All These Experts with their Fancy PhDs

Have you noticed how all these economists and psychologists get to call themselves Doctor just because they wrote a paper long enough to be a book?

That doesn’t mean they know anything about everything or everything about anything. It usually means that they know lots of things about one thing or one thing about lots of things. But for some reason, we keep asking them questions about everything, when there’s no such thing as a Doctor of Philosophy in Everything.

As any marketing expert will tell you, a specialty in everything is a specialty in nothing. Marketing experts don’t bother with PhDs because marketing is not science, philosophy or art. It’s just a thing that has to be done like flossing and oil changes. Marketing is a necessary lubricant to economic and social life, but it’s not an essential business, according to other experts who never buy anything but have PhDs in something.

If we have learned nothing else during this pandemic, it’s that some people know some things and other people will never know anything. Other people think they know things, but the things they think they know aren’t actually true. For example, it’s impossible to keep people home in Georgia because they were told at some point that being an adult means that math is optional after high school and no one can tell you what to do anymore.

It’s possible that they are choosing an alternative math, one that looks at bank balances instead of hospital beds and that is a perfectly valid thing to do. It turns out that even hospitals need banks.

However, the only good time to gamble with people’s lives is never, plus or minus two weeks which is why Las Vegas is re-opening tomorrow at midnight. The high rollers table now offers custom-fitted masks and a lifetime supply of hand sanitizer as the top prize.

Even if Covid-19 turns out to be no worse than the seasonal flu, it is clearly the great equalizer. All the experts – every single one of them – say drastic things must be done to save modern life from its unbalanced, thoughtless teenage self. Yet there’s no agreement at all on anything about moving forward, perhaps because PhD is synonymous with “I beg to disagree.”

Editor's Note Expectations

Make Your Hand Soap Fart and 5 Other Ways to Amuse Yourself While HandWashing

Step One towards a good handsoap fart is a farting soap bottle. To achieve this, you must violate every rule of obedient consumerism and put REGULAR SoftSoap handsoap into your FOAMING SoftSoap handsoap dispenser. Yes, we know that violates your license and breaks your warranty on the increasingly rare and ever precious name brand dispenser, but do it anyway. The auditory delights are well worth any monetary loss.

Step Two in handsoap farting is proper lathering. Lately, we’ve received innumerable encouragements on the subject of what to lather (answer: everything) without a commensurate amount of attention on how to lather. The proper ratio of soap to water will result in a noisy concert from your hands. The challenge is that the ratio varies based on the size of your hands, the speed at which you rub them together and the synchronization of your motions with the soap/water mixture. The only answer is experimentation, and fortunately, you will have approximately 47,389 opportunities to wash your hands between now and Memorial Day. Start practicing now to win the Hand Soap Farting Olympics at your family’s virtual barbecue.

Step Three is recording the hand soap farts… because if it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen. After years if not decades of denying any fart noises emanating from your body, you must overcome your shyness and turn your bathroom sink into a TikTok set without making it look like you tried very hard, staged your hand towels, or otherwise had a second thought about your efforts. Second thoughts are not authentic, but elaborate audio/video equipment scattered across your bathroom countertop is totally normal. Just remember that it’s the farting noises that count, not the sound design or the OscarTM caliber of your cinematography. Do not be distracted by the wrong kind of excellence.

Obviously, steps four, five and six are related to sharing your hand soap farts, pretending not to care about the social media reaction, and then demonstrating your technique on a larger, live platform like Drinking Live with Kelly Ripa or the later hours of Today, Again With a Drink.

(I’m so grateful that public health officials are way too busy to fret about the amount we are drinking).

Not everyone can win even a local edition of the HandSoap Farting Olympics, but every person disinfecting their fingers and palms can partake in the growing body of HandWashing Amusements… these serious cultural contributions should not be overlooked by critics seeking meaning in perilous times.

