Sunday, October 21, 2012

Answers to Unanswerable Questions

Governor Romney recently mused about one of those big, big questions questions: why don't airplane manufacturers put operable windows in planes? It brings to mind other unanswerable questions like: if God can do anything, can he make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? and: why does anyone care about what Sarah Palin has to say anymore?

While I can't answer either of those last two, and therefore must assume that no one can, I did recently receive  lots of others in an email forward from a friend. For those who don't know, before Facebook we sent and received funny, inspirational, or irritating content through email. Before that we had chain letters, and before that people went to church. 

The ability and inclination to answer questions of this type is quite valuable in school teaching. As my wife said in her This I Believe, "I believe that there absolutely is such a thing as a stupid question," and "I believe that if you disagree, you probably ask a lot of them." (My This I Believe is here, if you're interested.) Since a teacher is never really sure which stupid questions are intended ironically, and since teachers and students both know that delving into this stuff can consume a vast amount of time, it is best to deal with them all at face value.

I've provided just the questions first, just as I received them. These are followed by the questions with my answers. That way you can try out the questions yourself, and/or SPAM your own friends. If you're not interested in playing, just scroll down and no one ever needs to know.

QUESTIONS THAT HAUNT ME!
  1. Can you cry under water?  
  2. How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?
  3. Once you're in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?
  4. Why does a round pizza come in a square box? 
  5. What disease did cured ham actually have?  
  6. How is it that we put man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?
  7. Why is it that people say they 'slept like a baby' when babies wake up like every two hours? 
  8. Why are you IN a movie, but you're ON TV?
  9. Why do people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground? 
  10. Why do doctors leave the room while you change? They're going to see you naked anyway...
  11. Why is 'bra' singular and 'panties' plural?
  12. Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat?
  13. If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a stupid song about him? 
  14. Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs!
  15. If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?
  16. Do the Alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star have the same tune?
  17. Why did you just try singing the two songs above?
  18. Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?
  19. Why, Why, Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are getting dead? 
  20. Why do banks charge a fee on 'insufficient funds' when they know there is not enough money?
  21. Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
  22. Why do they use sterilized needles for death by lethal injection?
  23. Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?
  24. Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a revolver at him?
  25. Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
  26. If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?
  27. Why is it that no matter what colour bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?
  28. Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?
  29. Why do people constantly return to the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized?
  30. Why do people keep running over a thread a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance? 
  31. Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end on your first try?
  32. How do those dead bugs get into those enclosed light fixtures?
  33. Why is it that whenever you attempt to catch something that's falling off the table you always manage to knock something else over? 
  34. In winter why do we try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when we complained about the heat?
  35. How come you never hear father-in-law jokes?

And my FAVORITE.........

