A few readers have wondered why I take so long to condemn terrorists and hate groups. Since I only have a few readers, I am pretty much obligated to do what they say. So I hereby formally condemn ISIS, ASIS, WASWAS, AMAM, AMWAY, and all similar derivatives of those scary groups. I also condemn hate wherever it festers but especially condemn those who hate my Blog or hate the novel Suicide Squeeze. I condemn North Korea for developing nuclear weapons because such weapons only belong in the hands of “good guys” like the United States whose leaders exhibit high moral authority rooted in a practical Christianity that is not crazy enough to actually believe in turning the other cheek. I also condemn Nazis because that seems like an easy target. I thought we destroyed their statues long ago when we achieved universal agreement that they were the “bad guys” with no redeeming values. Next thing you know some group will be advocating for a return of the Bubonic Plague as a way of dealing with over population. They will be known as the Plaguers and will be too impatient to wait for global warming to cull undesirables from the landscape. They will unite under the slogan, “Infect Thy Neighbor!” Wait, did I just create a Movement? I hate when I do that.
Many people have spoken about failure being a better opportunity to learn than success. That sentiment is often used to comfort and motivate losers in sport. Some great achievements have arisen after very low points in life. Learning is very valuable but not so important to me that I seek out losing to maximize my education. In fact I try to avoid losing at every opportunity but failure finds me anyway. This has allowed me to slowly develop more empathy for others who stumble and lessen my passion for some zero sum competitions that I used to enjoy more. People have spoken endlessly about winning and losing and I always enjoy a poetic turn of phrase. So Nick Saban caught my attention when he reflected recently on Alabama’s loss to Clemson in the college football championship game last season. He is a coach who has hogged more than his fair share of winning. His current message for his team: “Hopefully we won’t waste a failure.” Those words made me realize how often I have squandered my own failures and they awakened in me a strange new urge to destroy Clemson.
I have always admitted to being vain so I was anxious to take the “How Vain Are You?” test in the September issue of GQ. The fact that I subscribe to GQ is probably a sign of vanity since the magazine’s target audience is 18-25 year olds and 82% of readership is under the age of 35. Age 45+ (7%) is the oldest category even measured. So the questions themselves are hard to understand. Have I ever used an ab machine at the gym? If I did use one thirty years ago, do I answer “yes” now? And what the heck are snail-slime masks and vampire facials? The latter apparently is a process where your blood is drawn, spun, and injected back into your face. Vanity to me has always been wearing contacts instead of glasses, getting tan, and trying to get blonder in the sun (or with a spray can in the post skin cancer years). Even though it would be a negative to score high on a vanity test, I found my competitive instincts kicking in. I strained trying achieve the highest possible score (surely I admired my reflection in a TV screen sometime). I stretch reality the same way when desperately angling to get selected for a jury I do not want to serve on in the first place. GQ scored me as “conscientiously primping” as opposed to “preening.” This will come as a surprise to people that know me as a disheveled slob who nonetheless preens. But despite all its posturing, GQ is not sophisticated enough to even offer that category. So I am thinking of cancelling my subscription when I turn 80.
Australian scientists just recently deciphered an ancient Babylonian clay tablet known as Plimpton 322, revealing the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table. The tablet was discovered by Edgar Banks over a century ago in an excavation of the ancient Sumerian city Adab. The tablet has been dated between 1822 and 1762 B.C. and may have originated in the city of Larsa. It contains a series of numbers known as Pythagorean Triples, ironic since the Greek mathematician Pythagoras was not even born until about 540 B.C. Presumably the Greeks will be disappointed with the discovery and may wish to contest authenticity. But Babylonians are celebrating wildly and calling for the renaming of the Pythagorean Theorem. Elsewhere, the discovery has not attracted as much attention as Real Housewife reruns and preseason football games. Some high school students were initially excited until they learned they would still have to take Geometry and Trigonometry. Donald Trump dismissed the fake news with a tweet that claimed Americans were making Trigonometry tables and chairs long before either the Babylonians or Greeks. He also noted that Australian scientists were loser liberal conspirators trying to distract the world from coverage of his election victory over Hillary Clinton last November.
Funnyman Marlon Wayans says: “I don’t make a lot of new friends because I don’t know what they want. With my old friends, at least I know they want my money.” Generally people just wanting someone’s money do not become old friends. I have reached the age where anyone who claims me as a friend has an old friend, regardless of how long they have known me. My family moved so often that my oldest friends date from my sophomore year in high school. None of them like me for my money because I never had the earning power of a Marlon Wayans. Maybe they are disappointed in me because I never made it big like I bragged I would and they invested in the wrong friend. Like in the stock market, friend values go up and down. I was not attractive enough to steal anyone’s girl friend, so I avoided that potential crash in friend value. On the flip side, I have some negative qualities I bring to the friendship equation which will not be documented here. I realize I do not have a clear definition of a friend and may be counting people as friends who consider me an acquaintance or an enemy. So I decided to define exactly who my friends are. According to Facebook, I have 164 of them. That sounded impressive until I noticed that a couple of my nieces and one nephew have thousands of friends. And I have never even met my friend Jerry Robbins. But my wife has only 101 friends, so I am the popular one in our union. Oops, she just “unfriended” me. But I will be back up to 164 when I “friend” Marlon Wayans because he actually has millions of friends and will apparently accept any friend request.
