Immature

I’m not immature, but I have to admit to having done a double-take every time I saw the name of the school.  While living in Edinburgh my wife worked for a short while at the Medical School and I couldn’t help but notice the official name of the associated veterinary school: The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.  I was sure Dick was a surname and yet little boys never grow up, it seems.  Fast forward to just last week when I had occasion to look up Arcadia University, here in Pennsylvania.  For those of you who’ve never had the privilege of being an editor at an academic press, I’ll say that one of the things we constantly do is check out colleges and universities.  In the case of some church-related schools it’s easier to get the straight dope from Wikipedia before going to their actual websites.  I never rely on Wikipedia alone, of course.

A defunct college (Marvin College). Image credit: Nyttend, via Wikimedia Commons

Still, the Wikipedia page for Arcadia explains that the school had to change its name because internet searches were being blocked for sexual language.  The former name of the school?  Beaver College.  Human beings have a very wide variety of slang words to refer to our genitalia.  I suspect part of the reason is the fun of establishing, and violating taboos.  There are many schools that could fall into this category (Ball State comes immediately to mind), but when it gets to the point that search engines block you because they assume your mind is in the gutter, what choice have you got?  Changing names is a big expense and even bigger hassle, but everyone searches for everything on the web.  It’s our common reference book.

I don’t know whether to believe Wikipedia on this point or not, but I know from personal experience that employers or commercial servers can block “offensive” information.  I’m a religion editor.  When I took our car in for service some years back—they have free wifi for customers so they can work while they wait—I soon found I could not get onto any websites mentioning religion.  Given my job, that’s a bit of a problem.  The garage had blocked it as a taboo topic, perhaps for good reason—I have no way of knowing.  What it means is that my wife now has to take the car in for service.  Regarding Arcadia, it probably doesn’t help that it was an all-female school.  Its first name was Beaver Female Seminary.  Things have changed since 1853, but I’m afraid that those of us who are immature still find this a little funny.


Double Feature

Creature features were a regular part of my youth, and, I suspect, where my appreciation of horror films began.  Nobody was really afraid of Godzilla or other monsters that were clearly people in rubber suits.  The use of forced perspective to make regular-sized animals into giants was obvious even to a child, but that didn’t make such movies any less fun to watch.  The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews both involve gigantic versions of rather small animals and both of them were produced outside of the studio system by Gordon McLendon, the owner of a chain of drive-in theaters.  Looking for B-movies for double features, he decided to make a couple of his own.  These two didn’t cost that much, but the special effects artist, Ray Kellogg, agreed to do them if he could be the director.  Together they make quite a double-feature of their own.

The Giant Gila Monster is never explained beyond the effectively shot beginning stating the who knows how big some things grow in the unexplored west.  Not even using a real gila monster, the lizard (unlike Komodo dragons, which one expects, were too expensive and untamable) isn’t aggressive and seems, from my perspective, to be just barely putting up with the fake trees and models it has to crawl over and around.  And everyone, apart from Mr. Wheeler, is nice.  The local Texas teens want to drag race but Chase Winstead, the gold-hearted mechanic, keeps them in line.  It’s a perfect world, in a Republican kind of vision, except for that darned giant lizard.  Winstead even figures out a way of getting rid of it so the authorities don’t have to.

The Killer Shrews, in reality puppets and dogs dressed up as shrews, is more adult-themed.  Four scientists on an island—contradicting the voiceover at the opening—have bred giant shrews.  The supply-boat captain and his Black mate are trapped on the island by a hurricane, where the mate predictably gets eaten by the escaped shrews.  McLendon himself appears as an over-the-top nerdy scientist while the producer, Ken Curtis, appears as another, more action-oriented man of science.  In a move a little unexpected for the fifties, Dr. Craigis’ bombshell blonde daughter is also a scientist.  But she’d be willing to be a sea-captain’s housewife if only she could get away from these awful shrews!  There’s a bit more tension in this one as one of the scientists is already engaged to Miss Craigis, but he’s a drunk and she wants out.  So might some audience members, but both films found international distribution and made money.  Now widely available for free, they are a slice of childhood served up in giant proportions.


