Sometimes life overwhelms art. For example, I just experienced an episode of political incorrectness. Actually, I am lying: I just perpetrated an episode of political incorrectness.
A woman at my work (R, who works in another department) reminds me just a bit of Precious Ramotswe. Probably you are already familiar with Precious, a fictional character in a wonderful series of books about the #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Even though they are very popular, they are quite good. If you are sometimes amused (an even on occasion moved a wee bit) by my writing, Smith’s is about eleventy-seven times better. By several exponents.
Although the word cheerful does not pop into my mind in my stereotypes of Africa, these books (although they contain sadness and tragedy) present a cheerful view of the country of Botswana. As far as I have been able to discover (without following the more useful alternative of traveling to Botswana and living there for a few years), Botswana does have many characteristics to be cheerful about as countries go.
As I’ve mentioned, my ethnic background is Eastern-European Jewish.
Although I have no idea what land R’s ancestors came from (and I suspect they may not have come to America willingly), Botswana is a possibility.
I find R quite charming. One reason is that she is quite cheerful. Now my employer, a few years ago, began promoting the idea that we are a “retail” organization, indicating that we should present a cheerful disposition toward customers. In principle I agree (even though my natural disposition toward other people is surly), but many people in my organization present a cheerful disposition that seems as if it was sprayed on from a spray can they found for sale at Wal-Mart.
R, on the other hand, exudes a natural cheerfulness.
Also, she laughs at a lot of my jokes. It’s hard to be more charming than that.
Most of the time, R dresses in standard American attire, though she dresses better than I do. Although my wife (who has impeccable taste) tries to make me look respectable, I defeat her efforts.
The other day, as we met in a hallway, R was wearing a colorful dashiki dress. This is not the actual dress, and the picture is a blouse rather than a dress, and R’s dress was more red than orange, but aside from being quite different, this picture gives you a rough idea of the appearance of the dress R was wearing.
Though it’s probably not corporately appropriate to comment on a fellow employee’s attire, I told her I liked the dress.
She began laughing. She told me that she had bought it at a thrift store. In fact, she said, she had purchased two different items because they matched each other and then had sewn them together to make the dress she was wearing. I expressed my admiration and appreciation for the final result.
She said she liked this particular thrift store because it specializes in apparel for women of “traditional build.” That’s how Smith describes Precious in his novels about her. R is not really “heavy,” but she’s not a skinny woman.
R said, “This store is called ‘Two Big Blonds.’
This time I laughed. I said, “It’s not appropriate for us [meaning whites such as myself] to make jokes about black people. But we can get away with jokes about blonds. It’s one of the last groups considered ‘fair game.’”
I apologize to any blond person reading this blog posting.
Some people are just funny, even though they are not members of a funny group.
I am such a person. I am funny because I am a person who tries to be funny but I am not really very funny. My failing efforts to be funny make me an object of ridicule, thus unintentionally funny.
However, some groups are considered funny.
Such groups include:
- Polish people
- Jewish people
- Aggies (students or graduates of Texas A&M College)
- black people
- white people
To understand why groups of people lose their humor potential, you must review some chemistry. You may not consider chemistry very humorous, but that’s only because you only studied inorganic chemistry or organic chemistry. For some reason, your chemistry teacher forgot to teach you about humor chemistry.
Three of the basic elements of humor chemistry are RI (ridiculum), ST (stereotypium) and STU (stupidium). Combining these elements produce compounds such as Polish jokes.
However, just as in quantum physics the presence of an observer affects the outcome of the experiment (1), the presence of a large number of observers affects the outcome of a humor chemistry reaction. A certain percentage of the observers introduce the weak element REAL (realisticum) and the stronger element EM (empathium) into the reaction, producing the compound PC (politicalcorrectness). The presence of PC rapidly dampens humor chemistry reactions. Desperate humor chemists tried throwing in the element CTJ (cantyoutakeajokeium), but this often only produced explosive reactions. In fact the use of CTJ is considered so dangerous that its use is now banned by law.
As you can see from the introduction page to the Polish joke collection, PC has been introduced and soon the entire joke collection will weaken into an idiot joke collection.
