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Wither the SAT

31 Mar

Test

The College Board organization has recently revised the SAT college admissions test. In a couple of weeks it will publish new sample questions to illustrate the changes it has had to make the test more relevant, the vocabulary more functional, and the orientation more real world.   Below are a few of my ideas about how the new SAT questions might appear.

 

Stawar Aptitude Test

 

1. Joshua graduated two years ago with a degree in _________. He should ask Sallie Mae ___________.

a. Art History,   out on a date

b. Communications, for an unpaid internship

c. Humanities, for a forbearance

d. Occlumency,   if she’s from Kentucky

 

2. Which of these founding documents of America contains 234,812 words?

a.   The Constitution

b.   Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

c.   Chicken Soup for the Soul

d.   The Affordable Health Care Act

 

3. If your current cell phone plan has unlimited data and messaging, 50GB of free cloud storage, but limits talk to 500 minutes per month, when will you be eligible for the next phone upgrade?

a.   after the first year

b.   the week before you accidently drop it in the toilet

c.   just in time for the   iPhone12 release

d.   when you sign a new contract for 12 more years

 

4. If the toll for a new bridge is $12 for a round trip, based on the current inflation rate of 3%, what is the probability that your father would actually use the bridge ?

a.   100%

b.   one in a million

c.   50/50

d.   not a chance in hell

 

5. After a(n) ________________ consideration of the all the alternatives, Donald   conclude that __________________ was the last place he wanted to be.

a.   copious,   band camp

b.   assiduous, drug court

c.   indolent, summer school

d.   odiferous, the Port-a-Potty

Striking a Blow for Masculini-Tea!

19 Jan

teas Our 6-year-old grandson has three sisters and virtually lives in a world of princesses and pink. I have always admired how he is still so secure in his masculinity.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Diane made the kids some Funfetti cupcakes with pink icing and sprinkles to celebrate the youngest girl’s birthday. I wondered if our grandson would reject this rather girly treat. As Diane predicted, he happily accepted his pink cupcake. His only beef was that he didn’t get the one with the big piece of chocolate on top, intended for the birthday girl.
Personally, I have always tried to combat my own insecurities about masculinity by over compensating to some degree. I’ll drink beer when I really don’t want one and I’ll talk to other men about sporting events that I know absolutely nothing about.

Over my lifetime, I estimate that I have attended one ballet, one fashion show and about seven afternoon teas. In my own defense, I can claim that I have never attended a bridal shower or a Tupperware party regardless of promised refreshments.
This holiday season, Diane took our daughter, our two older granddaughters and our son to the Brown-Forman production of “The Nutcracker Ballet.” Fortunately, I was left with the two youngest children to watch Christmas cartoon specials and catch up on our SpongeBob Squarepants. I was a little disappointed, however, to not get to see the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, since I always thought the music was pretty catchy after all my years of playing Tetris. Overall, I have to agree with columnist Dave Barry who once said he would rather watch a dog catch a Frisbee than go to a ballet.

I did, however, once attend a ballet that was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby.” People always say that ballet dancers are really great athletes, so I used that belief to rationalize my attendance. It was exactly like attending a basketball game, except most of the players were girls, the uniforms were pastel and all the jumping and prancing about seemed to lack any essential purpose. As I remember, the final score was a shutout — Daisy 36, Gatsby nothing.

It is a little disconcerting to realize that I have gone to more afternoon teas than professional baseball, hockey and football games combined. I have occasionally wondered if there was something wrong with me, since I, unlike my grandson and his father, have no interest whatsoever in professional sports.

Love of sporting events has long been popularly considered a leading indicator of masculinity in America. In his dubious run for governor of Texas, macho singer Kinky Friedman once said at a press conference that he was not pro-choice, and he was not pro-life, but he was, pro-football.

Last weekend, Diane and I drove down to Vine Grove, Ky., to an afternoon tea at the Two Sister’s Tea Room. In November, the proprietors Paula Jaenichen and Amy Pickerell — who have relatives in the New Albany area — reopened what was formerly a local Victorian tearoom. With excellent hot fresh scones, it was a very accomplished afternoon tea. The Two Sisters should not be confused with The Sisters Tea Parlor & Boutique in Buckner, Ky., which Diane and I have also visited.

Most of the teas Diane and I have gone to have been full afternoon teas. According to the What’s Cooking America? website, many folks mistakenly refer to the full afternoon tea as “high tea,” because they think it sounds ritzier. In fact, “ high tea” (sometimes called a “meat tea”) is just the old British term for dinner. Working men and children would partake of “high tea,” so-called because it was served at a tall dining table, rather than in a sitting room or drawing room where low tables were used.

