Friday, March 30, 2007

Five Places I Get News on the Web

I get syndicated feeds from a bunch of sites. Lots of my interest is in education, what with the whole having kids thing and all (I know people are snorting and hooting and going, “Oh, YA THINK?” behind my back. I’m fine with that. Have a beer.) so my sources are weighted in that direction.

1. Education News : Extremely reliable, mainly national but some international links, digests, and guest columnists. Lots of resources, high quality source of information, mainly for K-12. Really, the majority of the information deals with K-8, but that’s probably more of a reflection on the ratio in original source reportage. Daily feed.

3. Wrightslaw: Not only is there a fascinating personal history for the founder of this website, the wealth of legal information and analysis is unbeatable. Wrightslaw covers news and legal updates for IDEA and 504 issues for kids with disabilities. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Many of the articles are also handy for general-purpose interactions with school districts, or in situations where there is a potential for legal action in the future. Plan to spend several days thoroughly investigating the website if this field applies to you, and sign up. The feed is weekly, I think.

4. Quirky happenings and headlines from This is True: Comes to you weekly and wittily in simple text format. Originator of the Stella awards for dumb lawsuits, a good site for rolling your eyeballs over Zero Tolerance interpretations, and lots of good humored stuff ‘n nonsense.

5. German Stuff at Although I don’t like the preemptory way the “about…” sites try to seize control of my computer, I’ll deal with it for this one. I recommend this site to everyone who wants to learn German, practice German, help others learn or practice German, or who just has an interest in the subject. There is lots of valid and vetted information here; it’s a truly professional quality site for reference and use for beginners and those who are refreshing their skills. Once a week updates on news, specialized vocabularies, word of the day (if you want it), all with advertising, but y’know, advertising happens.

Have a great weekend!

Oddball Word of the Day

rodomontade (ROAD-uh-mahn-TAYDE): n. arrant, arrogant boasting or braggadocio; ranting, blustering talk.

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

etwas in den falschen Hals kriegen OR
etwas in die falsche Kehle kriegen: to take something the wrong way

Origin: The picture is of food going down the wrong way, i.e. down the windpipe instead of the gullet.

zB: Meine Bemerkung dass sie eine lustige Frisur haette, hat sie in den falschen Hals gekriegt. Ich habe sie als Kompliment, nicht als Beleidigung gemeint.

auf Englisch: She took my comment about her having an amusing hairstyle the wrong way. I meant it as a compliment, not as an insult.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Knitting Knewbies

At my Chix group we get occasional newbies. I like them. They’re usually mostly clueless, which is why they’re newbies, but they’re so easily impressed it makes me feel like Steve Martin in “The Jerk” when he got so excited about being in the phone book.

Last night we got three newbies, and that was a lot of fun. They were impressed by knitting on circular needles, knitting without watching the needles, knitting on four needles, cabling, and following charts. Some of which I was doing, and some of which the other regulars were doing. It was kind of charming and sweet – we old-timers get so accustomed to knitting mindlessly that we forget what it’s like to be new and worried about every single stitch.

It’s also nice to be of assistance, particularly when the assistance is really simple. One knewbie has some problems getting her circular needle to stop coiling up on her, which a simple twist fixed. She also got confused as to the knit and purl stitches, also an easy fix. Sometimes we get a knewbie who is dogged and therefore creates wonderful things, but at great expenditures of time and effort – she’s working on a children’s sweater for a granddaughter, which incorporates cables, intarsia, textured stitches, and shoulder shaping. I think she’s pulled some parts of it out 8 times, but she just keeps clicking away, coming in for help, and to show us what she’s done.

I also admire these gals. I can be really self-critical and not want to show my own ineptitude in public sometimes. It used to be a leap of faith for me to walk into what could be an artesian well of snooty experts and admit I’m clueless. I found out the bonding and social potential of being in need of help some years ago, and it’s really an eye-opener to realize that asking for help is not only socially acceptable, it’s a good way of opening up a dialogue and being accessible to potential friendships and a wider circle of interaction.

Anyway, as for knitting, I have no pictures at present, but I’m making headway on the Charlotte’s Web shawl and a pair of self-striping socks. Maybe next week I’ll remember to take some pix.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

CPAs and IRS Lamaze

Well, hubs and I went to the accountant yesterday to get our taxes done. I had been doing the taxes during the early years of our marriage, what with the experience of growing up with accountants and penny pinchers behind me, but then I had Spawn one December, and I wasn’t up to doing the taxes that year, so we started using this particular accountant.

