The Church of the Random Word Generator

Here’s why I take exception to the implication that any multi-language translation of an ancient text is the exact and perfect word of its author: Have you ever used Google Translate? Seriously, most old texts that are still studied today have been through so many idioms that the very idea that they bear even a passing resemblance to the original intent is laughable, at best. And even if you go to the original documents, in some notable cases, they were written 40 years or more after the events in question took place. Could you accurately describe something that happened 40 years ago? I couldn’t.

In addition, ancient scripts were written in the context of the times, and now we’re attempting to interpret these messages through our modern lens. That’s like dropping a modern teenager into the year 1530 and expecting that kid to fit right in. Whatever, as they say. Good luck with that.

Now, you also have to realize that many of the texts that came down to us came without spaces between words, or even vowels and punctuation, and you can see where the finished version that we currently rely on is a little sketchy in terms of accuracy and original intent. So maybe those words were separated rather, um, randomly.

I’m not bashing your religion. I’m just saying that rigidity is not the way to go. Add common sense into the mix. Throw in a dash of critical thinking. Remember that historical context is everything. Then you can be as spiritual as you want. Amen.

But thinking about all those translations and all the loss of integrity that has crept in over the years as various people added, deleted, and changed things, has made me think of my old friend, the Random Word Generator. What if religious texts got so altered over time that the words seemed random, and we were forced to interpret that mess?

I decided to do a little thought experiment. I pulled up a fairly standard version of The Lord’s Prayer (which is the only religious thing I know by heart), and I determined that it was 71 words long. Then I asked the Random Word Generator to spit out 71 words. Whoa, Nelly. That makes for one strange religion.

For added fun, I broke up our random words as if they were the Lord’s Prayer, giving it the same word count in the stanzas, and the same punctuation as this English version, and wound up with this:

The Lord’s Prayer (as per the Random Word Generator)

Record Pause, bronze stuff pottery shoot,

route drown attitude Photocopy,

compose write hallway,

curriculum bold cultivate racism,

worm harass death rotate staff crown protest.

Ice campaign elect snack adult conservation strict.

Roll traffic self inside license,

age convince limit crosswalk

witch wrong jump master.

Charm building treat electron mirror winner,

glare recession gold competence wrestle.

Eat concentration grain hurt bang,

wing ensure miracle, pool hen train,

Museum victory carry pity. President.

If I tried hard enough, I’m sure I could find some great advice in there. It might even alter the way I live my life. There does seem to be a certain level of violence implied as well. (That’s something that most world religions can’t seem to avoid.) It also shows hints of politics, a little bit of economic socialism, and it has me thinking that maybe children shouldn’t be able to get drivers’ licenses at the tender age of sixteen.

Hmm…

Heiroglyphics

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Allow Me to Simplify

Here lately, humanity seems to be struggling with concepts that should be pretty straightforward. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It is causing conflict and anxiety that seems completely unnecessary. Given that so many people these days don’t seem to want to think, let me lay down some basic concepts for you:

  • Nazis? Bad.

  • Texting while driving? Deadly.

  • Waiting your turn? You freakin’ better!

  • Violence? Bad.

  • Compassion? Karma, baby.

  • Net neutrality? Crucial.

  • Racism and/or sexism? Idiotic.

  • Flossing? Necessary.

  • A fur coat for your schnauzer when people are starving? Unconscionable.

  • A right to health care? Obviously.

  • Voting? The most important thing you can do.

  • Helping yourself to my french fries? Get your own.

  • Not pulling right up to the car in front of you in a traffic jam, thus preventing the people behind you from getting through intersections sometime this century? MORONIC.

  • Abuse of power? May your chickens come home to roost, and soon.

  • Courtesy and Respect? The bedrock of civilization.

  • Education? Critically important.

  • Science? Real.

  • Smoking? Bad for you. Even worse for those who love you.

  • Human rights and basic freedom for everyone? Duh.

  • Paying your fair share? Of course.

  • Vaccinations? Not important, as long as you’re okay with having the life expectancy we had in the freakin’ 1600’s.

  • Global warming? HERE. NOW.

  • Abuse of children or animals? Sick. Demented. One of the few things worthy of torture.

  • Taking care of the planet? A good idea if you want to live.

  • Blocking the grocery aisle because you’ve run into a friend? STUPID.

