Thursday, July 25, 2002

My Stand on the Plej of a Lejents

I want to talk about the recent 9th Circuit Court decision about the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, because it's such a hot topical subject. But then I realized that the only experience I've had with reciting the Pledge in schools is over forty years old, so in order to talk about a hot topical subject I'd have to reminisce about my passage through the Fifties as a grade schooler.

Oh well. We love irony.

Why do you suppose apples are called that? Why aren't they called brullers? Bruller sounds like an English word. A bruller should be something. Why not an apple?

In 1955, when I was six, I solved this question by noting that "apple" is a reddish word, whereas bruller has a coffee color. Therefore "apple" would be more suitable for describing apples, which are far more often red than coffee colored. So we don't call apples brullers.

At that age I spent a considerable amount of time testing the hypothesis that if a baseball was thrown at the air hard enough it would bounce off. I also believed that if I ran fast enough air would support my feet and I could climb skyward for at least six or seven feet before I got tired.

Though I lived 35 miles from Boston at the time I was sure that I could, given time and enough sandwiches in a paper sack, walk almost anywhere in the world. The question was not could I walk to Paris, but how many days would it take. I guessed somewhere on the order of a week. I knew that if I walked due east I would run into the Atlantic Ocean, but the plan would be to sidestep that.

The year before I started grade school the Supreme Court banned the leading of prayers in public schools. However the news of their decision must not have made it from Washington, D. C. to Ayer, Massachusetts, in spite of the easy walk, because my grade school there required me to recite the Our Father thingie for two years.

I call it the Our Father thingie because at that point those were almost the only words I could make out of the whole thing. The teacher would say, "Everyone bow your heads and say the Lord's Prayer," and so everyone was mumbling into their shirtsleeves. I couldn't see their lips moving and it was almost impossible to follow along.

I do remember being able to make out the part about my cup running over and "give me my daily bread." These words had me worried. What cup are we talking about? What's in it? Why is it running (runnething) over? I pictured a boiling cup of potion like in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie. I didn't want to drink from a cup like that.

And since when do I have to beg for daily bread? What happened to full balanced meals? Don't I get dessert? What about give me my daily Mars bar?

I started school just one year after Eisenhower got the words "under God" added to the Pledge. Not all of my teachers accepted the change. My first grade teacher had us say it the "traditional way," i.e. without the addition. In my mind it went something like this: I plej a lejents to the flag, something, mumble, something,

for which it stands, invisible, with liberty and justice for all.

What, I wondered, was a lejent? And why was I plejing one?

I'm still not sure. And that's where I stand on the 9th Circuit Court's opinion.

OK, I'll clarify a little. What I'm saying is, let's use our schools more to teach kids things like where words come from and how big the world is, and less to indoctrinate them in religion or nationalism. The indoctrination doesn't work anyway.

Thursday, July 11, 2002


Some recent talk has got me reflecting upon the nature of stupidity once again.

You're probably right now asking, "Wes, what makes you such an expert on stupidity?" Well, I once stuck my finger in a live light socket out of curiosity. So why wouldn't I be an expert on stupidity?

But seriously, when you are a mutant as I am, your stupidities stand out in stark relief to those of the normal humans. You become more clearly aware of your own stupidities, while, at the same time, normal people's stupidities just drive you to the need for psychiatric medications.

A typical normal human stupidity is the Talk Over The Answer stupidity, or TOTA. People who exhibit TOTA have sense enough to ask questions when they don't know something, but their sense leaves them when it comes time to listen to the answer. They talk over it.

Sufferers of TOTA often have what I have identified as "negative IQ." I first discovered negative IQ when I was forced to team up on a job with a person who had a severe TOTA problem. Lets call her Ms. D. Even though I have at least an average IQ, I could tell that, while working as a team, Ms. D and I were two suits short of a full deck. I mean Ms. D brought my usual IQ down to somewhere around my ankles, and a job that took two hours to do by myself took four hours with her "help." Ms. D had a negative IQ.

One of my own stupidities that fascinates my friends is what I call my detail-discrimination impairment. This can take many forms in others, but for me it is a persistent, long term, inability to bring myself to make distinctions among objects that don't directly concern me.

For example, let's say my way is blocked by a tall woody leaf-bearing plant. I might be heard to utter something like, "Oh. Tree." To myself I might note whether the thing were a deciduous tree or a familiar evergreen, but that's about as far as I'd analyze the situation. Over the long term, since I haven't often noticed the differences between trees I've encountered, the result is that I can't tell most of them apart. Therefore, when the subject of trees comes up, I'm as stupid as two postage stamps glued to each other.

One more universal class of stupidities is what I call the Reversal Stupidities. The Reversal Stupidities manifest in a habit of thinking that if some idea isn't true, then the idea you get by reversing everything about the first idea has to be true. So you think if X isn't your friend, he has to be your enemy. You think that if X and Y are arguing, and if it's clear to you that X is wrong, then Y must be right. You think if evolution is false, creationism must be true, or vice versa. You think that if UFOs aren't glowing marsh gas, then they must be piloted by extra-terrestrials.

There is something about the hard-wiring of the human brain that causes otherwise highly intelligent people to jump to these sorts of conclusions. You have to always be alert to this kind of stupidity, and it doesn't help to think that you yourself are ever free of it.

What can help is an occasional "heads up" from a friend. We're all in this together. Here's a heads up to my well-meaning Pioneer Square neighbors who want to add limits on what alcohol can be sold there: your solution to the "alcohol impact problem" would in effect result in two sets of laws, one for the rest of the state, one for our neighborhood. We would begin to live in a de facto ghetto.

How about a solution that doesn't single Pioneer Square out for ghettohood? How about backing alcoholic treatment for everybody that wants it, wherever they live? Or, if you don't like that idea, think of a better one. How should I know what would work? But don't ghettoize my neighborhood just to inconvenience alcoholics.

Remember, they can buy their brands outside the neighborhood. I already do.