Book Review #5

Finally, a book I can be proud to admit I read.

The Author – Jonathan Haidt

The Book – The Righteous Mind

Subtitled – Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

The Review

4-The Righteous MindI might as well start with the book itself.  The dust cover is printed with what looks like a knife slash from corner to corner, with a black gap, showing how “good people” are “divided.”  Despite the subtitle promising to tell why people are divided, nowhere in the book is it explained.  That folks are divided on many topics is emphasised, and the How and Where is demonstrated, but the Why is never given.

On the blurb page, a promise is given to show how to win an argument against someone whose views you do not agree with.  I read it very carefully.  It involves empathizing with your opponent until you Become them, and then slowly and gently lead them away from their position, towards yours.

Sort of like, if I want my neighbor to stop kicking his dog, I bring him over to my place to watch me kick my dog, to show him how much the dog hurts.  I don’t want to lose my morals and empathize till I become the narrow-minded asshole I’ve come to hate.  I’d sooner use the direct approach, and just kick the neighbor till he agrees to stop.

The book itself is a hardcover, each page with twice as much printing as my little paperbacks.  A quick check at the back shows 420 pages, equal to 840 pages of my normal reading.  If I’m not careful I might end up learning something before I’m done.

But wait, it’s been a while since I read a book like this.  The final 110 pages aren’t actually part of the book.  A third of it is a list of people and their research that he stole from, to formulate his theories.  Another third is notes to explain how he twisted their square ideas to fit his round pigeonholes, and the final third is an index to guide you to where you can worship his multifaceted brilliance.

That leaves only 310/620 pages of real reading.  Perhaps I’ll only get a clue when I’m done.

The author is a moral psychologist.  This doesn’t mean that he gives a damn if you’re screwing the neighbor, drinking, drugging, or even dancing.  He’s the guy who explains why and how we make decisions about what we feel is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior, for ourselves and others, even in the face of conflicting opinions, or facts.

The Atheist/philosopher, Richard Dawkins wrote a book called The Selfish Gene, in which he claimed that evolution insists that everything we do, from love, to altruism, to charity, must somehow benefit the individual.

Haidt raises this thought a couple of levels by comparing human society to biological evolution.  Single-cell organisms united to create multi-celled ones, right up to humans and large animals.  Groups of specialized cells and organs allow achievements that single cells could not achieve.

Humans first grouped by family, then by clan, then village, right up to nation.  Things like sports, politics, religion and armed forces create focused groups through synchronized sounds – prayers, hymns, chants, etc., movements – dances, marching, calisthenics – rituals and sacred totems – salutes, uniforms, crosses, even cheeseheads.

Successful groups outperform, and absorb or drive out lesser ones, and can cause actions that are not beneficial to the individual (suicide bombing), but are, to the group (Islam).

To the scientist, for any group, hypocrisy is a good thing.  For the liar, whether group or individual, it gives them a chance to reap their desired ends and feel good about it.  That makes for more confident leadership and an increase in following and obeying.

About the strange, often conflicting beliefs of every religion, including Christianity, the author says:

The memorable nymphs and fairies and goblins and demons that crowd the mythologies of every people, are the imaginative offspring of a hyperactive habit of finding agency wherever anything puzzles or frightens us.  This mindlessly generates a vast overpopulation of agent-ideas, most of which are too stupid to hold our attention for an instant; only a well-designed few make it through the rehearsal tournament, mutating and improving as they go.  The ones that get shared and remembered are the souped-up winners of billions of competitions for rehearsal time in the brains of our ancestors.

Haidt shows that, once we learn something, even if it’s wrong, it takes more mental energy to unlearn it, than to merely absorb the correct information.

The researchers saw similar results when they told participants that pressing a button would reduce the chance of shock by as much as 90%. Those participants who had to make a proactive choice to press the button opted to leave it untouched about half the time, even though it meant they had to withstand shocks they themselves rated as highly undesirable.

It gave me a slight, momentary sympathy for those I’ve viewed as merely too lazy or bull-headed to accept apparently clear proof of their invalid stances.  Then, he went on to state that, having taken a stance, we will expend even more energy to come up with, sometimes very convoluted, justifications for it, all in the name of support from and for, “our group.”

