Saturday, July 22, 2017

Kelli Ward: Ambulance-Chasing Vulture Extraordinare


I consider Kelli Ward to be a far more literal ambulance chaser. 




The preceding illustration may be somewhat misleading. Regardless of whomever created the graphic display, and for whatever reasons he or she operated under the mistaken or outdated impression that Sarah Palin was, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the reigning ambulance chaser of U.S. politics, such is no longer [if ever it was] the case. I am uncertain as to anyone's reasoning as to why that designation should ever have  belonged to Sarah Palin. History, notwithstanding, this honor now has a new recipient.  The title quite rightfully belongs to Arizona state senator Kelli Ward.

In 2016, Kelli Ward had an unsuccessful bid in the republican primary for John McCain's senate seat.  She has since announced her intent to challenge Jeffry Flake for his senate seat in 2018. Meanwhile, Ward has sniffed out a potentially more direct route to the U.S. Sentate.  In wake of the recent announcement of John McCain's glioblastoma, Ward declared on an Indiana radio talk show that McCain should step aside "as soon as possible."  Should McCain actually resign, only Arizona Governor Doug Ducey stands between Kelli Ward and the U.s. Senate. Please join me in prayer, karmic thought, or any other powers of intersession in which anyone out there places faith, for the benefit of the soundness of mind of Arizona's governor.

Did Kelli Ward believe that this declaration via a radio program, followed by a written statement from her, would be a politically expedient move? Was Ward under the assumption that she was the only person on whom the thought of McCain's resignation had dawned? Did she really think that the rest of us [I use the pronoun us to include myself because even someone so politically inept as I had entertained the possibility that McCain might consider his time and energy better spent somewhere other than in or on the U.S. Senate. Still, I wouldn't have suggested his resignation publicly, and I have nothing to gain by his resignation or to lose by the suggestion of it. 

Ward has everything to gain by McCain's resignation (except that Arizona's governor may value his own reputation too much to appoint her as his successor even of McCain chooses to resign), and every bit as much to lose by appearing as the unrelenting opportunist that she apparently is by offering the suggestion. Did it not occur to Ward that someone else likely would have made the same suggestion, even if not publicly, thereby sparing her the public relations nightmare she has created for herself? Did she honestly consider that her on-air proclamation and follow-up written statement were politically prudent moves? Is this woman authentically stupid?

In a statement published on her website, Ward wrote, "As a doctor, I've counseled patients in similar situations and these end-of-life choices are never easy. I usually advise terminal patients to reduce stress, relax and spend time laughing with loved ones." I'm not issuing any sort of denouncement of Ward's skill as a physician, as I'm not in any way qualified to do so, but I will state that anyone with a glioblastoma -- or with anything even bordering the gravity of such a diagnosis -- would be well-advised to seek guidance from a medical practitioner with greater expertise than that typically possessed by a doctor of osteopathy who specializes in family practice and in osteopathic manipulative therapy.  Furthermore, it's highly presumptive at the point her pronouncement was made [possibly fewer than two days following McCain having been given the diagnosis himself] to have categorized his prognosis and related decision-making process as "end-of-life choices."  In subsequent comments given to Today's News-Herald, Ward conceded that she had not examined nor viewed medical records for Senator McCain, which was a rather blatant understatement. Neither did she backpedal from her dire predictions for the senator.

If the people of Arizona were to elect this person to a national legislative body, it would cause me to be most disheartened, though they have a right to elect whomever they feel most qualified to serve them. The suggestion of her appointment to a national legislative body is, however, another matter entirely. Governor Ducey, have mercy on the United States of America!  Please -- I implore you -- do not appoint this classless excuse for a human being to the United States Senate.





Saturday, July 8, 2017

Leave Venus Alone!

Image result for venus williams playing tennis



Historically speaking, I have not been the world's staunchest supporter of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. They haven't always, in my opinion, conducted themselves with the utmost grace following on-court losses. They have sometimes suggested, either in regard to their own play or in defense of each other, that they can be beaten on court only if they defeat themselves.
This is, I feel, a failure to give due credit to an opponent. A classier course of action is to concede that one's opponent was the superior player on that given day. Far more often than not, both Williams sisters have done exactly that, but a failure to do so even once attracts a great deal of attention.

For the most part, though, Venus and Serena Williams have conducted their personal and professional lives, as do ***** the overwhelming majority of female athletes, in a manner that is above reproach. They occupy themselves productively, pay taxes, stay on the right side of the law, and share their wealth with worthy causes. In the grand scheme of things, the world would be a lovely place if everyone inhabiting it lived as the Williams sisters do.

Where Venus Williams' recent auto accident is concerned, I am bothered by how she has been treated. A car Venus was driving was struck by another car in an intersection not far from her home in Florida. The driver of the other car suffered multiple fractures. Worse yet, a seventy-eight-year-old passenger in the car sustained injuries that led to his death thirteen days later. An auto accident is probably not the way any of us wish to see our elderly relatives go. I'm especially sorry for the driver of the car, who must deal with her own injuries along with the grief associated with losing her husband.

On the other hand, sometimes accidents are merely accidents. Sometimes, even, those who suffer the greatest losses as the result of accidents are also the  ones who, when everything has been investigated, are shown to bear some or all of the responsibility for having caused the accidents. Palm Beach Gardens police initially, after interviewing witnesses, stated that Ms. Williams was at fault in the accident. Someone, acting on behalf of the estate of the deceased, almost immediately filed a lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages from Ms. Williams. Subsequently a tape of the accident showed that Ms. Williams entered the intersection legally on a green light, stopped when another car turned left in front of her, then, when the light turned red, attempted to proceed through the intersection when her car was slammed by another car entering the intersection. The Palm Beach Gardens police apparently learned from their earlier mistake of prematurely assigning fault in the accident, and this time declined to state specifically who was at fault. 

The officers presumably will soon complete their investigation. I won't  jump to any ridiculous conclusions in the meantime. Nonetheless, I have questions concerning how a collision of such magnitude occurred under the circumstances.
The driver of the car that struck Ms. Williams' car indicated that she was approaching the stoplight as it turned green and couldn't stop in time to avoid hitting Ms. Williams' car. From that, I would assume that she hadn't yet stopped at the light.  What if the light had not turned green at that precise instant? Would the driver then have run the light and hit whomever else happened to be in the intersection?

Police stated that Ms. Williams entered the intersection legally. A car turned left in front of her. She was driving sufficiently defensively that she was able to avoid hitting that car. Then the light turned red. She appeared to have proceeded with caution. The driver of the other car (and the spokesperson for whatever law firm represents the estate of the deceased) says that Ms. Williams should have stayed out of the other driver's lane -- that, by proceeding through the intersection, she failed to yield the right of way. How fast must the vehicle have been traveling if the driver could not stop though cars were in the intersection? Should Venus Williams  have remained in place in the intersection, blocking traffic? I assume that, had she seen another car approaching at a fast enough rate of speed to create a fatal accident on impact with her car, Ms. Williams would have remained motionless. Had she done that, however, she might just as easily have been broadsided by another elderly Florida driver plowing through the intersection.