The first scholars to write about tea may have been men in third-century China, but one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, the Duchess of Bedford, is usually credited with establishing the afternoon tea tradition during the Victorian Era. The duchess reported having a “sinking feeling” in the late afternoon (probably low blood sugar).

At the time, there was no such thing as lunch and unfortunately dinner wasn’t served until around 8 p.m. The peckish Duchess found that a pot of tea and some bread, butter and cakes, served in her private rooms, hit the spot perfectly. Soon she — and everyone else — was inviting guests over for an afternoon of “tea and a walking the field.”

Over time, three basic kinds of afternoon teas evolved. A Cream Tea consists of tea, scones, jam and clotted cream. The Light Tea has all the same items, but adds sweets (which are usually cakes, cookies, tiny tarts, or shortbread). The top-of-the-line is the full afternoon tea that has all of above, and also includes savories and a dessert. Often, these courses are served on three-tiered serving dishes.
In America salads, fruits, and soups are sometimes included. I have to say that I have enjoyed all the teas I’ve attended, but the usual menu is a bit too loaded with carbohydrates and sugar for me these days.

Until I started attending teas, my knowledge of scones was limited to what I had gleaned from Scrooge McDuck comic books. I have since learned that scones are rather crumbly biscuit-like affairs with a wide variety of possible ingredients. These are traditionally served with jam, lemon or lime curd, and Devonshire or clotted cream (which is a thick unsweetened whipped cream).
Diane says that her favorite place for afternoon tea is the Hopsewee Plantation near Myrtle Beach, S.C. The owners of this restored rice plantation added the River Oak Cottage Tea Room where you can get the Hopsewee Full Southern Tea, which in addition to scones and sweets, includes such fare as cucumber sandwiches, curried chicken on ginger snaps, blue cheese spinach quiche, salmon mousse and parmesan-peppercorn crackers with mozzarella, pesto and tomato.

Around Christmas time, the girls in the family, except for our 10-year old-granddaughter Becca, all attended an afternoon tea in Cincinnati. Poor Becca had a rehearsal for the church Christmas play to go to with her brother. She had to stay and eat lunch with us boys until it was time to go to church.

We watched Cincinnati Bengals football highlights and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoons until we got hungry and went out for pizza. We told Becca to just pretend that the provolone cheese-filled Rondos were scones and the Sprite was Jasmine-Apricot tea.
New York-based psychoanalyst and Psychology Today blogger Gurmeet S. Kanwal says that “‘masculinity” and ‘femininity’ exist in every individual,” so maybe liking high teas just reflects my feminine side.

Perhaps one day there will be afternoon teas designed especially for us men. Personally I doubt it, unless there is some way to add competition, danger and destruction to the event. Perhaps the tea could be held with participants wearing only gym shorts and involve running among the tables like an obstacle course, all the time juggling teapots of scalding hot tea. Now that would really be something!

Originally Published in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

Abracadabra: Why it Reaches out and Grabs Ya

6 Sep

magic

I recently attended a silent auction and was the high bidder on a walking stick that I added to my small collection. Although I don’t really like walking all that much, I was attracted to this stick because of its unique design and because it reminded me of the sumac walking stick that Emma Thompson use in the Nanny McPhee movies. Whenever Nanny McPhee needed to conjure up some magic to teach naughty children a lesson, all she had to do was tap her stick twice on the floor. Oh, if it were only that easy!

Oklahoma State University social psychologist and Psychology Today blogger, Melissa Burkley refers to the continuing popularly of magic as the “Harry Potter Effect” after J. K. Rawling’s hero from her immensely popular series of books and movies. According to Burkley, “If there is one thing psychologists can learn from the Harry Potter phenomenon, it is that people love magic.”

Part of our attraction may stem from the fact that all of us have had experience with magical thinking. Magical thinking is defined as believing that one event takes place as a result of a second event, without any plausible connection. From ages two to seven years of age, magical thinking predominates and youngsters have considerable difficulty with logical thought.

Magic may also appeal to people who feel powerless or lacking in control over their environment and circumstances. This may be especially true for adolescents and young people who struggle with interpersonal situations. Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and on-line and other role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, can provide an alternative magical universe where they have limitless power in contrast to their everyday life.

But do people really believe in real world magic? According to Burkley, “Recent research suggests that not only do people believe in magic, it is likely hard-wired into our brains…”. We often see this in everyday superstitions.

Just the other day my wife Diane and I were discussing the “knock on wood” superstition and also how our granddaughters play the childhood “jinx” game. Various cultures have different explanations for the “knock on wood” custom. It is one of many forms of “apotropaic magic” which is intended to “turn away” evil influences. According to one explanation at the divinecaroline.com website, the ancients druids, worshipped trees, believing that spirits lived in all wooden objects. To encourage these spirits to work on their behalf, they would knock on wood. Thus, whenever we want a good thing to continue or to prevent a bad thing from happening, we rouse these elemental spirits by knocking on the nearest piece of wood. Diane and I also recently received a clock and a bracelet, that came from Turkey as a gift, and both of them were decorated with the traditional apotropaic blue eyes, for protection.