Since there are limits to most people’s ability to reach outside themselves, there are limits to how large the groups may grow.  The book crystallized and explained why I am a non-joining loner, just shy of being a psychopath; yet rail at Quebec for not “joining” Canada, or the Baltic States for each wanting to rule their own little valley.

This was deep and enlightening reading.  My hopes for an informed quick-fix were soon dashed.  Rather, as I wrote in a long-gone post, if we can keep the momentum in the right direction, thousands, millions, billions of tiny steps and nudges may make mankind a better race.

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The Pace Of Friendship

Several years ago, to increase sales by getting more people to eat TexMex type food, there was a salsa commercial.  It resembled the eat-beans-and-fart scene in the movie, Blazing Saddles.  Five or six Stetson-wearing good-ole-boys, sitting around a campfire, alternately dipping salsa from a bowl, with tortilla chips.

As the salsa bowl neared empty, one of them commented, “We’re almost out of salsa.  I’ll go get some more from Pecos.”  “No, no, don’t do that!  This here’s PACE salsa, made right here in San Antonio.  Pecos buys salsa that’s made by a company in New York City.”  (All together) NEW YORK CITY??!!

Somewhat more recently, the wife went into La Commida Latina, a small bodega, specializing in south-of-the-border food, to get Ceratex flour to make some Salvadoran pupusas.  Before we got out, she had adventurously purchased a bottle of Goya Salsita Ancho Pepper hot sauce.  She found she loved it, although Shimoniac stays with Rants’ Sriracha, and I like a Chipotle BBQ sauce.

When the bottle ran dry, and we tried to get more, we found several stores which carried the Goya brand, but not the Ancho flavor.  In doing a web search, I found that it is bottled in Secaucus, NJ.  Not exactly New York City, but still a somewhat unusual place to find “Mexican” spices.

Several months ago, I shipped a Loonie and a Twoonie, Canadian one-dollar and two-dollar coins, to Madame Weebles.   She’s a born and bred New York City gal, and proud of it.  She moved over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey before Chris Christie shut it down.  She says that she crossed the river to pursue employment and a marriage.  Weebs is a sweetie, and a wonderful lady, so I’m ignoring the rumors of villagers with torches and pitchforks.

She lives close enough to Ellis Island to look up Lady Liberty’s skirts.  She asked if there was anything she might do to repay my tiny gift.  I jokingly said that she could drive a few miles over to Secaucus and get me a couple of bottles of the Ancho sauce, but insisted that I could not have her doing my shopping for me.

Imagine my pleasure and surprise, when I recently received an email from her, saying that she had been able to locate two bottles of the sauce, and was sending them to me by mail.   Finding two coins to send to her was as quick as sticking my hand in my pocket, and mailing them almost as easy.

Finding two bottle of hot sauce meant shopping, something I’m not much better at than most guys.  Shipping them meant carefully packing them first, and the cost of the sauce, as well as the freight, was well beyond what I had expended.  I am humbled to receive consideration like that from someone who only knows me long-distance, from reading a few of my posts, and a few of my comments on hers.

Used to years of loner-ship, it was a pleasant startlement to be treated so kindly, by a stranger, who is a stranger no more – and then my received kindness/friendship doubled.

White Lady in the Hood had read my post where I patted myself on the back for donating a couple of coins, and knew that I had not managed to complete my set of the 50 US State quarters.  I take so much US coinage back, on our infrequent visits, that I don’t receive enough in change to find the ones I need.  After over five years, I still needed three.

WLITH now handles the book-store at the elementary school where she works, and sees lots of coinage from kids buying small school supplies.  When I told her that I needed ones from Arkansas, Hawaii and Kansas, she replied within a couple of days, saying that she had the A and K, and had seen H, and would keep an eye out for it again.

Her email request for a mailing address mysteriously fell into the delete file.  I suspect the cats were ordering pizza online again.  Feverishly digging it out before it disappeared into the ether forever, I responded affirmatively, and the two coins have now made their happy way to me.

By the time I published this post; she has also found and mailed the Hawaii quarter – and “something else interesting, just for luck.”  I am excitedly looking forward to it, but I have so much good luck, having friends like this, that I don’t know where I would keep any more.

