Category Archives: musings

Things I Would Have Googled

On vacation in the UK, I had an experience I hadn’t had in several years..lack of cell phone service. I quickly discovered the major disadvantage was that I couldn’t immediately look things up. I noted down things I wanted to google (or look up in the OED). It’s amazing how annoying the lack of immediate access to the world’s collected knowledge becomes when you’re used to having it.

Yellow flowering bush northern England
Gorse bush?
Agriculture in the uk
Bottom feeder [OED]
Miracle on 34th St
Commercialism [OED]
Misericord
Jack kirby
lamiter
Whitby
BLT [OED]
Elizabeth Fry
What the hell is Brown sauce
“Choose life, not knives”
US drug criminalization dates
Gaelic language family
Murder she wrote list of episodes
Yellow flowering agricultural crop England
Is material pronounced differently than materiel?
TARFU acronym
Potato salad origins
Edinburgh wiki climate
Isis mystery cults Hellenistic

The Pilgrims Were Dicks: A Brief Exploration

This is one of those things that, as soon as you learn it, you assume that A) everyone else already knew it and B) you yourself have known it forever. But it occurred to me today that I did NOT, in fact, know this until recently. So, in case anyone doesn’t know this yet, I consider it my duty to implant this fact into your brain.

The Pilgrims were NOT fleeing religious persecution when they sailed on the Mayflower and founded Plymouth Colony.

This lie entered my brain at some point during my childhood and remained lodged there until I read the excellent American Nations a couple years ago.

Here is an imprecise, unsourced, truncated account of what happened:

There was this hella weird church group in rural eastern England in the late 1500s. They were basically a super-strict cult like group. Think like one of those american cult compound groups, basically. They were a sect of Puritans, but even bigger dicks than a lot of Puritans were.

Not surprisingly, all their neighbors hated them. It must have been like having the Westboro Baptist Church in your town. Ugh. So the surrounding, marginally less dickish people made life very difficult for this church of whackos. Eventually, the whackos were like “Fuck you, we don’t have to take this!” and they packed up their wives, children, and farming implements (?) and pissed off to the Netherlands.

What’s that? The Netherlands.

At the time, the Netherlands were the most liberal educated society in Europe. They had advanced commerce, a literate and artistic culture, and freedom of religion. So these Puritan assholes were like “fuck yeah! We can totally do our weird religion stuff here in the Netherlands!” and everything was cool for a like a decade or two, and the whole Plymouth thing almost never happened.

But then a thing happened that you and I can totally see coming, but those dickheads apparently couldn’t. Here’s a hint: The Netherlands were the most liberal nation in Europe. It was too freakin liberal for the Puritans! This is as if the Westboro Baptist Church relocated to San Francisco.

The church leader dudes were like “What the eff? What is this liberal decadence? They won’t let us hang people for breaking church law, and all our kids want to run away to Amsterdam and not be as big dickheads as we are!!”

So the Pilgrims packed up their wives, the children that had not yet run off to Amsterdam, and their farming implements (?), and they fucked off to the New World, where no one could stop them from forcibly keeping their kids in the church and hanging dissenters. Hooray!

The Pilgrims came to the Americas, not because they were seeking religious freedom, but in order to enforce their own religious laws and not have to put up with liberal pluralism.

And that is a truly impressive level of dickishness.

Twitter and Narwhals and Belief

So, musician Patrick Stump is adorable on Twitter, and you’ve probably seen a few of his exchanges floating around the internet. I like this one. But my favorite is this:

do you believe in narwhals?

You see it and think aww, cute, celebrities interacting with their fans on twitter in a manner as wholesome as a puppy romping in a freshly-mown field. It’s been shared bazillions of times and as far as I know no one has objected to it or made a nasty comment about it. And that’s what makes it so remarkable to me.

It seems like, quietly, without me noticing, we’ve come to a cultural consensus that you only need to believe in things that aren’t real. If narwhals exist, it’s nonsense to ask if you believe in them (except in the emotional support sense).

I’m worried about the squirrels of Central Park

[I wrote this on facebook several years ago, right after I moved to New York. I still think about this sometimes]

I’m worried about the squirrels of Central Park. I’m not worried about their physical safety. They seem both numerous and prosperous. Central Park is eight hundred acres, and there are thousands of the little buggers running around gathering plentiful supplies of food for the winter. I saw one this morning, and she seemed to be doing fine.

No, I’m worried about them philosophically.

squirrel photo

squirrel picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevenlaw/1575325110/

Sure, it’s a large and presumably diverse squirrel population. It’s not like there’s five of them on a desert island and they’re all forced to marry their squirrel half-sisters just to perpetuate the species.

But do they think they are the only squirrels in the universe?

The park is an island of squirrel paradise (food, trees, few predators) in the middle of a vast sea of concrete. The surrounding human-constructed environment is so big in comparison to their homeland as to be, by squirrel standards, limitless.

I doubt that any one of them has ever met a squirrel who wasn’t born there. If they did meet a bedraggled stranger who claimed to come from some other park, what would they think? They wouldn’t be able to believe him; it would go against all common squirrel sense. Their universe is all Central Park surrounded by a wasteland that they must regard with the same consternation as ancient Europeans once felt for the Encircling Ocean.

Now, you might say, there are other trees in New York City. From Central Park, a squirrel might see a line of scrawny trees stretching off into the distance along some street. True. But what does this mean to them?

Filled with a sudden restless yearning, a young squirrel must sit on a tree limb for a few moments on a sunny afternoon and gaze at that tree archipelago, wondering.

Did any inspired squirrel explorer ever venture forth, leading a small party of pilgrims to follow the trees in search of new lands? If one did, was she ever heard from again?

If some intrepid squirrel philosopher were to propose the existence not only of other parks (full of other squirrels), but of unimaginably vast parks called forests, filled with wonders and dangers and millions of squirrels wholly unknown, would the Central Park squirrels hail him as a visionary? Would they lock him in a squirrel madhouse and give him squirrel sedatives? Or would they fearfully condemn him to burn at the tiny squirrel stake?