by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2014
Who started that rumor
a man shouldn’t cry?
When he’s done all he can,
tried all he can try?
Who started that rumor
a man shouldn’t cry?
Tears grease the passage
while endings pass by.
By Caroline Randall Williams
June 26, 2020
A true daughter of the confederacy has written what should be the last words on the monuments:
I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.
If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument.
Dead Confederates are honored all over this country — with cartoonish private statues, solemn public monuments and even in the names of United States Army bases. It fortifies and heartens me to witness the protests against this practice and the growing clamor from serious, nonpartisan public servants to redress it. But there are still those — like President Trumpand the Senate majority leader,Mitch McConnell — who cannot understand the difference between rewriting and reframing the past. I say it is not a matter of “airbrushing” history, but of adding a new perspective.
I am a black, Southern woman, and of my immediate white male ancestors, all of them were rapists. My very existence is a relic of slavery and Jim Crow.
According to the rule of hypodescent (the social and legal practice of assigning a genetically mixed-race person to the race with less social power) I am the daughter of two black people, the granddaughter of four black people, the great-granddaughter of eight black people. Go back one more generation and it gets less straightforward, and more sinister. As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.
It is an extraordinary truth of my life that I am biologically more than half white, and yet I have no white people in my genealogy in living memory. No. Voluntary. Whiteness. I am more than half white, and none of it was consensual. White Southern men — my ancestors — took what they wanted from women they did not love, over whom they had extraordinary power, and then failed to claim their children.
What is a monument but a standing memory? An artifact to make tangible the truth of the past. My body and blood are a tangible truth of the South and its past. The black people I come from were owned by the white people I come from. The white people I come from fought and died for their Lost Cause. And I ask you now, who dares to tell me to celebrate them? Who dares to ask me to accept their mounted pedestals?
You cannot dismiss me as someone who doesn’t understand. You cannot say it wasn’t my family members who fought and died. My blackness does not put me on the other side of anything. It puts me squarely at the heart of the debate. I don’t just come from the South. I come from Confederates. I’ve got rebel-gray blue blood coursing my veins. My great-grandfather Will was raised with the knowledge that Edmund Pettus was his father. Pettus, the storied Confederate general, the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the man for whom Selma’s Bloody Sunday Bridge is named. So I am not an outsider who makes these demands. I am a great-great-granddaughter.
And here I’m called to say that there is much about the South that is precious to me. I do my best teaching and writing here. There is, however, a peculiar model of Southern pride that must now, at long last, be reckoned with.
This is not an ignorant pride but a defiant one. It is a pride that says, “Our history is rich, our causes are justified, our ancestors lie beyond reproach.” It is a pining for greatness, if you will, a wish again for a certain kind of American memory. A monument-worthy memory.
But here’s the thing: Our ancestors don’t deserve your unconditional pride. Yes, I am proud of every one of my black ancestors who survived slavery. They earned that pride, by any decent person’s reckoning. But I am not proud of the white ancestors whom I know, by virtue of my very existence, to be bad actors.
Among the apologists for the Southern cause and for its monuments, there are those who dismiss the hardships of the past. They imagine a world of benevolent masters, and speak with misty eyes of gentility and honor and the land. They deny plantation rape, or explain it away, or question the degree of frequency with which it occurred.
To those people it is my privilege to say, I am proof. I am proof that whatever else the South might have been, or might believe itself to be, it was and is a space whose prosperity and sense of romance and nostalgia were built upon the grievous exploitation of black life.
The dream version of the Old South never existed. Any manufactured monument to that time in that place tells half a truth at best. The ideas and ideals it purports to honor are not real. To those who have embraced these delusions: Now is the time to re-examine your position.
Either you have been blind to a truth that my body’s story forces you to see, or you really do mean to honor the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed, and you must at last acknowledge your emotional investment in a legacy of hate.
Either way, I say the monuments of stone and metal, the monuments of cloth and wood, all the man-made monuments, must come down. I defy any sentimental Southerner to defend our ancestors to me. I am quite literally made of the reasons to strip them of their laurels.
Caroline Randall Williams(@caroranwill) is the author of “Lucy Negro, Redux” and “Soul Food Love,” and a writer in residence at Vanderbilt University.
Is my car hallucinating? Is the algorithm that runs the police surveillance system in my city paranoid? Marvin the android in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxyhad a pain in all the diodes down his left-hand side. Is that how my toaster feels?
This all sounds ludicrous until we realise that our algorithms are increasingly being made in our own image. As we’ve learned more about our own brains, we’ve enlisted that knowledge to create algorithmic versions of ourselves. These algorithms control the speeds of driverless cars, identify targets for autonomous military drones, compute our susceptibility to commercial and political advertising, find our soulmates in online dating services, and evaluate our insurance and credit risks. Algorithms are becoming the near-sentient backdrop of our lives.
The most popular algorithms currently being put into the workforce are deep learning algorithms. These algorithms mirror the architecture of human brains by building complex representations of information. They learn to understand environments by experiencing them, identify what seems to matter, and figure out what predicts what. Being like our brains, these algorithms are increasingly at risk of mental-health problems.
Deep Blue, the algorithm that beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, did so through brute force, examining millions of positions a second, up to 20 moves in the future. Anyone could understand how it worked even if they couldn’t do it themselves. AlphaGo, the deep learning algorithm that beat Lee Sedol at the game of Go in 2016, is fundamentally different. Using deep neural networks, it created its own understanding of the game, considered to be the most complex of board games. AlphaGo learned by watching others and by playing itself. Computer scientists and Go players alike are befuddled by AlphaGo’s unorthodox play. Its strategy seems at first to be awkward. Only in retrospect do we understand what AlphaGo was thinking, and even then it’s not all that clear.
To give you a better understanding of what I mean by thinking, consider this. Programs such as Deep Blue can have a bug in their programming. They can crash from memory overload. They can enter a state of paralysis due to a neverending loop or simply spit out the wrong answer on a lookup table. But all of these problems are solvable by a programmer with access to the source code, the code in which the algorithm was written.
Algorithms such as AlphaGo are entirely different. Their problems are not apparent by looking at their source code. They are embedded in the way that they represent information. That representation is an ever-changing high-dimensional space, much like walking around in a dream. Solving problems there requires nothing less than a psychotherapist for algorithms.
Take the case of driverless cars. A driverless car that sees its first stop sign in the real world will have already seen millions of stop signs during training, when it built up its mental representation of what a stop sign is. Under various light conditions, in good weather and bad, with and without bullet holes, the stop signs it was exposed to contain a bewildering variety of information. Under most normal conditions, the driverless car will recognise a stop sign for what it is. But not all conditions are normal. Some recent demonstrations have shown that a few black stickers on a stop sign can fool the algorithm into thinking that the stop sign is a 60 mph sign. Subjected to something frighteningly similar to the high-contrast shade of a tree, the algorithm hallucinates.
