Monday, March 31, 2014

Free Advice on Avoiding Child Molesters in Your Praise and Worship Team

Let's be brutally frank. Religious activities are rife with opportunities for people to engage in power trips, seductions, abuse, and mind games. I've seen it almost everywhere I've ever seen a group of people gathered for worship, no matter the faith path. This is part of the reason I've joined the teeming masses of folks who revere buzzards.

There's a lot of Scottish DNA in me, and I feel that's were I get my skepticism. I'm always on the lookout for a hidden agenda, and at times I've actively put people to the test to see if they have such agendas without them knowing they were being tested.

Friends, we would like life to be all kindness and good will, but be skeptical. Start from a position of caution, and remain cautious. Always ask yourself, "Is this a balanced relationship?" If you feel that someone has more to gain from you than you have from them, proceed with caution.

Go into every situation with the aim of full disclosure. I had to have a full criminal background check to be able to care for the diaper babies in the United Methodist Church. I mean, fingerprints and all. You know what? I applaud the UMC for this oversight. AND for sending other church ladies randomly to spy on me. On this, the Methodists had it going on.

The sad fact about child abusers is that they are the sneakiest of all. They will toe the straight and narrow for years and years, gaining everyone's trust ... and then they strike. So, how are they to be avoided?

Keep track of your kids everywhere you go. If they are going to be out of your sight with some church elder, demand that this person have a criminal background check.

Yes, your youngsters want some time outside your purview, especially perhaps at the Pagan campground. Okay, let them take that nature hike, but spy relentlessly. Maybe you won't enjoy yourself quite as much, but that's your kid. How many people out there wish they'd never let their sons be altar boys?

Oh, Anne Johnson. So paranoid. What an awful way to go through life.

Hold that thought.

One of my very best friends was busted with a computer full of the most horrendous child abuse pornography. He's still doing time, and when he comes out, what exactly will he do with the rest of his life? He's a pariah. You know what this man was before that computer got seen by the wrong eyes? A pillar of the community, a deacon in the church, a youth group leader. That's what. Oh yeah, and president of the regional Big Brothers chapter.

Skepticism is a virtue. Better to be pleasantly surprised than bitterly disappointed. Proceed with caution. Trust only that the Sun will rise in the east.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are You Gay and Christian? Why?

Make no mistake about it. The ongoing campaign of hate perpetrated by the Westboro Baptist Church is continuing to give Christianity a black eye. Most Christians are appalled by the WBC. But when push comes to shove, evangelical Christians still think homosexuality is a sin, even among monogamous, morally upright gay couples.

Every once in awhile I get a blog post in my mailbox by a Christian pastor named J. Lee Grady. His most recent post had the promising title, "Fred Phelps Didn't Speak for Me". Pastor Grady rightly pointed out that Jesus loved everyone, even sinners and "clueless pagans." Therefore, Christians are called to love homosexuals -- but not to condone their "sin."

If you are gay and a Christian, the book from which you take your moral compass deems the way you were born and oriented to be sinful. You have two choices: either adopt a straight lifestyle if you want a partner, or live celibate your whole life long.

Well, you actually have a third choice. You can find a deity that will love you just the way you are, so long as you harm none.

Interestingly, the Bible never says God is the only deity. In fact, God actually has cause to be jealous, because there are other deities. It's widely known among not-so-clueless Pagans that homosexuality is established at birth and is not in the least sinful.

The WBC says God hates fags. From where I stand, I would have to agree. Any deity that demanded some of His followers to live either false lives fraught with emotional pitfalls, or lonely lives of celibacy, must at least be playing favorites.

Feeling short-changed by your deity, gay Christian? Maybe you're just worshiping the wrong deity.  Book with a different carrier.  The love of justice is central to Druidism, and it's just unjust. Just unjust for a deity to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

One of the main reasons I left the Christian church is the hidebound, entrenched bigotry against homosexuals, in an era when science has advanced understanding of human behavior so much. I set out to find deities Who could embrace these advances and give every human being an equal chance to find a loving and devoted partner. Enter stage right, bored gods! They aren't burdened by a book that is frozen in time.

I saw ten vultures while walking home from work. Could any day be better?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Holy No

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," dispensing free advice and then paying you to take it since 2005! We're closing in on another anniversary. Oh my goodness, so much has happened since then!

