May. 12th, 2014 07:55 pm
luscious_purple: Star Wars Against Hate (Default)
If you haven't yet voted in LJ Idol this week, go here and vote before 10 p.m. EDT. Just because I'm out of the competition doesn't mean I can't remind you....
luscious_purple: Ganked from many people (damn not given)
(In which I took the theme, "No true Scotsman," too literally at first. Now that I discovered that it refers to a kind of logical fallacy, I don't have time to change my thoughts around. I've got a short freelance assignment for *pay*, a job interview on Thursday, and a huge decluttering project going on here.)

Scotsman. Scotland. Never been to Scotland. When I planned to spend two weeks in the UK -- an Anglophile's dream -- in 1989, I wanted to avoid if-this-is-Tuesday-it-must-be-wherever syndrome, so I limited my itinerary to southern and southwestern England. (It didn't hurt that I could crash on a London friend's sofa and save myself lots of money.) Granted, my friend's parents escorted me on an afternoon trip into Wales, which was a welcome addition, but other than that, I stuck to England and didn't go even as far north as Hadrian's Wall.

None of my ancestors came from the British Isles. In my native state of Massachusetts, being of Irish descent is a Really Big Deal, partly because of demographics and partly because of the Kennedys. Scottish heritage, not so much.

I never even saw the movie Braveheart, because some LGBT folks were urging a boycott of it at the time, and I have liked Mel Gibson less and less over the years. I suppose I need to read a really good history book about Scotland. (Back in high school, I read and adored Victoria Fraser's biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, but Mary wasn't the only person in Scottish history.) Suggestions are welcome.

In my professional life, I've had to interview science professors at the universities of Edinburgh and St. Andrews, but not all of them are actually Scottish. One was from Germany and another was from some undetermined Middle Eastern country (I didn't ask). The strongest Scottish accent I've heard in a while came from an engineering professor in Australia. So what IS a "Scotsman" or "Scotswoman" in these days of globalization?

The referendum on Scottish independence will fall on the anniversary of my mother's birth (just a coincidence, I'm sure). I wonder what will happen.
luscious_purple: Boston STRONG! (Boston Strong)
"Don't step on a crack or you'll break your mother's back."

How many times did we all hear something like that while we were growing up? I certainly remember trying to avoid stepping on cracks and performing other literal manifestations of my temporary superstitions, like putting my right shoe on before my left shoe and tossing spilled salt over my left shoulder. (Heck, I still put my right shoe on first, out of sheer force of habit.)

Of course, it didn't take me too long to figure out that stepping on a sidewalk crack would not bring my mother's world crashing down upon my family's head. Especially since my mother was a strong person who didn't even cry when she was run over by a car while crossing the street on her ninth birthday.

Decades later, though, I find that we all practice lots of little rituals every day to avoid the ever-present threats of doom. We take our vitamins and brush our teeth, fret about the chemicals in our water and the calories in our food, get our exercise, save our pennies and practice our job skills. We feel armored up, ready to "do battle" with the world, and we inevitably look down upon people who haven't taken as many pains to prepare as we have.

And then the next step is: Blame the victim!

Cancer? That person "must" have been a smoker, or ate bad stuff, or didn't do the breast self-exams. Heart attack? Couch potato! Out of a job? Lazy bum! If we can't say these things to the victims' faces, we certainly say them online in thousands or millions of comments.

What burns me is that sometimes these bad things happen to people who have done the good stuff, the protective rituals, and it wasn't "enough." One friend had a vague discomfort in her midsection that turned out to be a rare form of primary liver cancer. She doesn't smoke and wasn't an alcoholic. Her only risk factor was her humanity. My dentist also had a vague pain in his back a few years ago, but nobody stepped on a crack -- he had a tumor on one of his kidneys.

But, oh, these people "must" have ingested something wrong. Or whatever.

I had a friend who discovered he had high blood pressure and a congenital heart problem. So he cut out the salt, hit the walking paths, and had the heart fixed. And something went BOOM in his brain, so he's dead. Someone else I know who enjoys an active lifestyle, doesn't have excess fat on her body, just had the same kind of hemorrhagic stroke, although she is alert and expected to recover.

Every person I've known who was killed while riding a motorcycle was wearing a helmet. My high school principal lost control and went off a cliff. My mother's 79-year-old friend and her son were T-boned at an intersection when someone else blew through a stop sign.

