Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Universe Doesn't Care about You

Tell me if you've heard somebody say something like this:

"The universe must be watching out for me!"

Or, "The universe must have something in mind."

Obviously, they're attributing personal, godlike qualities to the cosmos—usually without really examining their presumptions.
It's actually a hangover from the sloppy pantheism and mysticism that were common in the '60s. But don't tell them that.

(Thank you, Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Paramahansa Yogananda, Steve Gaskin, Richard Alpert, etc.)

But it's worth asking: Does the universe really care about you?

Here's a thought experiment: Imagine you actually "slipped the surly bonds of earth" and ventured out into the benevolent universe, far from the atmosphere and gravity that we're all used to.

What would happen?

Your body would explode into billions of undetectable particles. And you'd be gone.

And the universe wouldn't bat an eye.

Even if it had one.

Here's the thing: The universe doesn't care about you.

God does.

By the way, most of us first heard those words about "slipping the surly bonds of earth" when Ronald Reagan uttered them after the Challenger space shuttle disaster--in a beautiful speech written by Peggy Noonan.

They came from a poem written by Canadian aviator John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Soon thereafter he was killed in a training flight with the RAF. That was December 1941.

He was nineteen.

Here's the whole poem:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

5 Great Words That Don't Mean What You Think They Mean

  1. Bombast. Maybe it’s because it has that word bomb in it, but bombast is often misused to describe harsh, exaggerated, or over-the-top rhetoric. Actually, it refers to speech that’s pompous or pretentious. Originally, bombast was a name for the cotton padding used in clothes. So when you hear a speech with lots of padding or filler—that’s bombastic. Or, (ahem) it could describe writing that has the same qualities.
  2. Hypocrite. We all know that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. Right? Well, actually, no. The word derives from the Greek word for a stage actor—someone who’s pretending to be someone else. So, if you‘re not living up to your own standards—that just means you’re human. If you’re pretending to do so—then yes, you’re a hypocrite.
  3. Diffident. This word is sometimes used as a synonym for arrogant or aloof. Actually, it describes someone who is timid or shy (dif-fident—the opposite of con-fident).
  4. Stereotype.When we hear this word, we automatically think of ethnic or racial stereotypes. But it originated in the printing trade, referring to a plate of type made of cast metal—so the printed image it produced was always the same (from Greek stereos, or solid, and type—meaning, well, type).
  5. Hackneyed. Book reviewers love to skewer hackneyed—meaning trite or stale—prose. And we've all heard the shortened version: hack politicians, and so forth. But the original definition is much more noble. Hackney refers to a breed of high-stepping English horses that were once used to draw carriages. Their use in such a common activity eventually led to the derogatory connotation.

So, impress your friends. Use these words; just use them right. Please.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Power of Language

Bob Dylan
People have spent years analyzing the song lyrics of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, looking for hidden messages.
But the real deep content can be found in the pop and doo-wop records of the '50s and early '60s.

Take a look at these lyrics.

Recite them, out loud. Preferably with other people around.

Do it over and over.

Then, you'll understand ...
Shoobie doobie wah doowop eewobbie wobbie
Shoop shoop shanga langa shingabop
Wop wop padda padda wop wop shoobop doobop
Dum di di dee dum de dum dee dee dum di di dee dee dee dum
Dum dum diddly dum
Doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo
Doolang doolang doolang
Yakadula yakadula
Dum dum dum dumbie doowah
Sha la la doobie wah dum dum dum
Bo bo bo dimbodeeay Da dee da dee da deeyah
Dum dum dum dumbie doowah oh yay yay yay ah oh wo wo wo-ah
Sha na na na sha na na na na
Shoo doo shoobedoo
Scoobie doo
doo wop group

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Some Words Are Just Funny

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

That quote has been ascribed to nineteenth-century actor Edmund Keene, and various other sources, but its truth is borne out by the many people who have tried to be funny and bombed.

A corollary is that humor writing is hard too. Making people laugh at words on a page may be one of the most daunting tasks a human can undertake—right behind parallel parking.

Fortunately, there are some words that make it easy. They sound funny all by themselves.

Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

  1. Snorkel
  2. Brouhaha
  3. Gherkin
  4. Diphthong
  5. Hornswoggle
  6. Bungee
  7. Hooligan
  8. Aardvark
  9. Platypus
  10. Kerfuffle
  11. Carbuncle
  12. Pollywog
  13. Boondoggle

The list grows.

And life is funnier because of it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Time of Darkness

Nigeria. Egypt. Sudan. Algeria. Kenya. Niger. Somalia. Syria. Lebanon. Gaza. The West Bank. Iraq. Iran. Pakistan. India. Afghanistan. China. North Korea. Vietnam. Cambodia. The Philippines. Indonesia.

And now, the Central African Republic.

Christians around the world are being tortured, imprisoned, enslaved, raped, burned alive, beheaded, crucified, and shot in numbers never before seen in history.

It should be the number one news story of our time. But it's largely ignored, or characterized as "sectarian violence." As if the persecutors and the persecuted shared equal blame.

In the latest instance, 2,000 Christians swarmed the Bangui airport in the Central African Republic following a government takeover by Muslim rebels.

According to AP's Krista Larson and Lori Hinnant:

As night fell across the near anarchic capital, Christians fearing retaliatory attacks by the mostly Muslim ex-rebels crowded as close to the runway as possible, laying out their woven mats in front of a barbed wire coiled fence. National radio announced that at least 280 people had died, citing figures from local Red Cross officials.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department furrowed its bureaucratic brow and announced that it was "deeply concerned."

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .