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Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Love oh love ... Sweet sweet nectar of life!
Embargoed until the delivery the State of the Union address, US President Obama signed the expected and highly anticipated cybersecurity executive order.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
This is important information. You may not understand all of it, but you should at least have a sense of what is going on becaue it doesn't matter who you are, if you use the Internet at all, you will be affected to some degree and possibly, to a very large degree. And quite probably, you would never know it unless you take the time to understand what's going on. Take the time. Understand. It's worth the effort.
In Africa there is a type of hawk that dives straight down to catch it’s prey. When Busch Gardens decided to make a diving coaster they wanted a name of something that dives straight down, so why not? The cars of this ride are 8 across and floorless. The only other coasters like this type were in England and Japan, so they know they would have something unique.
Once buckled up, the floors underneath the cars drop out so you can start. The lift hill is very suspenseful, because you can see the drop sitting there waiting for you all the way up. Once at the top we make a quick turn to the right and we creep to the edge… and stop. A reverse chain lift at the top of the hill holds us for four seconds before we finally plunge down at ninety degrees. The drop has an abundance of airtime during the whole drop, until you reach the bottom. Then you start climbing up into the Immelmann inversion, if you sit on the edges of the cars their is even more airtime and this time it is upside-down. Around a curve and onto the trim brakes before another drop into a cave that sometimes has mist sprayed through it. Out of the tunnel and around a curve to the lake where tubes on the sides of the trains spray water into the air. Around a helix and this falcon’s flight is finished.
I liked SheiKra but it was too short, even then it perfects the straight down drop and i am giving it a 9 out of 10.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
My name is Marilyn and I am an addict. I became an addict at the tender age of 8 on my first excusrsion to Coney Island and riding the Cyclone. Ever since, I've finding whatever the biggest baddest coaster in the area may be and riding it despite my increasing age and decrepitutde. I hope I never have to go on the wagon. That would be so dull.
Are you READY for one of America's quirkiest holidays, Groundhog Day?Groundhog? Do you mean woodchuck, whistle-pig, or land-beaver? No? You say a groundhog forecast the weather? What kind of folklore is that? Um-m-m-m-m? Let's look a little deeper into this weather hound.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Just watch out! Phil LIES!
A reader recently left a comment which asked why I still keep my Canon 7D if I'm so happy with my move to mirrorless. There is one thing in your reasoning that sounds odd to me, if not contradictor...
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
No one who is serious about photography has just one camera. We all have a bunch, usually including at least one we don't use (but seemed like a good idea at the time).
On the trail again. . .
Do you suppose the children of the early pioneers questioned along the way "Are we there yet?" Every five minutes a repeat of the refrain, "Are we there yet?" An ever nagging, whiny "Are we there yet?", "Are we there yet?",
"Are we there yet?"
Via Sharla Shults
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Think how MANY times the kids could ask "Are we there yet" on an endless journey in a covered wagon. Is it any wonder there was a high murder rate in the old west? By the time they got there, they were all ready for a padded room.
The corrosive impact of the Self-Esteem Movement on public-education is well-known. At least by those of us at Despair. Teachers have been encouraged, in the interest of the children’s “precious self-esteem”, to avoid using the F-word when students FAIL. To praise effort, regardless of results. To protect delicate, developing egos from the dreadful stigma and potential shame that comes from being told, “Whoa- you really screwed that up!”
And now, this well-intentioned but pernicious affirmation cult has taken hold on my Scrabble Teacher. And it’s ticking me off.
I’m old enough to remember a time when teachers could call an unruly student to the front of the classroom. Mr. Carver, my fifth grade home teacher, had a big paddle with an STP motor oil sticker on it. Kids who mouthed off learned pretty fast not to, because the shame of being publicly spanked with his “Stops the Problem” paddle was even greater than the sting of his practiced swing. (And seriously, old dude could SWING.)
But he didn’t just practice corporal punishment for kids with discipline problems. He was willing- very willing- to tell you point-blank when you’d FAILED. It was never mocking, never cruel- just a statement of fact, delivered with a wry, crinkled grin. Got a D on a spelling test? “Well son, hope you like diggin’ ditches.”
It was embarrassing, but effective. Nobody wanted to let him down. Everyone wanted to earnhis compliments, because he gave them as generously as his rebukes. Nothing was higher praise than to be told, “Honey, you just might be runnin’ GM one day.”
Don’t laugh. At the time, it was a compliment. And when it came from a teacher who had proven himself even-handed and trustworthy, it meant a great deal to our “precious self-esteem”. He was, in microcosm, the Fair Arbiter we believed at the time governed the whole of American society. The politician, the “big boss” (we didn’t know what CEO meant yet), the Man. Disrespect would be punished, failure would be acknowledged, but success would be complimented and rewarded. It’s the American way, right?
So it bothers me- probably more than it should- to have watched my Scrabble app, to which I am hopeless addicted, as successive upgrades have “improved” it by turning it from a Fair Arbiter into an Esteem-Protector.
Earlier editions of the Scrabble App featured a hard to please teacher, one who was more than willing to express abject shock at a poorly chosen word.
The app seemed to score on a reasonable grade. If you truly bungled a turn, the teacher was more than willing to let you know it, with a look of such complete and total horror that it truly could, in its tiny way, sting. You could practically hear it gasping, and without words the message was obvious. “I can’t BELIEVE how bad you failed!”
Average word choices prompted an ambivalent response, and rightly so. A well-chosen one could earn you a genuinely pleased response. And a brilliant word, when played, prompted a gigantic smile.
Version 2 of the app changed the teacher expressions, and the emotions conveyed, and some argued, not for the better. Despite the seemingly sterner personality, the teacher still seemed to grade on the same basic curve of BAD, ADEQUATE, GOOD, EXCELLENT.
Though I preferred the personality of the earlier version, I remained a fan. It was still a Fair Arbiter, doling out praise and rebukes in equal measure, and commensurate with the quality of my choices.
Yet another version of the app was recently unveiled. Now, the teacher, apparently fresh from a graduation ceremony, has been reduced to three expressions.
Yet the bigger change to the app was apparently to the actual underlying grading curve. Unlike earlier versions that were genuinely sparing with their praise, this new and supposedly improved version has abdicated its role as Fair Arbiter, and is now in the Esteem Protectorbusiness.
Consider this screencap below, in which I made the foolish choice of using my letters to spell the word “DIM”. After playing the hand, my Scrabble teacher informed me that I’d done a GOOD job!