Saturday afternoon, Heir and Extra Chair and I went to the local PETCO to pick up a foster kitten. I had asked the lady who runs the cat cages at PETCO to choose a kitten for me to foster based on personality and not on looks. Let's face it ... except for those naked monstrosities bred for cat shows, there's no such thing as an ugly kitten.

As the cat lady was boxing up my new charge, she and I got to talking about kitten fostering. If you go back into the archives of this blog, you'll see no end of cute kittens that I bottle-fed. I'll bet I raised more than 75 kittens (and lost about 20). But I dropped kitten care when I went to work full time. This kitten I'm raising now is a special exception. It's just too much work.

Too much work. When you work all week and come home dead exhausted, it's a rude and thoughtless deity who expects you to volunteer your weekend hours to some religious cause.

For 15 years while my daughters were young, I martyred myself to the United Methodist Church. I helped with the children's choir, and the Sunday School. I donated baked goods to sales and deposited money in the collection plate. I listened to hundreds of sermons, and I don't remember a single word of any of them.

The kitten foster years were just as hectic. The kittens were always hungry, or messy, or sick, or hidden under the furniture. Their coop had to be washed. Their box had to be disinfected. If it was a big litter, all of this needed to be done twice a day. Looking back, I don't know how I did church or kittens. Sometimes I was doing both simultaneously.

Then I decided I was in the wrong praise and worship team. I joined a Druid Grove, and we all hit it off like age-old pals. We got together eight times a year. Wouldn't you know, even that turned out to be too much, not only for me but also for the other members? Last year we re-united for a Lughnasadh ritual ... and we haven't seen each other since.

Briefly I joined an ADF Grove that is convenient to my home. But if I couldn't muster the pulse to be a Methodist, I sure didn't have the chops to keep up with this Grove. Their rituals lasted whole weekends and were outdoors, camping. And the financial output was similar to the UMC, in other words, a reach.

I have learned that it is holy to say no.

The young girl who handed me the foster kitten had the tired eyes of an over-worked church lady. I said I had given up fostering in 2008. She said that was about the time she started. Now she co-runs the shelter. It's an enormous responsibility. Cats come, and cats go, and all kittens start to look the same.

Holy no. This woman has a husband and a job. And she's at PETCO on Saturday, in the middle of a beautiful spring day, volunteering.

We set aside time for the worship of our deities because we want Them to know how special They are. We may be exhausted, we may have too many obligations, but here we are, because our deities require of us devotions.

How about this? How about it if worked the other way around?

There are bored gods who feel the love when we lie in bed on Sunday morning talking to our spouses, then amble down to the kitchen for a cup of tea. There are bored gods who accept as worship our decision to take a walk, to take a nap, to haul in firewood or shop for groceries. These are the deities who love us not for what we can do for them, but for what we do for the people we care about. These are the gods of the holy no.

I work hard, and on the weekend I'm tired. The bored gods love a hard worker.

I love my husband and daughters, and I want to spend time with them. The bored gods love devoted mothers.

I need to be completely lazy sometimes. Thank goodness the bored gods don't see sloth as a deadly sin, but rather as a healing practice!

The moral of this sermon is simple enough. Gods and Goddesses don't make demands. Other people make demands. Be sure the voices you're hearing are your deities. Have the holy no in your tool kit and use it.  Otherwise, trust me on this, you will some day regret joining a praise and worship team that once looked so promising but is now torturing you with high expectations.

I want to thank the bored gods for giving me this time to write a blog post while talking to my parrot.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes!

With apologies to my friends Down Under, this equinox has been highly anticipated here in the snowy north.

I don't mind the cold weather so much, and I love snow, but the dark days are hard to bear. The moment when our daily allotment of sunshine becomes greater than our allotment of darkness is always greeted with a cheery what-ho around here.

Now lively Persephone escapes the clutches of her cold but beloved Husband and returns to Her grieving Mother, Demeter. As any loving mother would, Demeter responds by bathing the land in green, by bidding every living thing to step lively again.

In the decades before this blog was born, I used to send Demeter a Mother's Day card every year because no one seemed to remember or worship Her anymore. All of that has changed! She is now a busy deity with many fervent members in her praise and worship team. When I sent her a text message Thursday at 12:57 p.m., I didn't hear back from her for three whole hours, and then it was only a brief <3 anne="" i="" u=""> I call that progress.