Our accountant is a special favorite of hubs’ for a couple of reasons. First of all, he used to bill himself, unofficially, as “The Shoebox Accountant,” which meant that if you brought him all your stuff in a shoebox, in no particular order and sometimes frightfully crumpled or spotted or horrible, he’d straighten it all out, fit for an audit or military inspection, and get your impossible taxes done. The second reason hubs likes our accountant is because he’s kind of a “shoebox” personified. His office is not your usual pseudo-banker looking professional office. Instead, it looks like a warehouse full of generally detested stuff in decaying boxes, which are lying at all kinds of angles, books stacked haphazardly around, computers cobbled together with all manner of dirty, used parts, and the boxes and grocery bags of his clients are stowed higgledy-piggledy around the office.

Also, the accountant is a lifelong, diehard Chicago Cubs fan, so he’s almost always wearing a Cubs shirt or cap, and the walls have a junk store appearance with yellowing Cubs posters, CPA plaques given to him by his loving children, or made in school decades ago, and maps. I’m not sure I understand the maps, but maybe they’re covering up holes in the wall or something. I like him because, despite his office’s startlingly jumbled appearance, he knows his stuff like the back of his hand and because his plants are usually dead.

See, his wife collects unique pots and puts interesting plants in them. When their house gets too full of interesting potted plants, some overflow into his office. There are bonsai trees, ferns, little succulent things, and other normally delightful plants. He and his assistant tend them carefully during the majority of the year, but then tax season hits, and they’re so busy they stop watering them and work 20 hour days on taxes, non-stop. So, by the time hubs and I come in, the plants are dead, browned and crispy-looking, the dried remnants of hopeful foliage, slain indirectly by the demands of an inhuman government agency. It’s allegorical. Or maybe just goofy enough to hit my funny bone at the right angle.

Over the years, we’ve sent several people to our accountant, people who are normally very prissy and image conscious, but they’ve usually gotten in over their heads, or they’re running late AND over their heads, and they need a tax rescue. He always does a great job, they love him, and he gets a lot of repeat business from our referrals.

Anyway, tax time is usually stressful for us because hubs’ job is, technically, as a self-employed captive insurance agent. This works out great for his company, since they get to charge him through the snoot for all the services they provide (letting him sell their insurance) and they have next to no accounting to do for him at tax time, and he has to pay all his own expenses, and his own staff, and all the other malarky. This means there is no tax withheld, and we pay Very Large Tax Estimates all through the year, the kind that are so huge that they make me wonder how we can afford groceries, and then we get to pay some more when all the damage is assessed.

Hubs gets more stressed out than I do, although since I’ve taken over the family accounting, his tax-time stress level has lowered. Yesterday, armed with balance sheets, register reports, and 1099’s, we headed off to Quirky Accountant’s office, braved the dead plants, the grocery bags and boxes full of other people’s paperwork, and the slipping piles of enormous tax tomes, and I handed over our neat little screaming orange file pocket of info. QA had the taxes done within an hour, which included a philosophical talk with my husband about a hypothetical situation involving a hypothetical other insurance agent client about funds and insurance law.

The tax bill was distressingly big again, as it always is, but I stepped in before hubs could get to the point where he had two lit cigarettes going at once and was pacing at light speed, and pointed out that over the last year we’d been living close to the vest for just that reason, and that we could pay the whole nut without having to sell even one of the children for medical experiments. I knew I wouldn’t like writing the check, just on principle, but the nice thing is that the check can be written without hesitation. Hubs halted halfway through pulling out his hair and did a double-take at me. The accountant and I glanced at each other because, under all the grocery bags on his side, and the maternal aspect on mine, we have a meeting of the minds at the bottom line. Hubs stood up from his stress monkey crouch, and smiled. We all relaxed. The taxes were done, the bill could be paid, and I promised to buy him beef sandwiches at Arby’s on the way home.

Hubs was more relaxed today, the day after T-Day, than I’ve seen him in years. I smiled benevolently at him over our morning coffee and waved him off to work. Then I did some Lamaze breathing for about 10 minutes and started writing checks. I felt like I was birthing the money, in bigheaded, screaming piles, but I wrote the checks anyway. And, off they go, all swaddled up in IRS forms with 1099 Binkies, inoculated by a CPA.