What would you or I do if someone turned left in front of us in an intersection? Would we apply the brakes to avoid an avoidable collision, or would we go ahead and hit the car turning left so that we would then be clear of the intersection before a light turned red?  What do you or I typically do when a light turns green, theoretically allowing us to proceed, yet a car or two remain(s) in the intersection before us? Do we proceed because we have the supposed right of way, or do we first allow the cars to clear the intersection? It all seems quite ludicrous when the possibilities are considered.

My dad is here as I'm typing this. He says I'm throwing fuel on the fire by writing anything about this issue before the police have completed their investigation (except that it's probably OK because he acknowledges that hardly anyone reads this blog). It is not my intent to do that at all, though, with the information the police have given us, it's difficult to concoct a cogent scenario in which Ms. Williams would be at fault in this accident. It would be a classy move for the "estate" to announce that it is dropping the lawsuit against Ms. Williams. As it was, whoever was responsible for acting on behalf of the estate barely waited for rigor mortis to set in before filing the suit. Would such have been the case if someone as ordinary as I had been driving the other car, or is the hastiness with which the suit was filed in some way proportionate to the presumed depth of Ms. Williams' pockets? About that we will never know; we're each free to form our own conclusions.

***** Knotty or anyone else who knows, is it do or does here? Does the verb need to agree with "majority" or with "athletes"?





Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Chris Christie, Ugly American


My cousin who is a police detective says that people's eyes move upward when they are lying -- particularly when they're inventing their reality as they speak.



Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, is someone I find rather disgusting. I never bought his lack of complicity in the Bridgegate  fiasco -- the situation in which lanes of traffic were closed on the George Washington Bridge in alleged retaliation for a local mayor's lack of support for Christie's gubernatorial bid.  He was able to escape any charges in the lane closure misdeed by placing the blame on assistants. Perhaps the assistants did pull of the bridge lane closure incident without Christie's knowledge or input. While I find it difficult to believe such to be the case, Christie is presumably capable of hiring assistants who are dishonest outlaws who would commit such an act.

Christie's most recent scandal of closing state beaches because an impasse between himself and democratic state legislators regarding a budget, then granting himself, along with family and friends, access to a state-owned beach adjacent to a state-owned beachside mansion reserved for the governor's use. This is wrong on so many levels that it's difficult to know where to start. it looked as though he was essentially flaunting his authority. Then his publicist lied about Christie's actions, trying to hide between what he or his publicist considered a technicality but what I maintain was not even technically true. The publicist, when called on either his or Christie's  lie, stated that Christie had not "caught any sun" because he worse a baseball cap during his time on the beach. That's not even technically true. Whatever the meaning of "caught any sun" might be construed to be, it has nothing to do with whether or not one's face was in the sun. Furthermore, parts of Christie's face were exposed to the sun.

Suggestions have been made by various pundits that Christie's debacle was an attempt to gain favor, and possibly a job, with President Trump once Trump fires another cabinet member or assistant 9Reince Priebus' job in particular has been cited as one on which Christie might possibly have in his radar. 

While I can  picture Trump being impressed by blatant flaunting of authority and bold-faced lying to the media, I hope such is not the case; I do not approve of Christie representing my nation in any official capacity or being compensated with my tax dollars. I could probably go along with Christie replacing Kellyanne Conway, as she is even more despicable than is Christie. Otherwise, he is the problem of the state of New Jersey, not of the United States of America.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

They're Ba-aaaack: Reprise of Feverish Pitch and the Useless Dominican Infield

My brother and his bandmates look both weirder and less androgynous than do these people.


I'm sitting at a table in a club with, at last count, eleven friends. We're watching and listening to my brother's band. I thought we might have seen the last of Feverish Pitch and the Useless Dominican Infield, but I thought wrong. For the record, I told my brother way back in the day that his band's name was stupid and that he needed a more concise name, something like MouseRAt, though he couldn't use that exact name because it was already taken. He didn't listen to me. Years later, they're toiling away in obscurity. The band is calling this their final performance, but they called a performance two years ago the same thing, as well as one a year before that, and one eighteen months before that. Then there was their Farewell Tour eleven months earlier, which consisted of three separate performances. I'm beginning to believe we may never see the last of these people.

I've reached a conclusion that I had more or less believed before, but not to the degree I presently believe it, which is that Matthew does not belong on a stage with the other people in his band. He has legitimate musical talent. No one else in the group does. My cellist friend I know from several years of summer music festival who is here with me tonight agrees with me on this, and he's unbiased. It's not so much a matter of Matthew oozing talent from every pore as of the rest of the band having no talent whatsoever. Still, Matthew can at least sing as well as play guitar [masterfully] and even play keyboards proficiently on a few cover songs. (Cover songs are the only ones in the band's repertoire that are not atrocious. The band's original songs are hideous beyond imagination.) If 
Matthew were willing to live with at least one roommate for the rest of his life, to shop for food only at grocery outlet stores,  to clip coupons religiously, and maybe to learn to cut his own hair, he could conceivably make a living on his skill as a musician. I never thought I would say even that

Nonetheless, it's just as well that Matthew is preparing himself to hold down a substantial day job. He otherwise would probably have to collect cans and bottles for recycling in order to have a prayer of paying for health insurance  -- either that or to find a sugar mama, and those sorts of accessories come with all sorts of strings attached. We're all better off preparing to support ourselves. If we end up with significant others who are capable of supporting us or at least themselves, that's all the better, but it seems imprudent to count on it. I know people who don't have to work, but they managed to obtain educations and, because they had the capability of being self-supporting, did not have to settle for anything.  No one should leave himself or herself in a position of having to settle for anything.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Academically Dead Poetry Students' Society

I wish Robin Williams were still here.


I never actually studied until December of my freshman year of high school. up to that point i had been with students who were essentially my own age. It wasn't difficult to keep pace with or, for that matter, to stay ahead of most of my age-level peers. Even when Matthew and I were moved to eighth grade halfway through our seventh-grade year, it wasn't much of a strain.  I  don't recall ever failing to finish regular homework assignments. Homework in elementary and middle school usually involved an assigned thirty minutes of reading, which had to be done at home. My parents required that we do homework or read for ninety nightly minutes Monday through Thursday anyway, but I've always loved to read, so it wasn't a chore. The only real homework I had up to that point was the two or so times per year that special projects were assigned. 

When i was in ninth grade or a freshman, my English teacher assigned George Orwell's Animal Farm as the second required novel. The previous assigned novel had been Sleep, Two, Three, Four by John Neufeld.  My mom was concerned because one of these books we had read when just before were in second grade, and the other was even less cerebral. (Animal Farm is a great work and can be approached on many different levels, but the level at which it was being approached in our English literature class wasn't suitable for a college preparatory course.) 

My mother made an appointment with our guidance counselor to discuss what she felt was inadequate curriculum. When the guidance counselor didn't see anything wrong with the reading selections, my mother had the two of us switched to another guidance counselor's case load, then made an appointment to meet with our new guidance counselor. The new counselor sympathized with my mom's concerns, but didn't see any clear alternative. She initially said that we would have to stick it out and to supplement our reading with more erudite works, but after looking at even Matthew's test scores, concluded that we didn't necessarily have to remain enrolled in freshman English.