“Good job! You got 24 points! That’s double-digit! Wow! Pat yourself on the back! You were only 54 points short of the optimal play! YOU’RE A WINNER IN MY BOOK!”
Then, the nearly impossible to displease teacher gently allowed that I could’ve scored more points, if I’d chosen the slightly better word, “MUDDIER”, which would’ve used all my tiles and earned me the 50 point bonus.
It was an IDIOTIC move, and the right response should’ve been horror. Or at least ambivalence. Not encouragement. Shame at my own stupidity is a better instructor than patronizing praise for stupid moves.
Presumably, the next version of the App will feature one expression only, transcendent ecstasy- whether my moves are brilliant or idiotic.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
I loathe that little thingie. It's as bad as the old dancing paper clip "Clippie" on MS Word.
There was a terribly sad post yesterday from a woman whose 13-year-old son is violent, coming after her and his siblings with knives, threatening suicide regularly. He’s as yet undiagnosed. They don’t know what’s wrong with him.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Everyone should read this. Absolutely everyone.
Asleep Eidolon Blueberry. Elbows and knees are double jointed.
The boxes recently produced for 1/4 AE dolls were made too small. In order to fit the dolls properly into their boxes they will be packaged with their heads off.
Doll includes the following:
-A Certificate of Authenticity
-1 pair of 14mm Acrylic Eyes (random)
-Box with Blanket
-Circumference of Head: 17.2cm
-Neck Circumference: 6.9cm
-Shoulder Width: 9.5cm
-Leg Length: 21.5cm
Eyelashes and body blushing are not included.*Because make-up is hand painted, it may vary from images. Customers are welcomed to email us for pictures of in-stock dolls if they would like to see what the make-up looks like.* On occasion Asleep Eidolon modifies the bodies of their dolls and does not inform us or update with new pictures. Please be aware that the body you receive might not be exactly as pictured!
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
If you find Barbie objectionable, try this one for size. You'll be glad to know that these dolls are quite the rage and you can buy all kinds of gear for them ... including bizarre sex toys. Did I mention that the bottom line price is $200? That's without makeup. I'm not sure if it includes any clothing or hair or anything either.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1862, Boston abolitionists Lewis and Harriet Hayden hosted the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, John Albion Andrew for dinner at their home on Beacon Hill. Hayden, a self-emancipated black man, and Andrew, the white Republican Governor who won election on the same ticket with President Abraham Lincoln, were good friends and it was not uncommon for them to share dinner. However, such a public and special occasion in Massachusetts was noted and discussed by the citizenry.
Lewis Hayden extended the dinner invitation with one sole purpose, to devise a plan to secure President Lincoln's agreement to enlist black troops from the north in the Civil War. Hayden knew that the enlistment of "colored citizens" to fight for their liberties and fundamental rights was urgent.
Before Governor Andrew departed that evening, he promised to seek federal permission to form a regiment of black soldiers as soon as the President signed The Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. He traveled to Washington, DC and met with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on January 26. Stanton authorized Massachusetts to recruit additional troops and Andrew wrote in the margin of the order, "and may include persons of African descent, organized in separate corps." We now know those men as the Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment, made famous in the movie Glory! We also know that the Governor sent Harriet Tubman ahead to prepare for their arrival in South Carolina.
This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on our lives and all that we are grateful for, the Museum of African American History in Boston and Nantucket thanks you for all you have done to help us share amazing stories of people of goodwill, from all backgrounds, who helped to shape our nation. In this season of giving, will you help us continue to share these important stories that inform and instruct us today? Your year-end contribution or membership to the Museum of African American History would be greatly appreciated and put to good use.
Freedom was paramount for Hayden who escaped slavery in Kentucky to become the proprietor of a men's clothing establishment and an important colleague with white abolitionists in Boston. The Hayden home welcomed at least 100 self-emancipated men, women and children arriving via the Underground Railroad network. Their boarding house had twelve chairs in the living room for their boarders and visitors including Harriet Beecher Stowe. Over the trajectory of their freedom, Lewis was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature and Harriet left some $4,000 in her will to Harvard University for a scholarship for black medical students.
Now, as we look to welcome in a New Year, and a robust season of exhibits, educational and public programs in Boston and an on Nantucket, I am grateful for your willingness to stand with the Museum with a gift commitment of any size. Make a gift online at https://maah.ejoinme.org/donate.
Beverly A. Morgan-Welch
A few days ago, I posted my personal lamentations over the fact that my daughter wants an iPad mini and my son wants a Surface. The saga continues. It seems that some things are never easy. My wife brought home a brand new Surface that she purchased at the Microsoft store in our local mall. She told me all about it, its options and the price. Please note here that she went to the mall and bought the Surface. At the store. And, brought it home. All on the same day. Simple, right? Well, that of course, isn't the interesting part of the story. And, I use the term interesting to substitute for the real word that I want to use but unfortunately can't. Apple has a store in the same mall--maybe a hundred steps, give or take a few, from the Microsoft store. However, you can't walk in and buy an iPad mini. At least not easily.
I bought a Williams-Sonoma cheese grater for my mom for Christmas once because I had no idea what to get her and I was in a mall and there the grater was, just large enough to take up space under the tree and just cheap enough to let her know that I put NO thought or care into buying a gift for her. Anyway, I paid for this grater with a credit card. And when a place like Williams-Sonoma gets your credit card and thus your address, you are on the mailing list for life. Every holiday season, my mail slot gets bukkake'd with monstrous catalogs packed with shit I would never, ever buy, and the W-S catalog stands out among them.
While certain retailers like Hammacher Schlemmer are almost intentionally ludicrous ("Buy this personal hovercraft for $80,000!"), there's no wink to be found in a Williams-Sonoma catalog. The people at W-S aren't the least bit self-conscious about getting you to pay $35 for mailed gravy. So I thought I would go through this holiday season's catalog, which has spent a solid week atop my shitter, and point out some of the more ridiculous items. Because there are people out there who buy this shit. The question is ... who? And why? Let's try to figure that out now.
Item #02-8592198 Harvest Pumpkin Collection
Williams-Sonoma says: "Ceramicist Barbara Eigen has been designing unique pieces, often inspired by nature, since 1997. Our Harvest Pumpkin Collection is a perfect example of her lifelike work. The tureen and accessories add organic whimsy to your Thanksgiving table."
Price: $40 for a set of four individual tureens
Notes from Drew: This is actually one of the more reasonably priced items in the W-S catalog, as long as you don't consider it a waste to spend $40 on four pumpkin bowls that you will use three times per decade. I used to buy terrible gifts like this for people all the time. HERE ARE YOUR PUMPKIN BOWLS! NOT BAD, EH? Because, honestly, what can you do with a pumpkin soup bowl besides put pumpkin soup in it? If you put tomato soup in it, God will murder you.