How many different ways can the algorithm hallucinate? To find out, we would have to provide the algorithm with all possible combinations of input stimuli. This means that there are potentially infinite ways in which it can go wrong. Crackerjack programmers already know this, and take advantage of it by creating what are called adversarial examples. The AI research group LabSix at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that, by presenting images to Google’s image-classifying algorithm and using the data it sends back, they can identify the algorithm’s weak spots. They can then do things similar to fooling Google’s image-recognition software into believing that an X-rated image is just a couple of puppies playing in the grass.
Algorithms also make mistakes because they pick up on features of the environment that are correlated with outcomes, even when there is no causal relationship between them. In the algorithmic world, this is called overfitting. When this happens in a brain, we call it superstition.
The biggest algorithmic failure due to superstition that we know of so far is called the parable of Google Flu. Google Flu used what people type into Google to predict the location and intensity of influenza outbreaks. Google Flu’s predictions worked fine at first, but they grew worse over time, until eventually it was predicting twice the number of cases as were submitted to the US Centers for Disease Control. Like an algorithmic witchdoctor, Google Flu was simply paying attention to the wrong things.
Algorithmic pathologies might be fixable. But in practice, algorithms are often proprietary black boxes whose updating is commercially protected. Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction (2016) describes a veritable freakshow of commercial algorithms whose insidious pathologies play out collectively to ruin peoples’ lives. The algorithmic faultline that separates the wealthy from the poor is particularly compelling. Poorer people are more likely to have bad credit, to live in high-crime areas, and to be surrounded by other poor people with similar problems. Because of this, algorithms target these individuals for misleading ads that prey on their desperation, offer them subprime loans, and send more police to their neighbourhoods, increasing the likelihood that they will be stopped by police for crimes committed at similar rates in wealthier neighbourhoods. Algorithms used by the judicial system give these individuals longer prison sentences, reduce their chances for parole, block them from jobs, increase their mortgage rates, demand higher premiums for insurance, and so on.
This algorithmic death spiral is hidden in nesting dolls of black boxes: black-box algorithms that hide their processing in high-dimensional thoughts that we can’t access are further hidden in black boxes of proprietary ownership. This has prompted some places, such as New York City, to propose laws enforcing the monitoring of fairness in algorithms used by municipal services. But if we can’t detect bias in ourselves, why would we expect to detect it in our algorithms?
By training algorithms on human data, they learn our biases. One recent study led by Aylin Caliskan at Princeton University found that algorithms trained on the news learned racial and gender biases essentially overnight. As Caliskan noted: ‘Many people think machines are not biased. But machines are trained on human data. And humans are biased.’
Social media is a writhing nest of human bias and hatred. Algorithms that spend time on social media sites rapidly become bigots. These algorithms are biased against male nurses and female engineers. They will view issues such as immigration and minority rights in ways that don’t stand up to investigation. Given half a chance, we should expect algorithms to treat people as unfairly as people treat each other. But algorithms are by construction overconfident, with no sense of their own infallibility. Unless they are trained to do so, they have no reason to question their incompetence (much like people).
For the algorithms I’ve described above, their mental-health problems come from the quality of the data they are trained on. But algorithms can also have mental-health problems based on the way they are built. They can forget older things when they learn new information. Imagine learning a new co-worker’s name and suddenly forgetting where you live. In the extreme, algorithms can suffer from what is called catastrophic forgetting, where the entire algorithm can no longer learn or remember anything. A theory of human age-related cognitive decline is based on a similar idea: when memory becomes overpopulated, brains and desktop computers alike require more time to find what they know.
When things become pathological is often a matter of opinion. As a result, mental anomalies in humans routinely go undetected. Synaesthetes such as my daughter, who perceives written letters as colours, often don’t realise that they have a perceptual gift until they’re in their teens. Evidence based on Ronald Reagan’s speech patterns now suggeststhat he probably had dementia while in office as US president. And The Guardian reportsthat the mass shootings that have occurred every nine out of 10 days for roughly the past five years in the US are often perpetrated by so-called ‘normal’ people who happen to break under feelings of persecution and depression.
In many cases, it takes repeated malfunctioning to detect a problem. Diagnosis of schizophrenia requires at least one month of fairly debilitating symptoms. Antisocial personality disorder, the modern term for psychopathy and sociopathy, cannot be diagnosed in individuals until they are 18, and then only if there is a history of conduct disorders before the age of 15.
There are no biomarkers for most mental-health disorders, just like there are no bugs in the code for AlphaGo. The problem is not visible in our hardware. It’s in our software. The many ways our minds go wrong make each mental-health problem unique unto itself. We sort them into broad categories such as schizophrenia and Asperger’s syndrome, but most are spectrum disorders that cover symptoms we all share to different degrees. In 2006, the psychologists Matthew Keller and Geoffrey Miller argued that this is an inevitable property of the way that brains are built.
There is a lot that can go wrong in minds such as ours. Carl Jung once suggested that in every sane man hides a lunatic. As our algorithms become more like ourselves, it is getting easier to hide.
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Almost five years ago (1/27/13) I published a post entitled “A Guide To Aging Bald Eagles”. With over 71,000 views to date that post has been my most popular so I decided it was overdue for an update and enhancements. For this version I’ve made the following changes:
As we approach prime eagle watching season here in northern Utah I thought it might be timely to present a guide that would be helpful in aging Bald Eagles as they progress through the 5-6 year plumage stages of becoming those glorious white-headed and white-tailed adults we’re all so familiar with. And since many immature Bald Eagles so strongly resemble Golden Eagles I’ve included information and photos that should be helpful in distinguishing the two.
Raptors, including eagles, that have not reached the adult plumage stage are referred to as immature. Those in their first plumage stage are called juveniles and the term sub-adult is used to refer to any plumage stage between juvenile and adult. Depending on molt sequence, age and timing plumage stages are highly variable so other factors like iris and beak color are also taken into account when estimating age. Eyes gradually change from dark brown to yellow while the beak goes from blackish-gray to yellow as they mature.
1/4000, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, not baited, set up or called in
The adult Bald Eagle is unmistakable with its distinctive bright white head and tail contrasting with the dark brown body and wings.
1/200, f/6.3, ISO 800, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
But immature Bald Eagles present very differently than adults, especially in the early stages of development. This juvenile is barely fledged and was still hanging around its nest in southwest Montana. Notice that the plumage is dark brownish-black throughout, though they may have some white or pale mottling at this stage especially on the underparts. Both eye and beak are very dark.
1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
This is a first year bird during winter. There’s already some color change in the eye.
1/800, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, natural light, not baited, set up or called in
A side view of the same bird as in the previous image. The warm, early morning light gives it a bit of a golden glow that wouldn’t normally be seen. This stage in particular is often confused with the Golden Eagle.
1/3200, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, not baited, set up or called in
Plumage colors after the first year become increasingly variable. There is more white mottling ventrally and the beak and cere are becoming less dark.
1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
The iris is beginning its transformation to yellow and there’s also some yellow at the base of the beak.
