in general, and its mental/emotional healthful therapeutic benefits at times. But like all things, it has its proper time and place and that doesn’t – or shouldn’t – apply to its use indiscriminately in public, or where it can be exposed to the public.

Swearing (cursing) in public is indiscreet and irresponsible, embarrassing to those who hear it, or of it, as it should be also to the sayer, once uttered, if they have any shame, and should elicit an immediate “I’m sorry I said that, please forgive my rudeness!”

Trump isn’t the only politican, past or present, to publicly curse or slander. President Johnson once said the difference between a Senator and a Representative is “the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit” and President Nixon (considered the most potty-mouthed of all presidents) called Mexicans “dishonest”, blacks live “like a bunch of dogs”, that San Francisco is full of “fags”. President George W. Bush called New York Times reporter Adam Clymer “a major league asshole.” Vice President Dick Cheney shouted “Go f___ yourself” to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor. This past March, ex-Vice President Biden called the then proposed health care reform bill “big f______ deal”.

Swearing knows no limits these days, so it seems. Seems more people do it than don’t. I haven’t a problem with it so long as it’s only ocassional and limited to private conversations, or in public as the result of some exceptional, horrific emotional or physical assult, but as an automatic “go-to” useful thing in ones vocabulary?

No. I don’t give a $#/+ (pardon my French, please forgive my rudeness) what provokes you, unless you suffer from arrested adolesence, are an enfant terrible, cussing at or slandering others is not how you deal with people publicly.

– Bill

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Resolving Resolutions

“Trying to change old habits is like fighting a war in your head—a draining and exhausting skirmish that makes you wonder at your chance of survival.”

― Richelle E. Goodrich

Did you make a New Years resolution last year? That you actually kept? If you’re like most people, yes you did and no, you didn’t. Why is best summed up here:

“I will do it tomorrow. How often we all do so and what a pity it is that when morning comes and tomorrow is today we so frequently wake up feeling quite differently. Careless or impatient and not a bit inclined to do the fine things we planned to do overnight.”

― Susan Coolidge

Once when I was young, but old enough to comprehend what it meant and what I was doing, I made a New Years resolution (since everyone was sure to ask if I had and I didn’t want to disappoint) to do/not do (blank) in the new year, only to discover I’d forget (or if remembered, fail) early in the new year, much to my chagrin. I soon learned (I was a quick study) that self-flagellation over my failure to change isn’t my style, so on subsequent New Years I resolved to not make any resolutions. That solved the problem, no self-recriminations, no fear of public failure. Nothing and no one could entice me to do otherwise.

Like Seneca, I tried to be quite the Stoic about it. I would stand as a rock – or a better analogy, a sea cliff – even as I might be battered by the pounding waves of (implied or inferred) rebuke and scorn over some (accused) shortcoming of mine, something I could change but chose not to. I stood firm, resolute, manly. I thought myself even as…heroic. I was invulnerable, the opinions of others could not harm me, I would stand defiant, I would not be moved by the passion of others, I would endure. In fact, I applied that philosophy to every aspect of my life. That attitude won me no accolades over the years. Still, I persisted.

And yet, I was not invulnerable, no more than that wave beset cliff; water will always win, it willl, in time, either eat away at the hardest rock and reduce it to nothing or find a way around it leaving it stranded amidst the raging sea. So became my resolve, I found myself bereft of close friends and tolerated only by family.

So I then adopted more of the Taoist (or Daoist, if you prefer) philosophy, more of a “go with the flow”, to yield and adapt, to acquiesce and allow change in myself in areas people disliked (so to keep them off my back).

But I found myself mentally abusing myself. In trying to please others I wasn’t pleasing myself. Maybe they were happier with the new “me”…but me? I thought, not so much. Trying to please others was at war with pleasing myself, “a draining and exhausting skirmish that” made me “wonder at” my chance of mental “survival”, as I seesawed back and forth.

Then I recalled another adage, “In matters of principle, stand firm like a rock; in matters of taste, go with the flow.” I needn’t be stubborn, there is room for compromise – as Emerson said, “foolish consistancy is the hobgoblin of little minds” and in some areas I may need to accomodate and change, but in others – those areas important to me – I would stand firm.

With that in mind – where to stand firm, and where to change – I was glad to see a Facebook posting by one of my two favorite daughters-in-law, since it spoke to how we should realistically interact with others (the parenthetical additions are my take):

8 Things to Quit in 2018 –

1. Trying to please everyone. (To try is futile, there aren’t enough hours in the day to help everyone who asks and still do what you need to do in your own life. Besides, no matter what, there are some people who can never be pleased. Stop trying.)

