My Old Kentucky Homesite

Now Isn’t That Spatial?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/20/2010

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much in the last week or so. That’s because I have no spatial sense.

Some of you may be saying, “What?” So I’ll explain.

First of all, you should know that I come by my lack of spatial sense honestly, through genetics. My father could get lost sliding from one end of the couch to the other. When he wanted to plan a car trip for the family, the only way he could read a map was to spread it out on the kitchen table and use a penny to stand for our Studebaker. Slowly, speaking aloud the exit numbers, he’d move the coin along the route. Every time he had to make a turn, he’d rotate the map, and say, “Let’s see. North is …?” Once we were actually in the car, he wouldn’t remember anything. At every junction, he’d shake his head in disbelief and say, “Do me something, but I could have sworn this was gonna be 87. Where’d 95 come from all of a sudden?”

My mother could never remember the numbers of the roads. She was not bad at reading maps, but whenever she opened one, she immediately got sidetracked by trying to figure out how to refold it. “Let’s see, the crease goes this way, but then it goes that way. Hmm.” She did, however, know landmarks, but only if they had any family history attached to them. “Watch for the Howard Johnson’s, and about two blocks before you get there, make a right.”

My father would say, reasonably enough I always thought, “How can I make a right before the goddamned Howard Johnson’s if I can’t see it yet, f’Chrissake?”

“Oh, you know that Howard Johnson’s. The one where Larry asked for a peach cone and they gave him pistachio by mistake?”

“I don’t remember that. What did I have?”

“Chocolate.”

My father always had chocolate, wherever we went. He was not very adventurous when it came to ice cream. Or adventures either, for that matter. “Don’t give me any landmarks. Just tell me a number. Or a name, at least.”

“The Hutch. We’ll watch for a sign that says the Hutch. I think it might be near that gas station where we once stopped to pee.”

“Oh, f’cryinoutloud. We always stop to pee. Is that where the Hutch is?”

“No, that’s where the sign is.”

In any case, my parents had no spatial sense, and neither do I. Which is why it was probably a dumb move on my part to buy the Chessmaster program.

When the software arrived about two weeks ago, I was automatically ranked at 900, based on my answers to a few simple questions, most of which involved my willingness to let my name be floated around the Internet as a potential sucker for sales pitches. The evil Chessmaster then started throwing virtual opponents at me, and it wasn’t long before I whittled myself down to the high negatives.

In the process, I did manage to learn a few simple precepts. Develop your muscles before bishops. Fight for control of Lincoln Center. Never play with queens too early. That knight on the rim’s named Jim. Watch out for forks and skewers (although other cooking utensils are OK). I’ve even memorized a few common openings: the Wild-Indian Defense, the Sicilian Mafia, the “Illegal Immigrant” Lopez (first round up all your opponent’s suspicious-looking pieces, then ask questions), and of course, the French Chef (hit ’em with a cleaver, and bon appétit).

But I now sit comfortably at around –1000, and I’m playing computeroid children, some of whom don’t know the difference between a rook and a Lego.

Maybe if the kids I battle were labeled by religious affiliation, I’d have an easier time trying to defeat them. I’m sure that if they were classified as representatives of the dark forces, I could probably work myself into a rage — at least at their fictional god-and-pawn-pushing parents. Instead, I feel avuncular. I tell myself: What would it do to Cassie’s poor little simulated ego if I checkmated her? Not that I can, mind you.

So that’s why I haven’t been blogging much lately. To make the world a better place, I’ve been single-handedly battling the cyber-tots. We cannot let the robots win!

Umm … please don’t hide your king in your mouth, sweetheart.