Naming Conventions

Okay, I confess.  Every now and then I do it, but then, a lot of people do.  Perhaps because I’m trying to figure out who I really am, or perhaps because I’m looking for any reviews of my books, I search for myself online.  Various search engines (I prefer Ecosia) bring up different websites near the top, generally those with large numbers of hits.  I was surprised to find a website that gives away lots of personal information, even in the description so you don’t have to click on it.  One bit that caught my attention about myself was where it said “Steve also answers to Steve A. Miller.”  That’s incorrect.  My mother’s second husband was a Miller.  He never adopted us.  One thing that kids fear, however, is being teased and the name “Wiggins” came in for quite a bit of teasing in rural Pennsylvania.  We started using “Miller” since both our mother and stepfather used that name.

What is it with the singers? Photo credit: Capitol Records, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, I only later found out that “Steve Miller” was an up-and-coming pop artist at the time.  That singled me out for more teasing.  It didn’t help that I didn’t like Steve Miller’s musical style.  I still don’t.  I kept the name Miller up through seminary.  When I was preparing for ordination I was also rediscovering who I was.  A wise minister I knew told me that since there were two names out there for me, I’d need to nail down one to keep.  Although we’d only recently officially changed names to Miller, my brothers and I had to officially change them back to our birth names.  In a way perhaps inconceivable today, as I recall it, we simply introduced ourselves at our new schools (we had to move after the wedding) as “Miller.”  We registered for Social Security under that name, and nobody batted a lash.  Maybe we talked with an inexpensive lawyer at some point?

Only as an adult did I feel that my birth name was my heritage.  I suppose some of those who friend me on social media, who knew me in high school or college, wonder who “Steve Wiggins” is.  They only knew me as “Miller.”  Changing names is a pain.  I can understand, and support women who want to keep their “maiden” names.  It confuses our dowdy society even now, but one thing about marriage is that it generally involves two individuals.  But then I glanced down at the next entry.  This person, apart from living in a state where I’ve never resided, had even the same middle name as me.  Who’s the joker now?  I don’t answer to that name any more. And no, I didn’t find any reviews.


Pitfalls

While watching Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum, it occurred to me that these movies have improved with age.  The series of American International Pictures’ Corman Poe productions do manage to capture a mood.  One of the reasons, I suppose, is that Vincent Price was an able, often underrated, stage performer.  No, these aren’t like modern movies.  They’re clearly fictional and the backdrops are pretty obviously fake and it always seems to be thunder-storming outside. They are going for a mood, and for those who watch films for the feelings they generate, this can work.  Although based—very loosely—on Edgar Allan Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum was screen-written by Richard Matheson, an able novelist in his own regard.

The Poe story hinges on the terror of the slowly descending pendulum and it has been used and reused in various guises over the years in everything from horror films to James Bond movies.  Corman’s Poe movies often set trends.  For example, in the backstory to Pit and the Pendulum, Nicholas’ (Price) father was a member of the Inquisition.  He kept a personal torture chamber in his basement—well, he lived in a castle, after all.  One of the victims of his father was Nicholas’ mother, an event the young Nicholas witnessed.  A very similar scenario, with even some similar shots, occurs in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.  I’m sure it must occur elsewhere as well, but in making a narrative of the story, this is my own unprofessional observation.

Yes, Corman is often over the top.  His films know they’re for entertainment purposes.  He’s not above camp and gimmicks.  The strange juxtaposition, in my own case, is that movies are meaningful.  Ninety-minutes to a couple of hours relieved from the constantly pressing demands of work and trying to maintain some sort of social life.  (And yard work.)  In ancient times, I suspect, myths served a similar purpose.  They still do.  Our myths have become more Technicolor over the years and have evolved from celluloid to pixels.  Their function has also evolved from escapism to a location of meaning.  On a recent weekend on my own I ended up watching five movies, feeling guilty between times for not painting the porch or doing that plastering that’s requiring attention in the attic.  The movies, however, give meaning to these other more mundane tasks such as work or housekeeping.  They’re not literally true, I know, but we need not disparage Roger Corman for stating the obvious.  Myths entertain as well as inform.