The only remotely suitable English class in fourth period, which was the class period that we had English, was Honors English IV.  It didn't seem wise to disrupt our total schedules, as we would be switching instructors in core subject courses, who taught sub-topics in different sequences. We would inevitably miss some topics and repeat others. The easiest solution, as unpopular as it would make us in the class, was to enroll us in the honors English IV section in fourth period. This change was to be made in early October of the school year, which would have found us not yet thirteen years of age; nearly all of our classmates would have been seventeen at the time. Matthew and I had some experience in being in classrooms with upperclassmen, as enrollment in specific math and science courses was contingent upon what courses a student had successfully completed. I had finished Algebra II in eighth grade. Matthew had completed geometry. It was the norm for such to be the case with regard to math and science, however. English classes, unless they were remedial -- and few were at our school, though our English class was, in some ways, being taught as a remedial course -- were expected to be grouped according to grade level, with the only exceptions being students who had completed grade-level English courses in summer school.

We lived in a small university city with a relatively educated population. Part of our faculty each year included either students attending the local university in doctoral programs, or post-doctoral students who had secured adjunct faculty status at the university; they hoped that by sticking around as part-timers with the university, they would eventually be offered full-time professor positions. Meanwhile, they needed to eat, so they taught at one or the other of the local high schools. An act of violence I suffered two years later at school notwithstanding, the student population at our school was largely civilized.  We were not surrounded by thugs. The girls especially, while they may have been less than thrilled with my presence in the class and were less than welcoming, were no physical threat to me.  Matthew was probably not in any serious danger from the boys in the class, either, but he kept his mouth shut just to be safe. The girls in the class thought Matthew was the most adorable little boy on whom they had never lain eyes. Older women nearly always feel that way about Matthew.

Matthew and I transferred into the class in the first week of October. The instructor was just starting her English (as in from England, or British, not as in in the English language; American literature, including poetry, was part of English III curriculum) poetry unit, which would continue through November and December, with the culminating examination taking place on the next-to-last day prior to winter break.  The last day before break would be a minimum student attendance day, allowing teachers time to mark exams and issue final semester grades. The poetry bored Matthew to an even more senseless state than the one in which he typically wandered about. He would have been more than willing to switch right back to English I and Animal Farm had the option been offered to him. Many of our classmates apparently shared his feelings. They were bored with poetry, they were mildly insulted that a couple of freshmen were thrown into their class, and they seemed to be plagued with worse than average cases of senioritis, which describes a state of complacency and apathy sometimes experienced by high school seniors.

Class attendance began to drop noticeably. On any given day, only roughly half the seniors made appearances.  Those who came were most often not attentive, usually reading other material or completing work from other classes.  Soon we began to discern a pattern: the students who attended one day would not be present on the next day. Those who had been absent that day would  show up the next day. Then on the following day, those who had been absent on the previous day would be in attendance and those who attended wouldn't be present. The only students who attended every day were Matthew, I, and a girl who was a junior, who was, if anything, even more of an outcast then Matthew and I were. Our teacher was clearly puzzled but didn't think it was her problem to do anything other than to take attendance and to report her attendance. She did start giving quizzes once a week to encourage student attendance, but the quizzes seemed not to encourage anything other than maintenance of the status quo.  The attendance office should have and presumably did notify the seniors' parents of their absences through the district's automated absence notification telephone system. Sometimes, if those messages went to home phones, kids erased them before their parents listened to them. I believe the messages now go to parents' cell phones via text messages, but back then, not all parents knew how to send or receive text messages.

Matthew, I, and the girl who was a junior continued to attend class each day and to take notes, along with the one person who appeared to be the designated note-taker for the seniors. The others attended every other day. Class discussions were nonexistent. The teacher asked a question every now and then. I usually answered if no one else did just because the silence was deafening and so very awkward.

The last regular class session preceding the exam was largely a review for the exam. All the students were present that day. They asked questions about the test and took notes regarding the test format and what would be covered. They were all greatly relieved to hear that the test would be open book and open access to notes. The test would not take place until two days later, as our final exam schedule for the semester allowed double-length for each class so that teachers could give more in-depth exams and students' test experiences could more fully prepare them for the intensity of university final exams. 

Even though I had not studied before that semester, I understood that the course was for university credit (with a satisfactory score on the AP exam), which made the stakes higher than they had been in courses I had previously taken. Additionally, there was a bit of parental pressure to perform so that my mother would not appear retroactively as a fool for having insisted that Animal Farm wasn't suitable as reading material for her precocious children.  While it would seem that the three of us who attended class daily were ahead of the game by simple virtue of having shown up for class, each night I painstakingly transcribed and organized my notes from English class. The two nights before the test, after completing what I needed to study for the finals for my other courses, I recopied all of my notes from the entire unit, putting their content on three-inch-by-five-inch note cards according to poet so that they could be indexed, alphabetized, and the material easily located as needed during the exam. It took until the wee hours of Thursday morning to complete this task, and I hid in my bathroom while finishing so that I wouldn't be forced back into bed by whichever parent might have found me. 


When fourth period on the Thursday before vacation had found us all (except for the probably one or two students who were sick, as someone was always sick) in the English classroom, the teacher was dismayed to see all of the seniors in the class with identical photocopies of notes.  As she distributed copies of the test, she announced that it would be, as stated earlier, an open-book test, but that the use of notes would be disallowed. Matthew, the junior, and I groaned. The collective sound from the seniors in the class was more of a unison cry of protest. The teacher told them that at the completion of the test, they were free to complain to counselors or administrators as long as the counselors and administrators cared to listen to them, but the test would proceed in the manner she dictated.  As a way of compensating for the time and trouble a few of us had taken with our notes, she offered twenty-five points extra exam credit for any complete set of notes that were not xerox copies of anyone else's notes. The three of us who actually had notes that were not xeroxed copies of someone else's hurried to locate ours, scrawled our names on them, and handed them to her. Twenty-five points of extra credit on a one-hundred-point test was too good an opportunity on which to pass even if it would make us pariahs to the seniors while adding nails to their respective academic coffins they had effectively constructed around themselves. One of the seniors complained about my note cards and said they weren't class notes. I could have argued with him, but instead, I took out the compilation of both my original notes and the nightly transcriptions of them, put my name on the top sheet, and handed that to the teacher. "Oh, my God!" one of the girls snarled, rolling her eyes as my teacher smiled down at my voluminous notes.

As I began looking over the test, I wasn't especially confident. I had counted on using my notes and didn't commit to memory things that I otherwise might have. Consoling myself with the thought that the gift of twenty-five points on the test could probably dig me out of any hole in which my lack of access to my notes placed me, I began to focus upon the three sections of the test.
The first part consisted of ten poetry passages -- mostly couplets -- to be matched to fifteen listed poets. Silently cursing those who showed up with the photo-copied notes which would have allowed me to easily match, I read more closely. A smile came to my lips as I recognized lines from what I had laboriously hand-written the night before.  Lines from William Blake, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth. Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Donne, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and I cannot remember who else [it's been a long time] stood prominently before my eyes. 

