Monday, January 25, 2016

What’s in a name?

     Is it mere coincidence that so many people have names befitting their occupations or personalities?

     The name of the man who’s in charge of a process at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to produce rare fissionable plutonium-238 is Bob Wham. (My daughter Lisa works at Oak Ridge.)

     A now-retired lady at my local small-city airport—whose job as Terminal Manager in part was to smooth relations between general aviation pilots and commercial airline personnel and maintenance folk and security people and fixed base operators and the airport board and the public—is named Kathy Sunshine.  I’ve never seen her without a smile.  Everybody likes her.

     The heiress to the Wrigley fortune is named Helen Rich.  (She owns Medallion Media and bought my first three suspense novels, for which I thank her.  She’s not only quite wealthy, but also is a nice lady.)

     There are many more examples of names associated with occupations and/or personalities all around us.  Seemingly almost too many to be mere coincidence.

     A list of aptronyms—and inaptronyms:


Monday, January 18, 2016

America: land of the absurd

     It pains me to say that the National Science Foundation (NSF), an organization for which I normally have profound respect, recently granted $125,000 to Dr. Monica Biemat, a social psychologist with the University of Kansas, to study stereotyping, sexism, and racism perpetrated by the everyday injudicious use of certain adjectives by folks like you and me.

     This was not about all those blatantly offensive and inflammatory adjectives we’ve come to associate with bigots and supremacists and religious zealots and all those other groups knee-deep in hatred.

     No, this is about adjectives that are far more subtle and thus, at least in Dr. Biemat’s view, more insidious.

     Devilish adjectives like “good.”

     This is word-for-word from the grant proposal:  “The proposed research predicts that stereotypes activate different standards of judgements for members of different groups . . . . For example, in a masculine work domain where women are stereotyped as less competent, ‘good’ for a woman may mean something objectively less good than ‘good’ for a man.”

     In Volume 45 of Advances in Experimental Social Psychology,  Dr. Biemat wrote, “Because of shifting standards, a female chief of staff may be described as highly competent, a hit from a female softball player may generate more enthusiasm than the same hit from a male, and a black student may achieve more praise than a white student for an identical transcript.”
     She also suggested men should think twice about using words such as “aggressive” when describing a woman.

     For this kind of revelatory research, the good Dr. Biemat was granted $125,000.  She told the Washington Free Beacon she will apply for additional funding for her extended project in 2016.

     Perhaps to study the evil use of adjectives such as “nice,” or “tall,” or “clever.”

     Since this is America in the 2000s, she’ll probably get the money.  After all, back in 2006, the NSF granted her $505,000 in taxpayer funding, not for a trip to the moon, but for a trip to Warsaw to interact with something called the European Social Cognitive Network (ESCON), whose avowed goals are as nebulous as their name.

     I’d like to apply for a modest NSF grant, say ten million dollars, to create mandatory corneal implants that would give every implantee a view of everybody else on the planet as the same inoffensive shade of beige and always of an ideal age to be determined by Congress, say 31 years, perhaps.  Further, my research would aim to clothe everyone from birth to death in mandatory attire that will absolutely conceal gender and sexual persuasion. 

     Thus simultaneously wiping out every last vestige of sexism, ageism, homophobia, misogyny, misandry, and racism forever, and we could retire all those hateful words.

     Then maybe we could stop psychoanalyzing the use of innocent adjectives and go back to spending taxpayer funds on curing diseases, eliminating hunger and despair, and insuring ever more luxurious lifestyles for our leaders.  (I, for one, think it’s high time we provide a larger customized jet or two for transporting our President and the Chief’s family, friends, campaign supporters, publicists, speech writers, spin doctors, selected media celebrities, servants—Michelle has some 20 personal attendants at six-figure salaries—and pets to bi-monthly vacation spots.)

P.S.   This from a recent New Yorker magazine:  “Social scientists find that leaving a dysfunctional urban neighborhood can transform a family’s prospects.” 
     Could this mean that if a family were to move from the drug- and blood-filled streets of Baltimore to, say, sleepy Mount Airy, North Carolina, their prospects for living a healthier, happier life might improve?
     Wow.  What a revelation.  I mean, who would have ever thought?

Monday, January 11, 2016


     They’re words or phrases that read the same backwards and forwards, like wow, huh, kayak, tenet, radar, level, racecar, boob, avid diva, air an aria, Tahitti hat, and Wassamassaw (a SC town). 

     Some names are palindromes, like Eve, Elle, Hannah, Mom, Dad, and Madam.
     Making them up in phrases or whole sentences is a hobby that goes back to ancient Greece, and it can be fun.  A well-known one is, “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.”  It’s amazing that people can keep coming up with so many of them.  They’ve been involved in witchcraft and religious ritual.  Back in the 50s there was a palindrome board game, and there’s even a 15-year-old magazine called The Palindromist, edited by Mark Saltveit, which traces the history of the pastime and includes interesting puzzlers, like calculator words, wherein you turn a calculator upside down and the numbers spell out words.  (Maybe a neat code device for a spy novel?)  There are also newspaper, magazine, and live competitions, some with cash prizes.

     If you’d like to try palindroming, here’s a long list of clever ones to get you thinking in both directions:

     Myself, I don’t write palindromes.  I write sagas.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Dancing with squirrels (Part 2)

     You may remember that I recently single-handedly saved a squirrel that had fallen down my unused chimney due to his own reckless frivolity and abject clumsiness.  (See last week’s post.)

     Today I got a call from a lawyer with the ASLU (American Squirrel Liberties Union), who threatened to sue me over possessing an unsafe chimney upon my premises.  She claimed her client is suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Squirrel Disorder) after being trapped within the confines of my chimney void space for "the better part of a week," and will require lengthy treatment from either a squirrel whisperer or a Democrat.  (This is a gross exaggeration; the squirrel was actually confined for less than three days, and I gave him half of a peanut butter sandwich absolutely FREE.  Also, there's no telling how many of my valuable pecans the little thief and his cohorts have stolen this fall.  What about that?)

     And when I left my home to go get coffee this morning, 14 squirrels and two chipmunks, all naked as the day they were born, were staging a protest in my driveway, chattering loudly enough to wake the neighbors and carrying small signs that said, "Justice for ALL Rodents!" and "Nuts to Bowie!" and "Squirrels Matter!"

     Of course, Channel 12 reported that "dozens of cuddly little woodland creatures gathered at the shadowed and forbidding riverside abode of a reclusive man rumored to be related to Shrek the Ogre in order to seek justice for what the authorities are alleging may have been felony squirrel abuse going back years."  So much for their slogan, "Getting the Facts Rite."

     Anyway, if I fail to have my chimney bulldozed within ten days, and do not fertilize my pecan trees, and do not sign a full confession, and refuse to pay for relocating "at least 1,700 squirrel refugees" from Central Park to the Croatan National Forest, I will be faced with legal action that could carry penalties "up to the fullest extent of the law."

     All for merely trying to be a Good Squirrel-maritan.

Okay, I made this post up.  Hey, I’m a storyteller.  It’s what I do.  The part about saving the squirrel is true, though.

Happy New Year.