Some High School

I have a soft spot for bad horror.  And Sleepy Hollow High isn’t exactly good horror.  It’s not horrible horror either.  It follows the story of five teenage delinquents at Sleepy Hollow High School.  Threatened with expulsion, their only choice is to do community service.  In this case that means picking up trash in the eerily secluded town park.  I won’t give away the one big spoiler, but it’s fair to say not is all that it seems.  It’s very low budget (paid for by credit cards and estimated to be $16,500) shows in several places, but it does keep you watching.  And wondering, to an extent.  It claims that the legend of Sleepy Hollow is true, but not exactly in the way you might think.  (Sorry for being cryptic—I don’t want to give too much away.)

One of the reasons I appreciate efforts like this is that I know what it’s like to be possessed by a story you want to tell but being unable to find a publisher—or in this case, a distributor/studio—who’s willing to take a chance on you.  The movie is largely the effort of Kevin Summerfield and Chris Arth.  They are listed as co-directors and co-producers, and each has credited roles beyond that.  Neither one is famous, and yet they made the film anyway.  It’s the same impetus behind self-publishing, I suspect.  The problem with the latter is that anyone can do it, and it often shows.  Most of us don’t have access to proper movie equipment, props, and actors willing to work for free.  Heck, I don’t even know most of my neighbors.

Movies like this stand a chance of becoming cult favorites.  I have no idea how that happens or who makes the call on it.  Low budget (often), cult films catch the imagination of a certain kind of fan and eventually generates some buzz of its own.  Wikipedia articles will appear about some of the people involved because those who watch grow curious.  Our highly developed publicity systems make decisions on who or what gets exposure.  That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t get a small dose of attention now and again, but those who’ve made it have had some help.  Sleepy Hollow High was perhaps able to cash in a bit on the previous year’s Tim Burton effort, Sleepy Hollow.  But there are horror movies—and stories—out there that nobody knows about.  And which might, if discovered, have their fifteen minutes.


Yelp Me

Do you remember the Yellow Pages?  Or even phonebooks, for that matter?  (Or wall phones?)  They certainly weren’t perfect, but they tended to be updated yearly (at a great cost in trees).  That meant that they tended to be almost up-to-date.  You’d find the business you sought, and call them to ask for their hours, or directions.  Now we rely on the internet, of course, and the number of businesses that you can find has exploded.  And they open and close with bewildering rapidity.  It took me a couple years of googling to figure out that Yelp was a rebranding of the Yellow Pages.  I also feel sorry for any company that has to try to keep up with the current status of things.  It does seem, though, that Yelp could use some help.

Although it might seem impossible, many businesses still exist without websites.  And if you’re looking for a type of business in a specific city or town, you need to know, first of all, what’s there and what’s not.  The big boxes are never a problem, of course.  When I travel to a new location, however, I want to know what bookstores I’m likely to find.  I’ve done this a number of times recently.  Type in a city name and “bookstore.”  (In the case of Reading, the city name didn’t help at all.)  Yelp helpfully shows up at the top but it lists many establishments that have closed.  Even some of those that are open are virtual and don’t have a store you can wander around.  More than once I’ve come to a place only to discover there’s no longer anybody home.

Independent bookstores have been doing pretty well through the pandemic.  Many people have rediscovered reading.  Since they are seldom crowded, they feel like safe spaces during Covid.  And chances are that people who hang out in bookstores have been vaccinated and will likely be wearing a mask.  The problem is finding such places.  I have to say that Pennsylvania seems to have a healthy population of bookstores.  There are several in the Lehigh Valley and I’ve been pleased with the treasures I’ve discovered elsewhere as well.  Finding them hasn’t always been easy.  One of my favorite used bookstores here in the Valley folded during the pandemic.  Fortunately there are others.  Google maps sometimes work better than Yelp, but nothing beats getting out and exploring on your feet, except sitting at home later and reading what you’ve found.


Odd Getaway

It’s small.  Almost cramped, you might say.  But then again, a Pennsylvania Railroad caboose wasn’t really designed to be a two-bedroom apartment with en suite bath.  Why the Gideon Bible was laid open to Ezra 2.62–4.19 I couldn’t fathom.  I suppose the story begins in Wisconsin, and ends up with me deep in Trump territory for an overnight getaway.  Let’s start at the Badger State.  I’ve always been a sucker for the unusual.  In that regard, I suppose getting a job at Nashotah House was inevitable.  When I spied Weird Wisconsin in Books & Company in Oconomowoc, it became an obvious birthday ask.  When we moved to New Jersey I learned that Weird NJ was a magazine as well as a book, and I bought, and read, every issue.  I also bought both volumes of the book and those of nearby New York and Pennsylvania.  It was in the latter that I first read about it.