It is clear that objects of ridicule and derision are a rapidly diminishing unnatural resource.
(1) Wikipedia says: A common lay misuse of the term refers to quantum mechanics, where, if the outcome of an event has not been observed, it exists in a state of ‘superposition‘, which is akin to being in all possible states at once. In the famous thought experiment known as Schrödinger’s cat the cat is supposedly neither alive nor dead until observed — until that time, the cat is both alive and dead (technically half-alive and half-dead in probability terms). However, modern quantum physicists, in resolving Schrödinger’s seeming paradox, now understand that the acts of ‘observation’ and ‘measurement’ must also be defined in quantum terms before the question makes sense. From this point of view, there is no ‘observer effect’, only one vastly entangled quantum system. To which I respond by throwing in some illegal CTJ from my secret stash.
Here are a couple of controversial possibilities for shortages of unnatural resources. They are closely related to each other, but not exactly the same, so I will make a separate post for each:
- Objects of ridicule and derision
May 27, 2007
Not all claims of coming shortages are accepted by everyone.
For example, many people argue that the earth is undergoing Global Warming.
This claim implies we are going to face a shortage of cool people.
Some argue that there has never been an abundant supply of cool people.
Others consider themselves very cool indeed.
This debate leads me to wonder: Is there a corresponding controversy involving an alleged shortage of unnatural resources? I will point out a possibility in my next post.
May 26, 2007
Besides running out of melodies and rhymes, writers are running out of plots. One observer boils plots down to supplication, deliverance, revenge, vengeance by family upon family, pursuit, victim of cruelty or misfortune, disaster, revolt, daring enterprise, abduction, enigma, obtaining, familial hatred, murderous adultery, madness, fatal imprudence, involuntary crimes of love, killer kills unrecognized kinsman, self sacrifice for an ideal, self sacrifice for kindred, all sacrificed for passion, sacrifice of loved ones, rivalry between superior and inferior, adultery, crimes of love, discovery of dishonor of a loved one, obstacles to love, an enemy loved, ambition, conflict with a god, mistaken jealousy, faulty judgment, remorse, recovery of a lost one, loss of loved ones.
And that just covers one bad weekend.
Another simplifies by arguing that there are only seven plots to all of literature.
After tossing around various possibilities, another observer really gets down to basics by boiling all plots down to two:
- Everyone gets killed.
- Only the bad guys get killed.
When you get right down to it, you face nothing less in the rest of your life but re-runs.
May 24, 2007
I interrupt my little series on shortages of unnatural resource to bring you some Barely Extended Family news and Random Granddaughter news.
Last night my daughter called and provided the following news items.
(1) Job Application. She is applying for a job at the university where she is applying for graduate school. She had her first interview. She hasn’t heard whether she has “made the cut” yet to be called for a second interview. So the news is that there is no news.
(2) Random Granddaughter’s Vegetable Eating Adventures. When her moms picked up RG from preschool, she was eating some raw broccoli as a snack. Her moms were amazed. Her grandparents were amazed when we heard the news. Grandma said, “Actually I like raw cauliflower better than raw broccoli. Has she tried that”
Mama (Random Daughter) said, “Yes, they gave her some raw cauliflower at preschool one day, and she didn’t like it.”
(3) Grandparents Babysitting Plans. My wife and I are scheduled to take care of RG for two days in June. (In the little house in the medium sized city, not the little house in the medium sized woods on the island.)
(4) RG’s Notebook. This is a big deal at RG’s preschool. When the preschooler has demonstrated enough maturity in her behavior and enough progress in her studies, he or she gets a Notebook for their projects. RG just got her own notebook. Evidently, this is her official entry into the “big kids” category at the preschool. She is very excited and proud.
In the 20th Century, humans discovered sex. What people had done before that time is unclear, but scholars are studying the matter.
Writers created works of fiction on the topic, such as Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, and Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response.
Other writers created factual “how to” manuals such as Tropic of Cancer, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Candy, and Ulysses. However, some readers were disappointed. For example, couples waded through hundreds of pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses looking for the “good parts.” At the end, they read, “Yes, yes,” and then wondered, “is that it? Is that all there is? Now what?”