Item #02-496059 Bourbon Cranberry Relish
Williams-Sonoma says: "Sauteed cranberries, bourbon, shallots and herb with a hint of orange. 16oz."
Notes from Drew: That's 40 bucks for a bowl of cranberry sauce that everyone will pass up because we all prefer the shit that costs two bucks and comes plopping out of the can in the shape of the can. The second ingredient is LEAD. For 40 bucks, you should get the bourbon on its own.
Item #02-4381232 Acorn Twine Holder
Williams-Sonoma says: "Polished alderwood with 76 yards of linen twine. Made in Italy."
Notes from Drew: Oh, thank God! Thanksgiving was mere weeks away and I was like OH FUCK, WE'RE OUT OF TWINE. AND WE HAVE NO PLACE TO DISPENSE SAID TWINE. Sure, any asshole can go to the store and buy a roll of cooking string for half a penny and keep that twine in a drawer for the one time per year someone in the house has to tie up a raw turkey only to fail miserably and get salmonella deep inside his palms for years and years. But I want CLASSY twine, you know? I want my twine to say something about ME.
Item #02-1496058 Potato Scrubbing Gloves
Williams-Sonoma says: "Scrub potatoes clean while preserving skin that's nutrient rich. Set of two."
Notes from Drew: I desperately wanted it to say "Set of one" at the end. But anyway, who WOULDN'T like to have special gloves for whenever you have to handle potatoes? Potatoes are dirty and smelly, so it behooves you to wear a pair of gloves that will absorb all that dirt and grime and then get soaked through. Be sure to let them dry on your radiator! I also like that these gloves come with the word POTATO labeled across each one. Late at night, I often go digging through my basement screaming, "WHERE ARE THE GODDAMN POTATO GLOVES?" Because I usually end up grabbing the carrot gloves first, you know?
Item #02-2719136 Chef'n Panini Spatula
Williams-Sonoma says: "Wide platform with a slot simplifies slicing then lifting even the largest sandwiches."
Notes from Drew: ZOMG THIS SANDWICH IS SO LARGE! I can't possibly lift it using only my hands or a common spatula. If only someone out there would invent a unique tool that would allow me to lift my panini and then transfer it to a plate. I'm not just gonna pick it up myself, like a DOG. There's hot gruyere in that sandwich! It could burn.
By the way, you should know that any kitchen utensil designed specifically for one kind of food or meal is essentially useless: a panini spatula, a fondue pot, a steak tartare fork. Unless you plan on eating raclette four days a week, you don't need any of that shit.
Item #02-787713 Williams-Sonoma Cocktail Rimming Sugar
Williams-Sonoma says: "Spiced, Citrus, or Vanilla."
Notes from Drew: Why have an ordinary rimjob when you can add just a touch of Madagascar vanilla? That's how classy folk do their rimming.
Item #02-9663154 Twelve Days of Christmas Crackers
Williams-Sonoma says: "Sets of 12."
Price: $19.95 (small), $29.95 (large)
Notes from Drew: This is not a cracker you eat, but rather a small cardboard tube with two pull tabs on each end. When you pull the tabs, a delightful POP! rings out around the house, and thus much mirth is to be had in the Easterbrook household. These are the perfect fireworks for rich white people. Also, you get a free paper crown inside.
Item #02-4381182 Balustrade Rectangular Dining Table
Williams-Sonoma says: "Seats six, expands with a leaf to seat eight."
Notes from Drew: This is one of the harsh truths you learn when you get married: Basic shit like a table costs a fucking fortune. Two grand for a wooden table. And it's not like the surface of it is a giant iPad screen either. It just sits there and does nothing. This isn't even a big table, and it certainly isn't the most expensive table of its kind. The chairs that go along with this table are $395 each. JEEEEEEESUS. If it were up to me, my family would eat dinner off a milk crate.
Item #02-741009 Callie's Charleston Biscuits
Williams-Sonoma says: "Flaky, buttery, and made by hand by celebrated caterer Callie White."
Price:$72 (set of 24)
Notes from Drew: That's $72 dollars for biscuits. At Popeye's, the biscuit comes free with your order. At Williams-Sonoma, it costs you the rough equivalent of your phone bill. How good could these biscuits possibly be? There's a threshold past which biscuits cannot improve. Even the best goddamn biscuit in the world isn't $72 better than a Popeye's biscuit. Unless that biscuit can make you teleport.
And what kills me is that there are clearly people out there who have shitloads of money and NO cooking skills who order this shit. Who are these people? How are there so many of them that Williams-Sonoma can sustain its business model? Are we all just racking up massive biscuit debts that will soon break the economy? I imagine that 60 percent of Williams-Sonoma's business come from a group of six Persian oil barons, who buy everything in every catalog five times over every year for no good reason at all. Seventy-two-dollar biscuits. WHAT THE FUCK.
Item #02-4229100 European Cheese Hamper
Notes from Drew: Where else am I supposed to put my dirty cheese?
Item #02-410423 Assumption Abbey Fruitcake
Williams-Sonoma says: "Baked by trappist monks at a monastery in the Missouri Ozarks. Order early. Supply is limited."
Notes from Drew: Everything about that sales copy just blew my skull. There are trappist monks in the Ozarks? Do they brew artisanal meth? I don't trust fruitcake to begin with. I sure as shit am not trusting fruitcake that comes from a redneck friar. They'll swap out uppers for candied fruit. And yet, supply is limited. Apparently, the market for $40 Ozark fruitcake is ENORMOUS. White women from Bridgehampton ALL THE WAY to Westhampton rely on the monks to deliver their holiday fruitcake every year. Ina Garten's ADORABLE HUSBAND JEFFREY WHO MAKES A LOT OF MONEY loves the sight of a fine white-trash-monk fruitcake any time he comes home. TIE IT UP WITH THE TWINE!
Item #02-9691155 Found Grain Sack Stocking
Williams-Sonoma says: "NEW & EXCLUSIVE. Crafted from 70-year-old Hungarian grain sacks made of burlap and linen. Made in Hungary."
Notes from Drew: You want me to pay 40 bucks for an old sack? OH BUT IT'S HUNGARIAN. They're known for their sacks!
This picture of Havasu Falls was taken during one of the most memorable trips of my life. I have dreamt to visit Havasupai waterfalls for a long time and the dream...