Sometimes, though, I do dream of sending the taxes off with insufficient postage, just to be annoying, but I’m pretty sure that would come back to bite me somehow. Breathe in, pant out; breathe in, pant out…

Anyway, as my public service for today, for those of you who donate to charity, rules are changing somewhat for your 2007 taxes. If you donate goods (such as knitted items) or cash, there are some new guidelines to follow. Applicable IRS publications are:

IRS Publication 526 on Charitable Contributions

Publication 561 Determining the Value of Donated Property

Oddball Word of the Day

tautology (taw-TAWL-ug-gee): n. unnecessary repetition of an idea in different words

(From the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Five Assorted Things to Ponder

My computer is finally virus free and working at a reasonable speed again, so…

1. I ‘ll be celebrating an important national holiday today, seeing as it’s National Chip and Dip Day. I don’t normally eat either, but it’s important to make my patriotism obvious and support our troops by stepping up to the plate (chip bowl) and batting (or dipping) away. Also, just for fun, I called up my republican house rep. And urged him to support HR1415, the Restoring the Constitution Act, so’s we can be a free country again, too.

2. My post on the Last Sock has generated a lot of nice comments. The latest one, which mentions using one’s Mensa card as a humor enhancer, reminds me of one of my first experiences with Mensa, or, at least, with another Mensan.

I had joined and not gone to any meetings or said anything to anyone about joining. I did put a little decal on my MomVan window, and it looked a lot like a Batman emblem. A pompous ass of a neighbor, who was always trying to convince anyone who’d listen about the absolute correctness of his point of view, asked why I had a batman sticker on my car. I told him it was a Mensa sticker, and he was much struck, telling me he was a Mensan also. He hadn’t been to any meetings either since joining, so he quit being a pompous ass to me, and I cut him some slack on thinking of him as a pompous ass, and we decided to make a group trip to the next monthly meeting, along with our spouses.

My husband gets carsick if he doesn’t drive (or maybe he’s a control freak, but let’s not go there), so on the night of the meeting, he and PA neighbor dude were sitting in the front seat of the neighbor’s car, the wife and I were in the back, and everyone was yakking up a storm except my husband. He was just sitting there, looking a little cranky. He rolled his eyeballs as the volume increased, and then he started making little motorboat noises – BRMMMMM, BRMMM. The noises got louder. He started miming driving the car, brrrrmmmmm-ing away, bouncing in the driver’s seat, leaning forward over the wheel, and so forth. He finally got everyone’s attention, and PA’s wife said, “HEY! Do you need the keys, maybe?” He put a big stupid smile on his face and nodded enthusiastically, and we all laughed for quite a while over the Mensans forgetting he might need the keys to actually get us to the meeting.

We keep in infrequent touch with our former neighbors, but if hubs or I forget to give the other one something obvious that’s necessary to complete (or begin) a task, a short “brrrm” will usually suffice as a reminder.

3. Der Foehn – in Austria, I could swear I heard it referred to as “die” Foehn, but that probably doesn’t matter to anyone other than me and my calcifying brain cells. Anyway, during the transition between Winter and Spring, there was occasionally a time when the air was warm, there was still snow on the ground, and people would be cranky, short-tempered, a little peculiar, surprisingly romantic or fey, and it was jokingly blamed on der Foehn – a warm Spring wind sweeping over the Alps. The hapless humans dwelling in Switzerland and Austria (and maybe elsewhere) were supposedly emotionally disrupted by it, and it caused a general sense of unease and sometimes inexplicable behavior. There may be more to it than that, but I probably wandered off in a Foehn-induced haze somewhere during the casual discussion of it.

Anyway, der Foehn has been sweeping through my house the last couple of weeks while the snow took its time melting. It seems to be gone, mostly, now, and I’m glad of it. It felt a little like I kept waking up slightly new (to myself) each day, and I had to get reacquainted with me – disorienting, but not necessarily horrible. Other family members were equally affected by it, so things were odd around here.

4. Bravo for coffee! For those of us who truly enjoy our brews, SciAm advises the middle-aged and happily caffeinated amongst us that we might not need to switch to prune juice after all.