Obvious contenders are the early wave of memes and videos matching popular characters and songs to the so-called New Directive. Many people were shocked to learn that a hand-washing directive was needed but apparently a sad majority of humans don’t worry about dirt they can’t see and exit bathrooms without performing any abulations. Those people are pioneers in contagion bingo, and also dead.

To stay both sane and also not dead, we recommend switching out all those tiresome memes, songs and refrains in favor of the following entertainments while handwashing:

  1. WhirlyGiggles. WhirlyGiggles involve closing your eyes and rotating your head in circles while vigorously rubbing your hands with soap and water. Again, your personal speed and preferences may vary, but if you do it right you can achieve the same delightful level of dizziness and fear that none of us will experience on a Whirli-gig at the state fair this summer.
  2. SwordFights. Washing your hands with the elegance of fencing and the dynamic power of imaginary steel swords. Finally, an opportunity to live out all your medieval fantasies with all the pleasures of modern plumbing.
  3. LightSaberLancers. Yep, same as above, but better sound effects.
  4. KnotsBerries. For anyone who has overindulged in either fruit or crafting (and who among us is not guilty of both these diversions). Instead of merely rubbing your fingers and palms together, explore the various ways they knot together.
  5. ChurchSteeplePeople. This is really the only way you’re allowed to have a gathering. It falls just under the limit of 10, and incorporates that innocent chant from earlier ages, “Here’s the church… here’s the steeple… ” In addition to the amusements promised therein, you earn a plenary indulgence.

It is our humble hope that these small entertainments will offer some sense of the minuscule effort it takes to protect everyone from viruses versus the insanely complicated measures required by even a mild case of Covid-19.

Please do participate in any one of these HandWashing Amusements. You might win a prize, but also, you get to live and so do other people, which is the point of all this madness.

Editor's Note Expectations

Someday, We Might Wear Shoes Again

Recently on Facebook, I posted Alexandra Petri’s excellent fashion advice, which encourages us to dress appropriately for our quarantine meetings, if the meaning of appropriately has been skewered by pandemic cocktails to suddenly require a costume director to live in our closets:

I always put on pants. For video calls, I put on a full tuxedo. It is important to show a minimum of respect to your interlocutor, and that is why I always don full evening dress, a top hat and a set of cuff links, before hopping on to a Zoom conference. If it is a particularly important conference call, I put on a full Prussian army uniform dating back to the time of Frederick the Great, so that my colleagues know that I value them. Respect! That is the word! For work-related socializing, I reserve my ermine robe, chain of office, and a spangled garter.

You Should Be Wearing More Pants
Alexandra Petri
Washington Post,
April 23, 2020

As a friendly grammarian pointed out to me, and my beloved seconded, “wearing ‘more pants’ would mean wearing several pairs at once. I think they mean “wearing pants more often.’ ” And it is true, in normal times, that such a headline would not have slid past the wise copyeditors of the Washington Post. However, since these are not normal times, our beloved humor columnist explores the rigors of our new all-consuming work-from-home life and the requirements of Zoom couture. She concludes her satiric refection:

Oh, are you not as productive, working from home, tending to your house and family and strained nerves, as you feel you ought to be? Well, have you considered dressing for the job you are doing? Have you tried wearing pants? Have you tried wearing another set of pants on top of the first pants? Have you tried putting a kilt on top of that? And then, lastly, a third pair of pants?

Just put on pants. Pants will fix all of this.

Nothing will fix all of this, of course, which is why every third joke during our awkward online staff meetings is a variation on wearing pants, not wearing pants, or wearing a costume to fit a theme day carefully vetted by HR to be neither offensive nor interesting.

In our desperation to pretend that our situation is normal, we report our second-quarter sales results in a tone of scholarly seriousness while simultaneously choosing a Star Wars background that clarifies how desperately we would prefer to be on another planet right now. Preferably one with universal health care, or at least herbal remedies for viruses.