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Posted in Memoirs, Puzzles and Games | 15 Comments »

The Creationist Art Gallery

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/17/2010

[Note: My best friend is coming to visit me here in the Blew Gas State, and we were discussing what kinds of uniquely Kentucky things we might do and see during her stay: a tour of a bourbon distillery, an afternoon at the Horse Park, a stop at Henry Clay’s house, perhaps even a journey to the local mall to watch how Southerners genteelly elbow one another at a sale. We also discussed renting some movies and having a film festival featuring the works of Lexington native George Clooney. Oddly, I neglected to mention the Creation Museum, even though it’s less than 90 miles away, and one of the reasons I’m proud to be a Jeezuckian. My wife and I keep talking about what a hoot it would be to spend some time surrounded by Christians oohing and ahhing at nonsense, but we’ve yet to make the trip; my friend’s visit might be just the push we need to get off our asses and go mingle with our dinosaur-riding ancestors. Or perhaps we could pass a few pleasant hours at the Creationist Art Gallery, described below in this revised old post.]

Everyone knows about the Creation Museum of Faux Science, which celebrated its third anniversary recently. Less well publicized, however, is its sister house of learning, the Creationist Art Gallery. Fortunately, though, I have a copy of the gallery’s catalog, and I can assure you that the displays there demonstrate the same kind of careful attention to scientific and historical truth as the ones at the more well-known venue. Below, I’ve reproduced twelve pages from the catalog, just to give you an idea of the high quality of the exhibits. (Note: I’ve taken the liberty of correcting the many spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors in the published text. The content, however, is reproduced verbatim.)

ITEMS FROM THE CATALOG

Unknown Pagan Egyptian Artist: Dawkinubis, the God of Evolution (circa 1500 B.C.)

The ancient Egyptians had many weird beliefs, unlike modern-day Evangelical Christians. Here, their god of Evolution is depicted with the head of a lying jackal and the body of Tom Cruise. The long staff-like object in his left hand is known as a Dennett, the symbol for a dangerous idea. Notice, however, that his right hand grasps an Egyptian cross, representing the sacrifice of our Lord. Art historians believe that the anonymous Egyptian sculptor was attempting to depict a “compromise” between science and Christianity, an endeavor we now know to be impossible.

Edgar Degas: Degenerate Scientists (1876)

Like most enlightened persons of his day, Degas realized that the pursuit of science, at the expense of religion, leads one into a life of immorality. In this frightening portrait of two evolutionists, Degas perfectly captures the spiritual emptiness of his subjects.

John Trumbull: The Beginnings of a Christian Nation (1817)

This famous painting shows the Continental Congress of 1776, as the draft of the Declaration of Independence is being presented. The tall red-headed Christian in the middle is Thomas Jefferson, flanked by Christian John Adams on his right, Christian Benjamin Franklin on his left, and a couple of Christian guys you never heard of. If you look closely at all the faces, you’ll notice that everyone present is contemplating God.

Francisco Goya: Darwin Eating His Child (1821-23)

It’s a little-known fact, fortunately documented for posterity by Goya, that Charles Darwin once ate one of his children. Darwin and the child were both completely undressed at the time.

Edvard Munch: Don’t Let This Happen to Your Kid! (1893)

In the early 1890s, Munch visited a number of high school biology classes in Norway. He was much moved by the reactions of students while they were being taught evolutionary theory. In this painting, the artist captures perfectly the emotions of one of the children, who has just heard the evil propaganda that his parents were monkeys. It is not known for sure whether the boy jumped over the bridge or not, but wouldn’t you?

Vincent Van Gogh: Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889)

A few days before painting this masterpiece, Van Gogh recorded in his journal: Today, I attended a lecture on the origin of species. I couldn’t stand what I was hearing. I never want to have to listen to that kind of nonsense again! Art historians agree that the artist cut off his ear a few minutes after lowering his pen. While the curators of the Creationist Art Gallery do not necessarily condone Van Gogh’s extreme response, we do applaud his faith, and are comforted by the knowledge that his ear was reattached when he arrived in heaven.