The “knock on wood” superstition also reflects the magical belief that just talking about something good happening can cause bad luck, since it tempts fate. Athletes tend to be very superstitious in this regard. For examples in baseball, it is widely held that you can jinx a no-hitter by talking about while the game is still in process. A recent study by Jane Risen from the University of Chicago and Cornell psychologist Thomas Gilovich explored the magical thinking behind the belief that is bad luck to “tempt fate”. They theorized that this belief stems from two sources. First is the strong human tendency to be disproportionately attracted to negative events. They contend that, “negative events simply “pack a bigger psychological punch” than positive ones, probably because of evolutionary associations with survival.

Second research has consistently shown that thinking about an event makes it seem to us more likely to take place. Combining these two phenomena, the researchers then hypothesized that since the bad outcomes that might result from tempting fate are very negative, we automatically think more about them. Next, because we think more about them, we also conclude that they are more likely to occur, than the bad outcomes resulting from not tempting fate. Their studies clearly demonstrate that people are predisposed to expect the ironic. An example might be the careless college applicant, who ostentatiously wears a sweatshirt from the college to which he wants to be admitted, only to be rejected.

Our granddaughter’s “jinx game”, which also purportedly brings bad luck, is initiated when two people simultaneously say the same words. The rules vary on just how to resolved the jinx created, but usually it ends when one child pronounces the name of the other, who is then considered the jinxed party. The historic penalty for violating a jinx, is a “pinch or a poke” in the arm or buying the other person a drink, hence the phrase, “Pinch and a Poke! You owe me a Coke!” San Francisco psychoanalyst Jerome Oremland has described the game as a ritualized expression of preadolescent conflicts over their emerging new identities.

One of Diane’s aunts once wrote a family history of her mother’s side of the family, who were German farmers in east central Wisconsin. In this narrative there were several references to “hexes”, which were spells casted by neighbors to account for unfortunate events, such as cows going dry, bad crops, and at least one fretful baby. Historically such beliefs are common as prescientific explanations for events with unknown causes. When Diane questioned her mother about this she said, “Yes, it was true.”

Such magical thinking is still present in various forms. In a 2006 Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin and her colleagues conducted a study to determine if college students could be lead to believe that they possessed magical abilities. The participants were first introduced to a confederate of the experimenter, who posed as a fellow student. With half of the subjects, he acted extremely cordial and friendly. With the other half, however, he acted as obnoxiously as possible, in an attempt to evoke hostility. Then the subjects were given a voodoo doll and directed to stick pins in it, in the presence of the confederate, who was the intended “victim”. The “victim” feigned having a headache and then the participants were asked how much they believed they had actually caused the headache. As predicted, the people who had interacted with the obnoxious confederate were more much more likely to believe that they had actually caused the headache.

According to evolutionary psychologists, the human mind is especially adept at identifying patterns, since such casual links are critical for survival. Unfortunately this process is far from perfect, so we often believe that events are connected when they are not, resulting in magical thinking and superstitious behavior. It may well be that we are so receptive to magic because as Burkley asserts , “…we are hard-wired to overestimate our control over external events”.
Although I enjoy magic as entertainment, personally I’m not a superstitious person and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I stay that way.

Originally published in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

With Chair-ity Towards All

3 Apr

Image

The other day my wife Diane said that her back was hurting, but she felt better when she sat in the car.  That’s probably because the driver’s seat is the best, and most expensive, chair we own. It certainly is the only chair we have that can be adjusted  eight different ways.

One of the few things I remember seeing in Washington D.C. was the exhibit featuring Archie Bunker’s favorite chair, from the   1970’s  television series, All in the Family. In 1978, Norman Lear, the show’s creator,   donated Archie and Edith’s chairs to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, when he thought the series was being cancelled. To his surprise it was renewed for another season and he paid thousands of dollars to make exact replicas of the  chairs that originally cost only about $8.00 each. The notion of a family member being territorial about a shabby,  but treasured,  chair, is something familiar, that surfaced again on Fraizer.

I  personally can understand Archie’s reverence for his favorite chair.  When Diane and I  started dating in the 1970’s,  we were both  just out of school,  poor,  and worked for  not-for-profits My apartment was sparsely furnished with second-hand furniture from my parent’s attic and Diane had also accumulated whatever furniture she could.  I remember complaining  to her  that whenever I visited,  she didn’t have a decent chair to sit in.  It’s hard to look very cool sitting in a bean bag chair.  I kept falling over.