Via Sharla Shults
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
We continue to hope we'll get out west just once more. So much to see and we loved it when we were there some years ago.
It seems like a dream after almost 23 years. Even while we were there, driving the twisting country roads -- inevitably lost -- Ireland had a dreamlike quality that made it perfect for a honeymoon.
Friends were surprised at our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “But you aren’t Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled with puzzlement. Why do people assume the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for roots? In Ireland, everyone asked if we were Irish. When we said we weren’t, they would say “Are you sure?” We said we were sure. It turned out one of us was wrong.
Ireland was wonderful. From Dublin to Sligo, through Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely cities and villages in between, everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. When folks learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to free rounds of drinks, desserts, and upgraded accommodations — at no charge. Even on the airplane, we were moved up to first class. Way to go.
We stayed in bed and breakfasts. Using the National Tourist Board guidebookand a road map, we’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. Every place we stayed was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although often tiny by American standards.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
In honor of Valentine's Day, which we don't actually celebrate, our honeymoon in Ireland seems appropriate. Garry and I used to travel quite a bit and we always had a great time. There are people who seem to spend their time looking for things to complain about. We go the opposite way. As long as the bed is clean and the plumbing words, we look for all the fun stuff we can do, all the places we can visit. With the result that we've never had a bad vacation. We are out to have a good time and we always do!
Ireland was the best of the best! I know it has probably changed -- quite possibly a lot -- since 1990. But that's the way it lives on for us, in our memories and in the 27 rolls of film we shot while we were there.
Mr. Koch, a showman of City Hall, was a three-term mayor who steered New York City through the fiscal austerity of the late 1970s and the racial conflicts of the 1980s. He was 88.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
He was one of the good ones. RIP, Ed. You done good.
The 1935 Stout Scarab Scarab?
I thought that was a beetle...remember, like in The Mummy. Of course, when I was younger, a friend gave me a scarab bracelet but that was way after the year 1935 and this article is not about beetle bugs or special jewelry. It is about an automobile claimed by some to be the precursor to the mini-van: The 1935 Stout Scarab!
The Scarab was built by William Bushnell Stout, an aeronautical engineer in Dearborn, MI. William Stout was Father of Aviation and designed the Ford Tri-motor ("The Tin Goose") airplane for Henry Ford.
Interesting facts:Total production = 9 cars with only 5 still in existence todayFirst car with concealed running boards, flow through ventilation and modular seatingCar known as "Car with a Bar"A $5,000 aerodynamically vehicle well ahead of its timeHome to Scout Scarabs - in the garages of the Wrigleys (chewing gum), the Dows (chemicals), the Strahanans (Champion Spark Plugs) and the Firestones
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
It was a complicated decision, one of many realities I’ve had to face. Not as hard as most life decisions, but tricky in its own small way.
For the last dozen years, much of life has involved recognizing and accepting limits, then figuring out how to work around them. There are physical limits, financial limits. I can’t afford things I don’t really need, though I sometimes splurge on something I want very much, like a lens for the camera or a bigger external hard drive. There are always choices to make and priorities to set.
Now, it’s facing one more fact of life: no more wall space. No room for anything, not for my photographs or anything else. The walls are full of things I love. My photos are on display, but there are also paintings, some by friends, others bought at galleries in days when we had spare dollars to spend on non-necessities. Photos of Garry taken during his working years … with politicians and presidents.
He has awards and plaques and I have shadow-boxes filled with antique Chinese porcelain, Navajo pots, fetishes and figurines and Murano glass. Together we have a lifetime of vacation mementos and one small carved black peat cat bought inIreland on our honeymoon. All the paintings, photos and things we bought on the Vineyard during a decade or more of summers. They need space. There’s no room, so I won’t be making lots of prints. I have dozens of paintings and photographs that were gifts from artist friends that I can’t afford to frame and if I could, I’d have no place to hang them.
I dumped hundreds of gigabytes of RAW and TIFF files. While I was organizing, I consolidated files of similar things. I have dozens of New England autumns, thousands of pictures of dogs, kids, dogs and kids, friends and their kids and dogs.
This task sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. In fact, it makes watching paint dry seem thrilling, but it needed to be done. And while I was sorting, reformatting and organizing, back on Serendipity, I quietly slipped over the 44,000 hit mark. I’ll celebrate at 45,000 I guess, or maybe I’ll wait for 50,000. The numbers have been moving so quickly.
Awards … another Liebster, more followers – and I realize I have posted every day for more than six months. 868 posts as of tonight. Time has flown by. From thinking I’d put up an occasional post about something or other, maybe show some photographs … to recognizing that this blog has become important to me. It’s no longer a little hobby; it has become a focus.
I stopped bringing home a regular salary more than ten years ago when I became ill. I tried, intermittently, to work, but I couldn’t. Eventually, it became clear my career was over. My pride took a hit, but I don’t really miss work. I miss the paycheck, but work? Nope.
I settled down to not working and it required a bit of adjustment. I’ve never been bored. For a while I was too sick to be bored, but I’ve always filled time by reading. It’s my fallback position. Somewhere in there I wrote a book. That consumed a couple of years and after that, for a few years I ran an online antique and collectibles business, which is where many of my antiques and other stuff originated. It was surprisingly successful, but the economy fell apart. The type of stuff I sold was based on people having spare money for things that are just beautiful, not necessarily useful. With the handwriting bright on the wall, I closed up shop.
If you aren’t going to school or working at a job, time tends to lose its shape. Blogging has given it a bit more form. It’s writing, which is as much who I am as what I do. As I move through my world, I look at the things I do and whatever is happening around me as stuff I can write about. When I hold a camera, I see the world in frames and perspective, I see colors and angles, light and shadow. When I think about it as a writer, I hear everything described in my mind, narrated.
Often, by the time I sit down to write, it’s almost written. It’s not always that easy, but sometimes it is. Sometimes words fall out of my fingers and it’s all just there, complete, waiting to put together.
Life has a rhythm, a pulse, a flow. From morning coffee to afternoon chores, to the evening when I write, watch a movie or some television, then write some more. Often, as now, I do both at the same time, something my husband finds baffling. If I think about it I suppose I’d find it baffling too, but I can do two things at a time. Usually. Depending on what the two things are.
If you’re waiting for me to get to the point, you’re out of luck. No point. Just a long ramble … rather like life.