Having cultivated an almost solitary lifestyle, I am seldom treated badly, but the chubby old word-spewer is seldom treated so well, and by two lovely ladies, nearly simultaneously.  These demonstrations of blogoverse friendship just take my breath away, or maybe it was the second trip downstairs for ice-cream, to celebrate.

Let’s have a round of applause, in appreciation for what these two gals have done for your favorite old Archon.  They are both competent and entertaining writers.  If you haven’t already, click on the links above, and give their sites a visit.

While neither of them is exactly a “stranger”, do any of you have a tale of someone you didn’t really know, who went out of their way to help, or do something nice for you?  Perhaps the “Me” generation hasn’t completely taken over, and there’s still a spirit of goodwill out there.      😀

Winter Vacation – Finale

When we checked into the motel on the Friday, one of the first things the son did, was try to open the top dresser drawer.  Perhaps he had a sudden urge to read the Gideons’ Bible.  The front of the drawer just came right off in his hand.

With sleep schedules now totally confounded, the son was asleep shortly after 11 PM Saturday night, while I was still lurking around outside, reading newspapers and doing crossword puzzles in the vending room, and gabbing with the security guard.

Son was up at 7:30, and went over to the office to get yet another tea, while I “slept in” till 8 AM.  Just as he quietly eased the door open at 7:45, the maintenance man fired up the snow blower, right outside the unit.

The son’s OCD shows differently from mine.  Now that we were both awake (Speak for yourself, son and heir.), things should “be done”, we should pack immediately and vacate the premises.  I made toast juice and pills, washing dishes and final packing, last till almost 9.  We visited the office, finalized all paperwork, and offered many thanks to Connie, to be spread among all the nice desk clerks.

The car is loaded; we’re ready to go, and it’s just 9:10.  Finally, the son asks the question he should have thought about before.  What time is this County-Line Trade Center open?  I had hoped that it was at 9 AM, like the Gibraltar Trade Center.  The reason we stayed up here, was to try something new.  I had used the Google Maps overhead view to find that it was an ell-shaped building, about half as big as Gibraltar.

We drove a mile in five minutes and pulled into the parking lot.  There was one snowed-in car, and a half-ton with a plow blade clearing the lot. One wing of the ell is a furniture resale store and a dental office.  The Trade Center is only half as big as I’d hoped and imagined.  The sign on the door says opening is at 10.  We drove back down to last night’s McDonalds, and parked at the back, trying not to get plowed in by the guy clearing their lot.

Finally we drove back up, and the plow jockey unlocked the door, and let a couple of vendors enter.  With no booths open, I got into a conversation with one, about socialized medicine, Obamacare, and a second international bridge, while the son prowled this tiny little microcosm.  One unopen booth shows Saturday hours of noon to 5, and Sunday from 1 till five.  On a Superbowl Sunday, after a significant snowfall, this is not going to get much better.

The Gibraltar center is full of kitsch, “As seen on TV.”  This County-Line place also has lots of stuff seen on TV – if you used to watch Sanford and Son.  The food service area looks like where Sly Stallone got rat burgers in Demolition Man.  There are signs on the doors which say, “All hoods must be removed before entering.” and, “We will provide security escort to your vehicle, but we will not carry merchandise.”

Eleven o’clock – we can’t go home yet.  What do we do??  The son’s paying for the gas; let’s drive 25 miles and go to Gibraltar.  We stopped at a nearby Meijer’s gas bar to fill up.  “Let’s go into the store.”  The son found and bought two big bags of Chili-Cheese potato chips the Meijer’s on the other side of town didn’t carry, and I located and bought two large bottles of McIllhenny’s Chipotle Tabasco Sauce the other store also didn’t have, for the daughter.

Right across the street was a small health food store.  Between it and its larger parent two miles down the road, I found most of the items the big GNC stores didn’t carry, for the niece.  Touchdown, Yay!

The kid and I spent several hours touring Gibraltar, its yummy food court and the gun and knife show they had on the display side.  While I got to caress a Beretta 92 pistol, similar to Rants’ military version, the son found that he likes shotguns.

