The missionaries’ suntans contrasted with the rain falling outside Angela’s porch. They wore raincoats with the same lemon color as the house’s trim, and their facial expressions reminded her of puppies begging for attention. As the woman held up a plastic-bagged copy of The Watchtower, Angela rubbed sleep out of her eyes. Maybe she could invite them to use the bathroom and get a drink of water? Should she check with Mike first, or just assume that her husband had slept through the ringing doorbell? As she debated with herself, she noticed that the man’s face was changing: his cheekbones rose, his nose widened, and his skin bronzed to match Angela’s own complexion. “Derek?” she whispered.
The alien winked and put one finger to his lips.
“Come in come in.” Angela held the door wide for them. As they climbed the narrow, dimly lit staircase, she heard a door open on the second-floor landing. She called up, letting adrenaline power her voice: “It’s OK, sweetie. Old college friends.” Derek lowered the raincoat hood. His hair curled as it retracted into the scalp. The woman followed him, and Angela took up the rear. “You must be Kimberly?” Angela whispered.
Kimberly looked bashfully over her shoulder. Her lips had tinted themselves an un-Christian shade of red. “Sorry if we woke you. Your phones were off.”
“We were up late,” Angela admitted. “Just talking.”
Safely inside the apartment, Kimberly embraced Angela’s husband, a white man with a shaved head and a Vandyke beard. Angela kissed Derek on the lips, muttered something about how awful she looked, and took both raincoats to the bathroom. Between flushing the toilet and turning on the sink, she heard Mike’s question “So, honey, how’s that invasion of Earth coming along?”, and Kimberly’s laughter.
If you can provide feedback, I can provide the whole story, which runs to about 2,600 words.
At some point while researching a story, I came across information on companion planting. One of the suggestions from that page was that plants in the Allium family, including onions, are good to plant with fruit trees, because they deter pests. So when we had a couple of onion bulbs destined for the compost bin, I offered to plant them next to the apple trees in our yard.
I don’t know if they are doing any good for the trees—given everything else in our yard, slugs and aphids are the least of their problems—but since I got to see what the flowering stem of an onion looks like, I can’t say the effort was wasted.
- 1:09 p.m.
- President Obama warns that if the debt ceiling is not raised by August 3rd, Social Security, disability, and veterans’ checks may not go out.
- 2:56 p.m.
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) proposes an escape hatch that would allow the President to unilaterally raise the debt limit, subject to Congressional disapproval. (The Democrats would be fools to accept this plan, but it represents a massive step backward from the Republican position that any debt-ceiling hike not accompanied by massive spending cuts and zero tax hikes is unacceptable.)
- 5:27 p.m.
- Right-wing Republican base has a cow.
- 6:56 p.m.
- House Majority Leader John Boehner (R–OH) says he likes Senator McConnell’s plan.
- 7:40 p.m.
- Grover Norquist says he kinda sorta likes the plan.
The Puritans of the colonial era believed in Calvinist theology, which states that God chose who would be saved from eternal damnation, and if He didn’t choose you, nothing you did could change His mind about your fate. In order to join their churches, you had to convince the church elders that you were one of the Elect, which you did by describing your personal conversion experience; this experience proved that God had laid His hand on your soul and brought you into the fold.
Since insomniac children is a hot topic these days, I ought to share a story of our own adventures in this department.
When our youngest son was two years old, recently transferred from crib to toddler bed, he discovered the joys of getting out of that bed, opening his own door, and visiting his parents. The standard parenting-manual advice for such situations is to deposit the straying child back in his own room, with as little drama as possible, but we feared that no matter how well we kept our poker faces, he was having such a good time with this game that he would not bore quickly.
Screaming at the kid was a tempting proposition, and would have been cathartic in the short term, but probably would not have solved the problem in the long run.
So we employed a technique from the behaviorist canon: “reinforcing the positive opposite”. Rather than discouraging him from getting up, we tried to encourage him to stay down. (Or at least, to stay in his room.) The first step was to reward him for staying in his room, with the door closed, for thirty seconds. For the first few days of the exercise, even this was an accomplishment worth praising.
I stayed in the hallway behind the closed door, mentally counting down. If the two-year-old emerged, I put him back in bed, poker-faced, and restarted the count. If he stayed in his room for the alotted time, I went in, praised him effusively for staying put, reminded him that more cuddling would be his if he would stay in bed, and began counting down again from a higher number. One minute… two minutes… three… five… eight… thirteen… no, I’m not obsessed with the Fibonacci sequence, why do you ask? If he seemed pretty solid about staying in bed for one minute on Monday night, then we might dare to begin Tuesday night with a two-minute timer.