None of these concepts seem particularly controversial to me. And yet here we are, a world divided on these issues. I don’t get it. I really don’t. Please make me understand.

common sense

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Epiphanies of the Obvious

Have you ever had one of these? It’s when you not only have a stunning realization, but you also combine that with the equally stunning realization that you should have known this thing all along. It can be a very humbling experience.

The most common of these epiphanies of the obvious is some version of, “Wow. He’s just not into me.” I really hate those, because they come with a crashing wave of disappointment as it dawns on you that it’s time to move on. (And God, but I hate packing, even if it’s just a toothbrush.)

And then there are those moments when you finally figure out something that everyone else in the world has pretty much considered to be common sense. Every adolescent boy seems to experience this at least once, and it’s usually accompanied with great pain. It’s that “Now I see why it’s not a good idea to jump off the roof and into the hot tub” moment.

But while you’re having a good chuckle at other people’s real life version of America’s Funniest Videos, remember this: everyone has a head slapping moment occasionally. And you might just be overdue. So brace yourself.

compact-fluorescent-bulb
…because it suddenly occurred to me that future generations may not grasp an old fashioned light bulb moment.

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Exercises in Futility

I used to know a guy who would crash into things every time he entered a darkened room. I mean, every single time. So one day with the lights on, I asked him to move through the room as if the lights were off. He strode in no differently than he would if the lights were on. Arms down at his sides, same speed, everything. Because of that, he frequently walked right into walls and furniture, if he didn’t trip over something and wind up on the floor, that is.

Then I got up and showed him how I walk through a dark room, although it astounds me that I had to do so to this very day. I said, “First, I stand on the threshold and picture where all the furniture is, and where I want to go. Then I put my hands out in front of me and sweep them back and forth as I slowly walk to make sure I’m not about to bump into anything. Then I lift my toes while walking so as not to trip.”

None of those were things he had ever attempted to do up to that point. He just seemed to accept the fact that when he walked into a room, he was bound to crash. I don’t know why. Maybe he didn’t think he deserved better. Maybe he didn’t believe he had any control over his destiny.

I find that to be quite maddening. For God’s sake, mitigate your damage whenever you can. Be proactive. Show some initiative. If you have a problem, do all that you can to at least attempt to solve it.

I’m firmly convinced that if the two of us were standing in a field and someone started shooting at us, he’d stand there waiting for the bullet while I was busy diving for the nearest ditch. Why wouldn’t you do that? I don’t get it.

I also once knew a man who lived in his chicken coop for two years because the roof on his house was leaking. So he fixed up the chicken coop. He even piled bales of hay against the walls for insulation. I asked, “Why didn’t you just repair the roof of the house?” He said, “I was too busy fixing up the chicken coop.”

That utter lack of common sense makes me want to chew gravel.

Is there some concept of long-term planning that is missing in these people? Do they set themselves up for failure intentionally? Or do they just not care?

I know another guy who hasn’t paid taxes in at least 5 years. Apparently he’s too busy putting out the short-term fires in his life to look up and see the raging inferno on the horizon. Eventually he’ll wind up in jail for tax evasion, and somehow he’ll convince himself that that’s someone else’s fault. But he’ll still be the one in jail.

Maybe the worst mistake of all is even trying to understand these people. Maybe that’s the true exercise in futility.

futility

The True Sign of Intelligence

I am fortunate enough to have a lot of extremely intelligent people in my life. I find intellect to be comforting. To me it says that problems can be solved, mysteries can be explained, success can be achieved and logic will prevail.

Unfortunately, too many people rely completely on the IQ test to measure intelligence, even the folks at Mensa who should know better, and that is a huge mistake. There are several schools of thought on the subject, but it has been posited that there are as many as 77 different forms of intelligence, and the IQ test measures only one.

In light of that fact, I’ve come up with a very simple, utterly unscientific method for determining who are the most intelligent people in my life. People who pass this test tend to be the ones I approach for advice, because they are not only smart, but they also care about others, and that matters a great deal to me.

Here’s the test. One question. And it’s not even a question you ask the person in, uh…question. No, you ask this of yourself. Is this person capable of making him or herself understood no matter whom he is talking to?

Think about it. Some of the people with the highest IQs in the world cannot pass this test. You ask them to explain something and they hit you with a long, drawn out, highly technical response that not only goes straight over your head but also leaves you feeling even more at sea than you did before you approached them. How valuable is that?

The most intelligent people I know are more well-rounded than that. They not only take in the inquiry, but they also take in the nature of the inquiry. In other words, what is it you’re really trying to find out, and why? They also look at the source of the inquiry. A truly intelligent person (by my yardstick, anyway) will have a different response for a highly inquisitive 5 year old than they would have for an extremely educated colleague in the same field of study.

