Sunday, August 21, 2016

why you should em-quad

Thursday, August 18, 2016

fun with toponyms

2 things named after the city of Xalapa: the hot pepper that comes from around there, and the old cars patched together there from parts.
(Jalapeños and jalopies)

3 things named after Turkey, the very symbol of all that is strange and exotic in the Western European mind: the odd New World bird, the unreal sky-blue–earth-green stone, and the odd New World grain.
(Turkeys, turquoise, and 'granturco,' the Italian term for corn that means "Turkish grain")

Monday, August 15, 2016

benemendacia

I've been thinking about benemendacia — untruths that it's acceptable (both socially and morally) to tell. It's revealing that we don't have a more familiar go-to word for this in our language. We have "white lie," but generally that only refers to trivial things we say to avoid hurt feelings. Modern Americans in general and modern Christians in particular have really failed in not giving our children good guidance in the telling of benemendacia.

You have to think clearly about several issues all at once, including gentleness, candor, the real definition of "love" and not just namby-pamby "niceness." As is often the case, the Harry Potter books explore these topics well, though not didactically or explicitly. Over the course of the books, it becomes clear that sometimes it's best to tell a truth, no matter how uncomfortable, and sometimes it's best to tell a truth bordered with piles of love and diplomacy, and sometimes it's best to know the truth but shut up about it, and sometimes it's best to actively conceal the truth, and sometimes it may even be best to completely mislead.

Oddly, we think that those qualifications muddy the moral waters, but it's the opposite: refusing to teach children how to think discerningly about such things, both in what they hear and what they say, is what muddies the waters for them and for all of us.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

the humor-importance graph

In discussing an aspect of current politics, the phrase "court jester" helped me to isolate an issue I've seen cropping up in several places lately.

Let's look at four people on a graph that measures attempted humor and importance of topic:


(With all love to Steven Covey, who addled a generation of businesspeople, the quadrants go counterclockwise.)

The Boor is the radiologist who corners you at a party and solemnly recounts the entire plot of a movie on finding out you haven't seen it.

In the same no-humor hemisphere, the Statesman in Quadrant II is also humorless and possibly boring, but [ideally] is tackling important issues; you're [ideally] more motivated to stick with these people.

Down in Quadrant IV, the Class Clown uses humor to deflect from even the most serious issue — especially the most serious, even. Whether from shallowness or hurt, this frustrating person blockades any real topic.

Up in Quadrant I, the Court Jester uses humor in precisely the opposite way, to delve *in* to a serious issue — especially the most serious. Court Jesters therefore do the opposite of blockading real topics, because they're more likely to open that topic where it may have been closed before.

Each Quadrant has its temptations. The Court Jester's temptation is to put so much mayonnaise on the sandwich (in the form of Quadrant IV fart jokes) that you miss the meat. The Statesman's temptation is to think the meat, served dry, is the whole meal.


My least favorite kind of teacher, for obvious reasons, was the kind who could never tell the difference between class clown and court jester.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

picnic with Clara and company

Clara invites me to a picnic on the living-room floor. It's a French-fry–and–watermelon picnic, during which we build some stuff with Lincoln logs.

Abraham Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright's son, and ingenious Native American horticulturists gave us a delightful noon.

It's always noon somewhere, isn't it? There's always some aspect of your life that is reaching its height, its heat, to be enjoyed for a moment before it falls away.