Edouard Manet: Picnic with Godless Yankee Commie Homo-supporting Baby-killing Bastards (1863)

Here we see a quartet of secularists despoiling the lovely Kentucky landscape with their atheistic food and ideas. The particular spot they’ve chosen is on a mountaintop scheduled to be removed to make way for some glorious Christian coal-mining.  In the background, a member of the eternally damned party is examining a dinosaur dropping, while nearby, unbeknownst to her, is a remnant of Noah’s ark. If you look very closely, you may notice that one of the women is naked! (Note: For a nominal fee, smelling salts are available to revive swooning ladies.)

Auguste Rodin: Nude Supreme Court Justice (1880)

As everyone knows, Rodin predicted — and deplored — the Roe v. Wade opinion nearly 100 years before it was handed down by the Supreme Court. In this famous work, the artist depicts an unidentified Supreme Court Justice (many art historians believe that it’s Antonin Scalia), as he struggles to come up with a rationale for overturning legal precedent. Although this sculpture is not directly related to creationism, we thought you should see it before signing the petition in the gift shop.

Jacques Louis David: Dover, December 2005 (2006)

The figure in the center of the canvas is the world’s most respected scientist and pre-eminent Intelligent Design proponent, Michael Behe. The agonized disciples surrounding him are various upstanding Christian members of the Dover, Pennsylvania School Board. After a ridiculously biased and completely unscientific decision rendered by United States District Judge John E. Jones III, the citizens of Dover have been forbidden to teach Creationism in their public schools. In this painting, however, the artist shows Behe pointing upward at Christ in Heaven, promising his faithful followers that God will soon reveal his Truth to all. The scroll on the ground near the foot of the bed is an original copy of Of Pandas and People. Off to the left, you might be able to spot a group of villainous biologists, chuckling in the background as they climb the stairs.

Pablo Picasso: Woman Without Intelligent Design (1937)

For Picasso, who loved the female form, it was a sin of the highest magnitude to deny that woman had been created expressly for man’s pleasure by God. Over the course of his long life, the artist depicted, over and over again, his nightmarish visions of what women would look like if the Divine Intelligence had not been involved in their design. The subject of the painting is crying because she happened to catch a glimpse, in a heathen-crafted mirror, of what her non-created self would look like. Art historians believe that the model for this particular portrait was Picasso’s ninth-grade science teacher.

Salvador Dali: Nothing Gets Made by Accident (1931)

It should be evident to even the smallest child that someone created those watches in the painting. Therefore, God must have made the world, although it’s not quite as droopy as the items shown. If you add up the times on the faces of the watches, you’ll easily see that they total 6,000 years — the exact age of the universe!

G. Beck: Huge-Penised Flying Devil Monkey (2010)

The artist created this work to show the danger of Darwinism. In this beautifully Photoshopped illustration, noted scholar Beck depicts the Satanic creature from whom evil-utionists would like to teach your children that they’re descended. Is this the kind of socialist propaganda you want your sons and daughters to learn?

Posted in Freedom from Faith, New to Kentucky, Seriously Silly | 22 Comments »

Beck’s Third Principle: Not for Newspaper Editors?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/13/2010

Very early in my blogging career, I decided that I wasn’t going to act as a clearing-house for stories covered by national newspapers. The only kinds of readers I was interested in attracting were people who didn’t need me to tell them about the day’s events. I’m not a goddamned anchorman.

And so I won’t bother to comment on the The New York Times’s story that David Berkowitz (the “Son of Sam”) has apparently been “born again.” I’ll only ask: Is that good news for everybody who didn’t get shot during his first life? Anyway, he’s now apparently having conversations with the voice of a god instead of a dog. Does he speak to it backwards?

However, I will tell you about a story covered locally here in Jesus-yucky. I don’t really object to the story being run; it’s a national first, so maybe it is news. What pisses me off is the headline: Liberty School teaches country’s beginnings. That’s a blatant falsehood, and the editors responsible should be fired immediately.