The second portion of the test was multiple choice concerning basics of poetry. It included such particulars as what meter most of Shakespeare's sonnets were written in, what was the configuration of an Italian sonnet, examples of alliteration, assonance, and everyone's favorite, onomatopoeia.  It was so very basic that most of the seniors probably answered most of the questions in this section correctly.

I eased through the matching questions, filled in the blanks more easily still, then went on to the twelve short essay questions. We were asked to respond to just ten of the twelve. A closer look revealed that the test questions had been questions the teacher asked in class during lectures. I could recall having written the questions in my notes, and I could recall answers I had written to the questions. The first question asked for comparison and contrast of "The Waste Land" and "The Hollow Men," both by T.S. Eliot. I hurriedly regurgitated what I had written the night before on the note card, adding a brief original thought just so that the teacher would know that I was capable of original thought.  The next essay  question required an explanation  for the irony found on the statue inscription in "Ozymandius."  This, too, could be answered verbatim from the notes. Though I didn't have the notes upon which to rely, something had magically transpired in the copying of the notes, solidifying the information in my brain. I completed that short essay, again adding my own original thought to the teacher's lecture content. Another question referenced Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional," asking the student whether Kipling's writings likely indicated racism on his part or, rather, a mocking and derisive commentary on pervasive British attitudes toward race at the time. The essay questions that followed were equally straightforward and from lecture notes. I answered questions consecutively until I had completed the first ten. Because I still had twenty minutes remaining, I answered all twelve because I had nothing better to do with the time on the outside chance that the teacher might offer additional extra credit for answering all twelve essay questions. (She didn't.)

The teacher graded our class's papers that night and handed them back to us the following day. It didn't take her long, she said, because many students had not even attempted half of the short essay questions. I ended up with 100% on the test itself; adding the extra credit from the notes gave me a grand total of 125% Matthew and the junior both had scores higher than 100% after adding the 25% extra credit.  Attending only half the class sessions and being inattentive to lectures took its tool on the seniors. Three student managed to eke out scores between seventy and seventy-five per cent, but most of them barely passed or didn't pass. (Some hadn't even bothered to read the notes.) 

My mother was pleased with Matthew's and with my performance.  We hadn't made her look like a moron in front of two guidance counselors. She worked in the district office of the same school district in which we were enrolled, and she really didn't want the guidance counselors, who were technically her job inferiors at the time, spreading rumors of her incompetence. We had dinner Friday night at a restaurant to celebrate. 

It was gratifying to know that I could hold my own with older students in the class. What was most important for me, however, was the understanding I gained of how it was that I most effectively reviewed material and how I best learned. Taking notes, i realized, wasn't of such importance for me personally because I needed to review them. It was the actual act of writing out the notes, then writing them again as I transcribed them, that allowed me to internalize the content of the material. Some people learn by hearing (though not many; we've become a decidedly un-auditory society). Some learn by seeing things. Some learn by repeating things aloud.  We all have our particular learning modalities. The key here is for each individual to discover how he or she best learns and to use that knowledge.

I now use that knowledge almost daily when I'm in school. I keep the note cards that I write out, partly because we go through such an incredible volume of material -- and remembering some of it will morph into life or death scenarios for our future patients --  that I cannot expect to recall it with the ease that I remembered the particulars of the brief overview of English poetry. I now have a practical need for the note cards. Still, the writing of the information is what locks it into my brain in a way that nothing else does for me personally.  




Monday, June 26, 2017

The World of Coca-Cola and Other Atlanta Tourist Traps

I
one of my favorite rooms in the entire world


n 2003, when I was eight years old, my family toured the South.  Because we only had ten days to see whatever it was that we saw, we almost certainly missed things of relative significance in the region, but I don't know anyone who isn't forced by time constraints to prioritize from among the various tourist attractions at any given vacation destination. My parents first had to decide what cities to visit during our trip.  

Atlanta was a city both of my parents really wanted to see.  We almost didn't see it, though, because one of my father's sisters was living there with her family at the time. None of us wanted to waste any of our precious ten days visiting with my Aunt Claudine and Uncle Virl and however many of their eight obnoxious children had made it to Earth at that point. The decision was ultimately made to visit Atlanta but to do so on the down-low. No one in my father's family was to be told that we visited Atlanta, as the result likely would have involved the hyper-sensitive Claudine taking it personally and having to go back on anti-depressant medication. (Someday I'll get around to sharing the disastrous situations that eventuated from Matthew and me having been told to keep our visit to Atlanta a secret.)

Atlanta was one of the more eventful sites we hit on that trip. I don't remember everything we saw while there, but I do recall going to Centennial Olympic Park, attending an Atlanta Braves' game, touring CNN's studios, touring Margaret Mitchell's house and museum (my mother's payback for having to sit through an Atlanta Braves game), visiting the College Football Hall of Fame (my dad's payback for having to endure the visit to the Margaret Mitchell attraction), touring the Jimmy Carter library and museum, and seeing a Martin Luther King memorial site of some sort.  We skipped out on a reportedly fairly large aquarium there, as my parents concluded that we have perfectly good aquariums on California and it would be silly to travel three thousand miles to look at an aquarium. We always visited the state capitol building of any state capital we happened to be in, so we did a brief and uneventful self-guided tour there. 

I'm not either sure how many states I've actually traveled to or how many state capital buildings I've seen, but the one thing my tours of state capitols have taught me is just how much alike they all look, both inside and out, and what an utter waste of time it is to drag children through those buildings. In my mind it's all one giant tour, with the only one that I've visited noticeably different from the others being Hawaii's capitol building in Honolulu. Even the Alaska capitol looked a whole like all the rest I've seen.  If you are a parent and are planning any trips in the near future that may involve state capitol buildings, take my advice: ditch the state capitol tours.  Visit your own state capitol if your local school district doesn't schedule a field trip there, but those of the other states' buildings are a waste of your kids' time. 

One destination my parents couldn't have skipped out on without having my brother and me pitch major hissy fits was the World of Coca-Cola, as we had heard about the tasting room from cousins who had been there. I don't remember a great deal about the actual tour, but the tasting room at the end filled with machines dispensing [I think] 100 different kinds of soda was, in and of itself, my dream vacation.  We didn't have a whole lot of soda around when Matthew and I were little. It must have been in the house, and my parents probably drank it on the sly, but it was well concealed. We had soda when we went out for meals or were traveling, or for really special occasions like birthdays, but as far as day-to-day consumption of it was concerned, it didn't happen.

My parents decided not to attempt to regulate what we drank in the tasting room.  My dad had a great time drinking the really exotic stuff. I don't remember exactly what was offered, and the Coca-Cola people apparently change it up regularly, but there seemed to be a lot of tropical fruit-flavored sodas there. I recall there being a kiwi-flavored drink. My mom wouldn't try half of the sodas my dad thought were marvelous, but he's always been more adventurous than the rest of us.