It took a few months of this discipline to break him of the get-out-of-bed game entirely, and I did occasionally wonder if the positive reinforcement was really an improvement over the “just send him back whenever he gets out” technique. However, three years later, all three kids go to bed at the same time, and the youngest one reliably falls asleep before either of his big brothers. Indeed, he falls asleep so promptly that on Saturday and Sunday mornings, he wakes up before either of his brothers, and at seven o’clock, he drags me out of bed, demanding breakfast.
Be careful what you wish for.
Whitey Bulger, who used to be the FBI’s second-most-wanted man, told a Federal magistrate in California that he needs a court-appointed attorney.
You’d think that a retired mob boss facing nineteen murder charges would have enough loot stashed away, somewhere, to hire a good lawyer. Maybe he invested his ill-gotten gains with Bernie Madoff.
Reading various essays on the racial politics of the new X-men movie—see, for example, Ta-Nehisi Coates, N. K. Jemisin and Matthew Yglesias—reminds me just how sophomoric the whole “let’s use mutants as a metaphor for the oppressed minorities of the real world” conceit is. I mean, if African-Americans could fly or shoot laser beams out of their eyes or read white minds, the whole civil-rights movement would have turned out a bit differently, eh?1
And when I squint at the idea long enough, it reminds me of how people who have not grappled with their own prejudice can relish their “positive” stereotypes about marginalized groups. Jews are smart; Asians are stoically hard-working; African-Americans have natural rhythm; Roma have magical powers; gay men have excellent taste; etc.2 I guess I’d rather have undeserved praise than undeserved condemnation, but compliments based on a stereotype are not really compliments, and the Jews who are “smart” one year can be “crafty” the next.
A well-chosen metaphor can illuminate the truth in a way that literal statements cannot, but this one does more to obscure than illuminate. Better super-metaphors, please.
1 Now there’s a concept for a superhero comic.
2 There’s another concept: The League of Stereotypical Heroes! Umm… maybe not.
Seized with an idea for a short-short, I put aside the story I am working on in my Copious Free Time for long enough to write “Dying in the Zone”.
“My friends,” the crime lord says, “if we could all put our weapons down, I’m sure we could make some kind of arrangement.” You watch him strike a wooden match and draw on a cigar; his cheeks bob in and out under thick black sideburns until he is puffing blue smoke around it. The view out the window is a pixel-perfect Arizona sunset. The bodyguards who flank him do not lower their revolvers. Neither do you.
“The password, Mr. Franklin,” repeats Dmitri. His weapon is still fixed on the bodyguard across the room, a stout, sunburned man whose paisley vest is straining at its buttons.
Franklin says nothing.
“Don’t think your simulated henchmen frighten us. If they kill us here in the Zone, we just wake up, relaunch our apps, and find you again. If—”
The smoke, overpowering the smell of sawdust, makes your eyes water. Franklin laughs. His eyes dart between you and Claire. “If they kill you in the Zone, you wake up? Did this charlatan—” he gestured with the cigar— “actually tell you that? My dear, dear friends, once you get beyond the practice levels, if your avatar dies in the Zone, your real body dies along with it.”
As usual, if you are willing to comment, I am willing to send you the whole thing. It’s less than 550 words, which is a change of pace for me.
Rivalry among elite universities serves an important social function, because if alumni of these schools did not regard one another with some suspicion, they would be more likely to team up and fleece the rest of the country even more than they do today. It’s sort of the flip side of Jay Gould’s quip “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”
P.S.: Jay Gould, the nineteenth-century financier, should not be confused with Stephen Jay Gould, the twentieth-century Harvard professor.
Matthew Yglesias points and jeers at an NYT article on how Newt Gingrich is trying to sell his third wife as an asset to his Presidential campaign. Gingrich, one of the leaders of the effort to impeach Bill Clinton for his marital misdeeds, negotiated the terms of his divorce with his first wife while she was recovering from uterine-cancer surgery. He broke up with his second wife after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Callista Bisek, his third wife, had been Newt’s mistress during his second marriage, but she convinced him to become Roman Catholic, so I guess there won’t be a third divorce.
Gingrich’s marital adventures are a perfect metaphor for the Republican model of governance. If you are fit and attractive, then handsome and powerful Uncle Sam will be happy to let you decorate his arm; once you actually need his help, he will cut you loose.