Vacation Liberty School is a money-raising, power-grabbing scheme by Glenn Beck. Naturally, its debut incarnation appeared miraculously here in the BlewGas state. Under the guise of “teaching” about the early days of America, Beck and his minions are stressing nine principles.

  1. America is good.
  2. I believe in God and He is the center of my life.
  3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
  4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
  5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
  6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
  7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
  8. It is not un-American to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
  9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

I happen to agree heartily with a few of those points, particularly numbers 6 and 8. I have no philosophical problem with number 5 — although it should definitely apply to big corporations, too — or number 7 (except for its grammar), even though it’s merely a pose aimed at avoiding societal responsibility. (It should apply when taxpayers fund faith-based initiatives, but, of course, its proponents won’t, or can’t, make that connection.) Number 9 sounds nice, but the government doesn’t actually work for any one person; it works for the collective public. To do so effectively, it might actually have to work against certain specific individuals, like murderers, child molesters, and would-be theocrats.

Number 3 is silly, but not bad, even though it assumes that there are gradations of honesty (there aren’t). The attendees of Liberty School wouldn’t need such a principle unless they’d started off on the lying end of the spectrum, so it doesn’t hurt to ask them to try to be more truthful. Of course, the text is ironic, because Glenn Beck has made a name for himself by misrepresenting everything he discusses. He ought to be forced to read that sentence aloud every waking minute of his day, and it should be piped into his head when he’s sleeping.

The other numbers are pure bullshit. For example: The belief that one’s country is good merely because it’s one’s country is a recipe for disaster. And it contradicts number 8. Of course, the people likely to go to Vacation Liberty School don’t understand self-contradicting principles, or they wouldn’t be so gung-ho about the appropriately ordered “number 2.” The third item is non-historical; except in the case of John Adams, I don’t think there’s any indication that the rest of the Founding Fathers gave a rat’s ass what their spouses thought. (Of course, it is possible that Madison kowtowed to his wife when he had a hankering for ice cream.)

In case you’re wondering, Georgetown’s Vacation Liberty School was held at a – oh, you’ll never guess! – a Baptist church. Surprised?

Posted in Freedom from Faith, It's History, Playing Politics | 11 Comments »

This Will Not Be on the Test

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/12/2010

Since I earn absolutely no money from this site, I’m forced to take paying work now and again to keep myself in Chocolate Cheerios. Lately, in my non-blogging life, I’ve been writing a series of math textbooks for middle schoolers. Sometimes my mind wanders, though. That’s probably why the following problems were all rejected by my editors.

Question 1.: A newspaper has three sections. Each section contains 14 pages. The newspaper devotes 8 pages to items related to college basketball, 6 pages to articles about bourbon and/or horses, 5 pages to gossip about famous entertainers who were born in the state, and 7 pages to columns about how religion makes its readers feel good. How many pages are devoted to news?
Answer: 1½ pages. The other 14½ pages are filled with happy-face stories aimed at attracting tourists.

Question 2.: The population of the United States is roughly 310,000,000. According to recent statistics, nearly 12% of Americans are non-theists. About how many Americans practice no religion?
Answer: Zero, because everyone knows that not practicing a religion is a religion.

Question 3.: The Declaration of Independence was signed by 56 men. If 17/28 of them called themselves Christians, how many of them believed that they were creating a Christian nation?
Answer: Only two, Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann. (Bachmann dressed as a man so she could add her name to the list, but then she remembered that no one had taught her how to write, because she was “just a woman.” So she traced over Glenn Beck’s signature. That’s why his name appears twice on the document.)

Question 4.: You have been asked to make a lime Jell-O mold for your church picnic. To make enough Jell-O mold for 6 hungry people to eat, you need one box of Jell-O, one can of crushed pineapple, and one can of tuna. If you make enough Jell-O mold for 112 people, how many of them will actually eat some?
Answer: Only the pastor, who’s trying to get you to will your pineapple and tuna stocks to the church.