In books, nothing happens without a reason. In literature, there are no coincidences, no accidental meetings. But life is full of things happening for no discernible reason. We can attribute meaning … religious meaning, omens, portents, whatever. But really, things just are what they are. We go from infancy to childhood then on into adulthood. We create goals and we push to achieve them, but the goals are not “real thing.” They are what we put in place to give our lives form, shape and direction, to make us feel purposeful.
It’s harder when you are older and in what I like to think of as your post-career because the kinds of aims and goals we had before don’t work and we have to find new directions. Most of us do. The classic image that young people have of old people sitting around doing nothing and just fading into the twilight is based on misconception and stereotyping. They are in a hurry to grow up, to get on to whatever it is they perceive as the next stage of life. They can’t understand what life is like when your primary goal is to enjoy your time, not dash through everything as fast as possible.
They’ll find out.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Perspective is one of the few significant perks of getting older ... along with the freedom to take life at a less exhausting pace.
We at The Pessimist might seem cynical, but it’s not like we’re opposed to happiness. We just recognize that it isbasically impossible! It is a slight distinction, but an important one.
So it was with an open mind that we read this Business Insider article promising to teach you “10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Life.” After all, we’re always up for a little self-improvement (emphasis on little), and we like things that are easy! Unfortunately, the suggestions are…well, just read for yourself:
But as insultingly facile as this article is, we can be insultingly faciler. (You might not think that’s a word, but it is now.) So here are 5 even easier ways to improve your life! Don’t thank us now. Thank us next week. By sending us a thank-you card. With a cashier’s check.
2. Eat food.
3. Avoid drinking household cleaning solutions.
4. If you are bleeding heavily, seek medical attention.
5. Don’t listen to well-meaning, but obvious, advice.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Ah to be simple-minded and accept solutions without thought or analysis. Why do I think? Because I am? Or because ... oh, whatever.
1110 Real Gun Control
It starts at home. And it can’t start at home until parents take control of their children. And that can’t happen unless they start early.
“Now, Bobby, don’t be shooting that handgun inside the house.” Bobby is eleven. That’s too late.
Let’s say you’re a rootin’ tootin’ card holding member of the NRA, with guns all over the place and antique rifles and blunderbusses and pistols going back nine generations, enough ammunition for a regiment and mooseheads on your wall. Big John Roberts and the Supremes confirm it is your right to “bear arms.” Okay. There are other interpretations of the second amendment, but that’s the one we have to live with for now.
So it’s pointless to try to stop someone who wants a gun from getting one. But all the safety courses, and lectures about “respect for the weapon” and “respect for life” from gun advocates don’t mean much if some out of control nut job of a kid doesn’t learn early that these things are dangerous and people with warped minds or uncontrolled anger can be death walking. Your death.
You combine a loose cannon with a real cannon, sit him down at a video game console for a few years while he zaps zombies or space aliens or cartoon terrorists, sometimes you get a guy who transfers the animated fantasy into a pile of un-animated corpses and wounded.
The Connecticut shooter was no kid. But it’s impossible to say “no one saw this coming.” Someone had to. Even if it was his gun-collecting parents.
Newtown, CT is a lovely little town surrounded by nothing. It's upscale, quiet and now a living hell. Junior is mad at mommy, goes to mommy's house and shoots her dead. So it shouldn't be a total loss, he also goes to a grade school and offs 20 babies, six adults and himself. At least he's not here to reproduce and we don't have to hear about his tough childhood and how the big kids bullied him.
When the President of the United States is driven to tears during a post-massacre speech, maybe that’s a sign that we need to be doing something more than advocate the elimination of guns in the hands of the public.
Of the loose cannons with real cannons on the street today, there’s little we can do. Little, but not nothing.
Rat out your kid/husband/lover/pool-shooting pals when they make noises like they’ll become the next Adam Lanza or Jacob Roberts or Jared Loughner or Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold or Charles Whitman or Seung Hui Cho. Let people know about their angry bragging... let them know that they soak up half a bottle of Old Grand-dad each night and then polish and load their 9mm Glock and old grand dad’s 1943 M-1.
It’s simple, though not easy. But it’s one way to cut down on some of this violence.
The Brady bunch for handgun control hasn’t made enough of a dent. Neither has Mayor Bloomberg’s laudable effort to protect the city from itself.
Time to bring out the big guns: Mom and dad.
--Stories like this are miserable to cover, not only because of the profound tragedy but because they are complex and we’re all trained to report the newest available information -- or misinformation post haste. Early on, the shooter’s mother was widely identified as a teacher at the Sandy Hook elementary school. She wasn’t.
--It took 32 hours for that information to emerge, understandable because fixing a mistake like that is far from everyone’s mind. And it’s not a terribly important datum, given the circumstances. But you can be sure other early “facts” will be turned around.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to email@example.com
© WJR 2012
10 stupid questions that police ask when they stop you in your car and 10 suitably stupid replies*
1) ‘Can you step out of the vehicle please?’
“No, I’m afraid I can’t. I can lurch out of the vehicle, roll out of the vehicle or even ease my way out of the vehicle, but until I own a gladiators chariot or a Popemobile I will never be able to ‘step’ out of a vehicle because that requires being in a standing position.”
2) ‘Is this your car Sir/Madam?’
Look around the car whilst developing an ever increasing look of surprise and suspicion then reply… “Oh my God! No, it isn’t officer. Thank you so much for bringing that to my attention. Now where the hell is my car?”
3) ‘Have you been drinking?’
a) “Yes I have officer. Can you drive me home because I’m pissed?”
b) “Yes, I have been drinking since the day I was born. Human beings are made up of 90% water and apparently if we stop drinking we will dehydrate and die within a couple of days.”
4) ‘Do you know what the speed limit is?’
“I’d imagine it is just enough to keep you awake and hyper but not so much that you become addicted. I prefer a combination of cocaine and cannabis myself, speed makes you way too thin and cranky.”
5) ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’
a) “Err, is it because I was moving?”
b) “We’re you bored and fancied a chat?“
d) “I’ve left the arm of that dead body hanging out of the boot haven’t I?”
6) ‘Do you know how fast you were going?’
“Yes I do, but I was trying to go faster and picking up a lot of speed until you stopped me.”
7) ‘Can I see your driving license please?’
“Certainly, but you will have to go to the DVLA in Swansea because they took it off me weeks ago because driving the wrong way up a one way road at 63 miles per hour in a 30 zone whilst drunk and disqualified is quite dangerous and also illegal apparently.”
8) ‘Have you got anything in the boot?’
“Yes officer, I have some upholstery, a spare wheel and a jack. You might also find some jump leads, a tow rope and a dead body. That’s probably why I was going so fast, if you don’t get them in the ground early they start to smell.”