I got rid of another small pocketful of change to an old veteran, collecting to support other vets, down on their luck.  I saw at least two “girly” guns, one a little .22 caliber varmint plinker for a 12 to 18 year old, the other, a more serious, semi-military style .308, shoot-a-moose, or a trespasser, rifle.  Both were done in camouflage finish – if you were hiding behind Sailor Moon, the darlingest pink and black daubs and lines.

About 3, we decided to head home.  Plows and volume of traffic finally had the roads down to bare and damp.  Since we’d driven south, we decided to cross back, over the bridge.  The same factors which kept people out of the Trade Center, kept them off the bridge.  I again was able to get into a Customs line with only one car ahead of me.

When I was allowed to roll forward, the window of the booth slid open, and I was greeted by a female customs officer.  Not unheard of, but not common on the Canadian side of the Windsor/Detroit crossings.  She smiled at me and said, “Hello/Bonjour.”  “Bonjour,” I replied, “now I know I’m truly back in Canada.”

“Pardon me; could you please pass me a serviette?  I appear to have spilled my poutine.”  Every Canadian knows exactly what that sentence means, but I may have to translate it for my American readers.

A couple of questions for me, and a couple for the son, and we were soon on our way home.  I coulda brought that beautiful Beretta back, and no-one but me would have been any the wiser.  The son called the wife, now that Canadian cell phone towers would carry my Canadian cell phone plan.  We told her we were on our way, and three hours later, we were ordering pizza, after covering 870 Km./555 Mi. over a very enjoyable three-day weekend.  Thanx for reading along with us.    😀

Oops

Mommy & Uncle Paul

 ‘Hello?’

‘Hi, honey. This is Daddy. Is Mommy near the phone?’

‘No, Daddy. She’s upstairs in the bedroom with Uncle Paul.’

After a brief pause, Daddy says, ‘But honey, you haven’t got an Uncle Paul.’

‘Oh, yes I do, and he’s upstairs in the room with Mommy, right now.’

Brief Pause.

‘Uh, okay then, this is what I want you to do. Put the phone down on the table, run upstairs, knock on the bedroom door and shout to Mommy that Daddy’s car just pulled into the driveway.’

‘Okay, Daddy, just a minute.’

A few minutes later the little girl comes back to the phone.

‘I did it, Daddy.’

‘And what happened, honey?’

‘Well, Mommy got all scared, jumped out of bed with no clothes on and ran around screaming. Then, she tripped over the rug, hit her head on the dresser and now she isn’t moving at all!’

‘Oh, my God!!! What about your Uncle Paul?’
‘He jumped out of the bed with no clothes on, too. He was all scared and he jumped out of the back window and into the swimming pool. But I guess he didn’t know that you took out the water last week to clean it. He hit the bottom of the pool and I think he’s dead.’
Long Pause
Longer Pause
Even Longer Pause
Then Daddy says, ‘Swimming pool? …………
Is this 486-5731?’
No, I think you have the wrong number …

*

Kids’ Logic

6-year-old Jimmy, a precocious kid, always told everyone he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up.
One day as Jimmy was running through his house playing, he ran into the corner of a table and hurt his eye.
Being a little kid, Jimmy cried for a while but also kept saying, “Oh no, now I can never be a doctor when I grow up.”

Jimmy’s mom trying to reassure him told Jimmy that he could still be a doctor but Jimmy kept insisting that he couldn’t.

Finally she asked, “Why can’t you be a doctor, Jimmy?”

Holding one hand over his injured eye, Jimmy said, “Because now I will have to be a pirate!”

***

The doctor explained to Jenkins that he had a serious ailment for which an operation was absolutely imperative.
The patient turned pale and asked, “Isn’t it very dangerous? “
“Yes,” the doctor replied. “Five out of six who undergo this operation die, but as for you, you have nothing to worry about. “
“Why not?” eagerly inquired the patient.
“Well, you’re sure to recover, because my last five patients died,” the doctor reassured him.