The Red Caboose Motel began as a kind of a lark in the late sixties.  A Lancaster county man bought a bunch of cabooses at an auction and then had to figure out what to do with these tons of steel.  He settled on refurbishing them as individual hotel rooms.  I read about them in Weird Pennsylvania and hoped that someday I might stay in one.  My family, feeling restless after more than two years of pandemic isolation, wanted a short staycation.  Hotels involve corridors and breakfast rooms, often tiny, and too many Americans just won’t get vaccinated.  This seemed an ideal opportunity to spend a night in a discrete, self-contained caboose.  And, I admit, to tick something off my bucket list.

Driving behind Amish buggies to get there after a hot day on the streets of Lancaster—a surprisingly busy and loud city—the Red Caboose felt like a good getaway.  Given the number of cars parked outside cabooses, we weren’t the only ones with this idea.  Lancaster is more than just Witness territory.  Known for its boutique shops and pretzels, as well as its thriving Central Market, it’s a busy place in July.  Bumper stickers and loud, aggressively roaring pickup trucks indicate that outside the city the Trump myth reigns supreme.  In town we visited two independent bookstores, one of them quite large.  With at least seven to choose from, Lancaster feels like a readerly place.  Indeed, I could, had I the money and time, envision renting a caboose for a month or two to do nothing but write.  Why they wanted me to read about rebuilding the Jerusalem temple I just don’t know.  I’ll chalk it up to being weird in Pennsylvania.


Stay Safe

I’m not an impulse buyer.  Having grown up poor, I tend to walk into stores with a list firmly in hand and I don’t deviate from it.  Advertising has virtually no impact.  I don’t pay attention to ads unless they’re for things I know I need, and even then I shut them out most of the time.  I do let my guard down in independent bookstores, however.  So it was that I found in Aaron’s Books in Lititz, Your Guide To Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village.  It was totally an impulse buy, easily read in a sunny afternoon in a caboose motel.  Or a rainy afternoon in an English manor house.  Maureen Johnson and Jay Cooper have produced a wonderfully witty illustrated guide here.  It helps to have lived in the United Kingdom for a few years.

Shelved face out in the thriller section, it’s a great opportunity for murder-mystery, gothic literature, horror movie fan types to laugh at themselves.  Some parts are snort out loud funny.  Okay, so I was on staycation and being a bit free with cash for a change, but I’m sure I will keep this one near my desk and turn back to it from time to time.  Maureen Johnson is known for her young adult novels and Jay Cooper is a children’s book illustrator.  Their talents, however, work together incredibly well for this slightly naughty guilty pleasure read.  The Wicker Man even gets a nod or two.  Something that those who disdain horror don’t often realize is that it quite frequently has its own sense of humor.  It’s an intelligent genre that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  At times it does, of course, but those of us who are fans can tell fantasy from real life.  Maybe.

Independent bookstores are starting to make a comeback.  A significant part of our population isn’t on board with retailers trying to convert everyday life to the metaverse.  We want to hear our music with the occasional pop and microphone hiss.  We want to drive our own cars.  We want to browse in actual bookstores.  Given my buying record online, I have to laugh every time I look at the recommendations.  The electronic world brain doesn’t know me very well at all.  It assumes it knows why I bought that ladder or that round blank four-inch stamped electrical cover.  Some of us play in nontraditional ways with such things.  And we get ideas from wandering into independent bookstores.  As long as they’re not in quaint English villages.


The Birds and the Bees

Our house came with a wood-plank fence surrounding the yard.  This is a dog neighborhood and just about everyone has a fenced in yard to keep their dogs in check.  It’s more the birds and bees that have me worried, though.  The fence, which is in need of some attention, is bare pine stained redwood.  As the stain fades carpenter bees find it irresistible.  These insects are great pollinators and we don’t like to gas any creatures just doing their evolutionary job.  Painting that fence will be a summer-long project and one that requires far more sunny weather than we tend to get around these parts.  So we have a fence with several carpenter bee homes.  (These are ubiquitous insects in this area, with lots of people complaining about them.  We have, however, the only wooden fence in the neighborhood.)