2. Fearing change. (Change is sometimes scary, the unknown is…well…unknown. If you’re happy, no need to fear, no change needed. But if there’s something that isn’t working, what’s there to lose by changing? It might make things better, you never know.)

3. Living in the past. (I’m an historian by bent, and while I recognize that life in the past holds great fascination and understanding of why things are now, I also recognize that – for any number of reasons – it wasn’t always as good or pleasant as it is recorded, or as we remember. And we can never go back to it, reclaim it, relive it. It is dead and gone. There is only today, tomorrow‘s past, to live, to make a better tomorrow.)

4. Overthinking. (Sometimes the best solution to a problem is the simplest one, the one we overlook because it seems too easy. Sometimes we let ourselves complicate things that aren’t all that complicated.)

5. Be afraid to be different. (Accept that you are different – you are unique, there’s no one on Earth just like you. Be proud of those differences that make you who you are. How boring it would be if we were all cookie cuttered. And remember the axiom, idols have feet of clay – he/she you’d wish to emulate isn’t all they appear to be under the surface and image they project.)

6. Sacrificing your happiness for others. (It’s applaudable to try to bring a measure of happiness to others – see #1 above – but not if it means neglecting your own. It’s said charity begins at home, and in this sense it means taking care of your own happiness first.)

7. Thinking you’re not good enough. (There is no one who’s good for nothing. You may not be good at everything, but there has to be something you are good at. Think about it, find your talent, develop it, use it. You have worth others can benefit from.)

8. Thinking you have no purpose. (Re-read #7 above. Read it again, over and over again until you believe it, because it’s true. And then make it your goal – your purpose in life – to be the best at it.)

So there you have some New Years Resolutions. Stand firm where necessary, go with the flow when needed, and don’t wait until tomorrow to start.

– Bill

Please don’t be offended when I say…

“Some people looove to feel offended because it makes them feel important. When your only tool is a hammer, suddenly every problem starts to look like a nail. And when the only time you feel relevant is when you claim to be offended, suddenly everything looks offensive.”

― Oliver Markus Malloy

I’m not often offended by the actions, thoughts or beliefs of others – an action has to be really egregious to set me off and thoughts and beliefs I can just ignore if I dislike them. But to each his own, live and let live, and I do not want anyone to think for even a second that I think my beliefs are somehow superior to theirs or that theirs are not relevant in the scheme of things.

There are some folk, however, who feel threatened by others’ beliefs – think those others are sometimes “disrespectful” to theirs – and they protest that they are offended because their beliefs get short-shrifted (especially if by a dominant culture) socially.

And so it has come to what is expected (and demanded) of everyone, “political correctness”, by well-meaning, well-intentioned but benighted souls who endeavor to ensure nobody is ever “disrespected”, made to feel “unimportant” or “not revelant”, offended in any way (as if that is humanly possibly).  And in their attempt to enforce “correct” speech and behavior on everyone, they discipline publicly by denouncing those who are “incorrect”.

They fail to understand that some people just get their jollies poking others, self-centeredly.

I said above that I’m not easily offended, but I find that offensive. They may not want to hear what I have to say, but it’s egregious to tell me I can’t say it.

Especially at this time of year. 

So I had to laugh at the “B.C.” comic strip by Johnny Hart in the paper a couple of days ago. (The dialogue between two characters):

“Happy nondescript holiday greeting of your liking.” 

“Merry general, cover-all response back to you!”

“I feel all warm inside.”

“Careful now. Don’t want to offend anyone in hotter climates…”

Why can’t we just say it, whatever it is?

Happy Hanukkah? Happy Solstice? Happy Bodhi Day? Happy Mawlid el-Nabi? (And please, in the name of whatever you hold holy, don’t get all pissy by the order I used – it was strictly random, no disrespect meant, no relative revelance implied.)

I promise not to be offended if I’m greeted with any religious wish for my happiness. I’ll take good wishes from any source.

So, it is not my intent to imply any disrespect to whatever you may believe in (or don’t), I’m not trying to nail you (so put your hammer away) and I ask, if it does, please forgive me and just accept it as simply my wish for your happiness at this time of the year…

…please don’t be offended when I say…

Merry CHRISTMAS!

– Bill

Don’t Fret Over Sugar During the Holidays

“A life without sweets is not much worth living.”

― Pawan Mishra

I’m not a real sweets fan, especially first thing in the morning. In my post “Sugar Time” (last June 1st), I explained why sugar-laden foods for breakfast are not healthy. But I do enjoy a few, though, as desserts after dinner. My favorites are old fashion southern bread pudding with hard sauce (whiskey, please), cold lemon curd pudding (hold the meringue), tiramisu (heavy on the coffee), rum cake/baba (soaked, thank you), or fudge (soft but firm). If they’re not on the menu I’d rather have pie (cinnamon-apple with vanilla bean ice cream or pumpkin without the whipped cream). I’m not a fan of cakes.