That may seem like common sense, but you’d be amazed. But this measurement, many of the people in Mensa would be considered not very intelligent at all.

You can know everything there is to know, but if you are incapable of communicating that information, you are nothing more than a solved Rubik’s Cube sitting on a shelf.

rubiks

[Image credit: flytgr.tistory.com]

How to Drive Yourself Crazy

From a recent conversation with a friend:

Friend: Do you think I’m a selfish person?

Me: Not at all. In fact, I find you to be compassionate, supportive, generous, and a good listener. Why?

Friend: Well…It occurred to me the other day that if I were selfish, I’d never know, would I? Because I’d be focused on myself, and therefore wouldn’t be able to see that I wasn’t focused on anyone else.

Me: But it wouldn’t even cross your mind to worry about being selfish if you were selfish, so the very fact that it concerns you is a good indicator that you’re not.

Friend: But if I’m worried about it, couldn’t that mean that I suspect that I am selfish, deep down? Or that I wish I could be? Or that maybe I truly am, and all that you see is really a big façade?

Me: Okay, let’s try this. Let’s assume that you are really one selfish S.O.B.

Friend: Do you really think that?

Me: No! Don’t be silly. But for the purposes of this conversation, let’s say that you are. What would that mean?

Friend: Well, I’d be a contemptible human being. I would hurt people. I couldn’t be trusted. Anyone with any common sense wouldn’t like me.

Me: Well, there you go. You are trusted. You are liked. In fact, you are loved. Do me a favor. Go get yourself a pint of ice cream and a really good book. Lie in your hammock and forgive yourself for not being Mother Teresa or Gandhi, but remember your frequent acts of kindness.

After sending my friend off to do her homework, so to speak, I thought about the conversation. “Anyone with any common sense wouldn’t like me.”

Do I have common sense? If I didn’t have common sense, how would I know?

Oh, my head hurts…

selfish

Will You Marry Me?

Marriage and I have a fragile relationship at best. At 19 I was told by someone I was in love with that I was “not the kind you marry.” That was cruel enough, but what was worse is that he would not elaborate, and that gave me infinite ways to interpret that statement. In fact, here I am at 48, and I never did marry. Saying that his comment was the reason is according it way too much weight, though. In actual fact, there have been a few occasions when I’ve wanted to be married. But apparently the men in question were not on the same page. And there have been times when I’ve been proposed to, but not by anyone I wanted to marry. So there you go.

Do I feel that I have been worse off for being perpetually single, a spinster, an old maid? Not at all. I’ve seen very few examples of happy marriages, and a whole host of examples of married people who are living lives of quiet desperation. If I’m to be miserable and lonely (which I am not, most of the time), I’d much rather do it on my own, calling my own shots, crying into my own flavor of ice cream.

After all, marriage as an institution came about when the average life expectancy was not even 40 years old. You can get along with the devil himself for 10, maybe 15 years, can’t you? But when it stretches out for decades…then it becomes more like a life sentence. That has very limited appeal for me.

So part of me is kind of bemused by this battle for marriage equality. It seems to me that a great deal of fuss is being made over the ability to enter into an institution which, frankly, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I really don’t see the point of marriage in this day and age unless you have children and are therefore trying to provide them with a certain level of legal protection.

But do I think everyone should have the right to make their own mistakes? Definitely. Absolutely. No doubt about it. And that’s really what this battle is about, isn’t it? Fundamentally, every human being on this planet should have the right to be able to do what every other human being has a right to do. And therefore, by extension, I think that any person who willingly wishes to enter into a marriage contract should be allowed to do so. (Marriage against one’s will, or due to unbearable cultural pressure, or when so young that you can’t really make an informed decision is a topic for another blog entry entirely.)

This is not the 1600s, when only men who owned land could vote. This is not 1840, when slavery was considered acceptable. I’d like to think we’ve evolved beyond a time when we considered one group of people inferior to another. When viewed that way, the situation seems ridiculous at best. Why on earth would anyone want to hold on to an antiquated belief system that insists on making people comply to a completely random hierarchy, a set of boxes, and expect people to say in “their place” and shut up, and behave? Insanity.