There is a deeper reality at the heart of Petri’s comedy and much of our current cultural casserole. Somehow, “quarantine” and “lockdown” have become synonyms for “projects” and “enrichment” when actually they are much more likely to be closer to “weird” and “unpredictable” since we can’t go anywhere and online retailers constantly inform us that everything we ordered will arrive two weeks late only to deliver it an hour later tied with a bow. We attempt to be productive and at the same time maintain a polite awareness that everyone is typing with one hand tied behind their back and the other swatting a cat off the laptop.

Apparently, some of us have an aversion to admitting that a worldwide pandemic changes us. A central lie we have told ourselves is that if we just keep working and shopping, everything will be ok. Now is the perfect time for crafting and cooking… because you have nothing else to do while you are wrangling children into distance learning appointments, arguing with the cable company about the speed of your internet connection and turning three peppers and one sausage into dinner without the use of a knife because someone in your household decided to soak every kitchen utensil in garlic juice as an antiseptic. Why not also hand sew a few dozen masks and finish that quilling project you started twelve years ago?

Actually, always is the perfect time for crafting and cooking if you have materials and food or money. Now is the perfect time for whatever you want. Likely, you want to live, so you’re staying home except for exercise and errands. Even more likely, it feels weird to be home so much and it sucks not to see people you’re used to seeing daily or weekly or just randomly at the supermarket.

You may need someone to talk to who doesn’t live with you and has no idea that you’ve spent the last eight hours playing Toon Blast because you’re determined to be the family champion of a smartphone app. You may just want a game of Uno played with people who show you their cards because it’s the fun of the game and not the final outcome that matters instead of treating it like the SuperBowl of card games.

More likely, you crave the structure of your former life and the security of your work shoes. Reliable daily footwear built for commuting, conferences, and conversation sends a message of normalcy that can’t be achieved with slippers, sandals or flip-flops.

That day will come again.

Until then, moisturize, hydrate, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Expectations Reflections

In the Hands of the Potter~ November 9, 2018 — In the Hands of the Potter

Catholic circles are talking a lot these days about evangelization and the new evangelization. Much of this is because of the writings of Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XV and now Pope Francis. Our Church leaders have called us to be aware of how we “preach” […]

via In the Hands of the Potter~ November 9, 2018 — In the Hands of the Potter

Editor's Note Expectations Reflections

Retreating to Win – The Ravens, the Post Office & Revolutionaries

When pursuing victory, one of the most counter-instinctual things to do is to retreat. It goes against our nature to step back when momentum seems to be carrying us forward. Yet there are many examples of this strategy working. During Sunday’s Super Bowl, with their team on the edge of victory, the Ravens special teams unit was told to prepare to take a safety and thus give the 49ers two unearned points. Given the competitive nature of professional athletes, that had to be a bitter pill to swallow. Punter Sam Koch has never been charged with a safety — it’s the sort of thing a good punter generally avoids — but he followed orders and danced in the end zone for eight precious seconds before the 49ers caught on and forced him out of bounds. The result was that the 49ers did not have time to score and the Ravens won the championship.

Sometimes retreating to win plays out in the realm of business, like when a conglomerate spins off various brands that no longer relate to its core mission. Or when the post office decides not to deliver bills (or anything other than packages) on Saturdays. Unlike most businesses, the U.S. Postal Service is subject to the capricious whims of Congress, which has created requirements that make it hard for that amazing national system of sorting and delivery to adjust to competition from the Internet, FedEx and UPS. Naturally there’s a lot of debate about whether the Postal Service has the authority to change its hours and whether or not this move will damage its network irreparably. It’s possible that canceling Saturday service is a ploy to force Congress to pass a reform package. But for now, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says that such a retreat is the responsible thing to do to preserve the future of the postal service.

In other words, a small retreat now serves a greater good later. Just ask George Washington, whose use of strategic retreats preserved the Continental Army for later victories. Similarly, women fighting for the right to vote retreated from yearly petitions to the U.S. Congress to small referendum victories, state by state.