I wasted my parents' money, my dad said, because I wouldn't try anything new that day. I had a bit of orange soda, then drank all I wanted of the regular Coke and Barq's root beer. I'm not sure how much soda I consumed. It filled me up but didn't, if I recall correctly, make my stomach hurt.

Matthew wouldn't drink the weird-ass stuff my dad was drinking, but he more than made up for it in sheer volume of Sprite, Coke, root beer, and Fanta orange soda that he drank. We bypassed the gift shop on the way out, which turned out to be a good thing. As soon as we reached the light of day through the exit doors, Matthew bolted for an area of plants between the sidewalks and immediately began puking his guts out. He must have thrown up steadily for two consecutive minutes. I remember him barely being able to catch his breath between barfs. My dad had to move him twice because he had filled up the planter area and it was over-flowing onto the sidewalk. I couldn't even guess at the total volume of fluid he expelled, but it was to the point that my parents were feeling nervous that he might have done serious damage to his gastric system and somewhat guilty about their decision to let him drink as much as he wanted.

Then, as quickly as Matthew had started vomiting, he stopped. It was as if nothing had happened. My mom took his shirt off of him because it had sustained collateral damage, and I would assume his sneakers received some splatter as well, but he was otherwise perfectly fine as he walked to our car in the parking garage. That night he ate a normal dinner and never had another moment of discomfort. I, on the other hand, could not be persuaded to eat any dinner that night. The soda had been more than enough, and my parents weren't about to force the issue and have any sort of a repeat of Matthew's exhibition.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Predators and Other Annoyances

He may look cute and cuddly, but he's not, which I assume you already knew.



In relation to where I might like to spend the first three to five years following medical school, I've given a considerable amount of thought to the animal populations in various locations. I've also thought about animal species in general, and how I feel about them.  In a zoo or similarly contained setting, basically any animal could continue to live and to breed in a controlled manner as far as I'm concerned. I would never work in a zoo, and only visit zoos when there's a really good reason, and I'm cautious while I'm there. We've all read and heard of small children and incredibly foolish adults falling into various animal enclosures. That sort of thing isn't likely to happen to me. 

Within the city of Anchorage, Alaska, more than two hundred black bears and as many as thirty-five grizzlies live. That's not in forests outside of Anchorage. That's WITHIN THE FREAKiNG CITY!  I wouldn't accept a residency there if I were paid two millions dollars a year for the privilege. (If they were paying more than that, I might consider it, but they're not, so it's a non-issue.) And if you're thinking of the TV show Northern Exposure and wondering if I could, as was the protagonist of the show,  be forced to work there in lieu of student loan repayment,  I have just enough money to pay for my final year of medical school. I won't be an indentured servant forced to work anywhere.

Mountain lions, cougars, pumas, or whatever a person wants to call them, are easily my least favorite animal on the planet. If I had my way, they would be extinct. I wouldn't give a damn what their elimination did to the ecosystem or the food chain.  There aren't a whole lot of them running loose around the neighborhoods I inhabit, but they have been seen in the outskirts of many major metropolitan areas, including Sacramento. I understand that they are there because of humans encroaching on their habitat, but I really don't care. I don't like them and never will. If someone wanted to go on a killing spree and get rid of all of them systematically, i would probably contribute to the person's expenses.

I'm not especially fond of either wolves or coyotes, but as long as they stay away from me, I'm willing to allow them to continue to exist.  I bypass their exhibits when I visit zoos because they creep me out  People who keep them as pets are, in my opinion, lacking in sanity. Among people who love wolves and coyotes, the sane ones typically agree that they're no meant to be pets. Someone will probably comment here that he or she knows someone who owns or owned a wolf and that it is or was a sweet-dispositioned and delightful pet. I will say in advance that I do not believe it.

Lice need to disappear. I'm not an expert about any form of lice except for head lice (pediculus humanus capitis). the other forms are creepy, but the less I know about them, the better. If the human race could get its act together, we could rid the world of head lice once and for all by insuring that the entire population had an adequate supply of louse-killing shampoo and both using it and taking the steps for nit removal (and removal from bedding, clothing, furniture, etc.) for roughly twenty-eight days. Lice cannot survive without human hosts. This cannot happen, however, because there are places in the world where water supply is so limited that the resident population could not afford to waste it on lice removal procedures.Furthermore, if people are dying of starvation in a given area, they obviously lack the energy to combat head lice, and doing so is a low priority for them, as it should be. If we ever find a way to eradicate hunger, deal with water shortages, and fight third-world diseases, head lice elimination could be the fourth priority. it won;t, though, because others do not feel as strongly as I do about head lice.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

We're Losing Our Racial Purity!



My grandfather has his sacred undergarments totally in a wad and his blood pressure well into the danger zone over something done by someone in the family other than I.  The recent source of my grandfather's wrath is my cousin Gina, who is a daughter of my Aunt Elyse and Uncle Lee. Gina had the unmitigated gall to announce her engagement to a man who is half Japanese.

Gina's parents have taken the news relatively well considering that they possess far from the most enlightened minds even in the state of Utah.  They did try to talk Gina out of marrying the guy (in his presence; what class my relatives display on an ongoing basis!) , but when Gina dug her heels into the carpet and said it was too late to change her plans because she and Spencer, her betrothed (counting my cousins, my cousins' offspring, and my cousins' spouses, he will be the sixth person in our family named Spencer, assuming the wedding goes off as planned and my grandfather doesn't send out a Danite hit squad to take care of the problem and preserve the family bloodline) have already registered at Target, Gina's parents conceded.  Is this my family demonstrating their characteristic tackiness, or is it Mormons in general who register for gifts before they've even informed their parents that they're engaged? And beyond that, if an engagement truly were a mistake, which it probably isn't in this particular case (an infusion of Asian ethnicity into an Arian bloodline can only be an improvement), why would a gift registry be a reason it couldn't be undone?

My Uncle Mahonri, despite his inclusion in the family being only by virtue of his having married into it, considers himself some sort of de facto patriarch in light of my grandfather's senility and my degenerate father's (the oldest son's) abdication of the role by having denounced the family religion, went to my Uncle Lee and offered the benefit of his wisdom. "Call it off, Lee," Mahonri told him. "Just refuse to sign the consent forms, and they can't get married."

"Mahonri," Lee told his brother-in-law, "There are no consent forms for me to sign.  Gina's twenty-three years old. She doesn't need my consent to get married."

"You're wrong, Lee!" Mahonri said. "I had to sign forms for my girls!"

"That's because both of your daughters got married at the age of sixteen," Lee told Mahonri.

Mahonri probably failed his eighth-grade U.S. Constitution exam. "Never mind," Mahonri said as he let himself out of Lee's house the same way he let himself in. Mahonri has helped himself to keys to the homes of everyone in the family except the California relatives.  

Uncle Lee felt obligated to try to rationalize the situation to my grandfather in such a way that it would seem almost acceptable to the old geezer. "Think of it this way, " Lee explained. "It's better if she marries a guy who's half-Japanese who treats her right than if she marries a white guy who beats her or cheats on her or drinks coffee."  

My relatives are so damned enlightened that it almost kills me.