1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
As plumage stages develop through the second and third sub-adult years the tail becomes whiter with a dark terminal band and more white appears elsewhere. The beak is less dark and as the head becomes lighter it generally leaves a darker “eye stripe”.
1/1000, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
The eye is becoming more yellow and the eye-stripe is quite distinctive and often similar to that of an Osprey.
1/1600, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, not baited, set up or called in
The beak is becoming more yellow (though not as bright as in the adult). Some birds at this stage (like this one) exhibit a few secondary flight feathers that are longer than the rest at the trailing edge of the wing.
1/640, 7.1, ISO 800, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
By the fourth year (though there’s much variation) they’re in transition from immature plumage to full adulthood. The head is mostly white with some dark flecking especially around the eye and forehead near the cere. The tail now lacks the dark terminal band and the beak is nearly completely yellow.
1/2500, f/8, ISO 500, not baited, set up or called in
A closer look at the same bird allows a better view of the detail of the dark flecking and the beak and eye color at this stage.
1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
This bird is very nearly in full adult plumage. The tail is now bright white but there remains a small amount of dark flecking on the head.
1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
A fully mature adult. Both head and tail are now completely white with overall dark brown plumage elsewhere. This bird has fish blood on its beak and if you look closely you’ll see that it has a “blown eye” (misshapen pupil, possibly due to injury).
1/1600, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
Here we can compare three plumage stages of Bald Eagles in one photo – a sub-adult on the left, a juvenile in the middle and a mature adult on the right.
1/800, f/11, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
An adult and a first winter juvenile up close.
1/1000, f/11, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
An adult on the right, a juvenile on the left and a sub-adult with some interesting mottling in the middle.
1/1250, f/7.1, ISO 640, not baited, set up or called in
One of the most common ID errors I see in the field is folks confusing immature Bald Eagles with Golden Eagles (the image above is of a Golden Eagle). Almost invariably novices will call any very large dark raptor a Golden Eagle while in most North American habitats it’s much more likely to be an immature Bald. Here are some guidelines that can be used to distinguish Goldens from immature Balds.
There are other more subtle plumage differences that I’ve chosen not to include here.
1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 500, not baited, set up or called in
Another helpful tool is behavior and habitat. Golden Eagles very rarely feed on fish and as a result they’re less likely to be found in aquatic habitats so if the eagle you’re attempting to ID is associated with fish, fishing or aquatic habitats it’s very likely to be an immature Bald Eagle. That’s not an absolute guarantee but it’s a helluva clue.
For many of us Bald Eagle season is almost upon us so I hope these tips and guidelines will be helpful to my readers. After all, no one wants to misidentify an eagle of either species!
by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2017
Some years back, I believed that people grew old and died because they became ill and their bodies deteriorated. As I age myself, I wonder if that is so. Could it be that people pass on because the world about them changes so much that they no longer feel attached to it? Can a person evolve to the point where withdrawing from the world seems the best logical choice? Does this changing of the world about us affect our consciousness and then our health? Does life culminate in the desire to no longer desire? Is death the natural end because we lose the desire and will to persist? Or is the will to persist yanked from us despite our rage against the darkness of the unknown night?
What is true for one might not be true for another. The sheer variety of humanity and the vast complexity of nature creates a different world for each entity that lives within it.
Inequality is everywhere because inequality is essential for movement. Inequality is gravity. It is that weak force that binds things together, feet to the earth and planets to the stars, friends to friends.
Each individual life is a cosmos unto itself.
As a young man, I easily saw the truth in the unity of all being but saw also that the world is a game of one-upsmanship. People compete to produce winners and losers. The world around us is stratified, socially and economically.
Social inequality is a constant, but nature demands a balance for stability. The highs must not be too high and the lows must not be too low. When things are too far out of balance, they explode and gravity is overcome.
Gravity is the result of inequality. When things are equal, there is no push nor pull.
Each side of the equation is different, but the equality creates the balance.
For most of us living on Earth, there is nothing as fine as the era in time in which we now live. How could this not be so, when this time is all we have? Are we not practical? We cannot live in another era.
Yet, eras change, and change brings new actors to the stage, new athletes to the field. Soon enough, we barely know the rules of the game because it has changed so much.
We spend our lives speaking our lines and doing our work. We seek what makes us feel good—through pleasures, work, pastimes, and relationships. It becomes the driving factor that motivates and moves us.
It is movement that produces the gravity that keeps us centered enough to survive. We—like our Earth, our Sun, and our Galaxy—must evolve and revolve as we orbit around something much bigger than us. Heinlein wrote: “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” Love is one of the gravitational anchors that hold us in place.
Health does get worse with time and wear. Physical strength does deteriorate. Passion itself takes a tumble with age. We know this is so. Yet, our fast-changing world can become so unfamiliar that we can easily become those Strangers in a Strange Land that we heard or read about years ago.
Heinlein’s character said: “Thinking doesn’t pay. It just makes you discontented with what you see around you.” Time passes and consciousness is overloaded with evaluations and judgments made by past choices. It becomes harder to distinguish the winner from the loser when you know each all too well. We can become confused or dismayed about the directions our society and nations are going.
“Thou art god, I am god. All that groks is god,” Heinlein wrote.
Grok may be the only English word that is derived from a fictional Martian language. “Grok” was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land. It means to understand fully and intuitively with empathy or intuition. It is hard to grow old and not see the reality of these observations. “Random chance is not a sufficient explanation of the Universe—in fact, random chance is not sufficient to explain random chance; the pot cannot hold itself.”
Everything living has a blind instinct to survive built into its system.
by Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D. and Linda Weiser Friedman, Ph.D.
Humor is an extremely powerful tool: It can build rapport and strengthen relationships. It can serve as a major social bond; this bond can be used either for positive or negative purposes (Friedman & Friedman, 2003). Racist and sexist humor are not benign. Bigoted humor can, in fact, affect the tendency of people to discriminate against others. Disparaging humor will strengthen the prejudiced attitudes of people who are already bigoted. According to Greengross (2011):
… when we consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them. On the other hand, for groups for whom the prejudice norm is shifting, and there is still no consensus not to discriminate against (women, gays, Muslims and so on), if you hold negative views against one of these groups, hearing disparaging jokes about them “releases” inhibitions you might have, and you feel it’s ok to discriminate against them.
A similar effect was found with sexist humor. Sexist jokes do not have any impact on those who are not sexist; on the contrary, such humor made them willing to donate more to a fictitious women’s organization. However, for those who are sexist to begin with, sexist humor will significantly affect downward how much they would be willing to donate to the women’s organization (Weems, 2014).
If you want to know whether individuals are bigoted or sexist, listen to the jokes they tell. Indeed, Helmreich (2004) examines humor and anecdotes in order to better understand stereotypes. Davies (2011) believes that jokes often tap into strongly held stereotypical beliefs. For example, politicians are seen as corrupt, mothers-in-law as unlikable, economists out of touch with the real world, waiters as rude, and psychoanalysts as crazy.