And the main reason for all of this hubbub? Religion. Don’t get me wrong. I think having a spiritual standard that helps you to hold to a moral code is a good thing. But I also think that whatever divine power you subscribe to must surely expect you to use your common sense. I’ll use the Bible as an example only because it’s the book used in my particular culture. Here goes:

Have you ever played the game telephone? You whisper a sentence into your neighbor’s ear, and he then passes it on to the next person, and so on and so on, until at the end when you hear that message, it has changed so dramatically that you can barely recognize it? That’s the Bible in a nutshell. After having been passed through Aramaic, Coptic, and Greek, as well as the various historical contexts that it went through during those various translations, much of its original meaning has been lost. And then when you consider the many controversies over what books to include in the bible and what books to leave out, who knows what the original “story” was meant to be? I’m not saying that there isn’t value in the text that we know today. I’m just saying that we must use our common sense when interpreting it. Anyone who thinks that it can be taken literally when it has been changed so dramatically over time, and when the readers of today are so different than the writers of yesterday that they might as well be from different planets, has no sense of history whatsoever.

So don’t use the bible as your excuse for prohibiting gay marriage. Not when there are parts of the bible that advocate slavery and polygamy, and tell you not to interact with a woman who has her period, and don’t wear clothes of multiple fibers. For heaven’s sake, use your brain.

If you want to convince me that gay marriage is wrong, then come at me with a non-religious argument. Then maybe I’ll listen to you. Probably not, but maybe. In the meantime, if my nephew or my best friend, both gay, and two of the most amazing and loving and decent men I know, want to throw themselves into the utterly unpalatable institution of marriage, then I will be right there, pelting them with bird seed and crying tears of…well, who knows what they will be tears of. But more power to them.

marriage

Why I Fail to Thrive in a Bureaucracy

I have never been one to suffer fools gladly. I suppose that actually sums it up. I could stop this blog entry right here. And it’s not the first time I’ve addressed this subject. See also my entry entitled How to Give HORRIBLE Customer Service. So I don’t suppose I really need to go there again. And yet, here I am. It’s only fair, though, because there are days when you just can’t avoid bureaucracies no matter how desperately you try.

Like the time I was applying for college and they asked me to provide my transcripts from Surrey Community College. I called them and said I never went to Surrey Community College. In fact, I’d never even HEARD of Surrey Community College. And they then told me that I would have to get a letter from them proving that I’d never been there. Thank heavens they cooperated, because they could have very easily laughed at me. So somewhere in some folder at Indian River State College is a letter that says that I, in fact, have never attended Surrey. It made me want to transfer to Surrey, frankly. Stupidity like that makes me want to tear my hair (or someone else’s) out by the roots.

Believe it or not, I once was a bureaucrat. I was an eligibility specialist for the State of Florida’s Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Over the years I saw, time and time again, someone come up with a form to make our lives easier, and in no time it would turn into a MANDATORY form that made our lives much, much harder. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had to say, “I know it’s stupid that you have to have this form filled out before you can get benefits. I know this form has absolutely nothing to do with your situation. But you have to have this form filled out before you can get benefits.” The inmates truly run the asylums. I only lasted 4 years in that job, and it nearly sucked the life out of me. The best thing I’ve ever done was quit.

When you do not allow your employees to exercise any form of independent judgment or common sense, you create the world’s most illogical monster. Anyone who deals with AT&T or the federal government knows this. And the people who are willing to stand up and point out that policies are idiotic, or, essentially, that the emperor wears no clothes, are the very people who are labeled as troublemakers and are generally hounded out of the organization. It’s a shame, because those are clearly the very employees who care, and therefore the ones that are most needed.

bureaucrat

(photocredit: positivesharing.com)

I guess I’m ranting because today I had to get up 4 hours early to drive 15 miles across town and take an annual test to prove that I am a competent bridgetender. Never mind the fact that I’ve been on the job for 12 years, and if I didn’t know what I was doing by now, there would be a lot of boat wreckage at the bottom of the river. Never mind the fact that a lot of the questions on the test had nothing to do with my ability to competently perform my duties, and yet if I get less than 90 percent right, I could lose my job. Never mind the fact that this is the only district in the entire state of Florida that requires that bridgetenders take such a test. So why am I having to take this test? Two reasons. Because it’s mentioned vaguely in our contract, and because the Florida Department of Transportation Drawbridge Supervisor guy has “Give bridgetenders a test every year in February” on his evaluation form, and if he doesn’t meet all the criteria on his evaluation, he loses his chance of getting a raise. (And yet we only get raises once every 6 years, of less than 10 percent.) So that’s why I woke up 4 hours early today.

I’m trying not to scream.