Light an extra candle for your deities tonight. Thank Them for seeing you through the dark spell. And whatever else you do, don't petition Them for a winning lottery ticket. I've never met a deity who wasn't pissed off when you ask for winning numbers. You're breathing. That's a win.

Happy spring!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Herding Cats

I stand guilty as charged of having a swollen ego. This time I think it might have gotten me in over my head.

It must have been eight years ago that I fostered a trio of kittens who were born behind a dumpster in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The first kitten came into my nurture at about three weeks of age, and he was in pretty bad shape. Lucky thing I had some antibiotics on hand when I got him. Well, he's rocking on -- literally. He is the store cat at Woodstock Trading Company.

After I finished with that kitten, a similar kitten appeared the following spring in basically the same location. This one, too, I fostered. The staff at the store found him a happy home.

Yesterday I got a message from the owner of Woodstock Trading Company. The lady who adopted my foster kitten still has him, but she wants a companion for him ... and only a cat fostered by Anne will do. (emphasis mine)

Who among us is strong enough to stand up and say, "Oh, I have no magick where cats or anything else is concerned. Cats just have basic personalities; you can't mold them."

Oh no. Not me. I'm the original Cat Whisperer. You give me two dozen cats, I'll herd them neatly into rows. It's just my special touch, you know?

Like a blithering idiot, I called the shelter where I volunteer and asked for a foster kitten. Regular Gandalf, that's me. On Saturday I will receive an eight-week-old male kitten. Through my peerless magickal powers, I will turn this ordinary, nondescript feline into something really, really special. A cat fostered by Anne.

I did ask the shelter to choose for personality and not looks. Is that cheating?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On Bullies

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Have you noticed the increased attention to harassment, intimidation, and bullying in these modern times? It's not like these problems haven't been around since Og and Mog duked it out on the savannah, but we're trying to improve detection of bullies as well as how we deal with them.

Religion is not very helpful, if you agree with the philosophy that one does not answer bullying with a like show of force. Jesus may have said "turn the other cheek," but he also upset the tables in the temple. And then there's Sampson, David and Goliath, and any number of warrior kings in the Old Testament.

Some pantheons have a God of War. Mars is one. I would invite Him for an interview on this burning issue, but alas, He burns. Last time He visited, He torched a perfectly good porch rocker, one that had belonged to my departed granny.

I'm thinking about bullies just now because rumor has it that Fred Phelps, founder of the notorious "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church, has been moved into hospice care. Now there's a bully for you. How do we handle a guy like that? This is the question I mulled this afternoon during my 4.5-mile hike home from work.

Psychologists say that you should never counter a bully with a like show of force, that it only reinforces bullying behavior. It's true that bullies usually pick on someone smaller than they are. Bullies also tend to run in groups where they can support one another. Meeting them an eye for an eye is a dicey proposition.

And yet, to me (and this is only my opinion, endorsed by Mars and other warlike deities) the best defense against bullies is a good counter-punch.

In my stripling days there wasn't a vice-principal in charge of anti-bullying tactics at my middle school. A gang of bullies set their sights on beating the crap out of me and warned me they were going to do it. I set my dog on them. And that mutt did not suffer fools. A few throaty growls was all it took for me never to be bullied again. The bullies continued to hate me, but they sure kept their distance.

It seems to me that our nation's way of dealing with Fred Phelps has been a certain measure of sensible counter-bullying. I don't know that any blows have been exchanged between the WBC and the sizable counter-crowds it draws to important events, but you've got to admit that a bunch of leather-clad bikers waving American flags and riding Harleys sure do look intimidating.

Bullies can trample your sense of self and your sense of security. The fact that they take their greatest pleasure from exploiting your weakness is just sickening. So, how do we deal with people holding posters that say "God gave you cancer! Hooray for cancer!" outside an oncology clinic?

I only speak for myself here. And for Mars. You just don't suffer this shit. I'm sorry. I know that all the research shows that mediation is the word. I know that wars have been started when two groups of bullies get active against one another. Sadly, that is our human condition, and I (just me and Mars) believe that bullies cannot be stopped by anything more than a stronger showing of force.

Yes, yes, there's Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and they are heroes. But there are also our ancient deities who say, "Stand up for yourself, get others to help you, don't suffer the fools."

I guess I'm not the kind to turn the other cheek. It hurts to be slapped. Why take another blow?