But during the day, when the urge to have something sweet hits me, it’s cookies (snickerdoodles, dark chocolate chip, oatmeal and raisin, or coconut macaroons) I want.

Just like you, in all probability. Studies have shown that 99+% of Americans say they love cookies; four out of five say eating a cookie makes them feel happy (two-thirds consider cookies a comfort food, and one-third say a cookie helps them relax.)

The average American adult consumes some 19,000 cookies – about a cookie a day – from ages 18 to 70. 

So it’s little wonder that now that the High Holy Days are upon us, cookies rank right up there with fritters and sufganiyot during Hanukkah, and gingerbread during Christmas (and every child knows how Santa loves a plate full of cookies with a glass of milk!)

(That other Christmas staple, fruitcake, that everyone professes to hate and has become the subject of jokes – no thanks to Johnny Carson – has actually been loved forever – literally: in biblical times, Moses ate fruitcakes, the Romans ate fruitcakes and, in fact, one was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb. Personally, if made right, is fresh and saturated in brandy, I love them! And no need to hurry in eating them, they have a very long shelf-life – according to Wikipedia, since fruit cake contains a good deal of alcohol, it can remain edible for many years: A 106-year-old fruitcake discovered this year was described as in “excellent condition”.)

Since it’s the holidays, set aside any guilt you feel for indulging in whatever:

• It’s just food. Take pleasure in it.

• If you eat well during the rest of the year, a few days of celebatory food won’t hurt you.

• Do be mindful of how much and how often, however, as excessive sugar intake in a day can cause digestive problems.

• Should you overindulge, accept that and move on.

• Don’t restrict yourself to “healthy” recipes. Relax! It’s just once a year, and who likes sugarless sugar cookies?

The holiday season is stressful enough without worrying about what the scale may say come January – you have an entire year to atone in preparation for next year’s delights.

So, have a cookie!

– Bill

Recognizing the Educators

“It’s strange to think about…teachers as being people.” 

― Stephen Chbosky

I believe most people never really think about teachers, or school librarians and such, they way they do others whose valued services are readily apparent, the results of their interaction with us immediate, observable. It’s not so with teachers, we don’t enjoy the fruits of their labors until years after. Everything you know is the knowledge they implant(ed) to your mind, even if it was only the ability to understand and use what you learn(ed) from life experiences long after you’ve left school.

They are the least appreciated, last to be acknowleged, less likely to be remembered. Oh, there is always one or two that we’ll never forget from our school years for who they were and how they taught, that left a lasting impression on us, but – for the most part – most are faceless, nameless in our memories. Yet each one of them had a hand in making us who we are.

And they deserve recognition. Just as much as anyone who does us a service. 

We recognize those others who give us good service usually at Christmas time, with an envelope containing a few dollars as a bonus, a thank you. But we rarely offer so much as a verbal “thank you” to our – or our children’s – teacher(s).

If you can see that and feel somewhat contrite, remiss in overlooking all they have done (do), the holiday season is a good time to atone and let your thanks be known, especially to that one teacher that has made (is making) the most of your (or your child’s) educational experience. But doing the same at anytime during the entire year is always an option!

How might you do that, how to show your appreciation? Unlike to others, perhaps, cash is not appropriate, but there are a number of other ways to express your thanks:

• A simple handwritten note (or the less personal email). Even better, a letter.

• A gift card to a local coffee shop or eatery near the school where they could take lunch, or a gift certificate to a resturant for after one of those long after-school days spent grading papers or preparing lessons for the next.

• A movie pass for some R&R.

• Volunteer a few hours or a day to help out in the classroom.

• Offer to purchase some needed classroom supplies.

Teachers, librarians, custodians, other school staff, are the less sung heros in our (and our children’s) lives. They are rarely thought about for the service they give.

And, just like all people, they deserve (and appreciate) a sincere “thank you” once in a while.

Why not let that special teacher from your past, or that one of your child today, know how much you appreciate them for their caring efforts?

– Bill

Unexpected and Unintended DNA Test Results?

“People can take away your assets, but not your DNA.”

– Simon Spurr

One major component of DNA testing in everyday life is finding out what our genes (the stuff DNA contains) tell us about our ancestors and where they (and thus, we) originated and migrated from, back to our biological Adams and Eves. There are any number of for-profit companies on the market that will analyze a provided sample of spit or cheek cells and send you a report. It is a billion-dollar industry. It seems a great many of us have a natural curiosity to know, and I am among that many. 