IN GROUPS / OUT GROUPS
Schutz (1995) feels that ethnic humor plays an important social function by helping in-groups bond and reinforce their values. Humor can be used to deride others but it can also be used to enhance the image of a group. Of course, one joke can sometimes do both jobs at the same time: mock one group while at the same time making another group appear smarter than everyone else. The jokes of victims and oppressed groups very often have this dual purpose. Lowe (1986) makes this observation about certain kinds of ethnic humor: “it produces simultaneously a strong fellow-feeling among participants and joint aggressiveness against outsiders.”
Freud (1960, p. 103) made the following observation regarding hostile jokes which he believed served the purpose of aggressiveness or defense: “By making our enemy small, inferior, despicable or comic, we achieve in a roundabout way the enjoyment of overcoming him.” When it comes to most bigots, however, all they have to do is tell an anti-Semitic joke and it becomes quite clear how inferior they are. It takes intelligence to tell a clever joke that disparages an entire group and it is difficult for anti-Semites to tell original, smart, funny anti-Semitic jokes. If you want to tell a witty anti-Semitic joke, listen to the jokes Jewish comics tell about Jews. This way you might not sound too moronic. Know your target. One trick to telling a good anti-Semitic joke is to base it on a stereotype that is partially true.
With ethnic humor, it becomes crucial to know who is telling the joke and who is listening to it. Some jokes are very funny when told by a member of the group to a listener who is also of the group, about some real or perceived shortcoming of their shared ethnicity. This is a true bonding experience. The same joke, however, told by one outsider to another outsider is highly likely to be derogatory (deprecating, rather than self-deprecating). Racist humor often falls into this sinkhole. For example, the following:
Two Jews are about to face a Russian firing squad. The two condemned men are offered blindfolds. One of them accepts it, but the other does not, defiantly saying: “I don’t want your blindfold.” His friend urges: “Shh Izzy… don’t make trouble.”
When told by one Jew to another, this joke is a gentle acknowledgement of the tendency of Jews in the Diaspora to keep quiet at all cost, rather than attract unwelcome attention. On the other hand, when this joke is told by one non-Jew to another, especially with humorous Jewish-sounding names and dialect as in Gruner’s book (2000, p. 101), it definitely comes across as disparaging to Jews.
Some examples of Jewish self-deprecating humor. These jokes work quite well when told by a Jew to a Jewish audience.
The following joke, often told by one Jew to another, feeds into the ugly stereotype of Jews doing anything for money. When a Jew tells it to another Jew, it actually is meant to take make fun of the anti-Semitism of gentiles: Ten minutes after a Jew converts he takes on the bigotry of the anti-Semite.
Two Jews pass a church displaying a sign promising $5,000 to all new converts to Christianity. After much debate, one of the men decides to go for the money and enters the church. Several hours pass as his friend waits outside. Finally, the Jew comes out of the church and his friend excitedly asks: “So, did you get the money?” The first man gives him a dirty look saying: “Is that all you people ever think about?”
Certain behaviors that would be considered bigoted coming from a non-Jew are just fine – and even give us a warm, fuzzy, friendly feeling – when engaged in by a Jew. For example, Jews love to devise lists of well-known or important individuals – such as celebrities, scientists, athletes, etc. – who are Jewish; take Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” for example. Many jokes about Jews are funny when told to one Jew by another Jew, but bigoted when told by one anti-Semite – er, a non-Jew – to another. For example, many of the gags in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie, Borat, fall into this category. 5
Telushkin (1992) feels that if you really want to understand the Jewish people, examine the humor told by both Jews and non-Jews about the Jewish people. The best jokes about Jews are told by Jews. Jews are aware of their weaknesses and shortcomings so they know how to tell a joke that works. Freud (1960) recognized the importance of self-deprecation in Jewish humor. Davies (1991) made the following observation in his research dealing with Jewish self-deprecating humor: “ethnic jokes told from outside as mockery can become assertions of autonomy and vitality when told by the subjects themselves.” This is probably true of all ethnic groups: Comics from a particular ethnic group tell the best jokes about their group. As Martin Grotjahn put it:
One can almost see how a witty Jewish man carefully and cautiously takes a sharp dagger out of his enemy’s hands, sharpens it so that it can split a hair in midair, polishes it until it shines brightly, stabs himself with it, then returns it gallantly to the anti-Semite with a silent reproach: now see whether you can do it half as well (Grotjahn, 1957, p. 23).
Christie Davies (1991) appreciates Grotjahn’s imagery but considers it misleading. According to Davies, “the point of getting hold of the dagger is not only to demonstrate superior dexterity but to switch daggers so that an innocuous rather than a potentially envenomed weapon is used.”
Jewish self-deprecating humor may be one tool that can be used to show the anti-Semite how it’s done. Bigots in general are not known for their intellectual acumen – their wit, if you will. For the most part, the humor that bigots tell each other has the character of the obscenities and come-ons to which women may be subjected as they pass a construction site. Bigots of all stripes – anti-Semites, racists, misogynists – know very little about the true character and behavior of their targets. The advice “know your enemy” never applied more. Self-deprecating humor on the other hand, has the distinct advantage of being created, told, and often heard by the very group to which it is applied. 6
THE UNFORTUNATE CURRENT STATE OF ANTI-SEMITIC HUMOR
There is a sense that the humor of bigots toward their targets is simply not funny because bigots, like many individuals with a fixation, do not possess a sense of humor. That this is especially apparent in the so-called humor of anti-Semites may be, at least in part, because it invites a comparison to the very large oeuvre of Jewish self-deprecating humor which is smart and witty rather than pathetic and stupid.
The authors believe that most of the anti-Semitic jokes told by non-Jews are pathetic. These bigots need help so that they understand how to tell a good joke. First, let us examine some fairly typical anti-Semitic jokes. The jokes that follow are not the very worst (in the lack-of-wit sense) anti-Semitic jokes out there. Out of pure pity for the reader, those have been left out.
Why are Jewish synagogues round? So they can’t hide in the corner when the collection box comes round!
Why do Jews have big noses? Because air is free.
What is faster than sound? A Jew eating at a buffet.
Have you heard of the Jewish “Catch 22”? Free ham!
Why do Jews watch porn backwards? Because their favorite part is when the hooker gives the money back.
How do you get 100 Jews into a car? You throw in a dime.
What’s faster than a speeding bullet? A Jew with a coupon.
Did you hear about the Jewish Santa Claus? He came down the chimney and said “Kiddies, do you want to buy some presents?”
The ubiquitous anti-Semitic joke that attempts to reinforce the stereotype that Jews will do anything for money is a perfect example of toxic ethnic humor. It is also a good example of an idiotic stereotype. Are Jews actually cheap? On the contrary, study after study shows how generous they are when it comes to charity. Oh and by the way, synagogues are not typically round and collection boxes are not sent around during services. In fact, no money is collected at all on the Sabbath. Big noses – really? Do Sephardic Jews have big noses? Do Dutch Jews? Ethiopian Jews? Fifteen percent of Jews are converts (Huber, 2008): Do their noses grow once they convert to Judaism? It seems like an appropriate point here to call to mind that episode of the television show Seinfeld, in which Jerry Seinfeld took umbrage that Tim Whatley, his dentist, converted to Judaism for the jokes. Jerry claimed that he resented it, not as a Jew, but as a comedian.