Fred Phelps, you are lying on your deathbed suffering because God hates you. Yes, you, bully. Hand me that American flag, I'm riding out.

Friday, March 14, 2014

All STEM and No Flower

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," home of a proud Pagan who grew up in the era of Mad Men! Yes, my darlings, I am just a tad too young to have been at the Summer of Love, but I only missed it by an eyebrow.

I think of my childhood often. It was a time when little girls wore dresses to school and played with dolls. It was a time when bedrooms were filled with pink, fluffy pillows, and playing dress-up. Girls competed to be cheerleaders, baton twirlers, and beauty queens. The expectation was that we would all grow up to be good mothers and wives, careful of our appearances and deft with pinking shears.

And then the feminist movement came along. Suddenly all those pink teddy bears were considered the harbinger of domestic slavery. In order to be fulfilled, a woman had to have a job. Beauty queens were denounced as vapid, and sewing classes were ripped from the curriculum.

You know what? I'm sitting here today, having grown up alternately hugging my pink teddy bear and playing Vietnam War with a toy machine gun, wishing for all the world that I knew how to sew.

I'm rambling. Maybe you need to scroll down and watch the commercial for GoldieBlox and then return to the sermon while I gather my thoughts.

I saw this commercial Thursday at a seminar I attended for school teachers. The topic of the seminar was STEM. If you've been snoozing through the more boring parts of the national news, you might have missed the fact that STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. This is a serious acronym.Be forewarned: ALL the jobs of the future, EACH and EVERY ONE, will be STEM jobs.

If you're a little girl who likes to dress up like a faerie, or a princess, or (Gods forbid) you like to play with baby dolls, you are SOL (acronym for Shit Outta Luck). You are going to be left in the dust by all those brainy STEM girls who played with GoldieBlox!

When did undermining the patriarchy become mashing the matriarchy?

We worship Venus, the Goddess of love and beauty; Athena, the Goddess of wisdom; Brighid, the Goddess of creativity; and Danu, the nurturing Mother of all. Oh, let me not forget Freya, who can hold Her own in battle with the best of 'em.

The Goddesses have many faces and many talents. Within Their ample spheres of influence, there's plenty of room for little frilly dresses (Versace makes them for big people and earns a swell salary), teddy bears (love the stuffed one, love the polar one), and baby dolls.

To me, a commercial that glorifies blowing up a baby doll is horrific. The implication is crystal clear. If you want to make it in a man's world, little girl, there's no room for motherhood. Why practice nurture on a doll?

It's time for a push-back on this, friends.

STEM is fine, it is indeed where the jobs will be. But it is being touted as the only reason for developing problem solving and critical thinking. Which is about the biggest heap of rubbish as I've ever seen. The only technology Emily Dickinson used was a pen and some paper. And yet even the finest psychological scientists use her work to explain and examine the human condition. Not sure on this, but I'll bet Emily had a baby doll in her childhood.

I'm deeply concerned about several things that I see as dangerous to the GoldieBlox generation:

1. the notion that there's no reward or creativity in the nurturing of children
2. the notion that there's no creativity in princess/beauty queen/dress-up play
3. the notion that girls are compartmentalized into "pinks" (dolls, boas, teddies) and "just like boys" (blocks, STEM, career success)
4. the appalling worry that market share for Legos will plummet because now girls have their own damn blocks, just for girls

When it comes to gender, it's not "them against us." The lines are completely blurred. And when it comes to fine minds, the lines are just as blurred. STEM creates the pen, but it doesn't write the poem. STEM makes the machine, but Versace designs the dress. When the world is all STEM and no flower, who will want to tend the garden?

One thing is for damn sure. When you disrespect the noble calling of motherhood, you inherit the wind.GoldieBlox sux. End of sermon.

GoldieBlox, Come On Bring The Toyz Intuit QuickBooks TV Commercial Ad ...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Birthday Buzzards

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," home of Vestal Vultures since 2005! My name is Anne Johnson, and today I am 55 years old.

I celebrated by walking home from work. It took me one hour and 45 minutes, maybe 20 minutes longer than I thought it would. But gosh! That's not bad for 4.5 miles. My time will improve!

If I had gone west instead of east, I would be in Center City Philadelphia right now. I feel empowered.