The other day I heard a knocking while I was working.  I looked out the window to see a downy woodpecker, well, pecking at the site of one of the carpenter bee homes.  This industrious little fellow had three holes in the post by the time I got downstairs to startle him or her away.  Now, you have to understand that this is a large fence.  We didn’t put it up but we have to keep it up.  Then I thought, “I was worried about the carpenter bees.  Why should I be worried about the woodpeckers?”  Holes can be patched, and fences can be painted.  I hope the neighbors don’t mind a white fence.  In any case, I left the woodpecker alone after that.  Besides, I can’t be outside all day long—I have a day job.

Over the next several days the pecker became a regular visitor.  I’d be working and then I’d hear a now familiar knocking.  I decided to watch once.  I keep a pair of binoculars in my office because I see lots of birds that I want to identify—there’s a park across the street.  At the risk of the neighbors thinking I was spying, I trained them on Downy.  It was amazing how effective its bill is on a four-by-four.  It quickly cleared a hole, stuck its beak in, and pulled out a fat carpenter bee grub.  Down it went.  A centimeter to the right it repeated the procedure.  Carpenter bees, which are so territorial when building their nests, seem to have forgotten their young.  Perhaps it’s for the best.  This bird was one well-fed flier.  And I’d finally learned what they mean about the birds and the bees.


Internet of Nothings

In the vast internet of things, it’s surprising that you can’t order some specific things.  This became clear to me recently when there were two separate things I was looking for.  I know these things exist.  You can find them on the internet, but they are not available in this area.  One of them is very mundane.  Lath.  You see, the previous owners of the house wired up the attic, which is handy.  To do so they had to break through the plaster and they removed several sections of lath.  Like a squirrel digging for a forgotten nut, they did this several times, leaving holes in the wall with exposed insulation.  One of my projects since moving in has been to plaster over these holes.  The gaps are so large, however, that you need lath to replace the discarded pieces.  

Our local big box hardware stores don’t carry it.  If you find it in a large urban store, they can’t deliver it to a local branch, and shipping isn’t available for this item.  I realize drywall has triumphed—I prefer it myself—but doing the entire attic is a major expense.  I just want to plaster up the holes.  No lath, no how.  At the same time I began to look for Top Ramen soy flavor for quick lunches.  It is the only inexpensive vegan option with the much coveted flavor pack.  I know it exists and that it is available in Ithaca, New York, the last place I bought it.  Although the brand is in our local grocery stores that variety is not.  It’s listed on Amazon, but as unavailable.  (Amazon, by the way, insists that you want to buy a lathe if you type in lath.  If it finally accepts “lath” it’s clear it has no idea what it is.)

So I went to the website of the Top Ramen parent company, Nissin.  They list the product as available.  They don’t ship themselves, not to small customers, but they helpfully tell you stores nearby where you can buy it.  Their vegetarian varieties are “not available in your area.”  Not even Amazon can get them.  This to me seems odd.  Nearly every day I read about the greatness of the internet of things.  Anything can be had in this market.  If you’re looking for something specific, whether it be thin strips of cheap wood or thin noodles without beef broth for your lunch, you can’t get those in an area within about 250 miles of one quarter of the US population.  Of course, I have until lunchtime to sort this one out.


Redacted

A friend recently introduced me to Redactle.  Yet another of those daily internet games that have become trendy in these pandemic years, Redactle gives you a page that looks like a Freedom of Information Act piece from the government.  Most of the words are blanked out and all you really know it that it is taken from one of the significant pages on Wikipedia.  You get some clues from the format, the way the prepositions and articles they give you are arranged, and occasionally, the punctuation.  You just start guessing words and it fills in the blanks as you get hits.  Like most things of this sort, there’s one puzzle per day, otherwise none of us would ever get anything done.  I’m a sucker for learning games, so we’ve been playing it as a family for a few days now.

A redacted file from the CIA, via Wikimedia Commons

The thing that has surprised me the most in our early on is that the trickiest ones to get right were on religions.  In our first week of play, two of the puzzles were religions: Lutheranism and Shaktism.  We’d been able to guess famous people in two dozen guesses, and countries in about the same.  Religions are trickier.  Despite having studied religion my entire life, my thought process doesn’t include guessing words like “theology” and “worship” for important articles on Wikipedia.  (In the case of Shaktism it took well over 100 guesses.  I taught world religion maybe fifteen years ago, but I haven’t kept up with my Hinduism.)  In the case of both of these religions what eventually gave them away was the place names: Germany and India.