5. The new principal at our local HS seems to have spent a quarter and bought a clue. After 15 years of tyrannical domination by an unscrupulous and popular football coach, said coach was retired, pretty forcibly. There was a huge, orchestrated outcry by his supporters, he made a splashy move to another district, and that district wound up, within a year, getting him charged with multiple violations of some state school sports code, and he quit there, made more headlines, and is, quite predictably, suing everyone in sight to supplement his already overly-generous pension receipts. In a very dark corner of my heart, I hope he gets crushed by a bus full of Odyssey of the Mind contestants on their way to do voluntary community service by helping out at the Special Olympics.

Anyway, the new principal, not someone I would previously have crossed the street to spit on, is restoring some academic integrity to the high school. The senior slack-off year, full of courses that did not require books and barely required attendance, has been dealt a deathblow – hurrah! Instead, seniors have to take any core classes they may have missed, with added challenging options of dual credit with the local community college, work-study programs, and a number of other things that get a nod of approval from most of us concerned parents.

I am crossing my fingers and hoping for, over the next several months: a) the death of the block schedule and return of an 8 class day, b) increased rigor being brought back to foreign language classes, social studies, and English, c) further AP classes being offered, d) a big shake up in the teaching staff, removing some destructively dead wood and putting remaining teachers where they will do the most good, and e) the return of a GOOD German language sequence.

Oddball Word of the Day

borax (BOr-aks) n. cheap or shoddy merchandise, esp. furniture

(from the MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

German Idiom for Friday

jemandem ein Gesicht schneiden: to make/pull a face at someone

zB: Als Friedl ihre Freundin Astrid sah, schnitt sie ihr ein Gesicht. Sie hatten sich naemlich wegen eines Jungen gestritten.

auf Englisch: When Friedl saw her friend Astrid, she made a face at her. You see, they'd had an argument over a boy.

(from the Guide to German Idioms by JP Lupson)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Whoops, I’m in the USSA!

A little local blog defines itself as follows:

“This blog is about promoting Morris schools, businesses, churches and traditional family values. People are sick and tired of all the negative news reports of scandal, murder, disease, death and War. We cannot read a newspaper or watch a newscast without this kind of negative reporting. Morris is a good Christian community, but gossip and rumor run rampant; this is contrary to our Christian teachings. Let’s turn the corner and put a stop to it by participating in this little community blog.” (note: spelling errors/typos fixed by me)

Now, I could get myself all worked up over violations of the Bill of Rights inherent in this wee speck on the fringes of cyberspace, I really could. I could laugh heartily about the irony of looking for more fluff in an already 90% fluff newspaper, which is what we have here, or even hold forth about the astounding percentage of our community’s children who are serving in this war and how their parents deserve to be able to read about it in the paper.

One thing that strikes me as particularly hilariously oblivious is the remark about traditional family values. I think we all know that’s code for a great many right wing abuses, but I don’t think the blog owner realizes that. He/she also seems to have completely ignored the recent local stats on our 120% divorce rate. Traditional values, indeed.

Nope, I’ve found that I can get along best here in Stepford-on-the-a**-edge-of-oblivion by remembering two things:

1. If I were single and had a trust fund, I would not even be able to find this place on a map, let alone live here. Neither of those things is the case, so I have to make the best of it that I can, which I do by holding true to my own values and teaching my children to think rationally and critically. It’s also extremely useful to remember my favorite quotation, which is thing two:

2. “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by ignorance or stupidity.”

In truth, I think no. 2 is one of the best pieces of advice around for defusing temper and outrage. I honestly believe that most people are ignorant of whatever right or standard I might think they’re treading on, and I mean ignorant in the sense of “oblivious, and not by choice”. I’ve found that, especially in working with school districts on rights for the disabled, it puts me in a position of unimpeachable grace, so to speak, if I continually assume that they don’t know what I know.

I can offer information, I can write to their supervising organizations and ask for assistance on behalf of the ignorant; I can write to the feds and ask for them to clarify things for the district in question, and at no point do I ever wind up telling them what to do, nor am I oblivious or demanding, just implacable.

I happily and promptly provide citations, quotations, additional photocopies, and a paper trail a mile wide, all in favor of the point I may be making. If they were honestly ignorant, I have been honorably helpful. If they were feigning ignorance in order to frustrate me, they are the ones who wind up frustrated and shown for the shammers and scammers that they are.