Over the weekend I scavenged a deceased opossum from a Snobville street and threw it into the back yard. I was hoping to lure some Thunderbirds here for my special day. But it's been a long, cold, lonely winter, and this area isn't chock-a-block with buzzards even in the best of weather. Holding out hope here, but in the meantime,  I can always scare up a wake of buzzards, thanks to the magic of computers!







May the wisdom of the Sacred Thunderbird roost in your belfry! Bird is the word.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Make No Mistake: This Is a Pagan Blog

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where we celebrate polytheism with reckless abandon! Oh, snap. Why just stop at polytheism? How about omnitheism? If it's considered a deity by anyone, we'll consider it a deity here!

At least twice a year I get a nice email from some Christian publisher who wants me to review a book on my blog. These books are for Christians, about Christians. Today's book review request was for a tome on the importance of attending church services.

How do these people find me?

Hey, Christian publicist! It's me, Anne Johnson! I'm a Pagan! I may not be the last person you would want reviewing your book, but I'm probably toward the end of the very long line.

Now for the flip side of this aggravating coin.

I do love to review books. I've done some for The Gods Are Bored, ones that I thought would be of interest to my general readership. If you've got a book you would like to have reviewed, and it's about more than one deity, or a female deity, or faeries, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, fling it at me and I'll start hatching the complimentary adjectives forthwith! But write about going to church? Pass.

*Key change.*

Saturday morning early, I had to take Extra Chair to SAT testing. On the road we used, I found a perfectly sound deceased possum. I brought it home, and it's lying in the back yard just begging for a buzzard.

I took no small amount of heat for this lifeless marsupial from the other residents of Chateau Johnson (except for Chair, who just figures all Americans throw dead animals in their gardens). I can't blame them. It's kind of depressing to see the poor lil' possum just lying there with no vulturous attention. I remain hopeful, but gosh. How can I be happy in a world so lightly populated with buzzards? If this were the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I'd have had a flock within two hours. How do I know? I did this experiment there, and a huge possum was reduced to bones in less than half a day.

Where are the Sacred Thunderbirds? Why am I forsaken?

Friday, March 07, 2014

They Will All Be Shakespeare

Welcome to "Thy Gods Are Bored!" If ye with patient eyes attend, what here shall see is naught to offend!

Have you ever, just for the fun of it, written something in which you mimicked the style of a famous author? Confession here: I do this sometimes for the fun of it. It's kind of a nice cerebral challenge.

What do you know? It turns out that this particular talent is one that will determine whether our high school students are college and career-ready.

I wish, oh how I wish that I was making this up. But the latest teachers' meeting regarding our nation's new standardized testing brought more information about what is in store for our youngsters. One task they will have to complete -- on computer -- is to finish a narrative in the style of its author, taking care to follow the plot and character interrelations.

Are you confused yet, reader? Here's an example:

The test will give students the first 1,000 or so words of a story like "The Gift of the Magi," by O Henry. This was written, I think, between 1890 and 1910. After the students read the passage, they will be expected to continue the narrative, using O Henry's style and higher-level vocabulary. Another example used a passage from Frederick Douglass with the same instructions: read it, finish writing it, use his style.

The task must be completed in 50 minutes.

Did you do this in college? I didn't do this in college. Not for an assignment, anyway. Maybe it was my major that didn't require this kind of assignment. Oh, wait. I majored in creative writing. 

We teachers also got treated to another of the tasks we must teach in our English classrooms. Students will have 80 minutes to read two pieces of informational text (probably scientific or health-related), study a chart or other graphic, and watch a YouTube. Then they will have to write a position paper and use the information to support their point of view, taking care to quote from the texts and videos. This sounds more like college, but a whole hell of a lot less like the high school English classes I took, where we did such useless things as reading Charles Dickens and Oedipus Rex.

Basically these new standardized tests could expect high school juniors and seniors to be able to write like Shakespeare. Even though the highest talents in the world have not produced another Shakespeare in 400 years.

Needless to say, every teacher in my meeting, which included all the faculty for history and English, was appalled. Remember, we teach in an urban school where more than three quarters of the kids get free breakfast and lunch every day. But I'm also wondering how this will play out in Levittown. Even in Snobville, where one of the snobbiest things is the school system.

But wait. There's more.

Fourth graders. Fourth graders will be sitting for one 50-minute session of writing (narrative) and an 80-minute session of writing (analytical), followed by two 50-minute sessions of math. All on computer.

When I was in fourth grade, the only thing we did for an 80-minute nonstop stretch was watch the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series one afternoon in October.