India, of course, has been the birthplace of many religions.  The majority of Indians today are Hindu, but Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism were also children of India.  Even in this increasingly secular world, religions remain the driving forces behind lives.  So much so that some religionists consider Secularism a religion.  The fact is we all believe something.  It may not be supernatural, but then not all religions are.  They often brush up against philosophy at their most sophisticated end, and literalism is the least developed form of any belief system.  With some exceptions it doesn’t pay well to be a religionist.  Perhaps that’s because thinking hard about religion reveals uncomfortable truths.  Not only that, studying religion is no guarantee that when you have to fill in the blanks you’ll be able to guess one when it’s right in front of you.  That’s why I appreciate learning games.  


Bright Idea

No, I didn’t see a long tunnel with a light at the end, but I did have soot on my hands from the flash.  I’m no electrician and the ordering instructions weren’t clear about how to get the dryer installed, as well as delivered.  The driver, who spoke English haltingly, told me he would not set it up.  There was another problem with the order: the dryer cord was for a four-pronged outlet, but our house has a three.  I suppose that’s why the cord doesn’t get attached to the appliance.  Now, we lived in Scotland for three years.  Electronic devices there are sold with a cord that you have to wire into the plug yourself—different places have different outlet types.  With fear and trembling I’d wired a lamp or two.  I prefer not to play God when it comes to electricity.

I don’t know how many appliance-related deaths happen each year, but I’m sure it’s not a null set.  Here’s what happened.  A week after delivery I found time to go to the hardware store to exchange the four-prong for a three-prong.  I went home and wired it up.  The plug didn’t fit into the socket.  Muttering under my breath, I turned to the internet to find out what had gone wrong.  Well, it turns out that electric kitchen ranges are also not wired sometimes, and they take a different three-prong plug with wires handling different voltages or whatever.  Yet another weekend came and I finally got the right cord.  A little insecure from the two attempted efforts, I put the plug in the socket to see if it fit.  A bright spark and a loud pop occurred.  Two of the connectors had been touching and I’d closed the circuit.  If I’d been holding it differently, I wouldn’t have survived the experience.

As a child I once electrocuted myself, quite by accident, it is an experience I never wanted to have again.  I was so shook up after being so close to it again that I couldn’t face going back to the store to see if they had another one—the cord was now soot-blackened, and useless.  Living in a capitalist society my mind immediately turned to my electric bill, wondering how much that light and sound show would cost me.  The dryer is energy-efficient, all the more so for not having ever been used up to that point.  Now we’re hooked up and ready to go and I’m thinking how fragile life is.  And how, in middle and high school we had to have wood shop and metal shop but not a thing about that favorite tool of the gods—electricity.


Capital Idea?

One of the most difficult parables in the New Testament is the one where Jesus praises the fraudster (in Luke 16).  In case you’re a little rusty it goes like this: a steward of the king learned he was losing his job.  Knowing his employment prospects were like those of a mid-career religion professor, he called in his masters’ debtors and slashed the amounts they owed so that they’d think kindly of him.  When the king finds out, instead of growing more angry, he praises the steward for his shrewdness.  The parable seems to not condemn deceit and his left both scholars and laity scratching their heads ever since.  I’ve never, in my long church going career, heard a sermon extolling fraud.  The good book can be tricky some times.

The parable came to mind because I’ve been the victim of the fraudulent use of one of my few credit cards.  I only have two.  One of the reasons for this is that it’s difficult to keep track of everything as it is.  Life is busy.  I have most of my bills set to autopay so that I don’t forget to do it when an email reminder comes.  I don’t remember the last time I used actual money.  Writing a check is a rarity.  How my credit card was hacked I don’t know.  I didn’t notice right away because the charges were always small and spaced out.  I caught on when I hadn’t been using the card in that lull after Christmas and the exact same amount was charged two months in a row.  I called the company and they confirmed that similar small charges had been going on since December.