This next joke got then National Security Adviser, General James Jones into some hot water. We are quite certain that he did not realize that this joke was anti-Semitic if told by a non-Jew. It feeds into the ugly stereotype of Jews being greedy, unscrupulous businesspeople. General Jones apologized for the joke (Jackson, 2010).
A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water. The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban, the joke goes on, begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea. Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant. They can sell you water. The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: ‘Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.’
Other ugly stereotypes about Jews deal with Jewish women. The stereotypes about Jewish women usually indicate that they are cold, spendthrifts and ostentatious. This is something of a twofer – humor that is at the same time anti-Semitic and misogynistic.
What do Jewish women make for dinner? Reservations!
Why are Jewish men circumcised? Because Jewish women won’t touch anything unless it’s at least 20% off
What’s the difference between a Catholic wife and a Jewish wife? A Catholic wife has real orgasms and fake jewelry!
We always hold hands. If I let go, she shops.
Jewish foreplay: Two hours of begging
A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the play. She asks: “What part is it?” The boy says, “I play the part of the Jewish husband.” The mother frowns and says, “Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part.”
Interestingly, there is a contradiction between how the same Jewish woman is perceived in her role as a wife and mother. Jewish mother jokes can be very anti-Semitic and suggest that Jewish mothers are overbearing and create dysfunctional families.
What is the most common disease transmitted by Jewish mothers? Guilt
Why do Jewish mothers make great parole officers? Because they never let anyone finish a sentence.
What did the waiter ask the group of dining Jewish mothers? “Is ANYTHING all right?“
There are some excellent examples of jokes about Jewish mothers – told by Jews, of course.
A man called his Jewish mother in Florida, ‘Mom, how are you!?’ ‘Not too good,’ said the mother. ‘I’ve been very weak.’ The son said, ‘Why are you so weak?’ She said, ‘Because I haven’t eaten in 40 days.’ The son said, ‘That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 40 days?’ The mother answered, ‘Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.’
What about those vicious jokes that allude (favorably) to the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust (see below)? These are, in fact, closely related to many “lawyer” jokes. Lynch & Friedman (2013) highlight the fact that it is rare for the humor dealing with professions to indicate that the only good <insert professional here> is a dead one; the exception is law. Many lawyer jokes are filled with such hate that the punchline makes it clear that the only good lawyer is a dead one. For example: “What do you call 5000 dead lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start!” Or, “What do you throw to a drowning lawyer? His partners.” This type of humor only works with lawyers; it does not work with, say, nurses. Many of the anti-Semitic jokes targeting Jews have the same kind of sick hatred attached to them. It may not be a coincidence that law is often perceived as a profession filled with Jews. The term “shyster” may have not started out as a term “loaded with anti-Semitism” but it certainly is used that way by some (Kornstein, 2017). The fact that many gentiles think the best lawyers are Jewish is not necessarily a compliment.
What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? Pizzas don’t scream when they are put in the oven!
What’s the difference between Santa Claus and a Jew? Santa Claus goes down the chimney.
THE BEST ANTI-SEMITIC JOKES
Are there anti-Semitic jokes out there that are actually funny? A few. At the very least, a good joke should be entertaining and witty. Here are some fairly good ones:
There is safety in numbers. Unless there are six million of you. And you are all Jews.
What did the Jewish pedophile say to the little boy? Hey kid, want to buy some candy?
How did German men pick up Jewish women in the 1940’s? With a dustpan and broom.
Question: What’s the difference between a circumcision and a crucifixion? Answer: In a crucifixion, they throw out the whole Jew!
Some of these are funny enough to have been written by Jew—and probably too witty to have been written by anti-Semites.
Of course, Jewish comics know how to make fun of Jewish foibles but still demonstrate love for their people. Jackie Mason has many routines where he teases Jews. Mason claims that the biggest insult to a Jewish woman is that she looks Jewish. Jews are not happy unless they sound and look like a gentile. Jews change their names so they do not sound Jewish; one has the name Crucifix Finkelstein. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeVTtfk0oI8). Would this work for bigots? Probably not. But at least they will have demonstrated that do they know their target. (Anything for a dime? Please!) For more examples of Jewish comics and Jewish self-deprecating humor, see the Appendix to this paper.
PRIMER: HOW TO WRITE A GOOD ANTI-SEMITIC JOKE
Can the creation of good humor be taught at all? There are strong opinions on both sides of that issue and outside the scope of this paper. Certainly, for those like bigots who are so obsessed with their targets that they lack the essential knowledge, wit and, most important, a sense of humor, we offer here a few simple rules to follow. We keep them short and simple. We know how difficult it is for lackwits to follow complex instructions.
1. Be witty and clever
2. Get to know your target. Don’t expose your ignorance with an easily disproved stereotype.
3. Try it out on Jews first. Of course, this will work better if you are Jewish yourself; and, so, finally 11
4. Be Jewish.
Case in point: One of the wittiest Holocaust references ever was made by a young Jewish stand-up comic, David Finkelstein. In his perfectly deadpan delivery, he discusses finding a swastika spray-painted on the street in his home neighborhood. Instead of reacting with horror, he says, he “gets it” since he is, in fact, a comedian. What’s so funny? For one thing, the swastika is captioned with “Kill the Jews.” Just in case one might think it is simply, say, a symmetrical design. This bit may be found on YouTube and other online sources (e.g., https://youtu.be/kLhF478q3g8 at 1:30).
We see that bigoted humor often reveals more about teller and audience than about the target of the joke. Sometimes, the joke can bring a wealth of content with it regarding the experience of memberhood in the victimized group. In the following joke, with its convergence of Holocaust and Jim Crow references, the bigot gets a twofer – two targets for the price of one.
What is the worst part about being a Black Jew? You have to sit at the back of the oven.
This is reminiscent of the blogger MaNishtana’s (2012, p. 117) answer to the question, “What’s it like being a Black Jew?” He says “Well, it’s a lot like being Black with more Black added on.”
Sometimes, bigotry is revealed in the telling of the joke; metahumor, if you will. In the interest of the continuing education of our bigoted would-be comics, we offer the following true story under the heading “How not to tell a joke.”
A building manager in LA came to make some minor repairs for a young couple Recently transplanted from New York City. The chatty guy said.“Oh, you’re from New York. I know a lot of good New York jokes. Want to hear one?”
“Okay, there was this – Pause. “Uh, you’re not Jewish, are you?”
“We are Jewish.”
Pause. “It’s not that funny.”
Not that funny? It’s hilarious. And also a very serious commentary on bigoted humor. Is bigoted humor truly not that funny? Or is it only funny when the teller and the listener share the same sense of bigotry? Probably a little bit of both.