9) ‘Can you give me your name and address please?’
“No, they belong to me and if I give them to you people might mistake me for a twat instead.”
10) ‘Are you trying to be funny?’
“Well if you can’t tell by now then you are never going to make Detective.”
Bonus question: ‘Don’t move or I’ll shoot.’
Sorry, there’s no appropriate response to this question because moments later you’re probably dying from a gunshot wound.
Now here are some videos from YouTube where Police Officers are made to look stupid. These are both educational and amusing.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:
Don't we all think this stuff? Hopefully, we don't really say it out loud. Unless we are ... well ... you know.
Britain has long had a reputation for bureaucracy and red tape. There is a fanatical fastidiousness about British organisations and the public sector that keeps armies of admin and clerical workers documenting, verifying, copying and countersigning in duplicate and triplicate, all manner of data and detail for… I don’t know. I suppose it gives people who have a remarkable capacity for retaining a pulse whilst enduring chronically mundane tasks for 35+ hours a week a calling in life. However, despite this commitment to the finicky detail of detailing the details of data in order to ensure documentation is valid and secure, things still go tits up, failings are still made and fuck-ups do ensue. When this happens, there’s an ‘enquiry’, followed by a ‘report’, which is usually followed by a resignation, a tasty pay off, and the application of a new set of rules demanding another layer of bureaucratic documentation.
In 2002 the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was introduced in England and Wales to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults from the vile beasts that would manipulate themselves into positions where they would pray on them. In principle it is a good idea, as it provides some resource for schools and relevant organisations to vet people who have a criminal past, before hiring them to take up a position that they may exploit for illicit purposes. There was already the Department for Education and Skills’ List 99, which is a confidential register of all people convicted or suspected of child abuse, violent crimes or drug offences. However, the standard CRB system of checks also covers cautions and warnings, and even convictions that may have expired.
An ‘Enhanced Disclosure’ goes further and includes any other information held on file that may be relevant, such as investigations that have not led to a criminal record, like nine charges of rape and underage sex in the space of four years for instance (read on).
Naturally there were teething troubles when the CRB was first introduced and tragically, whilst these teething troubles were being ironed out, school caretaker Ian Huntley murdered two school children, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
It’s probably impossible to have an airtight vetting system without grossly abusing individual’s privacy and human rights, but over the space of four years, Ian Huntley had nine charges of rape and underage sex against his name before he was employed by a school as a caretaker. This information was documented and recorded by social workers and police forces, but despite happening at a time when computer databases and ICT were becoming commonplace, none of these organisations thought that it might be useful to share this information with each other for safeguarding purposes. Incidentally, it’s interesting that it’s noted that one of the main reasons the CRB was introduced was to protect organisations from litigation, which makes you question the moral focus of our lawmakers – but that’s another posting.
There’s a naively simplistic level of thinking amongst certain people in our society; those ‘normal’, law abiding, taxpaying, un-questioning, rule-following members of society, civil service and the public sector. These types of people are often guilty of placing people in boxes and using those boxes as building blocks of rationality. These people can’t think outside of the box and follow blindly according to instructions. These people wouldn’t have sat in the CRB meeting and raised their hand to say ‘There’s tons of literature proving that many dangerous and pathological criminals – particular sex offenders – are intelligent and manipulative and may very well have a history of charges and allegations that have not as yet led to convictions. Do you think we should have something in place to check for that type of thing?’ These people see things in black and white and think that it’s only people who have been proved to have broken the law – no matter what that law was – are wrongdoers and are dirty and tainted forever, unable to ever hold any significant position in society. These people can’t see the wood for the pile of trees that have been chopped down to make the paper by which they are instructed, informed and subsequently base the blueprint of their thinking and rationale on. These people have no capacity for abstract reasoning. They’re like automated drones who blindly follow their programmed procedure without employing common sense or initiative.
I have nothing against the CRB, that’s not what this posting is about. I think CRB checks are a good idea and very necessary, but sadly, shit happens that you are never going to be able to prevent. A CRB check isn’t going to tell you a great deal about a person who is evading the law. A CRB check is not going to provide any protection against creepy, celebrity, paedophiles like Jimmy Savile getting away with it, because a CRB check can’t highlight people of low, moral character working in showbiz who are prepared to turn a blind eye to child abuse rather than jeopardise their careers. What a CRB check does is cast a wide net over anybody who has any criminal record and judge them based off that record. What a CRB check does is provide a cursory snapshot of that criminal record without going into any character detail.
The problem is, when you apply for a CRB check, what comes back is an indiscriminate private record of your past that doesn’t take into account whether the information is really necessary for disclosure. Any crime that you have committed, no matter how venal or embarrassing, is now revealed to some clerical worker in your office. So if you got caught shoplifting some knickers from Woolworths when you were 18, then 23 year old Garry, the admin support worker from HR, probably knows about it and had a good laugh at your expense with his friends at the weekend when they were sniffing lines of coke off his new IKEA table during the house warming party he had to celebrate the new mortgage he’s just anchored himself with on an overpriced plasterboard apartment in the city centre that he bought for a snip at £149k. You’re not a pederast or an armed robber or a drug smuggler or a DJ from the 70’s, but since you sign kids in at the reception at the community centre that Garry also works at, it is imperative that your private life of 20 years ago becomes the public property of Garry’s anecdotal work whinges at the weekend. You may have thought that Garry smiled at you in that way because he fancied you, and maybe you even had the odd fantasy of having an affair with the young man from HR; but really he’s smirking at the idea that you once stuffed a 3-pack of knickers down your blouse and tried to do a runner from Woolly’s back in 1983, and he’s wondering whether they were the Bridget Jones type that reach up above the navel – and if you still wear them.
I work with young people and vulnerable adults and it is necessary for me to have an enhanced disclosure. CRB checks are at the discretion of your employer, so whilst some say they need to be updated every 3 years and some say 5, my employer has decided that he wants it updated every year. I understand this to a certain degree, as it would be very easy for me to commit GBH at the weekend, go through the whole procedure of court, conviction and suspended sentence over the course of the subsequent year without my employer being any the wiser. But the bizarre thing is the verification of who I am, that really only needs to be done the once, surely? It’s not so much me having to re-verify who I am that is the strange thing, the office manager has to verify who our boss is. So that means that the employee of our employer has to officially verify that the person that employed her and pays her wages – the person for whom she has to go and see to have cheques countersigned and authorised and verify any payment of goods – now has to have him bring in documentation to prove that he really is who he is for the purposes of this CRB check. This is surely an unnecessary detail!?