The catchy first line of Taylor Swift’s title track Red goes: “Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street.” I like the song but it made me wonder how many of her fans could relate to an analogy about driving a new Maserati. I know that imagery does not strike a chord with me. If I were writing the song, I would have used the line: “Loving her is like flooring a fish-tailing Corvair down a narrow rain soaked alley.” I am working on a second line but cannot choose between the rhymes Sally, valley, and Lieutenant Calley. This illustrates why Swift goes to parties in a new Maserati with friends Emmy and Grammy while I stay home watching the Mariners on television with my pal Blog.
Twenty four years ago this week, my oldest son got his first glimpse of Charlottesville as I dropped him off at the University of Virginia for his freshman year of college. I wonder what the incoming parents and students are thinking this year. The covering of the Robert E. Lee statue reminded me of my great grandmother, Robbie Lee Rives. She was born on May 8, 1865, at the very end of the Civil War. Her ancestors settled in Virginia around 1653 and eventually migrated through Tennessee and North Carolina, ultimately settling in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. I never knew much about Robbie Lee but was close to one of her ten children. Her daughter Lucille (my grandmother) was a regular part of my life from my birth until her death when I was 48. I knew she was from the South, did not attend high school, and never drove a car. But I was born in New York, raised in Detroit and Milwaukee, and never felt in any way connected to the Confederacy. Grandmother Lucille’s full views on race (not a supporter of integration), religion (not a fan of Catholicism), and sexism (women are the root of all evil) were largely muted by my father’s ability to control access to the grandchildren. Lucille and her husband Fred were wonderful grandparents to me and I loved them for that. My own parents had witnessed how ugly thoughts could turn into Nazi horror, so rightfully confronted dangerous thinking. Reflecting today, I wish I had learned more from my grandparents about their views and their kin who farmed, owned slaves, and named their offspring after Robert E. Lee. Even before adulthood, I was embarrassed by my grandmother’s ignorance; but I squirm a bit remembering how my own arrogant feelings of moral superiority formed without much investigation.
My brother David was born on this date when I was eight years old. It was a big day in our household. It was cool to have another brother but I was glad to be the eight year old and not the baby. When I graduated from college, he was graduating from grade school. We have pictures together in our caps and gowns. I was happy to be the 21 year old while he was just 13. I still felt I had the age advantage when I was able to retire at age 55 and he was only 47 with a long slog of workdays ahead. But today David is 62 and I am 70 and the worm has turned. I finally envy him his youth. I always prided myself on wanting to treat people as equals, regardless of whether I was successful at it or not. But as I review a lifelong litany of sibling grievances, I have come to the conclusion that treating siblings 8, 10, and 12 years younger as equals when I was 16 is inherently unfair to them. When I am 70, those age differences are trivial and my three living and much younger siblings are in position to decide how to treat their older brother in his declining years. I just hope their memories are fading with age.
According to Fred Hoyle’s book “Ten Faces of the Universe,” James Jeans stirred up an ongoing controversy when he gave a lecture at the University of Cambridge in 1930. He merely referenced the previous century discussions about communicating with potential Martians by lighting chains of bonfires in the Sahara Desert to form a diagram illustrating the Pythagorean Triangle. The selection of mathematics as the most suitable language of the Universe suggested a concept of God as a mathematician. This idea was denounced by religious leaders and philosophers who were threatened by the concept of God as any type of a scientist, whether a biologist, geologist, chemist, or engineer. I was never good at the study of any science or philosophy and always leaned toward the unpopular theory that God was a lawyer. James Jeans did not originally shy away from pure scientific and philosophical considerations but eventually sold out to commercial interests. Most of us only remember him for his James Jeans clothing line. I certainly hope his lawyer negotiated a profitable royalty agreement for his descendants.
Naogi Higashide, a young non verbal autistic writer, was quoted in the August 7th Time Magazine as identifying “3” as his favorite number. He explained that “1” is the most important number (“proof that something is there”), “0” is the amazing discovery of the nothingness (“proof of human civilization”), and “2” allows us to divide and “put numbers in order.” He is “enchanted” by “3” because it was not needed and a great creative expression. Most everyone is asked about favorite colors and numbers. My favorite color green has always clearly enjoyed favored status but numbers were less constant. My earliest favorite was “4” because the baseball player Duke Snider wore it. Over the years that preference lost significance while green as the color of life has the same basic appeal it always had. I have flirted with the number “12” but am not entirely sure why, perhaps a fascination with the concept of a dozen. Lately I have been enamored with “13” since my clan definitively grew to that size on October 7, 2011. But that is a fluid number. It could grow but the first change is likely to be a subtraction to “12” and unfortunately I am the logical person to cause such a change. Reading Higashide’s comments made me yearn for a favorite number with an unusual backstory that would make me look cool or at least intellectual. Maybe it could be a fraction or have one in it. I could use 3.14159 but that number never ends. I love prime numbers and a high one would be unusual for a favorite number. I am thinking three digits would be easy to say but high enough to be impressive. So “211” is my choice as both prime and also my IQ. Wait, no, “211” is actually my SAT Verbal score.