Besides comfort, chairs are also symbolic of social status. Having a “chair at the table” has come to mean that you belong to a group and have co-equal status. A few years ago when we asked our daughter what birthday present our youngest granddaughter, Rosie,  would like for  her second birthday, our daughter said that Rosie really wanted her own chair. Rosie couldn’t wait to escape from her accursed “high chair” , a symbol of babyhood, and take her rightful place at the table with her siblings, as a peer,  rather than a second class citizen.

Of course,  where you’re seated  and the nature of your chair also says something about your status.  People seated at the head of the table  generally have the most  power. It is said that Merlin created King Arthur’s Round Table to avoid quarrels among the knights as to who had the highest status, although they still probably squabbled over who got to sit closest to the King.

Chairs took on a political dimension last  year   at the Republican National Convention,  when  Clint Eastwood delivered his monologue to an empty chair, intended to represent President Obama. Obama’s reelection team countered by tweeting out a photo of the president sitting in his Cabinet Room chair, and saying “this seat’s taken.”   These theatrics may not have made much difference in the election , but addressing an empty chair is a time-honored technique  in Gestalt psychotherapy (another 70’s phenomena). It was used to help patients resolve “unfinished business” with  others,  or even among different  aspects of themselves.

Writing in the on-line Magazine Jacobin,     design student Colin McSwiggen says that sometime  in the Stone Age between 6,000 and  12,000 years ago,  people of high-status  began sitting on  raised platforms containing  some sort of  backrest. He says,  “This was an effective way to signify  elevated status among people who otherwise sat on the ground.”  Throughout history the elevation,  size, composition, and expense of a seating device has conferred status.   Even today many companies have strict policies on who can order different kinds of office chairs.  Some only allow high backed  “executive chairs” for employees  above a certain rank in the hierarchy. On Star Trek, it’s obvious that the captain has the only decent chair  and view of the wide-screen TV.

Having a designated seat is also related to status, like having a personal  parking place.  Arthur’s Round Table had one special seat with a chair that was marked “Siege Perilous”, which means “the dangerous or perilous seat”.  Only the singular knight who was destined to find the Holy Grail could sit there safely. If was fatal for anyone to try.

I was once helping out at an outdoor festival and brought my own comfortable wooden folding chair to sit in because I didn’t care for the small metal chairs provided. Every time I got up to do something and came back, the same guy was sitting in my chair. I sure could have used some of that  Siege Perilous stuff.

According to  environmental psychologist Sally Augustine,  when people sit in a recliner  and  stretch out they generally  feel more powerful, confident, and have a higher tolerance for risk taking. They also get less angry when provoked by others.  Sitting in a confined or restricted posture, however has the opposite effect. Maybe this is the source for the sit-com folk wisdom that suggests it is best to confront mom or dad with bad news at the end of the day when they are relaxing in their recliner,   preferably with a potent cocktail in hand.

According to the health  quiz in Parade Magazine, that Diane  gave me last Sunday, these days chairs are actually considered to be even more dangerous to your health than cigarettes.  Research by The American Cancer Society  shows  that sitting is a significant risk factor predicting how long you’ll live. One recent  study found  sitting more than six hours a day increased female mortality  by 37% and male mortality by 17%.  Prolonged sitting also exacerbates back pain, which  afflicts 80% of adults, as well as  neck pain,  balance,  and flexibility.

Writing in the on-line Magazine,  Jacobin McSwiggen says, “No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Some are better than others, but all are bad.” He says they are not only a health hazards that we are addict to,   but they  are also  “inextricably tied…  to our culture of status-obsessed individualism”.   .

 McSwiggen says that uncomfortable chairs can create pressure that leads to soreness, poor posture, restricted circulation, impeded respiration, and intestinal dysfunction. Even comfortable chairs encourage long durations of static positions,  which  in turn stress   the spine, weaken  muscles, and cause circulatory problems.

The science of ergonomics unfortunately has  shown little consensus regarding the best chair design, although  some progress has been made  with  Scandinavian innovations such as  ball chairs, kneeling chairs, and chairs that encourage sitting in different positions.  Even most of these, however,  are not compatible with current workspace designs  or acceptable in business settings due to appearance.

Some experts suggest  abandoning the chair altogether.  In the 1980’s   Jerome Congleton, from Texas A&M,  created  a standing desk and among  the newer products being marketed  are  standing work stations.    There is a famous photograph of President John F. Kennedy looking out of the south window of the oval office.  He was standing over a table reading newspapers. Due to his wartime back injury, President Kennedy couldn’t  sit in a chair  for more than a short time  without   walking  around.   He would often work and read standing up,  leaning over his desk. This may be the new work  model for many people– working while standing and/or  taking frequent breaks for walks.