Question 5.: If you follow the correct order of operations, what should you do first when asked to solve the following: (13 – 3)3 ÷ 5 + 4 x 9 – 7 =?
Answer: Pray to Jesus. If he doesn’t give you the answer, you’ll know you’re going to hell, where it’s all math, all the time. Don’t you wish you’d spent July and August studying arithmetic instead of attending four sessions of Vacation Bible School?

Question 6.: According to the bible, Noah’s Ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 45 cubits high. A biblical cubit = approximately 1.5 feet. If the ark was filled to capacity with animals on the morning of the first day, and it rained for 40 days, how many animals in total were eaten by each Tyrannosaurus Rex on board?
Answer: Trick question. Tyrannosaurus Rex did not eat animals. It ate only Entenmann’s Chocolate Donuts. So the answer is 1, the male aardvark, because it was trying to hoard all the sweets.

Question 7.: The Troubled Asset Relief Program is giving away $700 billion to companies that are too big to fail. An additional gazillion dollars has been set aside for companies that could fail, but won’t, because they have friends in Congress. If all that money is invested in the American economy, how much will the average worker get?
Answer: Approximately $9.42 in tax rebates, give or take $9.42, spread over the next 20 years.

Question 8.: What kind of polygon has exactly three sides?
Answer: The holy trinity, but it actually has only one side comprising three hypostases (or, in English, hypotenuses).

Question 9.: There are 25 Fundamentalist Christians in a middle school math class. On a recent test, the students’ results were plotted on a grid, and the line approached a bell-shaped curve. Three students were shown to have earned 90% or better on the test. About how many students failed the test?
Answer: All 25. The school administrators just put dots at random on the grid. They claimed that they were guided by the hand of their god, who was actually trying to get them to draw an Entenmann’s Chocolate Donut.

Question 10.: Using the biblical equivalent of 3 for pi, what’s the area of a circle with a radius 3 inches long.
Answer: Approximately 28.27 square inches. The actual area doesn’t change just because you use a wrong number from the bible.

Posted in Seriously Silly | 18 Comments »

Earworm Saturday #6

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/10/2010

The other day, a friend asked me if I remembered what my first earworm was. I sure do. It was Mrs. Bronstein playing “The Spinning Song” on her piano.

When I was growing up, my Saturday mornings always began with the sounds of that poor woman of indeterminate middle age — I referred to her as “old” back then (fuck me) — practicing her music. The headboard of my bed was separated from the sounding board of her upright piano by a thin wall of plaster between our apartments. Throughout my entire childhood, she never expanded her repertoire beyond the same two pieces, but she played them both with such gusto each week that I sometimes worried about her piano crashing through the wall and landing on my head. The one she always started with was a musette by J.S. Bach. Usually, she tried it once or twice, maybe three times at most, and that was that. I liked the way the tune played with rhythm (I didn’t learn the word “syncopation” until later), and even though Mrs. Bronstein almost always screwed up the middle section, she’d end with a flourish.

The other number was “The Spinning Song,” my ear-monster. I’ve subsequently found out that it was written by a 19th-century German actor named Albert Ellmenreich, but when I was a kid, I thought it might have been composed by Mr. Bronstein to drive his wife crazy. He was definitely that kind of guy. He wore a beret, f’Chrissake, and my father told me that he was a … shhhhh … socialist. My other theory was that some Jewish mother, maybe even mine, had commissioned the piece with the specific purpose of awakening her slugabed child in the Bronx.

In any case, Mrs. Bronstein never did get through “The Spinning Song,” even though she practiced it from the time I was about five until I was nearly eleven. Six years, and she never finished that goddamned thing. Because whenever she would hit a wrong note, she would start all over again from the beginning.

Boop-bah Boop-bah Boop-bah Boop-bah
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dih-TAHH.
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dit-DUMM.
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dih-TAHH.
Deedle-eedle ump-dum dit-DUMM.
OOM-puh OOM-puh OOM-puh OOM-puh …
… Oh, no!