Our office manager is one of these people who lives life by instructions and does nothing outside of the conventional rules. She is nice, inoffensive, but very dull. She would never do anything to harm you or anyone else, but I couldn’t see her ever doing anything extraordinary in your defence either. I’ve been sat alone in the office with our office manager for whole days at a time and forgotten she was even there. I often forget she exists. Sometimes I walk into work and when I see her it startles me because I am reminded that she does actually exist. When I received an email off her requesting the relevant documentation required to prove my identity in order to corroborate my CRB application, I asked her if she really needed me to dig out my passport [again] and a recent utility bill [again] and council tax bill [again] to confirm that I was indeed the same work colleague that had been sat across the room from her in the office we have worked in together over the last year, and that I wasn’t someone who had raped and molested children whilst on the run from drug smuggling and multiple murder charges, who had kidnapped the real me and locked him in a room whilst I had corrective surgery on my face and vocal chords like Nicholas Cage in ‘Face Off’ during a period that the real me was off sick or on holiday, in order for me to imitate the real me so that I could sneak into the workplace of the real me and gain access to children so that I could continue my evil paedophile ways?
She said; “Yes”.
She said if she didn’t she could get arrested (I’m really not joking about this bit). So I asked her – “Do you really think the Judge would be able to keep the jury from laughing long enough to actually continue with the resulting court proceedings from your heinous deception?” – but she didn’t want to play my hypothetical game anymore.
The ridiculous thing about verification of identity is that the very people whom you are giving your personal details to aren’t exactly carefully vetted Secret Service Operatives themselves. I was on holiday in Portugal one summer and I had a massive fallout with my then girlfriend, so I decided to go missing for a few hours to get drunk. Whilst I was out drinking I met this character who said he was in the fraud business. He told he ran a team of thieves who stole credit cards off holiday makers and used them to buy goods, which they then sold on to locals who lived and worked in resorts around the Mediterranean islands. He was a generous guy who paid for my drinks all night, and every half hour or so would send me to the toilet with a bag of white powder to snort up my nose.
As the night wore on, this Costa Del Criminal told me funny story after funny story and I found him to be quite a decent bloke. He told me that he didn’t really feel any moral qualms about what he did (he never use the word ‘qualms’ of course, he was a crook) because he was only robbing off the banks, who were robbing bastards anyway (he had a good point there). He said that on the last night of using a card, he would take his team to a brothel and splash out on a night of filth and debauchery. This made sure the banks had to pay out to the family who had their card stolen. I mean, there’s no way any court in the land would believe that Valerie and Allan Stannage took their three kids on holiday to Alcudia and orchestrated the fraud themselves, before indulging in the pleasures of prostitution at ‘El Jefe’s’. He also left me with this little trade secret before I disappeared into drunken unconsciousness and he disappeared into the night; he told me a common way for fraudsters to get private information, was to employ people to get jobs in call centres taking personal data from customers; “Always get the name of the little fucker taking your details mate. Make sure they know that you know who it was who took that call. They get dozens of calls everyday and loads of info, so the ones that are risky they’re not gonna use.” I told you he was a nice bloke.
I know this posting has somewhat rambled on and in some way lost its thematic through-line. However, I hope I’ve managed to impart some wit and wisdom. As much as it’s important for valid identification and safeguarding measures in certain professions, there should also be some safety measures for us. There should also be the application of some common sense. Am I a real person or merely the sum of my documents? And who are these people collecting all my personal information? And why is it that despite me only giving my landline number to close friends and family members, a man named Keith with a strong Indian dialect can call me at home from a call centre in Mumbai to offer me free representation to claim damages back for a car accident I never had in the last three years – and call me by my first and last name!? We all to easily give too much of our personal data to random strangers every day, it’s no surprise that identity theft and fraud is so prolific. It’s only a matter of time before a defence team gets someone off because the prosecution are unable to locate a recent bank or utility bill and relevant picture ID from List B to confirm he was actually the person whom the killers DNA belonged to. Stranger things have happened!
You may or may not know, I’m a hard person to offend. As long as you aren’t hurting someone, more power to you. But it’s getting to be holiday season, and I feel like there has to be some voice of reason in the sea of craziness. It’s this time of year that kills my faith in humanity, or what little left of it there is. Someone wants to celebrate one holiday, and someone else gets offended because it’s not the holiday they celebrate. So what? Who cares what someone else wants to do. I celebrate Christmas, I say merry Christmas to people, unless I already know they don’t celebrate it as well. If I say, “Merry Christmas,” to someone, and they happen to be Jewish, I say happy Hanukkah to them from then on. If someone told me happy Hanukkah, or Solstice, or whatever they may celebrate, I say thanks, but I actually celebrate Christmas. I don’t get mad or upset because, well quite frankly, they’re still being nice.
What the studies cannot tell us is who is a Jew.
Jews and their neighbors: The Diaspora
Genetic researchers have not neglected more than 90% of Jews who are neither kohanim nor Levi'im. They began with good reason to suspect that a great deal of mixing had taken place during the millennia of dispersion. People had noticed, after all, that the pale-skinned redheads common in Lithuanian Jewish communities do not look much like petite, dark-haired Jews from Yemen. It was assumed that Jews were bound more by tradition than by genetic kinship, that in the distant past Jewish men had followed opportunity to some far-off city, married local girls, persuaded them to separate the meat and milk dishes and founded new Jewish communities. Moreover, it was believed non-Jewish ancestors had continued to mix into the Jewish community.
The idea that the traditional story - Jews driven into exile faithfully marrying only fellow Jews - might be largely true was startling. And yet, so it seems. There were, of course, times and places where significant numbers of people converted to Judaism. But in the centuries since the beginnings of European Jewry, the best available estimate is that a mere 0.5% of new material entered the gene pool of Ashkenazi Jews in each generation. This is part of a picture of remarkable Jewish genetic continuity emerging from research labs at a dizzying rate. More studies have been carried out on the genetic history of the Jews than on most ethnic groups, perhaps because there are so many Jewish doctors to take advantage of the fabled willingness of Jews to participate in research.
These studies not only show that almost all Jewish populations have origins in the Middle East, but that the DNA of Jews from almost every corner of the Diaspora is more similar to that of other Jews than to any other population. When compared with non-Jewish groups, the closest match is with the Muslims of Kurdistan, not with the European peoples alongside whom Ashkenazi Jews lived for centuries or the Arab neighbors of many Sephardi populations.