               I’ve thought about trying one of the exercise ball chairs at work.  I hear, however,   that they are supposed to get sticky in warm weather.  I’m also afraid of accidently falling off and dribbling down the stairs.   

Based on a column that orginally appeared in the Southern Indiana News-tribune

Image

Hit the Road Shaun!

31 Jan

Shaun

Halloween is a distant memory and the scary costumes are long gone , but most childhood fears are not so easily left behind. Our five-year-old grandson and his little sister spent the night with us last Saturday. That meant that we had to exile“Shaun the Sheep” to the trunk of our car. Shaun is a character from a stop-action BBC children’s series. The show was a spinoff from the popular Wallace and Gromit films. My wife Diane bought a “Shaun the Sheep” hot water bottle cover, while on a trip to England. To most people, Shaun is an adorable little stuffed lamb with big eyes. But that’s the problem. Shawn’s plastic eyes are rather large and protruding. For some reason, these “google eyes” really scare our grandson.

We promised to take Shaun out of the house before he came to stay. I suggested that we could put Shaun in a box and then put the box on a back shelf in the closet, but he said he was still afraid that Shaun would “pop out” of the box, so we put Shaun in the car trunk instead. At first I thought this innocent expression of childhood fear was rather endearing, but the more I thought about Shaun’s cold dead eyes, the more they bothered me. I started fantasizing about it and imagined that maybe late Saturday night I would heard a loud knocking sound. I’d look out the window and see that the car trunk was open and when I reached the door, all I would see was those big “google eyes” staring back at me through the window.

None of us ever fully recover from our childhoods. Our deepest pleasures and fears reside there. Film director Steven Spielberg managed to successfully tap into his childhood fears creating scenes like the threatening trees and the terrifying clown under the bed in the movie, Poltergeist. I also remember a childhood nightmare about being chased by a Tyrannosaurus, that could have been a scene right out of Jurassic Park. Especially in his book, “It”, Stephen King exploited many of our earliest fears with another horrifying clown and a monstrous spider-like creature.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield in England were seeking data in order to update the decor of a children’s hospital. They surveyed 250 young hospital patients and found that all the children even the older ones disliked clowns. The technical term for fear of clowns and mimes is “coulrophobia” and psychologists believe that the exaggerated expression seen in traditional clown make-up is the main reason that children fear them. Being able to recognize familiar faces and interpret emotional expressions is an important developmental task for children. The grimacing clown face presents an unexpected and unwelcome enigma for kids.

When they were little, our two youngest sons were given a pair of handcrafted large and small Raggedy Andy dolls for Christmas. Our youngest son never like them and over time he started to be afraid of them. He may be our most creative child and he developed an interesting coping mechanism. Every night before he would go to bed, he would thoroughly beat up each of the dolls and then he would make them face the wall, so they couldn’t stare at him while he was sleeping.

As for our granddaughters, they seem especially frighten of spiders and bugs and they have a thing about “beetles”. They are even afraid of killing them, because they might be “stinkbugs” and smell up the place. Even our three-year-old granddaughter picked up on her sisters’ hysteria and screamed when she saw a “spider” on the floor near her toys. I was impressed by her eyesight since this “spider” was the tiniest of specks and was barely visible. I squashed it for her and she seemed satisfied and momentarily grateful.

As a child our middle son, Andy also had a fear of insect. We lived in Florida, which is well known for its palmetto bugs. Dave Barry once said, “We call them palmetto bugs because if we called them ‘six-inch-long flying cockroaches’, we’d all have to move out of the state.” In elementary school Andy had a terrible conflict. He wanted to ride his bicycle to school more than anything, but it was outside in a shed, teeming with palmetto bugs. From inside the house we could hear him scream every time he saw a bug (about every 2 seconds). Despite all the screaming, he still managed to get out his bike and ride to school.

According to psychologist Jodi Mindell from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, childhood fears stem from two major sources: real life experiences and internal feelings. She believes that the childhood fear of monsters, for example, comes from personal experiences that show children that people behave destructively towards others. These experiences might include being actually injured, observing others being hurt, or being shown or told of scary possibilities.

Stories and movies are common sources of childhood fears since they often employee archetypical images and characters that have historically engendered feelings of terror. For example, as a child Diane was afraid of the witch and the flying monkeys in the classic movie, “ The Wizard of Oz”. Like many children, our oldest son was afraid of witches when he was little. Witches are archetypal and symbolize ambivalence towards the mothering figure, as well as, the fear of the dreaded “Bad Mother”. As for me I was thoroughly terrified by the old Universal Studios’ Frankenstein and Wolfman movies that my older brother insisted on watching every Friday night when my parents went out.