And similarly, I think that the blogger with his militant declaration of Christian positivity is going to wind up shooting himself in the foot without any help from me at all. Irony will out; it’s already starting, so I can just sit back and watch, if I have a couple of minutes to spare, and if I remember. You can, too.

Meanwhile, tune in to:

Fact or Fiction?: A Cockroach Can Live without Its Head
A nuclear war may not trouble them, but does decapitation?
By Charles Choi

For some laugh-out-loud one-liners by charmingly oblivious geeks speaking full-bore “scientist”, and some morbidly interesting data on roaches. Yuk.

Oddball Word of the Day

preprandial (pree-PRAN-dee-uhl) adj. before dinner; before a meal

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Randomizer

Normally, I think of Thursdays as a good time to discuss knitting. I’m in the knitting blahs now, and the only thing I’m knitting is a sock, and I’m doing it half-heartedly – probably because the thought of putting away most of my yarn makes me want to lie face down on the couch, put a pillow over my head, and pretend to not be here.

So, I’ve been trolling the web, or as our not-so-august-decider would say, “the internets”. I’ve also been letting a lot of goofball questions build up, thereby creating an annoying form of intellectual constipation. I’m not sufficiently inspired to search for answers to these questions, or else I’m getting so forgetful that I only remember the questions sporadically, at completely useless times.

For example, this is a very busy time at work for my husband, and they just updated the company computer systems, which, of course, completely screwed up everything he’d spent 2 years getting just right. He has been venting at home, and I’ve been making sympathetic noises. What’s really going through my head, though, is:

“Hey, what’s the brand name of those bath products people get at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and can I get them online, since I hate driving?”

“Why do my kids always drop dish towels on the floor and then get a perfectly clean one to wipe up a spill rather than using a sponge? What did I do wrong?”

“I hate having to tell the kids to go shower. Maybe I could find a way to send them anonymous emails.”

“Damn, I’ve got to make dinner again. I’m so uninspired. Why don’t TV commercials have subliminal menu suggestions of healthful foods instead of nekkid people in ice cubes? I could really go for being enthused about making something with hummus or that spaghetti noodle squash or that I’ll need my melon baller and my pasta machine for…”

Then there’s my tendency to notice completely useless things and then remember them:

My SPAM is so desperate-sounding sometimes – when I alphabetize by sender, I get columns reading ‘Find Love…Find Romance… Find a Friend…Find Someone…’ followed by ‘Get a Christian Loan’.

Why does that last one sound like it might say, in small print, "so you can afford a mail-order bride and solve all those other problems?

Why is it that English teachers consistently have so many errors in their typed handouts? My high school daughter brought one home that was so riddled with errors that SHE wanted to highlight the mistakes. My youngest son brought one home in which he had noticed that instruction #4 said “Check you work to make sure it has no errors.” He had lightly penciled in “how ironic” next to the sentence. It was, sadly, unintentional on her part.

It’s not cleaning the inside of a toilet that’s disgusting because I can do that with cleanser and a long-handled brush. To clean the outside, though, I have to get way too close to the bowl and seat. Ick.

And websites of some fascination:

The Scientific American Blog website always grabs me and holds me captive for way too long. There’s an article on the science of dread, which is really intriguing, there.

Po Bronson professionally summarizes academically credible research to come up with things I’ve already said, thought, or thought were insightful when I heard them discussed by others. This is both validating and perversely frustrating, but the blog archives remain interesting nonetheless. The writing is certainly engaging, and he and his partner have some good points to make. Thanks to the nice person who pointed me in his direction.

Then there’s the Tempest in a Local Teapot website, called Skeptical Morris, about my little town. Our latest tempest is some right-wing jaw flapping over a shop called “XO Underground”. I’ve been there, and it’s not even close to being a head shop or a cover for prostitution, or anything else that might cause real upset. They have posters with occasional “controversial” language, candles, too much potpourri, and other things you can read about here. I Christmas shop for my kids there. I must be degenerate scum.

This website, Cabin Fever, generally makes me kick myself, thinking, “Dang, I could have designed that!” or “Damn, that’s sharp!”, which leads me to the much more relaxing, Knitting Pattern Central , at which point, I might be missing for days as I search for obscure doilies and the latest incarnation of the elusive perfect knitted teddy bear. And just for laughs, now that the You Knit WHAT website is gone, I like to check in for Updates in Outrage on Stitchymcyarnpants.

Have a jolly day, and if you know the brand name of that soap stuff, let me know!