If you are reading this, and you are a parent of a school-aged child, I urge you to find out all you can about your state's standardized testing platform. (New Jersey is using the more difficult one, PARCC.) Ask yourself: Will these high-stakes tasks fill my son or daughter with a joy for learning? Will these tasks spark their individual creativity? Will they have the mental endurance to complete the tasks at the tender age of ten?

Parents, you've got to fight this. If we teachers try to, we'll be called slackers.

Oh, gosh! I almost forgot! Look at this splendid YouTube video my daughter The Spare shot for one of her classes! (Below) Please leave her some kind words of encouragement. She's taking Shakespeare in college right now, but she's not being asked to write like him.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Hang Me, Oh Hang Me

My Very, Extremely, Wonderful and Green Transportation Machine!

Welcome to The Gods Are Bored! Decibel and I are here today to tell you about our fabulous and wonderful life, just a few days shy of 55! (Actually Decibel is 55-27= 28.)

In a way it's the same old story. You know the drill. You're hard up for money, you're driving the same car you drove in the 20th century, and the old bird just ain't what she used to be ... even with large infusions of cash. Then she dies, and the mechanic who lavished such $$$ attention on her offers you the princely blue book sum. And suddenly a two-car family becomes a one-car family, second car also being a junker on the brink.

One of the only things I really had going for me in these belt-tightening days of taking in boarders and shepherding 87 urban kids into basic literacy was my little putt-putt economy car. But now that our big, burly sedan has gone to the scrap pile, the putt-putt becomes dual property.

And somehow I can't bear the idea of being picked up and dropped off at my urban high school when most of the senior class has cars.

But you know me, right? Is Anne one of these "woe is me" kinda gals? Oh HELL no!

My daughter The Spare has a roadster that has sat idle so long it's kinda rusty and faded. But that lil' baby works. All I need is a visit to the bike shop for some oil, seat adjustment, and a helmet, and off I go into the wild blue yonder!

I used to ride my bike everywhere when I was a stripling. And I grew up in some seriously hilly country. The only hills in these flatlands are the inclines on the overpass bridges. It's 4.5 miles one way to my school. Come on, Joe. That's seriously a piece of cake.

The timing could be a little bit better, because daylight savings time starts Saturday, which means it will be pitch dark at 6:15. I might have to suck it up and get driven to school for a few more weeks. Then spring will arrive, and with it blue dawn mornings, and by golly, they say you never forget how to ride a bike!

Some people might say, "Anne, you're going backwards! You've had your own car for 13 years!"

Well, I have some witty reposts for that:

*I am going backwards in many things, so what's one more?
*First World problems! There are plenty of hard-working miners in Sierra Leone who would love to have a rusty roadster!
*It's time to lower my already-rock-bottom carbon footprint even further! Living close to where you work, or working from home, is one great way to save the planet. Now I'll be driving even less!
*Yes, this sucks, and yes, I have had to make extreme compromises due to the changing employment climate. But damned if I'm going to wallow in self-pity. Okay, maybe I'll allow myself a little self-pity. Okay, maybe I'll wallow. But I'll do it in the plastic chairs on the front porch, because (not exactly sure of this) tears may stain upholstery.

When all that's left to me is my flawless chintz settee, at least I'll be able to point to it and say, "That's my chair, and it is perfect."

Monday, March 03, 2014

Not So Fast

For the past two days, every weather forecast on every web site and every television station predicted six to ten inches of snow for my location. For my money, the best weather site is the National Weather Service. It too issued a winter storm warning for six to ten inches of snow, plus a trace of ice.

Given that forecast, most local school districts cancelled during the early evening hours, meaning that today, Monday, was yet another snow day! I love them one and all!

But the certainty of that forecast got me thinking about computers.

Weather forecasts used to be based on barometric pressure, and these were far less certain about how much precipitation would fall. Now computers do modeling, based on far more specific data, including the behavior of every other winter storm since data began to be stored. Despite this blossoming of computer-generated forecasting, the actual storms are still not terribly predictable. We know snow is coming, but we don't know how much we'll be getting until it ceases to fall. In today's case, the six-to-ten-inch forecast yielded a scant three inches, if that.