***

Two men were sitting at the Club, and one said, Say, how is that gorgeous secretary of yours?  Oh, I had to fire her.  Fire her!  How come??  Well, it all started a week ago last Thursday, on my 49th birthday.  I was never so depressed.  What has that got to do with it??  Well, I came down for breakfast, and my wife never even mentioned my birthday.  A few minutes later, the kids came downstairs, and I was sure they would wish me a Happy Birthday, but not one word.

As I say, I was most depressed, but when I arrived at the office, my secretary greeted me with a big Happy Birthday, and I was glad that someone had remembered.  At noon, she suggested that it was a beautiful day, and that she would like to take me to lunch at a nice intimate little place in the country.

Well, it was nice, and we enjoyed our lunch and a couple of martinis.  On the way back to the office, she said it was much too nice a day to go back to work, and suggested that we go to her apartment, where she would get me another martini.

That also appealed to me, and after a drink and a cigarette, she asked to be excused so that she could go into the bedroom and change into something more comfortable.  A few minutes later, the bedroom door opened, and out came my secretary, my wife and two kids with a birthday cake, singing Happy Birthday, and there I sat, wearing nothing but my socks.

OOPS!

Protection From Demons

Oops, sorry!  That title should read Protection, From Demons.  When the glaciers marched into and out of this region ages ago, they dug up and left behind a lot of stone.  This is one of the most geologically varied areas in the world.  When we moved here, I hired a separate van to move 3000 pounds of rocks that we’d obtained over the years, to be used for landscaping and garden accents, quartz, marble, sandstone, agate and shale, often with fossils in it.

Over the years, we have also purchased a variety of garden figures.  Not silly little gnomes, these guys have some character, like the characters who own them.

Igor 2       Igor

This is Igor.  He came to us blind, because he had one eye closed, and the other one missing.  We provided him with a blood-red marble to see with.  He spent years beneath the wife’s magnolia bush, which didn’t do well in sandy soil near the river, when we lived on the other side of town, but has grown and branched and bloomed in the clay-ey soil here.

a New Magnolia

The first photo shows the small, but blooming plant 15 years ago, before we moved.

Bare Magnolia TreeThe next shot is the same shrub, transplanted, after we moved, 12 years ago.  Not much more than a stick, we didn’t hold much hope for it.  You can see a couple of the accent stones we brought along.

 

Magnolia [2] 2009The blooming shot is from five years ago.  It blooms in the spring before it leafs out.  The last pic is from the same spot as shot number 2, giving some idea of how it continues to grow.  It’s a shrub magnolia, not the tree variety, but 14/15 feet tall.  We get some re-blooming, especially on the sunny top, mid-July/Aug.

Magnolia 1, 2013

 

Igor bade goodbye to years of Halloween trick-or-treaters.  He’s an anorexic 7.5 pounds of fibreglass and resin, easily talked into walking down the street with a teenager, like a three-pound pottery angel which disappeared off a flower table on the front porch.  Or maybe she was just embarrassed by the company she was forced to keep, and flew away.

Goliath [1]Goliath

When we had the chance to adopt Goliath, we gave him a Moonstone evil-eye – and Igor’s spot under the magnolia.  Goliath is 75 pounds of pure concrete, promising a hernia or broken foot to any potential thief.  Igor moved to the back deck.

Go Away

Go Away (front)

Back on the deck, he moved in with “Go Away”, my personal mascot.  I was going to use his photo as my gravatar, but decided on something a little more welcoming.  There are (un)welcome mats which also read Go Away, but it’s cheaper just to ignore the doorbell.  Back beside Go Away, is the wife’s final word to her flowers, “Grow Dammit”.  Seems to be working.

GrowDamnIt

They are watched over by Winged Victory, who can’t fly off the fencepost because of a six-inch spike up his little fiberglass ass.  He was the painted display model and the last of his discontinued line that we brought home from a Mediaeval Faire.  He is a grotesque, because only waterspouts are correctly named gargoyles.

Fence Boy [1]Winged Victory

Continuing in the son’s hear-no-evil, etc. theme, are the matched set of concrete goblins which he purchased.  I managed to set them out in the correct order.  The child whose head is full of even more useless trivia than mine, says their Japanese names are Mizaru, Mazaru, and Mikazaru.  Some sets include, “Do No Evil”, with the hands over his crotch.  As well, there’s the vertical, resin, green and white frog-set version.  He has others, indoors.