Now I picture in my head a scene where the criminal is caught and in court they use the Bible in their defense.  I’m sure it wouldn’t happen that way, but it’s an interesting idea.  Who’s going to argue against the Bible?  Heck, most courts can’t get those who know Trump’s many crimes to get their cases ever heard!  What do we do when the Bible distorts the moral narrative?  The fraudster, after all, is breaking at least one of the ten commandments.  Of course, those are negotiable these days.  The right wing’s endorsement of violence to maintain power shows that.  So it seems a prudent time to consider the parable of the fraudster.  We might still have something to learn from the Good Book after all.


Companies

Perhaps you’ve seen them too.  Big companies that express what they do purely in platitudes that apparently impress business types.  I’ve looked at some of their websites and after considerable poking around I can’t conjure even a ghost of an idea of what they do.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we all know what companies like Exxon, Random House, or even Planned Parenthood offer.  They have a function—a product or service that you can recognize.  Some of these vague large corporations seem to exist simply to exist.  And get paid for it.  It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Lisa asks a corporate executive woman what her company produces and she answers “Synergy.”  We see these “centers of excellence” popping up here and there.  Excellence in what?  Excellence is a quality, not a commodity.  Or maybe I think too small.

Someone I know recently changed jobs and I looked up the company she’d switched to.  It obviously had money for a slick website and an office in Manhattan.  The list of industries it supports as clients was wide and impressive.  But what does this company actually do?  They spew platitudes.  Corporate climbers apparently like this lingo.  You’ll never catch me citing “best practices.”  Are they trying to imply that the rest of us use worst practices?  Do they mean a better way of doing things?  Why not say what you mean?  I like to play with words.  It doesn’t pay very well, but I’m wondering if I’m perhaps missing an opportunity here.

We could form a company that spins out new corporate phrases to make business sorts sound intellectual.  We wouldn’t actually need to do anything except attend company meetings about our company and throw out a few phrases likely to become trendy.  Maybe hire a publicist to get those phrases going.  Surely some company has the money to spend on that.  Those of us who actually do peddle words for a living have trouble getting big corporate money.  Publishing is a low profit-margin business.  But a company that makes you sound intelligent?  Priceless.  Growing up there seemed to be only a few standard jobs.  Of course, I lived in a small town where the options were indeed limited.  Each of them, however, had a defined role.  You knew what the job entailed.  This new company, which will have a vague name, will be in keeping with the times.  Who’s with me?  Just be sure to bring your checkbook.


Namely Coincidences

One of my very first posts on this blog was about how I am not the Steve Wiggins who is a gospel singer.  There I mused on the coincidence that we share fore and surnames, as well as an interest in religion.  He is far more prominent than I am.  I don’t sing.  Since that time the most prominent Steve Wiggins on Google is the one who shot a police officer in Tennessee.  We don’t even share the same name, technically.  My given name is Steve, not Steven.  The branch of Wiggins I come from, however, is from the south.  Stephen F. Wiggins, even further removed in the name-spelling department, was CEO at Oxford Health Plans.  Now, I work for a publisher that shares one of those three words, and it’s the one that’s most specific.  Are Steve Wigginses drawn to the same places?  Another Steve Wiggins, just a couple years older than me, lived in Russellville, Arkansas.  I grew up in Rouseville, Pennsylvania.  Coincidence?

Our sense of individualism is, it seems, socially conditioned.  If we try to imagine life in earlier human social structures, such as hunter-gatherer society, it looks as though people tended to function more as a collective organism.  The benefit of the group was the deciding factor, rather than what an individual wanted.  No doubt this was a more harsh environment for those who liked to think for themselves, even though evolution had given us that capacity.  Biology, however, seems to have species survival as its goal.  Individuals die while the organism lives on.  In modern society we consider individualism as one of the highest aims.

Our names individualize us.  I sometimes think of countries like China that have a combination of very large populations and a tradition of short names.  With limited numbers of possibilities repeats in names becomes inevitable.  It’s a prominent aspect of our western society that we want name recognition.  We want to feel special.  Unique.  We work against evolution, but evolution has vastly more time than we do.  Perhaps we’ve gone too far with our individualism.  I hope we don’t have to step back as far as The Matrix, but maybe a movement in the direction of the social good over individual wants would be the right thing to do.  Our psychology makes us want to feel special.  Our biology wants us to play nicely together.  Who, in the end, wins out?  It could make a world of difference.