A little twist in the sermon here, but follow me on it:

Have you ever sat, stone-faced, as someone talked at you? I did it just last week when someone who evaluated me took me to task for not demanding that one of my students stand for the pledge to the flag. This person went on and on about it, and I just nodded blandly. All the while, I was thinking to myself, "This is utter nonsense, this woman is clearly clueless on federal pledge policies. Now I'm going to smile and nod and tell her she's right just to shut her up. But what a moron. I can't believe that I have to listen to this moron and take her seriously. Hmmmmm. I wonder if I brought in enough firewood? It's going to snow day after tomorrow. What am I going to make for dinner? I wonder if I can bring in firewood while dinner is cooking. Is she finally finished? Wow! She is!"

And then I said, "Oh, yes, you're right. I'll speak to that student."

After which she re-asserted her point at length, leading me into another reverie, this one about the new season of "Vikings."

When she asked if I had any questions, I said no, everything was great. While of course, in my head, I had all kinds of questions, beginning with, "Lady, do you know anything about our essential freedoms in this country?"

My point is this: If this educated woman could sit two feet from me and have no idea what was going on in my mind, with the full force of her brain power focused on me, how could a computer possibly do a better job under exactly the same circumstances?

Some people are easier to read than others. Individuals may have nervous tics or fluttery eyes, or they may drum their fingers impatiently when they're angry. But a person who is making a conscious effort to mask his or her emotions can damn well do it.

I think, in the absence of truth serum, a computer would have no less trouble reading the human mind than another human. We are a long way from the time when computers will be able to pick our brains. I have no doubt that day will come, but not tomorrow or next week.

The great wonder of the human brain is how it can compute but also be totally random. A very discerning evaluator might have picked up on my annoyance at her because she was asking me to pester one of my most emotionally fragile students. But there's no way she would have followed the rest of my mental meandering, which was basically tuning her out completely while pretending to listen carefully. People can do that. Human brains can do that. How long will it take computers to be that sophisticated?

I figure that when I look at the National Weather Service, and they get the forecast 100 percent correct, right down to the start time, end time, and exact amount of precipitation, then I will have to start worrying about some computer picking my brain. In the meantime, if I just go on being weird, and thinking randomly while nodding seriously, I need fear no mechanical tool.

Go ahead. Read my mind. You'll see that I'm just jamming with Jimmy on "The Immigrant Song." AaaahhhIIIIaaaaaHHHHHAAAAA!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Personal Best: The Gods Are Bored Goes 5K

Yesterday I did something for the first time. I participated in a 5K race.

The cause was fighting the stigma of addiction. (Look! I finally learned how to link!) The location was scenic New Castle, Delaware, a town even more hysterical than Snobville.

I believe in holding my own opinion and not mandating it for others, so I've never quite gotten the whole 5K thing. You're paying to run or walk five kilometers. On any given day I can do that for free. But in this case the cause was laudable, and an old friend I hadn't seen in a long time was going to be there. Plus, when I woke up in the morning, it was a smashing gorgeous day, not a cloud, and not below zero.

This particular 5K had never been run before. It was an inaugural event. Expectations were that about 200 people would come. Eight hundred people came. And of course I got there late, because even if I have been to a place three or four times before, that doesn't mean I can find it again.

So, with all the crush of people, and a tardy arrival, I had a great deal of trouble locating my friend, even with a phone in hand. I lingered in the gymnasium until all the other runners had gone out to the starting line. Seeing that I had pinned a number to my jacket, one of the racing organizers said to me, "You need to go outside now. The race is about to start."

To which I replied, "Why do I need to go outside? Someone has to finish last."

But that someone wasn't me, after all. I found my friend and his wife, and we strolled the course through charming New Castle at a brisk but not taxing pace. Lo and behold, when I crossed the finish line 59 minutes and 58 seconds later (not kidding ... really), it was a personal best time for me!

I was glad to see such a fine turnout for this race, because AtTACK Addiction is a relatively new charity, founded by a family who lost a young and handsome son to heroin addiction. Once again offering my opinion here: Addiction is an illness, and a deadly one. As someone who has gone a year and a half without a drink, I can speak to how difficult it is to live with. My family members would tell you the same.

Long story short, I kind of liked the 5K thing. I had forgotten how cool it is to walk through streets that ordinarily would be full of traffic, chatting with friends and ogling the quaint colonial era architecture.

I think I'll add 5K races to my list of fun things to do. Nothing beats the Mummers Parade, but hey ... it's one way to keep in shape for New Year's Day.