To this day, I can hum, whistle, or scat-sing the first twelve bars of that tune perfectly. But at precisely the same point in the thirteenth measure, every single time, Mrs. Bronstein’s fingers got hopelessly muddled. She’d approach that spot in the melody and I’d lie absolutely still, holding my breath, united with my neighbor in some kind of mystical mind-meld of uncertainty.

She never did manage to spit those notes out perfectly. After a few seconds of silence, during which time I always imagined her heaving a sigh from the innermost recesses of her tormented being, she would go back to the beginning and doggedly commence deedling once more. Fifteen, twenty times, occasionally thirty, until she gave up, but only for that session. The next Saturday morning, she’d be back at it again, tenaciously determined, the paradigm of optimistic persistence.

For the rest of the weekend, I’d find myself singing the nonsense syllables printed above, which I’ve always imagined to be the song’s lyrics. Once I was deedling to myself while bringing a bag of garbage to the incinerator, and Mrs. Bronstein happened to open her door.

“Oh,” she said, “I see you like good music.”

I never knew until today, when I listened to it on YouTube, how the rest of that damned thing went.  Here it is. So stick your computer behind your headboard and listen to just the beginning about fifteen or twenty times. Guess what: you’ll have grown yourself an earworm. Meet me at the incinerator, and we can hum a duet.

Posted in Earworms, Memoirs | 13 Comments »

If I Only Had a God

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/06/2010

Some of my readers – all right, just Chappy – have been urging me to record my as yet unwritten version of “Onward, Godless Soldiers.” But I couldn’t get any further than the first verse:

Onward, Godless Soldiers, lurching as to war.
Those Jehovah’s Witless knock upon the door.
“Christ, it’s Sunday morning! We were still in bed!
Do we give a shit what happens when we’re dead?”

Onward, Godless Soldiers, marching back to snooze.
Screw their cross of Jesus and their damned good news.

Still, maybe I owe you guys something singable. So I’m reviving a set of lyrics I wrote a few years ago, and reposting them here. In case you’d like to sing along, you can click this link for the accompaniment.

If I Only Had a God

I could while away the day in
A fit of fancy prayin’,
And never think it’s odd.
I’d condemn Richard Dawkins
And his atheistic squawkin’s
If I only had a god.

I would be like all the fundies,
My head inside my undies:
My brain, a giant wad!
Though my thoughts no cigar win,
Still, I’d have no need for Darwin
If I only had a god.

J.C., be good to me,
And clean out from my head
All the science and the history I’ve read.
Then make your face appear on bread.

In a public school position,
I’d foster superstition,
Ignoring what is mod,
Teach the Bible as true, no
Problem with Amendment Uno
If I only had a god.

[Update: 07/08/10 at 3:20 a.m.: Roz asked me to supply her with some more verses, and I was happy to oblige. Little did she know what a sour mood I’m in, so this second go-round is a bit darker than the first. Although, I suppose it’s the natural extension of the song’s logic.]

I’d teach Africans and Asians,
The needy of all nasions,
The hungry and unshod.
Even though I’d despise ‘em,
I would go evangelize ‘em
If I only had a god.

I would smite the heathen cynics,
And bomb abortion clinics,
As Cath-o-lics hurrahed.
It would pay me no penny,
But I’m sure I’d please Pope Benny
If I only had a god.

Oh why, should I be shy
‘Bout doin’ my lord’s work?
Each atrocity will earn another perk,
Because my god’s a vicious jerk.

I could make the sinners cower,
And fly into a tower,
Pursuin’ my jihad.
I’d obey heaven’s urgin’s
Just to earn myself some virgins
If I only had a god.

Posted in Freedom from Faith, Music | 22 Comments »

In What Way Do These Myths Differ?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/06/2010

OK, friends, I am soooo fucking sick of the goody-two-shoes atheist billboards. If our messages are going to be vandalized anyway, let’s make them a little bit more confrontational.