Textile-Optional Tennis (which means some of the people playing tennis are naked)




I spoke with my sweet Aunt Cristelle earlier this evening. I mainly called to ask how things are going with her newly adopted infant, who is named Greenwich Marzipan Coriolis, if anyone is keeping track. The name is vaguely of interest to me at the moment, as it relates to a response to Jono that I very recently wrote.  In my response, I wrote of the slippery slope that is embarked upon when a government becomes in any way involved in the process of granting permission to procreate. A person can apparently be so deficient in cognition as to lack the ability to differentiate between his or her own rectum and a sidewalk sewer access hole and yet still possess the ability to impregnate or to be impregnated.  The act of sex, it would seem, does not rank tremendously high on Bloom's Taxonomy of Critical Thinking Skills.

Like begets like.  Morons typically produce other morons.  This process could possibly be stopped, or at least slowed, by the government involving itself in the right to procreate. Most of us agree, however, that governmental involvement in anything seldom improves a situation.  Jono and I were lamenting all of this, or at least part of it, in relation to the asinine names that truly stupid parents bestow upon their children.

I proposed a solution that establishment of evidence of minimum competency be required before a parent is allowed to name a kid.  If the parent is too damned stupid to pass whatever test we agree upon to establish said minimum competency, the hospital registrar would get the privilege of naming the child. If the parent, in addition to being too stupid to establish minimum competency, is also too stupid to go to a hospital to give birth, the county birth certificate registrar would get the privilege. What, some might ask, would guarantee that a hospital or county registrar would also possess standards of minimum competency? There's no iron-clad guarantee, I concede, but odds are in favor of the employee being smarter than the parents who are giving their children names like La-a (pronounced La-DASH-a, of course, because a dash isn't silent).
We'll ignore for the present the obvious discrepancy of - within a word or name technically being a hyphen and not a dash, because who among us has ever heard of anyone named La HYPHEN-a?

It occurs to me that many people would look at the names my Aunt Cristelle and Uncle Mendel have given their children and would assume they must be among the parents who fail to meet minimum competency standards. Yet my Aunt Cristelle is a licensed pharmacist and my Uncle Mendel has a PhD in philosophy and a Master of Science degree in geology. I wholeheartedly agree that the names they have given their children are fucking stupid. In their defense, I will say, however, that their children's names are all spelled correctly.

Anyway, in the course of my conversation with Cristelle, she told me of a vacation she took with her husband and children to Finland right before their new baby was born [to another mother and given to them]. At their resort there was, among other things, a textile-optional family tennis facility.(Textile-optional  means clothing is not required.) Cristelle and Mendel and their two children, I am pleased to report, kept their clothing on while they played tennis. At least that is what my aunt told me, and I choose to believe her because visualizing any other possibility is too repulsive a prospect even to consider.

Seriously, textile-optional tennis? With the possible exception of gymnastics, I cannot come up with many activities I would rather not engage in or observe others as they engage in  sans clothing than tennis. What person on the face of the Earth who has attained sufficient stature life to have accrued the necessary financial wherewithal to build or to buy a resort would then decide to designate tennis at the facility to be textile-optional?  The world is going to Hell even faster than we think.


Monday, June 19, 2017

The Road Not Taken



A critical point in my education has arrived.  I now need to decide, as in in the next thirty-six hours (give or take thirty minutes or so), what branch of medicine I wish to pursue.  It's not as though I will be contractually obligated to stick with that branch of medicine forever or to face dire consequences. Hell, I could, halfway through a residency, change courses and go with a totally new specialty. For that matter, I don't even have to continue to practice medicine if I decide at some point that I don't like it. When I complete my residency if things go as I'm currently planning, I will be twenty-eight.  Some people, as hard as it seems to imagine, haven't even decided what to do with their lives by then. It's also not as though a formal declaration of specialization is required, but, rather, I need to apply for a sub-internship; my choice of sub-internship specialization may limit to some degree the areas in which I will be considered a desirable candidate for residency.It's not totally closing out any given option, but it is a major step in the decision-making process.

Medical school itself has been a jarring experience. Most of us, though not all of us, in medical school went through elementary school, high school, and undergraduate education being the brightest students in most of our classes. Suddenly we're thrown into a setting in which we're no longer cognitively superior to our peers, or, if I'm going to be perfectly honest in stating it, to the competition. It is a competition. It always has been and always will be. The powers that be can implement any snowflake-facilitating grading system they can possibly dream up, but we're still going to compete for stature and superiority. Only one of us can claim to be the smartest in the group now. That person is, unfortunately, not I.

Now I'm in a position of serious self-assessment. What can I bring to the table that is stronger than what the competition has to offer?  The ability to take in information, commit it to memory, and synthesize it, which has made me a virtual genius in every other educational setting in which I've found myself, is no longer, in and of itself,  enough. Close to  half of the cohort is in my league in regard to the ability to process and retain information quickly. It could be worse, of course; I could be in the half of the cohort who cannot process and quickly commit to memory vast amounts of content.  Then I would be working even longer and harder than I'm currently working.

In addition to discovering some domain within the practice of medicine at which I'm actually proficient, I also have to find an area I like. Sometimes what we would enjoy doing and what we're good at are two circles in a Venn Diagram with no intersection. Being proficient is most important, as the patient recovers from acne or doesn't, has an arm that mends as it is supposed to or doesn't, or even lives or dies in  some cases based largely upon how well a doctor does his or her job.  How personally fulfilled I am at the end of the day is a secondary consideration at the very most. Still, a doctor probably isn't going to be all that proficient in the long haul if he or she is unhappy in doing his or her job.

Much can happen yet to derail my plans or at least to cause them to change course.  Still, it is time to devise a plan and to set the course in motion to achieve it.  Two proverbial roads have diverged in a proverbial yellow wood. I can't stand here staring as far as I can for much longer. It's time to go down one path or the other . . .  and Robert Frost has been no help at all.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

NAMES Revisited: My Friend's Dissertation

Warning: This post is less politically correct than are my usual posts.





One of my high school friends is writing her doctoral dissertation in educational psychology. I don't want to post her title, but the topic concerns the effects of names on children's social and academic success.  She picked a great topic. I suggested to her that once she has turned everything in, it's been approved, and her degree has been conferred, she should edit the content, removing the boring educational statistics and other pedantic material that's only there to satisfy requirements for fulfillment of her degree, informalize the language if doing so would make it more readable, and either look for a publisher or self-publish through Amazon.com or a similar outlet.  She said that if she's not so sick of the entire project by the time she has completed it, she will probably publish it in some form.  Meanwhile, she has a few tips for prospective parents or anyone else who cares, which everyone is free to consider or to ignore.

I've written about names here before. Names are a particular concern of my mom's. My friend, Caitlyn, who is writing the dissertation, interviewed my mom for the project. My mom has charted statistics regarding names since she entered the field of education thirty years ago. She firmly believes that the average parent can set a child up for success or doom the child for failure based on the name alone. I don't think my mom seriously believes that you don't have to talk to your child, or even  feed your kid regularly or change its diaper if you pick a sufficiently good name, or at least I hope that's not what she would want someone to get from her research. I would hope, rather, that her point is that a name can be a deciding factor in a child's academic, and to an even greater degree, social success.