Oddball Word of the Day

winklehawk (WING-kuhl-hawk) n. an L-shaped tear in cloth

(from the guide to MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Birdie Bits: Things from the parrot cage last week

<loud wing flapping and clanging of toys> “AAAARGH! I need first aid!”

<grouchy mumbling> “Get your hands off my turtle!”

Spawn: Good morning, birdie!

Hawthorne: Who are you?

Spawn: I’m Spawn, you know me! Who are YOU?

Hawthorne: <smugly> I’m mommy’s little Hawthorne birdie.

Spawn: Well, yes you are!

Hawthorne: Mommy’s CHIRPING birdie. Chirp, chirp. (Note: he says the word “chirp”)

Spawn: I’m a college student.

Hawthorne: <belching noise>

Bunny, from another room: Guess you don’t measure up to a chirping birdie, Spawn! <laughs>

Hawthorne: Wanna waffle?

Spawn: Will it make me a chirping birdie?

Hawthorne: <launches into a 2 or 3 minute spectacular whistling, chirping, singing, clicking aria with great volume and drama>

Spawn: <in awe> Wow, that was good!

Hawthorne: <smugly> CHIRPING birdie!

Spawn: Damn, I suck.

Hawthorne: <laughs hysterically, which causes all of us to laugh until we cry>

And just yesterday, as Spawn, Bunny, Doodle and I were sitting around the dining room table, which is only about 15 feet from Hawthorne’s cage through an open counter area:

Spawn: I really hate my Lit. book; it’s so boring, I mean they tried to set a person on fire, and even that was boring, and <proses on for a while about how boring Jane Eyre is>…

Hawthorne, starting about halfway through Spawn’s twaddle, began saying over and over, in a very bored tone of voice: "Chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp. Chirple, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirple. <belch> Chirpity, chirple, chirp, chirp, chirp…" and so on, all the way to the end of Spawn’s bellyaching. Bunny, Doodle and I started laughing, Spawn started to snort while he was still talking, and finally, we were all laughing like crazy, at which point Spawn quit talking, and Hawthorne quit saying “chirp”.

I wiped my eyes and looked at Spawn. I did a little sea serpent mocking thing with my hand and said, “I think that was the birdie version of ‘blah, blah, blah’!” Which made all of us snort and laugh some more. That brought hubs into the dining room, and by the time we finished explaining it to him, we were all howling with laughter, at which point Hawthorne yelled, “Hey! Quiet down in there!” which made us go off all over again.

Oddball Word of the Day

pontificate (pon-TIF-ih-kate) v. to speak pompously; to act or speak as if infallible

(from the MMMW guide, edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Last Sock In the Nerd Hamper

I’ve put off posting for a while because of a whole crapload of reasons, most of which are boring, even to me. So, I’ll just jump right in…

I think you should know that writing about, or even discussing, being gifted is something I Don’t Do very often. It’s right up there, in my categorization of social skills, with asking an attractive person of the opposite sex, whom you just met an hour ago, to take a look at the fungus on your privates to see if he knows what it might be and how to cure it. It doesn’t fit into my southern upbringing, which prioritizes good humor and humility, and I have found that talking about being gifted often changes the way people treat me. I have to trust that you will take it in stride and continue to be the same person you were to me previously, or that you’ll have the courtesy to ask me whatever questions you want to ask and then move the heck on, which is what I mostly do about it myself.

So, here’s that last socially smelly sock at the bottom of my nerd hamper -- I’m a member of Mensa. I’ve been a member for over 15 years, and I like it. I’m not particularly active, but I still like being a member. And I don’t tell people about it hardly ever, I don’t list it on my resume unless I have good reason to believe that the person reviewing that resume will respond positively, and I simply don’t consider it any different from other groups that I belong to, each of which has a focus of some sort, and which have specialized journals and jargons pertaining to the interests of the group.

There are usually two groups of responses to finding out I’m in Mensa (if you have come to know this outside my “friendship/trust” framework) – a) competitiveness –to prove you are as gifted or more so than I am and that you’re worthy of my respect and appreciation, and consequently elevating both me and Mensa to a position way beyond what we deserve based on name recognition alone, and b) denigration - that you don’t think it means anything, but you’re going to shoot me down anyway, if not directly, then by making a lot of dunning remarks about Mensa. I categorize both reactions as “the 142nd fastest gun in the West” responses, humorous and completely unnecessary.