In the final analysis, if you are going to engage in racist, sexist, anti-Semitic humor … at the very least, for God’s sake, make it funny.
APPENDIX: SOME EXAMPLES OF SELF-DEPRECATING JEWISH HUMOR
Jackie Mason claims that Jews are the only people “who gain weight when they join a health club.” He has a hilarious routine where he describes the difference between a Jew and a gentile going to a restaurant. A Jew goes into a restaurant “like a partner.” According to Mason, gentiles can’t get “emotionally involved with food.” You also never see a Jew in a real bar. Jews are not comfortable in a bar and gentiles are not comfortable in a restaurant. “If you don’t serve a Jew for a minute, he is going to complain” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V4zYe23QLg). This is a famous Jackie Mason joke.
It is easy to tell the difference between Jews and Gentiles. After the show, all the gentiles are saying ‘Have a drink? Want a drink? Let’s have a drink!’ While all the Jews are saying ‘Have you eaten yet? Want a piece of cake? Let’s have some cake!’
David Steinberg describes his Jewish Italian family when they get together at a barbeque. Italians know how to have a good time and fix things; Jews come with their pills, are always worried about their health, and break things. If Jews had a bumper sticker it would read “fun kills.” (https://vimeo.com/24436948)
One of the most Jewish television shows is Curb Your Enthusiasm. The show does get many things wrong but is unabashedly Jewish. Larry David is an expert on self-deprecating Jewish humor. Salkin (2016) lists the most Jewish moments on the show:
“The Ski Lift.” Larry is desperate to find a kidney for his friend, Richard Lewis (so that he doesn’t have to be the donor). He ingratiates himself with an influential Orthodox man and his daughter, and invites them to his ski lodge for the weekend. Watch Larry feign Yiddish and knowledge of Jewish observance. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUc77Dn8Me0)
Larry pretending to be an Orthodox Jew: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iENMor5V5o) 14
“Palestinian Chicken.” An expedition into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, played out in a Palestinian restaurant. Larry hits it off with a Palestinian waitress. Larry is turned on by someone “who doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, who wants your destruction — that’s a turn on.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Anel6bvrbWA)
“The Larry David Sandwich.” Larry scalps tickets for High Holy Days services. It’s not only the use of tickets; it’s the absurd idea of scalping them, as if the services were a performance. Which, come to think of it, worship has become for so many Jews. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCGOFKC7-uY)
In the fifth season finale, Larry “discovers” that he was adopted. He searches for his birth parents. They are a nice, elderly gentile couple in Arizona. Larry tries on being a gentile, complete with being told to practice love and forgiveness a la Jesus, fishing, duck hunting, bar room drinking games, and horseback riding, complete with cowboy hat. An obvious satire on Jewish stereotypes of gentile culture. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrnA1Wu3qgM)
“The Seder.” Larry invites a sex-offender to a Seder, which, of course, raises the unasked question: are there actually limits and boundaries to the fabled Passover hospitality of the Jew — “let all who are hungry come and eat?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9O1vzGROg8)
“The Baptism.” Larry inadvertently stops a baptism, preventing a Jew from converting to Christianity. The Christians who are present our outraged; the Jews are grateful (“Will you speak at my daughter’s bat mitzvah?”) Larry becomes an unwitting, temporary poster boy for Jewish continuity. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhJFhA2kIIk)
“The Survivor.” Few “Curb” episodes deal with so many Jewish themes. Larry is tempted to have sexual relations with an Orthodox woman, which brings up stereotypes about Jews and sexuality. A Shoah survivor and a survivor from the “Survivor” series get into an argument about who is the “real” survivor. A great reflection on the meaning of memory and its distortions. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=In2XfN3hIi4) 15
Davies, C. (2011). Jokes and targets. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Davies, C. (1991). Exploring the thesis of the self-deprecating Jewish sense of humor. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 4 (2), 189-209.
Freud, S. (1960). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. (James Strachey, translator). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published in 1905)
Friedman, L. W. & Friedman, H. H. (2003). I-get-it as a type of bonding humor: The secret handshake. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=913622.
Greengross, G. (2011, July 18). Does racist humor promote racism? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/humor-sapiens/201107/does-racist-humor-promote-racism
Grotjahn, Martin (1957). Beyond Laughter. New York: Blakiston Division, McGraw Hill.
Gruner, C. R. (2000). The game of humor: A comprehensive theory of why we laugh. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Helmreich, W. (2004). The Things They Say Behind Your Back: Stereotypes and the myths behind them. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Huber, J. (2008, March 4). Convert’s path reflects study’s findings. NJJN. Retrieved from http://www.njjewishnews.com/njjn.com/030608/moConvertsPathReflects.html
Jackson, D. (2010, April 26). Obama national security adviser Jones apologizes for joke. USA Today. Retrieved from http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2010/04/obama-national-security-adviser-apologizes-for-joke/1#.Ul3gB1CkoSU
Kornstein, D. J. (2017). Is ‘shyster’ anti-Semitic? New York Law Journal. Retrieved from http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=900005387204/Is-Shyster-AntiSemitic?slreturn=20170429212921
Lowe, J. (1986). Theories of ethnic humor: How to enter laughing. American Quarterly, 38(3), 439-460.
Lynch, J. A. & Friedman, H. H. (2013, July 29). Using Lawyer Jokes to Teach Business Ethics: A Course Module. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2302910.
MaNishtana (2012). Thoughts from A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe. NY: Hyphen Publishing.
Salkin, J. (2016, June 22). ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is pretty, pretty, pretty Jewish. Religious News Service. Retrieved from http://religionnews.com/2016/06/22/curb-enthusiasm-larry-david-jewish/
Schutz, C. (1995). The sociability of ethnic jokes. Australian Journal of Comedy 1(1).
Telushkin, J. (1992). Jewish humor: What the best Jewish jokes say about the Jews. New York: William Morrow & Company.
Weems, S. (2014, September 11). Why offensive jokes affect you more than you realize. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-s-so-funny/201409/why-offensive-jokes-affect-you-more-you-realize
Linda Weiser Friedman, Ph.D.
Paul H. Chook Department of Information Systems and Statistics
Baruch College Zicklin School of Business
and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D.
Professor of Business
Department of Business Management
Murray Koppelman School of Business
Brooklyn College, CUNY
by Karen Mary McEntegart
PADDY: Facebook, Mick, I’m telling ya–it’s the latest modern craze, everyone is doing it.
MICK: Facebook, eh? What the bejesus is that all about then, Paddy?
PADDY: Well Mick, it goes like this. You set yourself up with a profile thingy…
MICK: A profile thingy?
PADDY: Yes, Mick, a profile thingy … it’s where you give your details to this Facebook thingy on the computer. I’m telling ya, everyone is doing it Mick … it’s taken the world wonder web by storm.
MICK: Is that so, Paddy?
MICK: Alright so, carry on … so after I’m set up with a profile then what, Paddy?
PADDY: Well then. Mick, that’s your set up to talk to anyone you want … anywhere!
MICK: Whatcha mean anyone I want, Paddy?
PADDY: Like it sounds, Mick. Anyone in the world. Your power knows no bounds, no limits at all on who you can chat to.
MICK: So … let’s just say, Paddy–for example–you said anyone, right? I could talk boundlessly to any soul of my choosing, yeah? How about the Queen?
PADDY: What? The Queen, oh jaysus, Mick. I’m not so sure about that one now.
MICK: You said anyone, Paddy. Me ears gave witness to that, they did.
PADDY: Aye, I did. Mick … ok, so maybe you could talk to the Queen, Mick … just saying maybe now–ok? Anyways, if you can chat to anyone why on earth would you pick the Queen, Mick?
MICK: Hey, Paddy, I’ve quite a lot I’d like to chat to the Queen about. Indeed, I have!
PADDY: Anyway, Mick, the next step is that you have to present yourself on your newly established profile.
MICK: Present meself? Ah now, Paddy, your having a laugh. I know folk that got arrested for “presenting” themselves. Ha-ha.
PADDY: Ah, Mick, you’re not taking me serious at all are ye?
MICK: I am, Paddy, hahaha. I am. Go on, tell me more about this representation of myself.
PADDY: Well, ok, Mick. You have to take a fine picture of yourself to use as your representation face, for your new profile … hang on what’s it they call it? Uh–selfme … selfie … aye, that’s it, a selfie Mick! You have to take a selfie, a picture of yourself.
MICK: Hahaha. Ah, how in the blazers can I take a picture of me own mug Paddy, your killing me here, hahaha.
PADDY: Ah jaysus, Mick. I’m trying to educate–instruct you in the ways of the modernised world. You’ll have to catch up with the times, Mick, or ye’ll be left behind.
MICK: Paddy, I’m a man of 55 years. I’m happy to be left behind–especially if that’s what society is offering now in terms of modernisation … taking a selfie of oneself for the sole purpose of broadcasting of the self on the world wonder web so’s they can talk with anyone they like–Queen included. Actually, she’s the worse culprit … she already has the selfie thingy down to a tee, eh!
MICK: Yep, she does indeed. Sure hasn’t she got her very own selfie stamp, eh? Hahaha.
PADDY: Aye, haha, she does Mick. You’re right there.
MICK: Anyways, Paddy, in all seriousness, can the modern ones of today’s world not just talk face-to-face anymore? And sure they all have phones as well … so what’s the bloody need for such Facebooks and the like I? I don’t know.
PADDY: Yeah, but Mick you can’t talk face-to-face to someone in … say Canada or Japan … couldn’t use your phone either, too damn costly.
MICK: But Paddy, what on earth would you want to contact Canada or Japan? You don’t know anyone there and sure you can’t talk Canadish or Japanese either. So why?
PADDY: But you see, Mick, with this new invention of Facebook you can virtually travel the cyber waves of the world wonder web and make friends anywhere you like.
MICK: Make friends, Paddy? Really! Are you saying I could head down to the bar of a Saturday night with my “new found Canadian” buddy or do a spot of early Sunday morning fishing with my “new-found Japanese ally”?
PADDY: Not at all, Mick. Don’t be stupid. Sure, you’ve never met them.
MICK: Exactly me point, Paddy. So’s how can we be friends?
PADDY: Well Mick, they can chat to you in your “inbox”.
MICK: “Chat to me in my inbox?” Paddy listen to yourself. Haha-haha. Aye, you’ve lost the plot completely now, me dear friend. Haha.
PADDY: Send you private messages.
MICK: Like what, Paddy? I’ve nothing public or private I have to be saying to the Japanese. Nought at all, nothing private or public to hear from them either, Paddy.
PADDY: Well then, Mick, you could share your pictures on your wall so’s folk could see.
MICK: What? I hang me pictures of meself on my wall inside me gaff for a reason, Paddy. If I wanted the world and its mother to view them, I’ve have hung em on the outside walls of me house now wouldn’t I? And besides, why would I want some Jap looking at me pics anyway?
PADDY: I mean family, Mick. They’re all on it and share pics of every occasion …doesn’t even have to be an occasion anymore. Ye just share pictures with your family for fun.
MICK: But Paddy, every occasion I attend , so do me family, so why would they want me to share pics of meself at such occasions when they’ve already seen me there in the flesh, eh?
PADDY: Ah Mick, you’re not getting it at all.
MICK: I’m just saying, Paddy, it sounds a bit like advertising yourself to a big system of spies.
MICK: Think about it, Paddy. You’re on there, ok, reporting what you’re doing–yeah, where you’re doing it–and providing all photographic evidence of you doing what you’re doing, wherever it’s at. Sounds like a big invasion of privacy to me … sure in the olden days we’d run away from something like that but nowadays every feker wants to be spied on in the name of modernization … Right, I don’t get it, Paddy.
PADDY: But it connects folk, Mick–unites different cultures without man-made barriers of land, sea and the postal service.
MICK: Paddy, the lands are separated for a reason, me good man. Trust me on this, Paddy. Some countries aren’t supposed to be connecting and mingling cultures so freely.
PADDY: Ah Mick, listen if your sister lived abroad–let’s say Australia, ok–would it not be of a comfort to you to know you could connect and talk to her as much as you wanted without travelling miles or spending a small fortune on the phone?
MICK: Me sister lives in the market square in St. Peter’s Street, Paddy,–three streets away from my house. You know that, Paddy. I see too much of her as it is.
PADDY: Ah Mick, I’m just saying if …
MICK: Look, Paddy, if … if it was something like a reversed Facebook , bookface for example where instead of connecting you’d could disconnect with family and friends then I’d join up straight away, hahaha.
PADDY: Sure what would be the point of that, Mick?
MICK: Aye, I suppose you’re right, Paddy, either way they’d know where you live.
PADDY: Anyways,Mick, so what do you say eh?
MICK: Say about what Paddy?
PADDY: Your profile of course Mick?
PADDY: But …
PADDY: But Mick, it’s your own virtual identity.
MICK: No, me real life “identity” is more than satisfactory for me Paddy, and what do you mean “it’s” Paddy?
PADDY: Ah Mick, don’t be annoyed at me, me old chum, but I’ve already set you up.
MICK: Set me up?
PADDY: Aye Mick, you are now the owner of your own profile, you’re on the web, a virtual Mick has been created.
PADDY: Yep, me grandson did them yesterday for us both, a virtual Paddy and a virtual Mick, complete with pictures and all.
MICK: What pictures would that be now Paddy?
PADDY: Well mine is me ponderously self-staring back at me. It’s exciting doing a selfie you know, Mick.
PADDY: And you Mick, you’ve got to do yours so in the meantime I just had me grandson take a pic of an empty chair for now.
MICK: An empty chair?
PADDY: Aye, Mick. I reckon that’s where you would have been sitting had you been present for your selfie shot.