The statistics on sanity is that one out of every four persons is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Think of your three best friends -- if they're okay, then it's you.

~~~ Now send this on to your friends and make them smile too! ~~~


Unanswerable questions, with answers.


Can you cry under water?
Yes I can. Most people who have swum competitively can do this.

How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?
If one wishes to be considered assassinated, we're just going to have to agree to be okay with that. He/she's had a pretty tough time already; let's not split hairs on this one.

Once you're in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?
No, they immediate issue you jeans that fit. That's why you go to all of the trouble to get into heaven in the first place.

Why does a round pizza come in a square box?
Because folding round stuff is hard, and forming dough into a square is hard, and people are pretty lazy.

What disease did cured ham actually have?
Swine Flu. And botulism--before curing we used to just scrape all of the nasty stuff from our pork. Thank you, salt.

How is it that we put man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?
The President told us to. He had a guy whose job it was to carry his luggage, so it was probably a matter of priorities.

Why is it that people say they 'slept like a baby' when babies wake up like every two hours?
 

Some babies sleep rather well. Now that I have one of those, I'd be glad to tell you all of my secrets. Last time around, we must have been doing it wrong. (See also: here)

Why are you IN a movie, but you're ON TV?
I am neither of these things. Am I?

Why do people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground?
Tourism or voyeurism, take your pick.

Why do doctors leave the room while you change? They're going to see you naked anyway...
Dignity. Thirty seconds of dignity, then all bets are off.

Why is 'bra' singular and 'panties' plural?
Uhm. Wait, did you say something?

Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat?
My mother. She is an entirely decent human being, but does eats toast this way. Then she "offers it up." Something about St. Francis putting ashes on his food.

If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a stupid song about him?
Slavery.

Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs!
Clothes. Disney characters with clothes (regardless of species, or genus for that matter) are considered people, while those without are considered pets. Except for the nudist nymphs in Fantasia--they're people.

If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from?
Johnson & Johnson won't say. In fact, we only have Monsanto's word on the first two--bon appetit!

Do the alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star have the same tune?
Yes. Also, Paul Simon's American Tune is the same as a chorale in Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion, itself a reworking of an earlier secular song, Mein Gmüth ist mir verwirret, composed by Hans Hassler. Plagiarism used to be quite a bit easier.

Why did you just try singing the two songs above?
I didn't, but I have a couple of college degrees in this stuff. Fair question.

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?
Dogs shouldn't put their heads out the window. I dries out their eyes.
Sorry, I know--fun killer.

Why, Why, Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are getting dead?
It worked that one time, and besides the batteries are all the way over there. If I wanted to get up, why would I be holding this remote?

Why do banks charge a fee on 'insufficient funds' when they know there is not enough money?
Deregulation--in other words, because they can. Nothing a little unfunded mandate couldn't fix.

Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
Wet paint isn't in textbooks. If it's in a textbook, it must be true.

Why do they use sterilized needles for death by lethal injection?
The same reason as all of our other "humane" treatment of death row inmates: we're hypocrites.

Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?
Jane.

Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a revolver at him?
 Does he? I've never tried this.

Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
A combination of hypocrisy and dignity (see above).

If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?
For the same reason that my little brother and his children continue to exist despite our common ancestry. We're talking about evolution, not metamorphosis.

Why is it that no matter what colour bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?
I don't use bubble bath.

Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?
The day you need to buy one.

Why do people constantly return to the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized?
Childhood. The same reason I leave my cereal bowl on the table when I'm finished.

Why do people keep running over a thread a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance?
Better living through machines.

Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end on your first try?
There's an alternate universe where this works out every time. The universes have a way of evening things out.

How do those dead bugs get into those enclosed light fixtures?
They do it while they're alive.

Why is it that whenever you attempt to catch something that's falling off the table you always manage to knock something else over?
I'm clumsy. That's how I knocked the thing over in the first place.

In winter why do we try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when we complained about the heat?
My wife
believes that since the insides of our bodies are happiest at 98 degrees, the outsides should be very close to that as well. I wear shorts all winter and put more wood in the fire.

How come you never hear father-in-law jokes?
Have you met her father?! No thanks.

And my
FAVORITE.........


The statistics on sanity is that one out of every four persons is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Think of your three best friends -- if they're okay, then it's you.
Wow, am I ever fine.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Worship the Flagpole

There is a bit of a debate these days about whether the right to free speech should apply to religion. Actually, freedom of speech for religious leaders is firmly rooted in the First Amendment, the only limitation being that if churches choose to double as political organizations we may be entitled to collect taxes accordingly--though this is also a matter for debate. Rather, there is some question on whether the freedom of speech should apply to criticism of religion.

Uhm, yeah it should. While I will strenuously defend your right to worship as you choose, I will just as strenuously defend my right to analyze, critique, and to provide mockery where I deem appropriate. Except, of course, for Islam--they're perfectly fine in every way.