The second source of childhood fears is the child’s own unacceptable internal feelings. Such feelings, such as intense anger, can be extremely frightening and children often employ the defense mechanism of externalizing to help control them. Mindell says, ” Externalization refers the remarkable and normal capacity of children to create the illusion that their own unwanted feelings belong to something else rather than themselves.

Even schools can serve as an unintentional source of childhood fears. Once our middle son was frightened at school because they talked about devastating mudslides taking place “far away”. All he knew was that his grandma lived “far way” and therefore conceivably might be harmed.

When I was in elementary school our teacher taught a social studies lesson that told us the alarming story of Pedro. Pedro lived in some Central American country. One day he was out in a beanfield with his father, when all of a sudden, rocks started spontaneously floating in the field. Pedro had left his sombrero on the ground and one of the rocks even made it fly around scaring everyone. The villagers thought that the field must be haunted. It turns out that Pedro and his family didn’t realized that a full-fledged volcano was forming in the beanfield. Within a couple of weeks, a massive lava-spewing, smoke-belching volcano completely covered Pedro’s home and we never heard from poor Pedro again. Where was FEMA when you needed them?

I personally found this tale terrifying. I even had nightmares about volcanos starting up in my own backyard. The story strikes at the core of my greatest fear, namely how life is so unpredictable. A spontaneous disaster can strike at any moment. Just when you think that things are going fine, a Frankenstorm or Shaun the Sheep can pop up out of nowhere.

Origionally Published in the Souther Indiana News Journal

Loopy Signatures

30 Jan

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Last weekend my two oldest granddaughters were discussing   signatures. The younger one asked her sister if she minded if she made some letters in her signature in the same way that her older sister did. It was as if she was afraid of violating some sort of a trademark.  I suppose a signature is your own personal logo. My wife Diane told the girls that since they were sisters, it was natural that their writing might look similar in some respects, but over time they would both develop distinctive signatures.

The discussion reflected the territoriality that can often be seen among siblings who are only a few years apart.  At one point in the past the older sister tried to  claim the color pink for her exclusive use.

Signatures have been in the news lately, with President Obama’s  nomination of Jack Lew for   Secretary of the  Treasury.  If confirmed,  Lew’s signature  will be on  U.S currency. His  illegible autograph consist of  a misshapen  “J” and  seven scrawled  loops.    New York Magazine  called it  “a Slinky that has lost its spring” or “one of those crazy straws you get at Six Flags”. It has also been compared it to the “squiggles” of  white frosting  that adorned the iconic Hostess Cupcake.

It’s unfortunate  Lew’s handwriting has garnered more attention than his qualifications.  Personally  I can sympathize since my own handwriting has been the subject of persistent criticism.  My third grade teacher Mrs. Lomax, who had the unenviable job of teaching us the Palmer Method, referred to my cursive as “chicken scratching” and on more than one occasion she said that my work looked like someone was writing with a dirty fingernail.  It was a rare day when my  homework didn’t have a couple of holes in it  from overzealous erasing.

My  brother, Norman, also had  poor  handwriting.  Even  as an adult  he used his own unique mixture of  printing and cursive.  Some experts say that skills required for  printing  are so different from those needed for  cursive  that most children  have to learn to  write twice.

I always admired Norman’s signature,  that had a flourish  coming off the final “r”   back to cross the ”t”  in “Stawar”.  When I graduated from high school I decided that I needed to have a more mature   signature, preferably one with some sort of distinctive touch like Norman’s. My signature was the same one I had in third grade.

The summer after graduation worked at a Golf  Shop where I sold golf balls, tees, gloves, and other equipment. Since I had to write a sales ticket for each item and sign it, this gave me  a great opportunity to perfect my signature. I changed    my  capital “T” from the stupid Palmer Method to the way my mother wrote and incorporated  a variation of Norman’s flourish,  so that it crossed the “t” in Stawar and at the same time completed the “y” in Terry.  By the end of the summer I had signed my name   thousands of times and was quite pleased with my new  signature.  Even if my cursive  was still   illegible, my signature was pretty cool.

Whenever I sign a lot of things  my hand fatigues  and my signature deteriorates until it  eventually  looks like my regular handwriting.   I once had a job where I had to sign hundreds of checks each month.   I would just glance at the supporting documents and  sign the check.  Years   after I had left that job,  a detective came to visit me. He produced an old check and asked me if I had signed it. I had to  admit that it looked like my signature. It turned out that check was not for the  computer system that I thought we were leasing at the time, but rather it was  a lease  payment for  some employee’s  sports car. That was one time I wished my signature was less distinctive and perhaps a little more illegible.