One friend, age 62, keeps telling me that he must prepare for a long retirement because his relatives lived into their 90s. I peer at him over my glasses and remind him that some of the 9/11 victims must have had longevity genes too.

We humans with our pattern-seeking brains just can't wrap our heads around the randomness of the universe. A stray cosmic ray, a haphazard mutation in a single cell, a moment of inattention ... some things just happen, and there is no "why."
luscious_purple: The middle class is too big to fail! (middle class)
"Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door."

Haven't we all heard that saying a bazillion times? Supposedly it goes all the way back to the 19th century, as a misquotation of Ralph Waldo Emerson; the mousetrap didn't even exist until after his death.

What's that saying even supposed to mean nowadays?

We're all supposed to be "makers" rather than "takers," to have upwardly mobile aspirations, to work tirelessly and cheerfully, to produce a steady stream of creative and innovative ideas, to compete relentlessly with all those other people in all those other countries.

The reality?

Young adults graduate from college and there is nothing for them to do. Yeah, in my day we too had that "can't get experience if you can't get a job" Catch-22. But today many of the jobs that provided a foot in the door to the middle-class world of work, such as clerk-typists and administrative assistants and receptionists, don't exist anymore, thanks to everything from email and spreadsheets to sophisticated phone-answering systems. Other jobs have become, guess what, unpaid internships -- requiring prospective interns to have families who can afford to support them.

And those families? Don't even get me started on how people who used to be considered just "seasoned" and "experienced" are now just unemployable Luddites. But we are told that society NEEDS to set the retirement age higher and higher! So what exactly are people supposed to DO between the ages of, say, 45 and 70? Sit on the street corner and jingle a cup and chant, "Spare change, spare change"?

Some of my friends' kids are now in college (and accumulating vast quantities of student loan debt in the meantime). One is almost done with her nursing program, and I'm thrilled for her, but will she be crowded out of the field by immigrants who study for just a few weeks, manage to pass the U.S. nursing boards and then work for lower wages? Another is a biochemistry major interested in pathology or forensic science as potential careers. I'm inclined to encourage her to choose the latter, because I would think that some law-enforcement jobs will still require U.S. citizenship in the decades to come, but with digital imaging, it would be easy for labs to send "slides" halfway around the world for diagnosis by pathologists in lower-cost countries, leaving only minimum-wage technicians here to collect the samples and then forward the "sorry, you have cancer" messages to the American patients (who have higher and higher deductibles to meet before they can afford the treatment, but that's another story).

So ... people are working longer hours, more tethered to their jobs than ever before (a significant percentage of workers don't take all their vacation days, and what would happen to them if they refused the boss's text message while on the beach?), paying endlessly higher bills without getting larger paychecks, terrified they'll lose their jobs ... and we're all supposed to be infinitely creative and compete in the global marketplace? Especially after signing all those non-compete and intellectual-property agreements when getting the job in the first place?

Don't get me wrong; I greatly admire the maker culture and have tried to figure out where I fit into it. Nine days ago I went to my community's first Mini Maker Faire and was thrilled to see the outpouring of ideas and projects. But sometimes it's darned hard to feel creative and inspired when the bills have piled up too high. And the output I've always claimed as my own -- words written on a page -- have been devalued so much by the implosion of journalism and other forces that I'm sometimes tempted to rip up my entire backstory and start all over again.

Build a better mousetrap? Hell, we are all blind mice in the corporatocracy's trap.
luscious_purple: Boston STRONG! (Boston Strong)
“Nobody can ride your back if your back's not bent." -- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Stand up straight. You're always so round-shouldered, just like your father," my mother told me over and over again. "Don't look at the ground when you walk. Look where you're going."

Invariably I would sigh, because I'd heard it all before. Or so I thought, in my full-on teenage-exaggeration mode.

My mother told me a lot of things during the late afternoons. Five days a week, she got out of work in the school cafeteria at the same time I got out of classes. After being on her feet all those hours, baking bread and dishing out food portions and cleaning huge pots, all she wanted to do was sit in her favorite corner of the dinette, between the window and the radio. She would smoke cigarettes and sip on her black coffee, and while the blue tobacco smoke streamed straight upward until it caught a current and disintegrated, we would talk and talk and talk.