See No, Hear No, Speech No 1 Froggies

Back around at the front, keeping intruders out of the washroom window are two of three concrete goblin-lions.  They’ve been out there 24/7/365 since we bought them.  Sadly, the third must have had a crack, and this spring, freezing split it into three unequal pieces.  For backup, they hang out with a demented Sesame Street-like character the grandson formed in pottery class in grade eight.

                          Window Sill Grotesques [2]

If anyone manages to get through the window, without upsetting the goblins, or our cats, they are not welcomed inside by Hellboy’s younger brother, Redboy.

Red BoyLurking near the door, waiting to trip up unsuspecting Jehovah’s Witnesses, kids selling school chocolate, and other ne’er-do-wells, is The Thinker, looking like he just climbed down off an Aztec sacrificial pyramid after ingesting a bit too much peyote, and thinking about who he’ll have for lunch.

Porch Thinker [1]Thinker

Providing a stumbling block in front of a three-tier brass plant-stand and the aforementioned plant table, at the end of the porch, is Todd The Toad.  While not much for rending undesirables limb from limb, after the rest of the Wrecking Crew do their number, he eats up any incriminating DNA evidence.  He hopped home with us all the way from the three-ended bridge in Zanesville, Ohio.

Toad

Tod the Toad [1]Having written about a Yankee transplant in Kentucky whose God-fearing neighbors wanted him burned at the stake for having two little concrete demons out at the end of his driveway, it occurred to me to wonder what the neighbors thought of our unusual “pets.”  One weekend, when the neighbor-lady’s father was visiting from Buffalo, I asked if they were offended or worried in any way.

Logical thinkers, they had no problems.  The dad asked, though, “Shouldn’t they be facing outwards?”  He don’t know us very well, do he?  On the wall, just inside the front door, is a small parchment which reads, “Remember, as far as anyone knows, we’re just a nice normal family.”  They’re there to protect the rest of the neighborhood from us!

SDC10459

Winter Vacation – Part II

We each got a couple of hours nap Friday afternoon, but both our sleep schedules were F..ouled up.  Son wants to hit the hay at 11 PM – I still want to read a newspaper and do a crossword.  Can’t do that in the room, so I take my stuff and go over to sit in the lobby, only to find it locked.  I eventually located a second vending machine room with only an ice machine…and a nice little bench, ta-da!

Afternoon clerk Stephanie was white. Now I get to meet and speak with Miss Annie, an impressive, older Negro lady.  Even older than me, she’s 72.  The clerk at the Taylor motel has been there 27 years.  Miss Annie has been here over 30, and finally plans to retire near the end of this year.  Nice lady, but she don’t take no shit.  I also met and talked with Mark, the armed Negro security guard.  Tough neighborhood, remember?

While we were conversating, a young man walked in, and said, “I want a room for the night.”  I’m sorry sir, we’re all full.  But I have a reservation.  What’s your name sir?  Xxx Yyy!  I’m sorry sir; I can’t find a reservation in that name.  He pulled out a tiny scrap of paper, and said, “Here’s my confirmation number.”  Well, ya coulda led off with that, and your name, instead of just asking for a room.

I print the entire page and present it to the clerks, because it gives every last iota of needed information.  I’m sorry sir; I can’t find a reservation here under that number; are you sure it’s correct?  I’m very sure; check again.  She tapped away for a few seconds, and finally told him, Yes sir, you do have a reservation – at the Plymouth Red Roof, 25 miles from here.  And he was sober – maybe just a brain freeze.

I spent a few dollars extra to get a room with a microwave and fridge.  After boring myself sleepy, I returned to the room – and bed, only to find that the fridge has a loud annoying buzz when it runs.  Woke us up two or three times during the night.  The second night I unplugged it, and we both slept much better.

Up at 8, we both had toast and juice, and I made myself a hot chocolate to take with me in a thermos, to the show.  I went over to the office to add some of their coffee, to make a mocha, and met Aletha, another young Negro gal.  Never met a stranger.  The only clerk we missed was Brian, because he doesn’t work weekends.