I don’t know the exact number of States we shall have to have…. but I do know that there will come a day when that number will automatically and resistlessly act on the Congress of the United States to compel the submission of a federal suffrage amendment.  And we shall recognize that day when it comes.
— Susan B. Anthony

For examples in popular culture, check out Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess of Grantham, who seems to know exactly which battles are worth fighting, which must be conceded and which must simply be ignored.


Mourning Unexpected Outcomes, Praying for Hidden Blessings

Tonight the Nationals lost a game they had been leading 9-0.

Trees, street light, U District, rainy night, ...
(Photo credit: Wonderlane)

After 3-run homers in three different innings, including a season record 465-footer by Michael Morse that landed at the Red Porch restaurant behind center field, the pitching staff wilted in the rain and the power hitters of the Braves took full advantage. Danny Espinoza’s wonderful plunker into the Braves bullpen was an exciting moment but ultimately tying the game merely postponed the loss. It’s an unfortunate lead-in to tomorrow’s double header, but this team has frequently defied expectations. That’s about the only thing it does consistently, and the response to this humiliation will determine whether they are truly playoff caliber or just having a surprisingly good season.

Die hard fans have a lot to freak out about, but I’m not a blind passionate fan of anything. That’s just not my style.  I scream loudly for my chosen heroes but I can appreciate a good performance, even from the other team. I might be a little more down  if I had actually sat in Nationals Park for the four hour game in the rain and then had to hustle to the Metro, but I’d probably forget about it as soon as my husband kissed me goodnight.

Then again, I’m aware that I’m fortunate to have him at home and kissing me. Friday morning, our country woke to the news that a lone gunman had randomly opened fire at the beginning of a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, uncannily confusing fans who thought he was a performer hired to match the action on the screen.

Tonight, there are twelve fewer people kissing their loved ones goodnight.

Dozens more are injured, and an entire community is shattered while we as a country wonder why such tragic shootings keep happening. Random violence is a problem that’s too big, too systemic, too beyond our control to prevent. Or so we think.  Most of the perpetrators are isolated young men, often with a history of instability. Their odd behavior causes many people to avoid them and gives them the freedom to acquire arsenals and attack gear right under our noses. As the people of Norway discovered last summer, even the strictest gun control laws can’t prevent a determined, intelligent lunatic from stockpiling weapons and planning sophisticated attacks.

What evil has been unleashed when college students can’t attend class,  a congresswoman can’t meet her constituents at a grocery store, and families can’t attend the movies? We’re so inured to it that we try to find reasons where there aren’t any, we analyze what happened down to the smallest detail, and then we do nothing to create change.

Yet, we always pray. Whatever our religion, after these tragedies we gather, we hug, we sing, we pray, we light candles, and leave flowers and draw posters. We honor the dead and support those they left behind. A lot of goodness erupts. We don’t always notice through our tears, but eventually we look back and can trace a line of hidden blessings that emerged in the aftermath.

The entire premise of Batman is creating good from tragedy, justice prevailing over evil. Maybe the message for us today is that we don’t have to be superheroes. We just have to take care of each other.

Editor's Note Expectations

Daylight Dangers and Dirty Old Men

English: Photo of Dupont Circle
DuPont Circle via Wikipedia

It shouldn’t be dangerous to wear a skirt in daylight in DuPont Circle.

Actually, it shouldn’t ever be dangerous to wear a skirt. Or jeans.

It should not be dangerous to walk while female.

Yet most women take sensible precautions all the time as they make their way through the world. As we choose what to wear, where to meet friends for a drink, when to leave, in the back of our mind we consider whether a given location is safe. Sometimes we think so and find out otherwise. Sometimes we decide to take a risk that turns out to be quite worthwhile. Sometimes we plunge into an experience and discover a wonderful new neighborhood park. Sometimes we find that we have crossed an invisible line into the lion’s den.

Whether statistics bear out our fears or not, we know there are criminals who may attack us at any given time. Many women deal with it consciously by traveling in packs, keeping their keys handy in case they need a weapon or talking on their cellphones loudly so those around them know they are not really alone. We do everything we can think of to protect ourselves and prevent something from going wrong.