MICK: Hahaha. So the virtual Mick is represented by an empty chair, eh? Wonderful. It definitely confirms it alright, you have well and truly lost the plot my friend and I shall be informing Japan on that as well, Paddy. I’ll be going public with that one for sure. Facebook indeed, whatever next, eh? Some modern device that allows you to look at the folks you’re ringing eh? Hahaha.
PADDY: Er… Mick
MICK: What Paddy?
PADDY: Nothing Mick, it’ll keep til another day.
MICK: Aye Paddy, inbox it to me ….
To read another episode on this series see: https://heliosliterature.com/2017/04/11/the-paddy-and-mick-chronicles
Karen Mary McEntegart (poet and playwright) is an Irish lass from Drogheda, Ireland, now living in central England.
©2017 Kenneth Harper Finton
Born squawking with a curious furrow in my brow, I had no choice in the matter of my birth. Later, I was to learn I had been born into a large country and into an even larger universe that I am still learning to comprehend.
When I was eight I had an abdominal operation and was placed under either. I still remember the vision I had under the influence of the drug. I was running from Father Time who chased me with thunderbolts shooting from his fingertips as he yelled, “Stop, stop! You are ahead of time. Stop!”
It was a powerful vision that is vivid to this day.
How strange this world is to the young: I was born to be myself and not someone else. This is odd enough but it was even odder to come to conception here in this time instead of somewhere else in another time. Everything was such a mystery. I truly wanted to solve the mystery. I felt this could well be my calling.
It did not take long to discover this fact: everyone is stuck in themselves, the same as I am. Everyone has their own little universe where they are the king or the queen.
Sometimes while I was in a playful mood, I asked myself, “If you could be somebody else, who would that be?”
When I ran through the history of people I have met or known, I could not choose to be any of them. There was no one I might want to be more than myself, male or female. It’s inconceivable I could be someone other than myself unless I was play-acting the part. Since I have to be me, I might as well make the most of the situation, I decided.
I took a while to understand why I arrived to be a player in this era. I surmised that it had to do with time and consciousness, something science cannot yet explain. It is so easy to miss this vital connection: the now is ever present, just as awareness is always present.
Is this a mere coincidence? Is the now not a measure of time?
The now is not measurable at all, but a micro fraction of an instant where the past changes into the future. The only thing solely contained in the now is our awareness. Consciousness remembers the past and imagines the future, but always does so in the now.
I came to this realization at a young age and caused myself great confusion. Did this mean the world is a mental construction?
For a while, I considered the possibility that the universe is actually a vision which comes alive in the intellect. This was a problematic idea. The mind itself is a mystery. How could the mind be only a product of flesh and blood, neural connections, when nature obviously had a mind which did not need a nervous system?
We are the centers of our worlds, yet nature has carried out its miracles for billions of years without the help of human consciousness through an unconscious process of evolutionary experiments. This has likely been the case since time began.
The colors we see are wavelengths of light. The mind learns to recognize these as different colors. About me, the people I knew had their own personal mindsets. They were different and separate from my own thoughts, though they used much of the same information I used to make their own world view. The primary difference between us is the type and quantity of the information we process both in the mind and the body.
Throughout our lives, the now remains stationary. It is not time that moves, but consciousness. Awareness is always being transformed through experiences, interactions, and observations. If time were to move, what would be the speed of time? If time flowed, what would be the volume of the flow?
No fixed universal clock can measure the flow or speed of time. Time is relative to dimensions, not to a fixed standard. With no way to measure the speed of time, no method can be devised to measure the speed of the now. The now has no speed at all, nor can it move. The rational thing to conclude is that time does not flow and the now does not move. Instead, consciousness changes.
This was a huge revelation.
-Kenneth Harper Finton
June 8, 2017
“The masters of the short story come to no good end,” wrote Ernest Hemingway, in a bitterly prescient moment. He was, of course, a master of the short story who came to his own no good end with a shotgun.
But now is not the time to speak of endings. This week marks the 118th anniversary of Hemingway’s birth.Today, no living fiction writer towers over American culture the way Papa once did. His cultivated blend of machismo and existential stoicism captivated a lost generation shattered by war. His elliptical style mesmerized readers for decades – and remains so highly contagious that students still fall prey to its impassive tone and declarative simplicity. The International Imitation Hemingway Competition ran for nearly three decades, ending in 2005, but the number and quality of entries that poured in over the years suggest it could have gone on forever.
Isn’t it pretty to think so?
I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with this Nobel Prize winner. I got to know the young woman who would eventually be my wife in a seminar on Hemingway. The earth moved, though not at first. If she was attracted to the testosteronic writer, I don’t know what attracted her to me. Hemingway and I were both raised by Christian Science mothers in the Midwest, but beyond that, the similarities end. He had more wives than I’ve had dates. He rushed into danger to get material for his writing; I rushed into writing to get away from danger.
But as I studied his life, all that boxing and boasting and bingeing struck me as symptoms of deep insecurity. Surely, a real man wouldn’t be quite so self-conscious about being a real man, right?
Those tensions are richly explored in a new biography by Mary V. Dearborn, but I can’t help feeling that, for most of us, the secret to appreciating Hemingway’s work lies in staying away from Hemingway’s life. His bravado, his pomposity and, frankly, his inconsolable sadness risk overshadowing his art. What the New Critics called “the biographical fallacy” is always irresistible, but it’s especially tempting when dealing with a writer who aggressively encouraged it. Trying to match up every event in a story to the author’s life is a swell way of reducing a great work of fiction to a flawed autobiography.
Consider that Hemingway’s best novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” tells the story of an impotent man. That’s rich material for a biographical critic, but most of us should just look at the masterpiece on the page. More than 90 years after it was published, it’s still an astonishingly powerful work largely because of its ferocious restraint. When I taught “The Sun Also Rises,” most of my students had no idea what was keeping Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley from jumping into bed, and who can blame them? Jake’s affliction is rarely alluded to and is never described. Thou may differ, but where Hemingway’s later novels seem, to me, freighted with melodrama and distracting verbal tics, “The Sun Also Rises” whispers its chilly despair with unruffled grace.
You can see how he perfected that style in an illuminating new edition of his short stories. This is the fourth volume in the Hemingway Library series, and to read it is to be shocked again by the fecundity of his genius. Writing one story that takes root in literary history is remarkable, but here is classic after classic, including “Indian Camp,” “Big Two-Hearted River,” “The Killers,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”
Some of the stories, such as “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” appear with alternate endings and notes showing additions and deletions. This material has long been available to scholars, but it’s presented here in a thoroughly accessible way by Seán Hemingway, the author’s grandson, who edited the volume and provides a helpful introduction.
There was a time when it seemed Hemingway, like so many other once indispensable writers, might fade away. (Quick show of hands: Who’s still reading John Dos Passos?) As the decades passed, the parodies seemed to preempt him. More enlightened attitudes about women threatened to render Papa irrelevant. And, really, who thinks hunting is heroic anymore?
But like the handsome bullfighter in “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway’s work just keeps getting up no matter how many times it’s beaten down.