What Caitlyn has concluded after looking at my mother's data and that of many other researchers, is that some parents are highly intelligent and were successful as students. If those parents find each other, boink each other, and raise any children they happen to create  in the process in a somewhat sensible fashion, unless some sort of mishap occurs with genetics, gestation, or the standard roll of the dice that is inherent in making a baby, the children will likely experience academic success as well. Likewise, some parents have considerable social success as individuals. They're probably naturally cool people. We all know a few of those people. Most of us, unfortunately,  aren't those people. If those cool people marry or otherwise become a cohesive unit,  barring the same mishaps with genetics, gestation, or the luck that is always involved in creating a baby, any babies created by these cool parents will, with a high degree of probability, turn out to be cool individuals who experience social success in every direction they turn. 

If you are one of those smart people who has experienced nothing but success in academics,  unless you get something like a third twenty-first chromosome thrown into the mix or something equally flukish, and assuming you can forego booze for the better part of nine months,  your child will probably turn out to be smart and academically successful. Whatever name you choose for your child will, henceforth and forever, in the minds of all who come to know your child, be associated with a high degree of intelligence and academic success, even if you name your kid something like Quasar, Colo-recto, Blaze, Sha Nay Nay, Bambi, or Na'Tequila.

The same is true of the cool people who co-mingle their gametes, except they have a chance of producing an ultra-cool child who is the epitome of social success even  with the addition of an extra twenty-first chromosome.  Those parents will make any name cool with the mere act of bestowing it upon their kid.  Those parents could name their child or children Guy, Cliburne, Don Juan Quixote, Barxalotte, Fartsalotte, or Pelvicia, and instantly propel those names into local eternal cool-dom by the simple act of having graced the name with their child's or children's association and associated coolness. 

In the extremely rare case of parents who are both socially and cognitively/academically successful [Note: it doesn't usually work if one parent is smart and the other is cool; in such cases, Murphy's Law usually comes into fruition, and the resulting offspring wind(s) up neither all that intelligent nor in possession of the social skills needed to locate the cool kids' table in a cafeteria of a school exclusively for students with behavior disorders, or to find the cool seat on the short bus even if you give the kid a color-coded diagram or smart phone app to assist him in finding it. Any child resulting from the unprotected coupling of such parents must be named Isabella, Sophia, Aiden, or Jackson, or something else on the Top Ten list. One must take no chances with the naming of the result of such a potentially meteoric pairing.], any name will do. The parent may take a name from the top 100 list for the decade or the millenium, or the parent may blindly draw eleven scrabble tiles and combine them in some form to produce a pronounceable (or, for that matter, an un-pronounceable) name.  Probably nothing by way of naming the child will screw him or her up, and you are enhancing the local status of any name you choose by virtue of gracing it with your child's identity.

Most of us, however, even if we're lucky enough to be academically successful, do not have any sort of monopoly on all that is cool. Most of us would be wise to consider a few basic extrinsic and intrinsic properties when naming our children.

Don't give your son a name that has been, historically, a male name but is now trending more strongly for the female segment of the population. Consult available Social Security lists or other reliable lists of popular names both for your state or province and for the nation in which your child will most likely reside. (Alexis is a girl's name in English-speaking regions. It's more commonly a boy's name in Spanish-speaking locations.) Perhaps even more important, scan both actors' and characters' names of popular TV programs and movies, and check out lists of high finishers of televised reality- or talent-based competitions.  And if the child you're expecting is a girl, don't give her a name like Daniel just to be different even though it is less likely to be socially stigmatizing to her. Be kind. What if you start a trend? Then all the little boys whose unsuspecting parents named them Daniel will be teased and bullied for having a girl's name even though God himself couldn't have predicted that Daniel wouldn't be a boy's name before their sons were finished using it. If you don't have a conscience, grow one.

Despite what the current list of popular boys' names says, don't name your kid Liam. Almost any child named Liam will grow into a self-centered, narcissistic, whiny, impulse-driven jerk. Ask anyone who has taught elementary school in the past ten years. He or she will back me up on this.

This one can be difficult to predict too far down the line, as new insulting terms find their way into the vernacular of our language all the time, but try not to choose a name for your child that rhymes with an obscenity or with an obvious epithet. (For  that matter, don't rhyme your child's first name with his or her last name, either.) Playground bullies love to torment sweet, unsuspecting children. Don't make it easy for the bullies of the world. Just as you would not send your child to school with a literal target painted on his back, don't send him out with a metaphorical target.

You may want to avoid the incredibly popular names in most instances of naming children. Most children would prefer not to be one of five Isabellas or Aidens in a classroom. If you're absolutely in love with the name, however, go for it; give the name to your child. There are worse things in life than having a popular name. In most cases, names are popular because they are nice names.[ Notable exception: See Liam.] The verdict is that children with overly popular names usually like their names better than do children with extremely obscure or made-up names.

Likewise, most children don't want either to go through life having to spell their names aloud or having to correct the mispronunciation of their names because Mommy and Daddy so wanted to be different that they invented a new spelling of a standard name or, even worse, came up with a name that either phonetically doesn't match its spelling or can be pronounced phonetically in more than one way. It may be either the drugs from labor still in your system that are influencing your brain in not-so-good ways, or it may be the champagne that you drank immediately following the birth to celebrate the fact that your doctor successfully removed the foreign object from your crotch in a single piece so that you no longer are experiencing pain every three minutes -- each time lasting two minutes and thirty-five seconds -- that is so intense that you would be forced to -- with your bare hands or with whatever tools that might be handy ---  kill the person who caused you to be in such a condition  were you to have experienced even one contraction more. Whatever the reason, whatever the inspiration, it's not a positive force that is leading you to believe that Jerremey is a superior alternative to Jeremy, that Gill is somehow better than Jill, or that Mareyea is for any reason a better spelling of either Maria or Mariah -- whichever pronunciation you intended and would have expected every substitute teacher [or regular teacher on the first day of school] your child would ever encounter to possess the psychic power to know which name you were attempting to replicate with your creative or otherwise non-standard version of spelling. If you desire to be creative, make pottery or write haikus.  Do not force the unintended effects of your creativity to inconvenience your child for the entirety of his or her life.  If your child really wants to be different or to be noticed, he or she will find a way of achieving distinction or notoriety.  You do not have to predispose him or her to stand out in a way that is not desirable with your choice of a name or your dumb-ass way of spelling the name.

Think of resulting initials when naming your child.  Consider the implications of a child having to go through life with the  initials created with the following names: Grayson Andrew Young, Amelia Savannah Sorenson, Fabian Alexander Green, Faith Ursula Carter, Bruce Owens, Penelope Michelle Smith, Stephanie Tabitha Davis, David Oscar Anderson, or Samuel Oliver Bennett. I've only scratched the surface.