Jews and their neighbors: The Middle East
With Jews looking increasingly like a relatively cohesive population largely of Middle Eastern origin, the logical next question is how close a genetic relationship exists with other Middle Eastern groups. A study of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs published in 2000 by Israeli researchers revealed what the authors described as "a relatively recent common ancestry." It was greeted with euphoric proclamations that Palestinians and Jews are "brothers." A closer look at the details of the study gives reason for pause.
The researchers compared Jews and Palestinians to a sample of people from Wales. When compared with the Welsh, Jews and Palestinians did indeed look similar, as they probably would if contrasted with Trobriand Islanders. When the same research team conducted a follow-up study comparing Jews and Palestinian Arabs to Kurds, Armenians, Turks, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Beduin, they saw a very different picture. Although all Middle Eastern populations have broad similarities, "Jews were found to be more closely related to groups in the north of the Fertile Crescent (Kurds, Turks and Armenians) than to their Arab neighbors."
This could mean that Jews, Kurds, Armenians and Anatolian Turks all carry the genetic markers of ancient indigenous populations of the Fertile Crescent, while Palestinian Arabs and Beduin may largely descend from the Arab conquerors, with their distinctive genetic signifiers. Genetics may eventually provide answers to such questions as what proportion of Palestinian ancestry arrived via earlier or later migrations. So far we have only partial explanations. One of the most compelling studies compared the small Samaritan population in Israel with Druse, Palestinians and Jews from various parts of the Diaspora.
The results appear to corroborate the traditional Samaritan belief that they have lived in Samaria since antiquity and are closely related to the Jews. Only four Samaritan family lineages survive, but of those four male lines, three carry the kohen modal haplotype, while the fourth, the Cohen family of priests, does not. The data indicate that the Samaritans generally married other Samaritans. Y chromosome DNA shows the Samaritan male line to have "a much greater affinity" to Jews than to the Palestinian Arabs who have surrounded them since the Arab conquest.
Studies of Jewish women
The ease of tracing male lineages with the Y chromosome accounts for the large body of research that uses exclusively male populations. However, another technique allows equivalent explorations of the female line.
Every cell of our bodies contains mitochondria, small organelles that generate energy from food. Each mitochondrion harbors its own circular strand of DNA, which both sexes inherit from their mothers, and which is passed on only by women to the next generation.
The utility of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) studies is demonstrated by recent findings concerning one of the least known Jewish groups: the Bene Israel, descendents of 6,000 Jews "discovered" on the west coast of India by Jewish traders from Baghdad in the 1830s. They carry the kohen modal haplotype along with other Middle Eastern genetic markers, and have substantial mtDNA found only in the Indian population among whom they lived - always keeping the Sabbath - for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. From the genetic evidence, it looks as though a small group of Jews, all or mostly male, arrived on the Indian coast, married local women and built a Jewish community.
Studies of mitochondrial DNA suggest that Jewish communities were often founded by very small numbers of women. One study demonstrates that 27% of Moroccan, 41.3% of Bene Israel and 51.4% of all Georgian Jews are descended from a single female ancestor in each community. The matriarch of 41.3% of the Bene Israel came from a local Indian family. We do not know the origins of that founding mother of the Georgian Jewish community or even whether she was born to a Jewish family, only that she carried a distinctive haplotype found in an area stretching from Sicily to the Caucasus to Iraq.
The Bukharan, Persian, Ethiopian, Iraqi and Ashkenazi Jewish communities all have unusually small numbers of maternal ancestors. This could reflect communities founded by tiny numbers of Jewish women willing to travel with their husbands to far-off lands, or situations like the Bene Israel's, where a community was founded at least in part by a small number of women who married Jewish men and lived as Jews. A bit of light recently has been thrown on part of this picture by a study of the mtDNA of Ashkenazi women, close to half (42%) of whom are descended from one of just four matriarchs. The distinctive, complete sequence haplotypes carried by descendents of these four women are almost unknown in other populations, except occasionally in Jewish communities that trace their origin to the expulsion from Spain.
The evidence indicates that these four female ancestors most probably originated in the Levant, perhaps accompanying their husbands from the Middle East to their new homes. Even Samaritan mtDNA has been examined, showing distinctive patterns about equally different from Jewish and Palestinian comparison groups, and hence with somewhat more mixing than in the male line. Genetics of the "lost tribes" Jews and Christians alike have an endless fascination with stories of the "lost tribes" of Israel turning up in odd parts of the world. Witness the recent enthusiasm about the Bnei Menashe in the hills of eastern India. Few such groups have been studied by geneticists, but when they are, the results can be remarkable.
Perhaps the most surprising story in Jewish genetics involves the Lemba, a Bantu-speaking people of about 50,000 living in southern East Africa. Their appearance and lifestyle are largely similar to other Bantu-speaking groups, with a few notable exceptions: They practice circumcision, have a ritualized slaughter procedure for animals, avoid eating pigs and have a strong tradition that their ancestors migrated from "Sena in the north by boat." When westerners came into contact with the Lemba and noticed the similarity of their customs to Jewish practices, they wondered whether "Sena" might be Sana in Yemen and whether the Lemba were of Jewish descent. A British anthropologist arranged for genetic testing of members of the tribe, finding that 10% of Lemba men carry the kohen modal haplotype on their Y chromosomes. Even more impressive, the Lemba have a priestly clan whom they call the Buba. Fully 52% of Buba men who were tested bear that same marker of kohanic descent.
Although mtDNA testing has not yet taken place, it seems likely that the origins of at least some portion of the tribe date back to the arrival on African shores of male Jews, and their subsequent marriage to local women. Only vestigial Jewish traditions were maintained among a population that is animist and Christian in practice. In no sense - cultural or halachic - can the Lemba be considered Jews today. But their story demonstrates the power of DNA to elucidate the probable history of many populations.
Genetics and identity
What genetic data cannot tell us is who is a Jew. The answers to that question are, variously, halachic, political and cultural. On a purely technical level, there is no genetic screen that can sort Jews from non-Jews.
Population differences do not translate into reliable tests of individual lineage. What genetics can tell us is something about where our ancestors came from - no more. It cannot tell us who we are. Nor can it tell us who we want to become, as individual Jews or as a Jewish people. As new data emerge from genetics laboratories, though, we are likely to learn a great deal more about the history of our people.
Diana Muir Appelbaum is the author of Reflections in Bullough's Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England (University Press of New England, 2000), and is working on a book on nationalism. Paul S. Appelbaum is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine and Law at Columbia University, and writes about the ethics of genetic testing and research.