President Obama himself was recently involved in  a signature-related hullabaloo , when he had the fiscal cliff   bill signed by the White House’s autopen, while he was in Hawaii.   The autopen is a device that allows the president to put his signature on documents   without being present.   The apparatus has long been used to affix the president signature to mass mailings. Obama is the only president, however,  to use the autopen to actually sign legislation. He used it to   extend the Patriot Act, while he   visiting Europe and to approve  a spending bill  while   in Asia.   Although some have questioned its use, George W. Bush’s legal advisors wrote a memo in 2005 that affirmed its legality for signing legislation.

In both the Bush and the Obama administrations there has been some controversy about the  use of   autopens to sign condolence letters to the families of servicemen killed in combat.  After promising to sign all future letters personally, former   Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld   admitted that he had used the auto-pen, but only, “in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members”. The White House currently maintains that each letter is personally signed by the president.

According to handwriting analyst, Fiona Mackay a signature “is how you want to be seen” consciously  and unconsciously. It’s “your public face”  and your calling card.   Peoples’ signatures  change over their  lifetimes  and it  is  common  to use   different signatures for various functions;  like  signing a mortgage, a check, a love letter, or birthday card.

The art of interpreting handwriting is called graphology has been controversial for the past century.  Despite its persistent popularity, most research  does not support its validity   A 1982 meta-analysis   of over 200  studies concluded that graphology  could not accurately predict performance on any personality measure.  The British Psychological Society likened graphology to  astrology and considers both of them to have “zero validity”.

Despite the lack of  evidence,  many  interpretations are based  on  common sense.  Writers  Hugh Wilson  and Ruby Ernica Samy have each compiled interpretations of  the most  common variables  including:

  1. Size:  Large signatures  indicate confidence and   a high opinion of one’s self. An extremely oversized signature or one in all capitals  may reflect arrogance and exhibitionistic tendencies.   Small  size suggests shyness, low self-esteem,  and a wish not to be noticed.
  2. Underlining: Short and straight underlining suggests self-reliance but an unassuming manner.  Showy underlines  reflect  attention seeking tendencies, while   thick underlining may indicate  a need  for stability.  Zig zag underlines  reveal uncertainty.
  3. Slant: Signatures that slant to the right suggest aggressive confrontation of the world  while  a slant to the left suggests disengagement and nonconformity.
  4. Rising or Falling: A signature that rises suggests optimism and the ability to meet challenges. A falling or declining  signature indicates the opposite—pessimism and  depression . Level signatures indicate  emotional   stability.
  5. Legibility: Legible text followed by scrawled signature suggests a reluctance to reveal oneself. Over all  legibility  suggests a straightforward manner. It may also imply a lack of assertiveness and modesty. Signatures that are hard to read reflect intelligence  and fast thinking.
  6. Dots: Dotting your “i” with a picture  suggests creativity. A straight line for a dotted “i” reflects a hurried   pace. The lack of a dot suggests inattention to detail,  while a perfectly placed one reflects  compulsive features. A dot high over the stem may indicate ambition.
  7. Showiness:  A highly embellished signature, while egotistical and  attention-seeking,  can occasionally  indicate underlying  feelings of inadequacy. Such signatures are common for people   working in the arts,  show business, or psychology.

I not sure I really  believe any of this graphology business, but I still wouldn’t want a doctor who dots his “i’s” with  smiley faces.

Originaly published in The Southern Indiana News Tribune

Sig

Toyland Tribulations

31 Oct

 

 

 

 

 

Like high fashion, the American toy industry is dominated by trends and exclusivity. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting your kid the hot new toy that your neighbor can’t seem to find.

In fact, there was even a rather mediocre Christmas movie — 1996’s “Jingle All the Way,” which implausibly pits Arnold Schwarzenegger against Sinbad in a rather violent pursuit for the year’s most popular action figure.

Over the past 30 years, I personally have traveled far and wide in hot pursuit of Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Gameboys, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Millennium Falcons and Zhu Zhu Hamsters.

Years ago, I remember submitting an application to Toys R’ Us for the privilege of buying a Cabbage Patch Doll. Like kidnappers, they called me a couple of days later and told me to be at the store at 10 a.m. sharp if I wanted to buy the doll. When I got there, they took a small group of us chosen ones to a darkened back room, where they had a pallet full of new Cabbage Patch dolls completely covered by a black sheet of canvas. When it was my turn, I grabbed a doll and was escorted to a cashier. I didn’t even know how much it was going to cost, but things had progressed way too far to ask questions. I felt like I was buying a couple kilos of heroin.

Trends in toys constantly repeat themselves. With our three boys and now a grandson, it seems like we have gone through at least three generations of Star Wars, as well as several of Transformers, and now Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtle toys. And just when it seems like it’s over, the Lego version appears and it starts all over again.