Sometimes we would chat about childhood memories, mine and hers. I would confess, in great detail, the details of my tremblingly strong crushes on boys who had no idea I even existed. One day in seventh grade I came home shaking like a leaf because in the girls' restroom at school I had seen another girl with a hypodermic needle (to this day I have no idea if she was a druggie or a Type 1 diabetic). For a while a classmate named Diane, who ironically was born on the same day as I was, was calling me names and telling lies about me behind my back. And there was the afternoon when I came home blubbering about what a "meanie" my English teacher was.

So often my patient mother, who spent her teenage years in the Great Depression, had to explain to me how the world worked, how to talk to other kids, how to stand up for myself. Over and over again, she would repeat: "Remember, they're no better than you are. You're no better than them, but they're no better than you either." It was her homely way of reminding me that I had just as much inherent worth and dignity as every other human being.

Another thing she used to tell me: Life would be better once I was all grown up.

And time proved her right. I have had a much better life as an adult than as a teenager. I've done things I never could have dreamed of doing when I was young. The girl who thought no one liked her now has hundreds of friends. And I treasure those afternoons of life lessons from my mother.
luscious_purple: The middle class is too big to fail! (middle class)
A woman’s home is her castle.

When I think of “home,” I don’t think of the condo I bought nearly 15 years ago. I dream of the perfect little house.

Two bedrooms, one bath, six closets. A basement, half finished, and an attic with a real fixed staircase. A garage just big enough for a whale of an American-made car.

Shiny varnished woodwork. Maple trees to shade the roof. A backyard hill made for sledding.

My father and mother built that house. One evening, as a thirtysomething man trying to start a family with his wife, my father sketched out the design of the house on a crinkly sheet of tissue paper. The initial sketch became more detailed as he took a ruler and pencil and measured out the walls and doorways just as he had been taught in his high school mechanical-drawing class. Then he and my mother bought a half-acre of land and got the foundation dug. All summer long, the two of them worked 10 hours a day at their factory jobs, grabbed a sandwich for supper, set up a couple of clamp lights, and hammered away until midnight.

My parents brought me home to that house as a newborn. Growing up, I knew every closet by name (front-hall closet, work-clothes closet) as well as by the sound of its door and by its contents (the squeaky canister vacuum cleaner, the musty scent of worn sweaters and pants). The medicine cabinet made a prolonged metallic squeak as my father opened and closed it when he got up at night to take some aspirin. The sheets on the backyard clothesline almost blinded me with their cleanliness in the sunshine.

One evening at the dinner table when I was about seven years old, my mother announced, “We don’t have to pay the rent anymore.” I didn’t know anything about veterans’ mortgages at the time, but I garnered the sense that we had planted deep roots and I would always be able to build cardboard-box houses in the cellar and roll down the back hill with the grass slap-slapping me in the face until the world spun weirdly.

Time passed, and one Sunday morning my father dropped dead in the bathroom he had built, and some years later my mother went into the hospital and never came out. I bought a condo near the big city where I’d always wanted to work and sold the little house in the small town to a single mother who had been born at the hospital near my condo.

My life puttered on until the economy crashed around me. Now I am old and hard to employ, and I worry constantly about paying the mortgage. I know I could not have foreseen the Great Recession and its lasting impact, but some days I bitterly regret not keeping my parents’ house free and clear. At night I close my eyes and still dream about the perfect home, built by my parents’ hands, with hopes and love.

2014-03-31 17.15.18
luscious_purple: i'm in ur fizx lab, testin ur string therry (string therry)
Topic: Jayus, "from Indonesian, meaning a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.”

Physics students and physicists tell jokes. I don't know why it took Hollywood and the television industry so many decades to figure this out.

Physics students get a special thrill out of telling preciously esoteric jokes that make no sense to anyone without advanced training in higher mathematics.

For example, take one joke whose author has been lost in the mists of time: How do we know where Cauchy walked his dog? Because he left a residue at every pole. If you don't know that Baron Augustin-Louis Cauchy was a French mathematician who studied complex numbers, that a "line integral" adds up the numerical values along a curved path, that a "pole" is a place on a data field where the values suddenly become infinitely huge and stick out like a telephone pole on a flat plain, then all you see is the scatological side of the double entendre.

So, if you see one half of a double entendre, do you laugh? Or do you hear the sound of one hand clapping?