As I’ve mentioned earlier, we have moved into the recipe age. While magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, and Bon Appetit, offer food recipes, magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour offer sex trick recipes.
(Men, don’t feel left out. Magazines such as Playboy, Maxim, and Men’s Health offer sex trick recipes for men.)
The problem is: how many ways are there to do it? For that matter, are they safe?
Consider this typical day at the Emergency Room.
Admitting Doctor to Ambulance Attendant: “Classification?”
Ambulance Attendant: “714625”
Doctor (looking on computer): “Ahh, let’s see, that the Triple Reverse Switchback, Cosmopolitan Magazine, May 2007.”
Sound of moans from patients in ambulance.
Doctor: “Did you try to separate them?”
Sound of terrified screams from patients in ambulance. “No, no, don’t try to pull us apart again. It hurts too much!”
Attendant: “No, too dangerous. We decided to leave it for you guys. You have the proper equipment.”
Several hours later:
Doctor to female patient: “We’re releasing you to go home now. Did you read the note at the bottom of the article: Don’t try this at home?”
Female patient: “Where were we supposed to try it? Work? The park? Anyway, what about Joe? I think that’s his name, unless it’s Ralph. I forget. Anyway, do you think he will be all right?”
Doctor: “We’re pretty sure he will come to in a couple of hours. Do you want us to give you a call when we are ready to release him?”
Female patient: “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s a keeper. Thank you for your help.”
Doctor: “Be careful now. Some of those magazine sex tricks are dangerous.”
Dangerous or not, there’s only so many ways that you can do it. Even after Cosmopolitan and Glamour keep their writers locked in rooms for hours with strict orders to dream up new sex tricks, they just end up banging their heads against the wall.
In fact, recent reports of pressure to “clean up sex trick magazine articles” to make supermarket displays less provocative are simply a desperate effort to hide a swelling scarcity of new sex tricks.
May 22, 2007
Many years ago, my brother (who is smarter and more talented than I am) went to Senegal for three years as a Peace Corps member. When I talked to him after he returned to the United States, one of the differences he noticed between Americans and the people in the African village where he lived were different expectations in regard to meal variety.
Americans expect to have something different for dinner each day of the week, he said.
The people in Senegal were quite content to have the same meal for dinner each day of the week for many days, he went on.
Perhaps, they were just grateful to have anything to eat, I thought, and didn’t consider variety to be such a big deal.
This brings me to the next item on my list of disappearing unnatural resources. Over the last century or so, how many cook books have been published? How many recipes have been published in supermarket checkout rack magazines? How many total recipes have been published?
We must have reached billions and billions of recipes.
How many ways can one prepare pickled beets? How many different ways are there to prepare macaroni and cheese?
As I go down the street in the city, I see here a French restaurant, there a Vietnamese restaurant, and here’s a Wendy’s restaurant.
Coming soon to your town a new franchise: Senegalese Food. Nothing new every day!
May 21, 2007
By the same token, the world is running out of rhymes. Desperate poets scrabbling under the bed have retrieved near rhymes, half-rhymes, imperfect rhymes, pararhymes, and slant rhymes. Like a child licking the bowl for one more bit of frosting, they have tried assonance and consonance.
Trying to subsist on a diet of modern poetry, whether high literature or mooney jooney popular jingles or bapping rapping hip hop is a likely road to starvation.
May 20, 2007
For example, the world is running out of melodies. When was the last time you heard a popular song with a melody? In fact, both classical music and popular music are scraping the bottom of the barrel and trying to make do with desperate artificial replacements. For example, classical music has experimented with impressionism, expressionism, atonalism, neo-classicism, 12-tone series, serialism, indeterminism, and minimalism, all known to the average person as music that makes my head hurt. Popular music has now been taken over by rap music, also known as hip hop. This is music caused by rapping you on the head until you hip and hop with pain causing you to describe it as music that makes my head hurt. As you can see, high culture and popular culture have found common ground in pain.