I’ve had mine done by two different well-known companies (Ancestry and MyHeritage) and I have to admit frustration in their results – they are wildly different, in both ethnic origins and/or percentages of same, and I don’t know which, or neither, to believe. 

That was unexpected.

How can the same DNA, the same genes, be read differently? It seems according to the different algorithms – the set of computer-written rules used to “read” the genetic strands – used by each company. Apparently, not all DNA testing services are equal in their results. (Twice in the last three months I’ve asked MyHeritage to explain to me why I should believe their results over Ancestry’s. I’m still waiting for an answer.) I’m sorely tempted to submit to a third company to see what they say, and if its results are even somewhat different than the other two, then maybe all this business is just that – just another business, conning us out of our money. So, be warned should you be interested.

And here’s another warning. How safe is your DNA in the database of these companies, is your privacy scrupulously guarded against intrusions by computer hackers or unscrupulous employees? It’s something of concern, considering your DNA is everything about you, much more important than your social security number or the PIN or password to your bank account, or the key to your front door.

Simon Spurr (above) is wrong. Your DNA can be stolen, if you consider someone using it without your permission stealing.

US Senator Chuck Schumer last week said there is a need for greater scrutiny over if and how the companies sell their DNA databases to others. “DNA testing firms don’t clearly disclose to consumers exactly what they are doing with the DNA once a person’s cheek swab is sent in to the company,” Schumer said. “Most people, if they knew that this information could be sold to third parties, would think twice,” he added. He is urging the Federal Trade Commission to examine and ensure that these companies have “clear, fair privacy policies.” (And security against hackers, I pray.) “[Some] are selling it to you on the front end, and they are commercializing it on the back end,” Bennett Greenspan, president and founder of Family Tree DNA (one of the more popular testing companies) has warned. Michelle De Mooy, director of the privacy and data project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, has noted that consumers may find that their DNA is being provided to outside others.

And even if it’s not being sold or otherwise provided, “It’s really inevitable that these databases will be breached” by hackers, says Mooy, “This is just tempting, tempting data.” Data to be sold to the highest bidder. 

Whom might that be? 

How about ad agencies, all the better to target personalized products for you based on your ethnic background (for example)? 

How about life or health or auto insurance companies, or even a potential employer, if the test shows genetic predispositions to certain behaviours or diseases (which could be used to deny coverage or increase premiums, or a job offer)? Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest asks the question, “If you had a genetic test, and your genetic test showed that you might be predisposed to develop early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, and that information was made public, how would your employer feel about that?” Or your insurance company?

How about an identity thief? Pitts poses the question, “If people are trying to imitate you based on your Social Security number, imagine the damage they could cause impersonating you on the genetic level.” 

How about the government (probably the only thing they already don’t have on you is your DNA, unless you’ve been arrested/convicted)? What government ever hasn’t wanted to know everything it can find about its citizens (knowledge equals power/manipulation which equals control)? 

How about the police?

A recent news article by Claudia Lauer (Associated Press) tells how Brown County (Texas) sheriff’s investigators have tried to solve a murder case, despite having no witnesses. A sketch “was created using DNA found at the crime scene; a private lab used the sample to predict the shape of the killer’s face, his skin tone, eye color and hair color. Within a week, the sheriff’s office had a suspect in custody…the DNA sketch [used] technology known as phenotyping… For law enforcement officers, it’s a relatively new tool that can generate leads in cold cases or narrow a suspect pool.”

[Based on the drawing, public recognition of the sketched face has lead to a “suspect”. He hasn’t yet been arrested for the murder they were investigating. However, he is under arrest for another murder he’s subsequently confessed to.]

But, Lauer also noted, “[F]or some ethicists and lawyers, it’s an untested advancement that if used incorrectly could lead to racial profiling or ensnaring innocent people…Releasing a sketch of a suspect without any witnesses seems like a dangerous proposition… Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that from what scientists have said and written, not enough is known about the link between genes and facial features to rely on the technology to produce a suspect (‘You can lose weight, gain weight, change gender, grow a beard, have plastic surgery,’ Stanley said. ‘It risks ensnaring innocent people in webs of suspicious investigations. It risks playing on existing societal racial prejudices. It risks diverting investigations down wild goose chases. If this technology were used to set up dragnets say to bring in every albino person in an area as a suspect because the DNA seemed to show someone had that trait, that’s where we would object.’)”

Let’s hope someone would object.

I don’t want to sound like a Chicken Little, nor am I much given to conspiracy theories, but sometimes there are unintended results from the things we do. Or the things we trust others with.

Maybe having your DNA tested might prove to be one of those things with unintended results. 

Nonetheless, as I wrote above, if two of the highest rated DNA testing companies can’t agree on what your genes have to say about your ethnicity, why even bother?

– Bill