And yet does.

In her recent blog post, On the Reverse “10-5 Rule” and Walking While Female, photographer Liz Gorman wrote about a man who sexually assaulted her in broad daylight in DuPont Circle. For those of you not familiar with DC, that is a neighborhood filled with coffee shops and embassies. It is definitely not the Cologne train station at midnight where a similar thing happened to me twenty one years ago.

I was a college student with a Eurail pass and a shoulder bag of clothes. I’d planned to switch trains for Paris only to learn that they were fully booked. It was too late to get a hostel and too dark to explore the city. I wandered around the train station looking for an alternative and witnessed paramedics trying to revive a train conductor on the platform. It did not appear to be a successful effort; I can still see the man sprawled out on his back, immobile in a white shirt and dark pants, his belly swelling out of his clothes, a florescent light shining down on him as we travelers passed by. That fleeting glance made me think of death and escape. I was spooked and determined to get out of that station.

Seeking refuge, I climbed aboard the next train heading west only to have an old man grin madly at me and grab my crotch as he exited the train. His fingers were quite deliberate as he pressed through my jeans, but he didn’t get very far. I shoved him hard and swung my shoulder bag at him before fleeing down the aisle and into a compartment. There were angry shouts in German but no one followed or questioned me. Maybe the person behind him saw the whole thing and set everyone straight. Maybe the old man knew better than to press charges and covered my defense with a lie. I didn’t care; I was just glad to wake up somewhere else the next morning.

Except that memory is still there. I thought of it immediately when I read this column about the many women now telling their stories and that leering face slips by me at least a few times a year.

I don’t think grab & grope sexual assaults are going to magically end just because we’re talking about them. Dirty old men may die but they’ve been with us for centuries. What needs to change is our response when these things do happen.

Expectations Reflections

Pattern Tweaks and the Big NO

Frost Water Crystal on Mercury
Fractal Pattern in Frost Water Crystal on Mercury via Wikepedia

It’s often been said that that definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We all do this to some degree, partly because we’re wired for it. Our bodies like to eat and sleep at the same time every day. Most of us have a morning routine like coffee in bed, an hour of reading, a leisurely breakfast… oh wait, that’s just my fantasy. Reality includes coffee in bed, but the rest of the timetable speeds up a bit.

Patterns can help us get through our lives, but I know they sometimes get disruptive and disconnect me from my best self and those I love. For instance, I am a homebody who loves to read, which is a nice way to live occasionally but a constant pattern of it eventually leads to isolation or depression.

So what do I do? I try to start a new pattern, a healthier one, because ironically the cure for an unhealthy pattern is the deliberate, repetitive practice of a better one.

Repetition is a driving factor in nature and art. Look at fractals, those beautiful pictures of nature repeating its patterns over and over to achieve something even more beautiful. Listen to a piece of music that builds on a theme and you will hear the same notes over and over again. Now notice that what makes a flower or a song really interesting is not perfect repetition, the same thing over and over, but variations. The variations may be a deliberate choice, or a random accident but either way the result is beautiful.

As a recovering perfectionist control freak, it’s a relief to see that even randomness can become beautiful. What’s interesting is the effect a variation has on the structure around it. Whether the variation emerges from a mistake or a deliberate choice,  strong, repetitive patterns either amplify the shift into something more amazing and powerful, or sweep it into the whole, letting the change occur without destroying everything. We don’t have to get it right every time, we just have to know the ideal that we’re aiming for and eventually we overcome our unfortunate mistakes to create either a beautiful new variation or an even better pattern.

Recently I played Game On, a diet contest that focuses on breaking bad patterns and starting good ones through a very rigid structure of eating times, meal composition and other factors. What I noticed was that the structure made me more attentive to what I do over and over and the positive or negative effects of those choices. When I don’t drink tons of water and exercise every day, I don’t feel as well. Change is hard but there’s something about friendly competition and encouragement that helps this contest work. Everyone comes out a winner because we’re all working to change habits, to create new, beautiful and powerful variations in our personal patterns.