Last week, American high school students celebrated the annual Christian high feast day, See You at the Pole. I wouldn't be so much aware of this event if didn't conflict with my before-school chamber choir rehearsal. Depending on the reliability, fervor, and baseline punctuality of my students in a given year, this can have a significant effect on my day. You work through a rehearsal with a third of your group missing and you're going to have a thought or two.

I make no claim to know the individual motivations of the students involved, most of which I'll even assume are entirely righteous. I do, however, feel it is fair to analyze the ritual itself. Ritual is action infused with meaning, and the actions we see here tell us a lot (including some things they haven't set out to say):
  • It's public - If it were about prayer, it could be done anywhere. If it were about group prayer, it could be done anywhere large enough to contain all of the faithful. 
  • It's done as people are arriving for the day -  If it must be outside--as it must be for Pagans, Wiccans, and Druids--it could be done after school, when mostly everyone has left. 
  • It's done with their backs turned toward the infidels - Positioning matters. Pre-Vatican II the Eucharistic Prayer was said with the priest turned away from the congregation. Though the official spin on this was that the priest should be on the same side of the altar as everyone else, the inevitable sensation from the pews must have been that the priest was turning his back on the unworthy to get down to the serious work of Consecration. In the end, the Council rearranged the furniture to correct the optics.
  • It's done at school, and not at church - It's not as if there aren't any faith communities for students to indulge religious impulses--the town where school district is has so many houses of worship that there are two just for Lutherans.
Given this, I think it's safe to say that it isn't about worship, which can be done at home or in church, and it isn't about a faith-based fellowship with schoolmates, which can be done at weekly meetings of the FCA
(where they gather the rest of the year within the shelter of the school). Therefore, the real purpose of the Sacrament of the Pole must be either grandstanding, or protest.

For the most part, I see nothing wrong with grandstanding in religion. My church built a little turret on top of its bell tower so that it would be the highest structure in town at the time. We also have no drywall or plaster in the sanctuary--just ornate stone and elaborately carved wood. We have some stained glass windows that are larger than even the biggest TVs at Best Buy. As a professional choral musician, amateur artisan, and dedicated epicurean I am thrilled with the ways in which churches have always tried to out-sing, out-build, and out-cook all of the others. Churches remain one of the best patrons of the arts in an era when the state and the wealthy are no longer interested in doing their share. At times, we miss the Holy Roman Empire, the Esterhazys, and the Medicis.

It's not that kind of grandstanding, though is it? They're not commissioning multi-movement cantatas for chorus and orchestra, they don't raise funds for the building of organs, or hire stone masons and wood carvers at union scale. They don't even dispense doughnuts at the end. It's more like tramping through the flower beds to play the role of Luke's Pharisee, thanking God that they're not like other men. Maybe, then, it's actually better if they're protesting the lack of prayer in schools.

I have no objection to prayer in the schools. I'm a Slacker; prayer, along with some moderate levels of superstition, made up a significant portion of my test preparation. I don't object to organized prayer either. I went to Catholic school, and we prayed all the time--heck, for a while they had us say the Angelus every day at noon. At some point in elementary school they took us through the little passageway to the convent, to the nuns' chapel for Benediction and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We used to go over to the church on Fridays during Lent for Stations. We set up hundreds of chairs in the gym and learned special trumpet descants for hymns every time the Bishop came to say mass.

Organized prayer in public schools? Okay, now we have a problem.

A number of problems:
  1. Christian? - Advocates of putting prayer in school are assuming, I guess, Christian prayers. Given that they're already comfortable ignoring the rights of non-believers and agnostics, they just want a little Lord's Prayer from everyone, be they Christian, Jew, or Miscellaneous.
  2. Still, whose prayers? - Catholics stop at "evil," protestants go on to "for Thine is the kingdom," and that's in a prayer Christians mostly agree on. What about the Confeteor ("I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin...") or BCP, pg 370 ("...and this fragile earth, our island home") or an old prayer from Good Friday for conversion of the "perfidious Jews"? There really isn't any such thing as non-denominational.
  3. Sweat the small stuff? - Linus had to choose from "peace to men on whom his favor rests" vs. "and on earth peace, good will toward men," and this is one of the nicer verses. The differences are subtle, and yet entirely change what we learn about the "appalling strangeness of the mercy of God. " If you don't see a difference, you could probably found a faith system all your own based on that.
  4. To what end? - Changing hearts takes more than forced recitation. Geoff Nunberg says of the Pledge of Allegiance (a profession of faith that we permit because the holy relic involved represents freedom--in other words, a mandated pledge to a device that objectifies freedom): "In theory, the pledge could do most of the same work if we had children say it in Anglo-Saxon or Arapaho, or if we replaced it with the lyrics to 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.' They're going to turn the words into jabberwocky anyway: 'I led a pigeon to the flag,' 'one Asian under guard.'" The same process could easily apply to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and that might be just as well.
All of this ranting about prayer in schools may be somewhat confusing to anyone who knows that I spend my days teaching Elijah Rock, O Vos Omnes, and By the Waters of Babylon to public school kids. I have a 2000-word defense of this that I may share in the future, but it boils down to engaging in scholarship rather than worship. In fact, I would be entirely in favor of a comparative religions or church history course--provided it didn't shy away from Henry the VIIIth, the Inquisition, or Islamic extremists. I would even offer to teach it, except that the rest of my day is spent teaching Margaritaville, so I'm pretty swamped.