Sorry, but I’m no artist. So consider these as rough. Very rough. But here are six entries in my suggested billboard campaign.


Posted in Freedom from Faith | 23 Comments »

No, I’m Not Going Soft on Religion

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/04/2010

So in the wee hours of the morning on July 1, I was whisked away from home by ambulance. Although I was half out of it when the emergency medical people arrived, they did ask me which hospital I wanted to go to. I had enough presence of mind to say, “any one that isn’t religious,” but that narrowed my choices down quite a bit—and would have left my wife with a longer drive to and from my temporary accommodations than if I’d just blurted out the name of the Catholic hospital closest to my house.

After giving the matter about 15 seconds of thought, I reneged, and told the EMTs to take me to the most convenient facility.

Later, when I thought about it, I realized that many – maybe most – hospitals have some religious reference in their name. Why is that? (I’m in no mood to do research today, but I’m guessing that it goes back to the Middle Ages. Doesn’t everything?)

After spending a few hours being poked and prodded by the emergency staff, I was told that I’d need to stay at least overnight. So at about 4:30 in the morning, I was wheeled into a private room. All the while, I was telling myself that I’d be as negative as I could when the in-house chaplain arrived to bring me some Jesus.

It never happened. I was in that Catholic hospital for nearly 48 hours, and there were only two allusions to religion. One was a small crucifix that looked like a fancy letter-opener, tucked into an unobtrusive corner of the room. Frankly, as something to look at, I found it much more interesting than say, a picture of a cute kitty, or a flower-bedecked landscape. I was shocked at myself for not being offended by it, but I just didn’t care – it was no skin off my nose as long as none of the medical staff prayed to it or crossed themselves. Hell, they didn’t even look at it.

The other religious allusion came from a maid who entered my room to do some minor cleaning touch-ups about an hour after I’d been brought there. (A few drawers, apparently, were not sparkly enough.) When she was done, at about 5:45, she said, on her way out, “Have a blessed night.” I wasn’t in any shape to engage her in a theological debate – nor, I suspect, would it have mattered if I did – so I simply answered, “Thanks.”

That was it for Christ. None of the doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, or techies who attended me did any advertising whatsoever for their employer. I may have been a bit disappointed, because I was prepared with any number of devastatingly sarcastic comments to make when they did. But I never had the chance. They all acted professionally and seemed extremely knowledgeable; quite a few were able to banter with me snottily, which was encouraging. One N.A. with a funny voice characterized herself as sounding like Minnie Mouse on crack, which struck me – under the circumstances – as hilarious. A nurse, after asking me to let my leg go limp for a reflex test, said, “ummm … you’re not a guy who’s into relaxing much, are you?” A techie, who was administering a test for which she wasn’t “supposed to” give me the results said, “If I turn pale and run screaming into the hall, you can assume you’re in trouble.” Nobody said, “we’ll pray for you.”

So I’ve had occasion to reexamine my own prejudices about hospitals. Yes, it’s annoying that so many of them have a titular affiliation with a specific religious sect. And it’s also extremely grating to imagine that my insurance payment – and the no-doubt exorbitant percentage of costs I’ll be billed directly – will, perhaps, go to the furtherance of the Catholic message. But, really, I doubt it. There was nothing overtly papal about that hospital other than a dumb piece of wall art and a veiledly Christian offhand remark by a low-level employee (who, I suspect, was not actually a Catholic). In retrospect, my own bias against anything even mildly smacking of religion might have gotten in the way of what was, essentially, a positive – and definitely necessary – experience. And my poor wife had to drive only a short distance to smuggle in my Chocolate Cheerios.

Oh, and I got to take home a lovely quart-sized sippy cup, with a plastic bendy straw. That souvenir will probably show up on my bill as a $700 item, but that’s only a little more than I would have paid for, say, mouse ears at Disney World. Anyway, it’s an attractive purple-topped container, emblazoned with the name of the hospital and the words “The Science of Medicine, The Heart of Compassion.” The second phrase is probably secret Vatican code, but it’s stated in a fairly neutral way. And, seriously, I can’t argue with the first phrase at all.