I-696 to the show venue ran right behind the motel.  Getting on was almost as easy as falling out of the parking lot.  I remembered to take the camera.  Signs on the front doors insisted, “No outside food or drink!”  I slipped the hot chocolate into my inside jacket pocket, and didn’t sip till I was way back at the back, where no officials could see.

I was irked by the fact that every second vendor had a Dunkin Donuts coffee, or Starbucks, or hotel coffee in a thermos.  I saw one guy making a roast beef and cheese sandwich, but I can’t bring in food or drink?  The WTF factor is going up.

Last year I could access my blog from computers in the entryway, but this year they were locked out, to access only the Center’s site.  After paying, and entering the display hall, I was faced with a sign that said, “No cameras allowed without the permission of the show manager.”  I left mine in my shirt pocket.

Halfway around, I met a woman waving her cell phone camera.  Some of the dealers threw a little impromptu birthday party for a compatriot, and everybody got a picture taken.  I just got the sign….and rising blood pressure again.

One of the knife dealers explained that the anti-gun nuts come to shows and take photos of the plethora of firearms and publish them as “proof” that we’re all going to die in a gigantic shoot-out.  If I had asked the show manager, I would probably have been allowed to take pics, although some gun vendors have table signs which insist, “No Photos!”

There were even fewer hand-made knives, and more “rusty jackknives.”  I took photos of all the interesting knife collections last year, so I didn’t use the camera.  I think we’ve had it with this show.  Unless we can find a show in Zanesville or Cincinnati, I think the wife and I will wait for good weather and just go to Detroit for shopping and a getaway.

It snowed on the way to the venue, and while we were there.  As we were leaving, it was changing to freezing rain.  I’m maybe a bit better at driving in that shit, but the 25 mile trip back was interesting.  One guy just fell off the road and tangled with an overpass support, ripping off his rear bumper, and throwing the back wheel across the freeway.

Since we didn’t want any of the over-priced, captive-audience, crap food at the venue, we stopped at a McDonald’s on the way home.  My bill ended in 43 cents – and I still had that 42 cents left from yesterday.  I picked a penny up off the counter that the previous customer didn’t take, and my pocket was now completely empty.

And then I leaned down and picked a penny off the floor – and went back to the motel and sat on the bed, and picked up a penny beside the other bed.  Later that night, when I went for another walk, I was telling Mark, in the vending room, about keeping my eyes open, and picked a dime off the floor.

The next day, at a Meijer’s store I found a quarter and a penny on a self-checkout bagging platform, and later used my knife to pry a nickel out of a 25 cent gumball machine.  The reason it was there may have been because it was Canadian, but the pocket’s getting heavy again.  Somewhere I picked up a brass game token.  I wonder if the son remembers where.  I don’t.

After another nap, we decided to go out for supper.  While we didn’t want to eat there, the wife had requested a blooming onion from Outback, so we started there.  I had researched online maps, and driving instructions, including Google Street-view.  Son fed the address into Miss GPS and got, “Accessing satellites….accessing satellites…. cannot access satellites.”  Oh, yeah.  Snow/rain storm.  We found it the old-fashioned way, by looking.

Tomorrow we’re going to, not one, but two, Trade Centers.  Anybody want to come along?  I’ll buy a hot pretzel, with mustard.

Read My Ass

It used to be said that, “Vanity, thy name is woman.” but, nowadays, when it comes to specialty licence plates, “Vanity, thy name is Legion!”  Vanity plates are everywhere; everything from obvious, easily understood letter/number combinations, to stuff that just has you shaking your head, wondering what he’s smoking, or where he parked the spaceship.

Many years ago, when the children were small, we owned a small Honda Civic station-wagon.  When I got steady, although not great-paying, employment at the shoe factory in 1983, Ontario offered custom plates.  At first only 6 spaces were allowed.  I splurged, and spent $100 for a set.  They read, surprisingly, “ARCHON.”  They’re a lot more expensive these days.  Someone told me they’d seen another pair, “just like yours”, which is impossible.  I finally located them.  Ed Arconovitch, who worked day shift at the same plant, got a set which read, “ARCON.”