Despite following all conventions and considering every common sense rule of naming a child, disaster can still strike.  A psycho with your child's first name can commit a heinous crime.  With YouTube and other media, just about anyone who is sufficiently desperate for fame can achieve it by doing something really stupid and then publishing it for all to see. (The fame or infamy resulting from these acts of YouTube idiocy are, fortunately, usually short-lived.) Your daughter can marry a man and take his surname, and it can form something that sounds really silly or worse with her existing name. (Women are not forced to take their husbands' names upon marriage.) Therefore, with everything that can potentially go wrong despite your best intentions, you owe it to your future child to control all the variables associated with his or her name that you have the capacity to control.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Sting of Childhood Criticism


I'm pretty sure I never looked quite this bad because even when my mom was in the hospital, I bathed daily, but this is more or less the mental image I have of myself.


I'm writing this post for myself more than for anyone else. The same is true for many of my posts, but such is especially the case for this one. Above all, I don't want anyone to think I'm asking people to feel sorry for me. My experience may be different than someone else's, but probably neither a whole lot better nor much worse. Not one of us is likely to have gotten through childhood and adolescence entirely unscathed, and we all carry a few scars as a result. If my parents read this, I certainly don't wish for them to feel that am blaming them, as they probably did the best parenting of which they were capable, and most of that of which i'm speaking was beyond their control.

I grew up believing I was almost certainly one of the ugliest people on the planet. I'm reluctant  even to put it into words, because I know there are people who will read this and think I'm practically begging them to say, "Of course you're not ugly, Alexis! How could you even think that?" and I don't think it any more.  Throughout my childhood and teen years, I felt it very strongly, though, and almost everything anyone said to me about my appearance confirmed my feelings.

My parents didn't tell me I was ugly, of course. They would never have been so unkind. They tried instead to teach me that, while fitness and cleanliness were important, physical beauty really wasn't.  It was important to be a good person and to become intelligent.  In teaching me that, however, they reinforced the feeling I already had that I must be ugly or they wouldn't be dwelling so much about how unimportant it was to be pretty.

I had relatively few instances in which others actually told me that I was unattractive, but it doesn't take very many occurrences of being told in one way or another that one isn't especially good-looking before a child starts to believe it.  I mentioned the cousins -- particularly Rilene and Marthalette, but the others joined them -- referred to me as looking like an aborted fetus.  At the time they said it , I didn't know what it meant, but I eventually found out.  And while they didn't continue to address me or refer to me as an aborted fetus because my mom had such a complete meltdown over it, they still called me fetus.  In looking at pictures of myself as a very young child, I get why they called me that, as my features looked underdeveloped when I was a young child, but those children were old enough to know that they were being very unkind to someone who was much too young to defend herself.

I mentioned in a blog a long time ago that in first grade, when our Scholastic Weekly Reader or whatever the classroom news magazine was called featured an article  about tornadoes, a classmate named Sandra raised her hand and volunteered that the picture of the tornado looked like Alexis, because it was skinny and its fragments looked like my hair in the way it was always slipping out of its braids,  and everything around it was messy just like my clothes were always a complete mess.  Everyone in the classroom  laughed. The teacher didn't refute anything that Sandra said and didn't make any attempt to stifle her own laughter.  That was the year my mom was battling leukemia, and my dad spent most of his time in southern California with her. He hired the twenty-five-year-old sister of my uncle-by-marriage to care for us, but she spent most days and evenings lying on the couch watching television, and she spent the food allotment my dad left for all of us ordering take-out food for herself and leaving Matthew and me to fend for ourselves. The only clean clothing I had to wear was whatever I had laundered myself and, at the age of five, I hadn't thoroughly mastered the techniques of laundry. I wasn't allowed to use the iron and wouldn't have known how to iron anything that wasn't flat even had I been allowed access to the iron. The teacher didn't yet know the extent of the poor quality of care my brother and I were being given, but she did know that my mother was hundreds of miles away in a hospital and that my dad was with her. She could have shown just a bit of compassion instead of laughing at me.

Then I had the witch of a fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Moore, who gave the class her beauty lectures aimed at me.  "Not everyone is pretty," she would usually say first. "There is at least one girl in this class who is not pretty at all. But if she -- and other girls who are not pretty -- would just be sweet, other people wouldn't notice so much that she isn't pretty."  Several times, other girls in the class asked me why Mrs. Moore always looked directly at me when she gave the "pretty" talk. I didn't know for certain that Mrs. Moore was staring directly at me. I always looked down in shame during her speech because I knew instinctively that she was talking about me. I remember Cynthia  -- Sandra's much nicer twin; they had attended the same school as I did in first grade, and in fourth grade both of our families moved and we ended up in the same school again -- telling me, "I don't know why Mrs. Moore always has to look right at you when she talks about how important it is for girls who aren't pretty to be sweet. I don't think you're that much uglier than anyone else in the class." Being told you're not that much uglier than anyone else in the class may sound like faint praise, but it was possibly the closest thing to a compliment in regard to my appearance that I had ever heard. Then there was the somewhat devastating incident in the fall of that school year when Mrs. Moore mocked and ridiculed me for how my class picture turned out. The positive outcomes to that situation were that my parents became aware of Mrs. Moore's abuse and removed me from her class, and that by dad took me to a salon and had my hair chemically straightened so that it wouldn't be so hard to keep it looking neat.

Probably the one thing I had working in my favor was that I wasn't overweight. I received my share of criticism for being too skinny, but from everything I've heard, being too thin is a much easier stigma for a child to bear than is being too fat. In looking back at my pictures from my childhood, I can somewhat objectively say that, while I was far from being a flawless beauty, I was at least average in terms of little kid cuteness.  Most of the time it probably didn't occur to my parents to tell me that I was either pretty or cute because they were trying to raise a daughter who placed more value in character and intelligence than in looks. In my after-the-fact assessment of their parenting in that regard, they did the wrong thing for all the right reasons. They would neither have destroyed my character nor squelched my innate desire to learn by telling me that I looked pretty a few times.

I know now, objectively, anyway,  that my appearance is at least average, particularly on occasions when I take a bit of extra time with my hair and makeup and wear clothing that flatters me to some degree.  I also know that I'm not the only female who grew up feeling un-pretty.  My feelings were probably far from unique. Many if not most girls probably grow up far more aware of their flaws than of their attractive features. Most of us are either vain or insecure, or possibly even some unlikely combination of both.  

It's easier, or at least it seems that way to me, for boys. Boys don't have to be pretty. It helps if a boy is not overweight or has no obvious glaring blight to his appearance, and if he's lucky enough to be outrightly handsome, that's all the better. Regardless, society in general has greater willingness to accept a male child for his character, his intelligence, and his capabilities, than to accept the same for a female child. Furthermore, I was thin, sometimes pale,  and messy, but I can now see objectively that my physical features were not unattractive. There are little girls, on the other hand,  who really are a bit homely. And while they may be the best soccer players on their teams, or the best violinists or dancers in their studios, those honors come with huge imaginary asterisks beside the girls' names.  It's as if being unattractive dwarfs their other qualities.

If I ever have a daughter, I will think she is pretty even if other people don't see her as I do, and I will tell her that she is beautiful on a regular basis without worrying that I will cause her to become vain or to value physical appearance over more substantial characteristics.