Posted in Freedom from Faith | 17 Comments »

The Presidents: A Not-so-scientific Ranking

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/04/2010

I’ve been indisposed for a while (see my next post). So I’m late acknowledging Independence Day, in celebration of which a very good friend of mine sent out this gallery of presidents, listed in order from best to worst. The scientifically derived rankings are explained in great journalistic detail by this article.

That list must be exactly right, because (1) the specific criteria are irrefutable; (2) of the 238 scholars mentioned, there’s not a single person whose name I could argue with; and (3) Siena College is well known as one of the world’s greatest institutions of learning. I’m a little surprised that they didn’t bump everyone down a place to make room for Jesus Christ at the top.

I decided it might be interesting if I did my own ranking, using my own set of scrupulously arrived at criteria. It wouldn’t be fair to my readers to ask them to wade through the entire set of names, but here are a few excerpts:

1. Lincoln (penny, 5-dollar bill)
2. Washington (quarter, 1-dollar bill)
3. Thomas Jefferson (nickel, 2-dollar bill)
4. Tie: The Roosevelts (Teddy, Franklin, Eleanor, Fala)
5. Jesus Christ (Note: in the purely secular, nation-building sense, only)
6. The Eastern Media Elite (aka The Nattering Nabobs of Negativism)
7. Jackie Kennedy
8. Josiah Bartlet
9: Three-way tie: Alexander Hamilton (10-dollar bill), Benjamin Franklin (100-dollar bill), Al Gore (Nobel Prize, Academy Award)
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15. James (“John”) K. (“L.”) Polk
16. Game called on account of rain: Grover Cleveland (1st time), Grover Cleveland (2nd time), Grover Cleveland Alexander (P, PHI-NL/CHI-NL/STL-NL., Lifetime ERA. 2.56)
17. Edith Wilson
18. Garfield
19. Snoopy
20. Phineas T. Barnum
21. No award that year
22. Elvis
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34. Coca-Cola
35. Lexington native George Clooney
36. Tippecanoe
37. Tyler, too
38. General Motors
39. “Silent Cal” Coolidge
40. “Chatty Matty” van Buren
41. Tie: Mother Teresa, Michael Jackson
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52. Chester, Al, an’ Arthur
53. Millard Fillmore East
54. Warren G. Hardly
55. The Andrews: Jackson and Johnson
56. The Andrews Sisters: Patty, Maxene, LaVerne, and Julie (Hits: “The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Bugle Boy of Company B,” “Bei Mir Bist du Ein Spoonful von Sugar,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Do-Re-Mi”)
57. Ronald Reagan (post-Alzheimer’s)
58. Ronald Reagan (pre-Alzheimer’s)
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68. Seventeen-way tie: All other presidents except for George W. Bush
69. Larry King
70. Dick Cheney, acting on behalf of Halliburton

Unlike Siena College, I haven’t included either Barack Obama (because he has served only about 18 months so far) and Sarah Palin (who hasn’t yet been elected).  I also didn’t rank Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, because I couldn’t decide which one should be 32nd and which 33rd.  Sorry.

Posted in It's History, Seriously Silly, Useless Lists | 14 Comments »

Technology Throughout History #1

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 06/28/2010

On June 28, 1776, after emailing back and forth with a few of his friends, Thomas Jefferson sent out the following series of text messages to his entire social network.

IMHO if a guvmint isnt ur BFF it sux!

evry1 is =.
th cre8r gave us a rite 2 life, librtE and :)

K. George? NFW!
he has S4B & duz lotsa bad stuff.
hes g2g.

FYI these :Ez are now free 4eva.
CUL8R. Bring ur musket.

It’s a good thing we could communicate by cell phone back then, or we’d all be English today.

Posted in It's History, Language & Meaning, Seriously Silly | 20 Comments »