I moved to the auto plant at a better salary, and the wife went back to work.  First we bought her brother’s 10-year-old Chevy Monte Carlo for her commute, then I felt I could afford a used motorcycle.  The Civic sat unused for 9/10 months a year, eating insurance, while I rode the bike, so I took my vanity plates off, and sold it.

When we traded up to a better car for the wife and kids, I tried to put my custom plates on it….and bureaucracy struck.  The car was in her name – but the plates were in mine.  We could transfer the car to my name – and pay a 15% tax on the book value.  I could sell her my custom plates!  Oh, no says the DMV, the plates must be surrendered and offered to people who have put in a request for that particular set.  Screw that!  I put them in a bag under my work bench, and the son can turn them in for a refund after I die.

After a couple of years’ gainful employment for both of us, the wife got her own set which read, ”3 TEASE.”  It might mean, “Terrible Tori the Terror,” from her childhood, or it might mean, “Terribly Terrific Tori.”  It might just be the third time we’ve messed with your mind!

I knew, when I went to get my plates, that the DMV could be a little suspicious, and had my story of, Why Archon? carefully rehearsed.  Sure enough, the middle-aged matron wanted to know all about it, to prevent evil from entering our streets.  Even as I was drawing breath to defend my unique personal expression, the much-younger male manager piped up, “That’s from the original Star Trek episode, Return of the Archons.”  I’d been hauling the handle around for 15 years before that episode was broadcast but, if it gets me my plates with no hassle, “Yeah!  That’s right!”

My neighbor, Tom, owned a Buick 88, and applied for TOMS 88.  Ontario plates were three letters and three numbers, like ABC 123, and you couldn’t get those combinations.  The DMV clerk told him that the O of TOMS was a zero; therefore he couldn’t have his choice.  I told him to appeal, but he didn’t want to fight city hall.

There are two kinds of bureaucrats; the one will find a rule to deny whatever you request; the other will dig through the rulebook to find you the exception you need.  Sadly, the first type outnumber the second, a hundred to one ~ or maybe a thousand to one.  In an ongoing campaign to prove their importance and power, Ontario DMV clerks continue to deny thousands of applications.  Custom plates are now up from six spaces, to eight.

Custom plates may not be obscene, derogatory or racist.  They may not refer to drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, criminal activity, law enforcement, public figures, politics or religion.  Nearly a third of the 3315 rejected applications in the last three years, have been refused on the criterion of “clarity and readability.”

If I’m a nihilist, who just wants a random collection of letters and numbers which no-one else has, I don’t see how or why it’s any of the government’s business.  The government, being the government, makes it their business.  Everything is forbidden, unless they specifically allow it.  This rather nebulous category has eliminated such seemingly clear and readable requests as HO5ER, A.BATMAN, 2THF4IRY, and ST4RG4ZER.

Predictably, the second and third most-censored categories were plates that referred to religion and sex.  DMONSEED and LUC1F3R were deemed too evil.  NIHILIST and AGNOSTIC were too honest, and JAWS2GOD and APOKLPSE just too unthinkable.

No doubt drug dealers were disappointed when plates such as GOTSPEED, B.JUICED, ILOVCOKE, and SPD4WEED were rejected.  Government clerks will seize any opportunity to flex their bureaucratic muscle, even reversing previous decisions.

In 2007, United Church Rev. Joanne Sorrill became a political cause célèbre, after the Ministry refused to renew her, “REV JO” plate, because, it claimed, “rev” could encourage unsafe driving, and because Rev is an alcoholic cooler-type beverage.  I’m surprised it wasn’t rejected on the “No Religion” rule, but the clerk was probably a Christian.  It took a newspaper humiliation campaign before the Provincial Premier personally authorized the renewal.  He called the Ministry’s behavior, “laughable.”

The Ministry issued a statement, saying, “This is a difficult job, being done by sincere people, but it is an imperfect science.”  They went on to say that employees use resources such as Wikipedia and UrbanDictionary.

I’ve got mine, even if I don’t use them, and I see lots of others around.  A beautifully rebuilt 1947 Ford Business Coupe, at the downtown summer Cruise Night had a pair which read, B DRULN.  Do any of you have vanity plates?  How much did you pay?  Have you seen some amusing or confusing ones?