The same thing happens on a spiritual level during Lent. We deny our usual patterns, we say no to coffee or cigarettes or our favorite websites and advice columnists. All the readings, the fasting, the fish on Fridays, the small sacrifices and generous alms are designed to make us break a pattern of complacency and grow closer to God.

And this is where the big ‘NO’ comes in.

God loves us so much that He says NO. Not in the same sense that a parent warns a toddler about touching something hot but in an even deeper manner. God tells us no in order to make us say yes to Him. The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, the crucifixion itself are all one big plea from God: “I love YOU. Choose Me.”

  • NO, I will not spare my only Son from the Cross because His sacrifice redeems YOU.
  • NO, I will not accept mere politeness between people because YOU deserve a deep, abiding true love, the kind YOU must share to receive.
  • NO, I will not tolerate lying, stealing, murder, jealousy or adultery because those things hurt YOU.
  • NO, I will not abide disrespect for your parents because whatever they may do wrong, they did one great thing right and that’s YOU.
  • NO, I will not allow you to work constantly without rest because I want to spend quality time with YOU.
  • NO, I will not share you with Mammon or Gaga or whatever other idols your world invents because I want all of YOU.
  • NO, I will not accept any substitutes because I made YOU.

Basically God is breaking the pattern of a society that says ‘yes’ to virtually everything and inviting us to say ‘yes’ to Him by saying ‘no’ to those things that harm us and separate us from Him and those who love us. Our small ‘no’ can change a pattern and lead to an ever greater yes.


It’s Always Valentine’s Day…

Yesterday my beloved and I successfully ignored all the pressure to shower each other with gifts, indulge in fine dining and otherwise pretend it was anything other than Tuesday. Ok, it was Tuesday with extra kisses in the morning, but still just Tuesday. We’ve done quiet Valentine’s dinners at a lovely restaurant in the past, but until recently he worked in the restaurant industry and therefore was always working on the 14th. We’d reschedule the celebration to his nearest day off, which makes it both more special and less hyped. For us, it seems that Valentine’s Day is just an affirmation of how we live our love all the time.

Any dude that waits till Valentine’s Day to treat his woman like a Queen is failing 364 days a year . – Adam Sandler (or a meme by the same name)

I know very well that many women can’t stand the thought of Valentine’s Day without roses, presents and the royal treatment. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of that, it’s just not what I need or want. Apparently I’m not high maintenance. On one of our early dates we got all dressed up for a night of dinner and the theater and I suggested parking on the street instead of an expensive lot. That was when he knew I was a girl who appreciated sweet gestures and the finer things but didn’t have ridiculous expectations. What I remember about that night is the magic, not the money.

Of course we would love to have any excuse to give each other big expensive toys. In an alternate fairytale universe, our Valentine’s Day would start with breakfast in bed and pillow presents, most likely e-readers. Then we’d indulge in a morning of massages followed by a gourmet lunch and an afternoon at the movies. Just as everyone else emerged from offices and started filling up restaurants, we’d head home to open gifts. I’d unveil for him a large screen television fully installed and equipped with a dvr, cable, blue-ray and the entire Criterion collection. He’d hand me a smoking fast MacBook Pro fully loaded with Adobe Creative Suite and Dragon software. We’d make a steak dinner together, top it off with dessert and our favorite wine, and then spend the evening enjoying each other’s company.

So how did we really celebrate our first married Valentine’s Day, the first time in our entire relationship that he didn’t have to work? He made dinner, we drank some wine and talked, talked, talked. Then we played rummy with deuces wild, reviewed his resumes, and watched the Mirror, Mirror episode of Star Trek.

Basically the same without new toys. I’d like to think that’s how we’ll always be, loving and supporting each other no matter what the calendar says or how much we’ve got in the bank.