We made the mistake of giving away our daughter’s extensive collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls and paraphernalia to a family that had three girls. How did we know our daughter would end up having three girls of her own and never forgive us? We still have a couple generations of Star War toys stashed in plastic bins in our basement. I’m too lazy to dig through them for the grandkids. Besides, they belong to our sons and are my backup plan in case the government ever privatizes Social Security.

The United States Toy Industry Association reports that Americans purchase more than 3 billion toys annually. With the average cost of about $7 per toy, that quickly adds up to more than $21.2 billion in direct toy sales.

According to CNBC’s Christina Berk, however, there is trouble brewing in Toyland this holiday season. Toy sales have been declining over the past decade and the trend is accelerating, according to a Goldman Sachs report Monday. As a result, Goldman downgraded the toy industry’s rating from “neutral” to “cautious.”

According to financial analyst Michael Kelter, the “amount spent on traditional toys in the U.S. per capita is down 30 percent from $85 per person to $60 per person since 1998.”

Part of the reason may be the tremendous growth in digital games played on tablets and smartphones, which are edging out traditional board games and puzzles. When videogame consoles are included, the market share of digital games has increased from 1 percent to 20 percent in the past decade.

Declines are also expected this year in the sales of Hasbro’s flagship boy toys — Transformers and Nerf weapons. Mattel, which relies heavily on perennial girls’ favorites, such as Barbie, also has been hurt by flat sales in recent years, as well as a huge decline in the preschool toy market.

Perhaps it’s the overall economy that’s to blame, or maybe it is kid’s attraction to online games and activities. Advances in electronics have certainly made toys awfully flashy and sophisticated. Some people may think that modern toys have become too complicated and explicit to encourage creative play and they lean toward classic toys that require more imagination.

As a child, I owned a red plastic console that was advertised to track missiles and satellites in space. It had a tiny opaque screen that only showed vague shadows of small plastic cutouts of spacecraft as you turned a crank. I must have spent hours staring at that opaque screen in anticipation of my current job, at which I still spend hours staring at a screen. I would have given anything if that screen would have shown a little detail, color or miracles of miracles, actually said something.

Perhaps modern toys are not imaginative enough to stimulate much creative play. In this regard, I always think of Patricia Lee Gauch’s classic children’s book, “Christina Katerina and the Box,” in which, to her mother’s horror, a young girl comes up with a number of imaginative uses for a large appliance box on their front lawn. I was thinking about this recently as I watched our grandchildren play with sticks in our backyard, which consists primarily of sticks and tics.

Watching them jogged my memory and I remembered one of my early favorite toys — the stake. Although I had a homemade swingset that my father had constructed from pipes, my favorite outdoor toy was a three-foot long, sharpened, solid-steel stake. I think it may have once been part of a of horseshoe game or perhaps belonged to a surveyor.

While a metal stake may seem like a dangerous and inappropriate plaything, the story gets worse. I remember two games we made up using the stake. The first was “Oilwell.” My friends and I hammered the stake into the ground and then attached a rope to it. We threw the rope over a tree branch and then pulled the stake out of the ground. Then we poured water into the hole left by the stake and lowered the stake again back into the hole drilling for oil until the oil (mud) finally came gushing out of the well. We added a bunch of toy trucks, cars and plastic soldiers to the scene to complete the tableau. So basically we played for hours in a large mud hole with a large sharp metal stake suspended over our heads.
Our second game wasn’t much better. Our house had once been a boarding house, so it was configured rather oddly. For example, we had two front doors. My bedroom had its own door to the outside and it lead to a porch with a railing. The steps had been removed so it was sort of like a little balcony.

I always imagined it was the deck of a ship and our backyard was the ocean. We used the porch as our pirate ship until one day Bobby suggested that we turn it into a whaler. Of course, to do this we needed a serviceable harpoon. We took the metal stake with a rope tied to it and fastened the other end of the rope to a column supporting the porch’s roof. We then took turns hurling the stake into the yard at old basketballs and pieces of newspaper (whales).

How we managed to avoid impaling some small child or skewering one of the neighborhood dogs or cats is still a mystery to me. We did managed to loosen the column supporting the porch roof and a few years later when it finally collapsed, my father removed the porch, filled in my door, and put in a window instead.

I will leave the precise interpretation of our “games” to the Freudians out there, but in retrospect perhaps children are better off with less “creative” toys after all. When I was 11, I misplaced the steel stake and started my career making toy soldiers out of molten lead, but that’s another story. And don’t get me started on my chemistry set, its alcohol lamp  and “The Great Bedroom Fire of 1961.”
Originally published in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

 

    

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