During the World Year of Physics in 2005, somebody at the local community cafe, the quirky little storefront that functions as a third space for residents of our suburb, organized an open-mike night for "physics comedy." This was not as much of a mental stretch as one might think, since our community has its secret stash of space-telescope hardware and scientific-programming tomes routinely top the local bestseller lists. So, as a good little holder of a B.S. degree in physics, cum laude and all that, I did an Internet search for "physics jokes" and compiled crib notes for my first-ever standup routine.

That night, I had my small but fervent audience chuckling until I came to the saga of e to the power x. Now, e is an irrational number: 2.718281828459 blah blah blah... it goes on forever without repeating. If you raise e to the power x, meaning you multiply e by itself x times, you get a mathematical function that remains the same no matter how many times you integrate and differentiate it. (Think of integration and differentiation as virtual machines that gobble up one equation and spit it out in a different version. Kind of like Google Translate, but for the universal language of science instead of our imperfect human tongues.)

So, with minimal glances down to my crib notes, I recounted the joke, again written originally by someone long forgotten:

There was a patient in a mental hospital who kept scaring all the other patients. He would go up to people and shout at them, "I differentiate you! I differentiate you!"

But there was one patient who wasn't bothered at all. He would just sit there and smile calmly as the guy yelled at him, "I differentiate you! I differentiate you!"

Finally the calm guy replied: "You can differentiate me all you want, and it won't change anything. I'm
e to the power x."

Most folks in the audience tittered, but one guy with a face weathered as the granite of New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain angrily rose to his feet. He shouted, "This is not funny! It's wrong to make fun of people in mental hospitals!" The laughter faded, and my face felt hot. I hastened to finish up my set and sit down again.

The weathered-skin guy didn't say anything else to me that evening, but I later learned that he was the town "weirdo," so to speak. Eventually the cafe banned him because he would disrupt performances. Occasionally I saw him on the subway, yelling random thoughts against both ends of the political spectrum. Once I was sitting at an outdoor cafe with a date, and we were deep into a speculative conversation about alternate histories, and started shouting that we were unpatriotic. I wish I knew what to say, but sometimes there isn't anything to say.

A few months after the open-mike night, I dared to tell the joke again, this time to a few friends from my church. One of them screamed with laughter until the tears ran down his face. "I don't even know what it means and I think it's funny!" he howled. He no longer goes to my church, but I wonder whether he watches The Big Bang Theory.
luscious_purple: Lithuanian map and flag -- "Proud to Be Lithuanian" (lithuanian map and flag)
The first LJ Idol poll is up:
I'm in Tribe 2.

Also: Happy Restoration of Lithuanian Independence Day! (Yes, Lithuania is the little country with two Independence Days.)

Still completely boggled as to how that Malaysia Airlines jetliner could simply vanish. It's not that small a plane. You'd think there would be some debris field on the surface. WTF.
luscious_purple: Stop SOPA and PIPA (No SOPA)
Hello, I'm Patty. I am many things. Labeled many ways.

I am an only child. I am also the youngest of at least five children. My mother had at least four miscarriages that she hated to discuss. God is the ultimate abortionist.

I was a good child. Bit of a prodigy, even. Studies came easily to me. Until I hit a brick wall in graduate school, and my talent for taking multiple-choice exams no longer got me any further.

I never questioned my need to go to college. Now I question whether my three degrees were all for naught. I played the game and did what my parents told me would give me a good life and now I have fallen out of the middle class.

I'm a nonfiction writer trapped in trade-journal limbo and trying to figure out what to do next. I would advise today's young people that writing is something to do on the side, not one's entire career.

I love the past, present and future simultaneously. I have participated in the Society for Creative Anachronism for 10 years. I wish I'd joined in 1977. At the same time, I wish I could be around to see the 22nd century. Since I'm old enough to remember the JFK assassination, though, I am realistic. Longevity does not run on either side of my family.

My greatest fear is that I will be of sound mind and frail body and yet be euthanized because society cannot afford to keep childless elderly people alive.

And tonight I shall go out and help make music for dancers.
luscious_purple: Snagged on LJ (great news)
OK, Deza has convinced me. If she can do LJ Idol, I can too!

My LJ Idol entries will be public for your voting and forwarding pleasure. However, I'm still a little bit squicky about associating my LJ/DW username with my real-life name, so please use some discretion.

We shall see what happens next. If nothing else, I'll get some practice in creative writing.

September 2017

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