Because being in Mensa, or being gifted, is like being the 142nd Fastest Gun in the West; it’s not a particularly unique position, from a standpoint of the number of qualifying persons, it is only significant in the great pool of large statistical numbers, and there really is no point in challenging me to either prove my worth or convince me of yours, or to pointlessly jab and slash at anyone who’s gifted. It’s just a state of being; I was not given a choice about being gifted, any more than I was given a choice about being born female, American, or right-handed, and I like all those things about myself, too.

And, Mensa is not what it’s perceived to be. I’m sure that if you look hard enough you’ll find members who want to tell you their IQ and the IQ of everyone else, or at least their estimates thereof, and there are plenty of people in any group, Mensa or otherwise, who have the answers to all the world’s problems, whether anyone wants to listen to them or not. There are also plenty of droners. Mensa does not exist to consult with governments or create life from household chemicals for corporations or just for fun. It’s a social support group for smart people who need a social support group of other smart people. That’s all.

There are great conversations, witty ripostes, truly competitive games and puzzles, varying levels of expertise in a surprisingly dizzying array of people from all walks of life in all kinds of topics, and a group joke about chocolate. And there are “problem children” – people who have too much hair, adipose tissue, religion, arrogance, mental illness, or simple strangeness, or too little of something from more categories than I can mention. All of which has the effect of making it a great cauldron of tolerance, as well as being a social support group.

Public bias has mistakenly confused giftedness with superiority, much as it confuses wealth with happiness. Each is completely independent of and very, very different from the other, regardless of some superficial similarities. Consequently, I hear and read somewhat laughable commentary about how incredibly smart Mensans are, and how arrogant they must be, and what’s it like to have all that brainpower in one place, and what are they up to (as if meetings were concerned with creating new stealth bombs). Some of the commentary is extremely complimentary (and, often, quite off base) and other comments are envious (and also off base). Newspaper articles tend to poke fun at Mensans for not being what the writer wanted them to be (dry, humorless, pontificating physicists with excess eyebrow hair, judging from the articles I’ve read).

I suppose the best analogy for a Mensa meeting that I could make would be:

Suppose you and 20 of your favorite college professors and high school teachers and a couple of other people you think are interesting, all go off for a buffet dinner, free bar, and decide, at 11 p.m. at night, to go out fishing. There you are, full of good cheer, on a boat, trying not to snag each other’s eyelids as you cast your lines, and talking about God only knows what while you wait for something to bite.

You can hear your history professor and your best friend, a hairdresser who reads Proust during slow times in the salon, heatedly debating current politics behind your left shoulder. Your Calculus teacher and your uncle, a janitor at Lockheed, are discussing the merits of Portuguese gourmet cuisine behind your right shoulder. Your English professor is busy trying not to be seasick over the stern and singing dirty ditties in Olde Englische between belches, all by her lonesome.

The Captain, poor slob, is bitching up a storm at some malfunctioning mechanical bits, which, by listening carefully, you realize that you personally can fix. You hand your rod to your son, who is arguing in French with your former Microbiology professor about science fiction authors, and head over to bang wrenches with the Captain. You’re joined by three engineers, none of whom are the slightest bit helpful, and all of whom spend most of the time disagreeing with each other. When someone breaks out the slide rules, you know it’s gotten ugly. Fortunately, the engine runs again, and you do make it back to shore. There are no fish, but everyone had a great time.

So, if you think Mensa is a group ego fest, it’s not. It’s also not the greatest problem-solving organization, and it’s not a gathering place for the great, the somber, the emotionally sober, or even the particularly enviable. It is a social support group for smart people who need somewhere to go and let down their guards and just be themselves, whether it involves being overtly smart or not. Lots of people already have those support groups in their daily lives, and they don’t join Mensa because they have no need to do so. Some of the rest of us do.

Like most groups, Mensa does do spiffy things – scholarships, community service, colloquia of interest, research, etc., and there are publications, smaller sub-groups, and a variety of activities based on interest and willingness to participate. More info at the main website here:

Me, I’m off to do laundry and not think about this topic any more for now. Although I’m pretty sure I’ll need some chocolate to get over it. ; )

Oddball Word of the Day

comity (KOM-ih-tee) n. civility; a courteous manner of behavior

(from the MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)