Uncle Don's Notebook
Each of us needs a notebook in which to jot down those flashes of insight,
one-liners, bad jokes, Nobel-prize-worthy ideas,
and provocative tidbits and scraps read or heard. This is mine.
This document is the natural successor to my regular column
Scraps From The Editor's Wastebasket in The Vector,
published from 1976 to 1991.
Entries are stacked in reverse order, with the most
recent ones first, so readers won't have to wade through old
ones to get to the new ones. Occasionally they will be
collected and archived.
Santa © John Holden.
Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible,
low stress, nonaddictive, gender neutral, winter solstice holiday,
practiced within the most joyous traditions of the religious
persuasion of your choice, and with respect for the religious
persuasions of others or their choice not to practice a religion
at all; a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically
uncomplicated recognition of the generally accepted calendar year
1996, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of
other cultures whose contributions to our society have helped make
America great, without regard to the race, creed, color, religious,
or sexual preferences of the wishees. (This greeting is subject to
clarification or withdrawal. It implies no promise by the wisher
to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others.)
© 1993, Dan R. Greening. Non-commercial reproduction allowed.
Everyone seems to be dieting these days. Doctors give you diet sheets
whenever one of your medical tests hits one of their magic numbers.
The food industry is quick to take advantage. Products tout reduced
fat, reduced sugar, and reduced salt, but never all three at once (yet).
Of one thing you can be sure, if a product is advertised as
lite, or has the word healthy in its name, it will surely
taste vile. What do they do with the flavor they extract from these
foods? It's a clever ploy: make it taste bad enough and you won't be
tempted to eat much of it, so you won't overindulge.
If you think your diet is a cruel joke, the one below could make yours
seem like a feast for a king. I ran across this item while cleaning out
It is from a joke card given out many years ago by a Slug's Roost,
a smorgasbord restaurant in Camp Hill, Pa, which, alas, no longer exists.
The food there would break anyone's diet.
Low Calorie Diet
Breakfast - Weak tea
Lunch - One bouillon cube, half cup diluted water.
Dinner - One pigeon thigh, 3 ounces prune juice (gargle only).
Breakfast - Scraped crumbs of one slice of burnt toast.
Lunch - One doughnut hole without sugar, one glass of dehydrated
Dinner - One fish egg - shad or sturgeon (minced).
Breakfast - Shredded egg shell skin.
Lunch - Belly button from navel orange.
Dinner - Three eyes from Irish potato (diced).
Breakfast - Half ounce strained unflavored Jello with one peeled
Lunch - Half dozen poppy seeds.
Dinner - Bees' knees and mosquito knuckles sauted with vinegar.
Breakfast - Two broiled Lobster antennae.
Lunch - One Guppy fin with lemon and pepper.
Dinner - Filet of soft shelled crab claw.
Breakfast - Four chopped banana seeds.
Lunch - Broiled butterfly liver.
Dinner - Jelly fish vertebrae a la Roost.
Breakfast - Pickled hummingbird tongues.
Lunch - Prime ribs of tadpole and aroma of empty custard pie plate.
Dinner - Tossed paprika and clover leaf (one).
All meals to be eaten under microscope to discourage
taking extra helpings.
The Scourge of Sports.
It's August 1996, and soon the school year in the U.S. will
begin. Retail stores are having `back to school' sales, and on
the athletic fields of schools across the country the football
teams are beginning fall practice, well before the start of
This only serves to remind us once again of the sorry state of
public education in the U.S. Will the schools have the
resources to provide a better education this year? The media
have little interest in that question; all you hear from that
quarter is mindless prattle about how well the sports teams are
likely to perform this year.
I used to think that sports were merely a cosmetic blemish on
the educational system. But now that sports and the `sports
culture' has infected not only education, but our entire
national culture, a better comparison would be to a cancer.
The decline of educational quality has gone hand in hand with
the rise of sports in the schools. I won't argue cause and
effect here, but the two trends certainly reinforce each other,
feed upon each other, and are interlinked in many ways. The
more time and commitment a student puts into sports, the less
is available for intellectual and academic pursuits. Sports
schedules are allowed to disrupt class schedules, but never are
academics allowed to interfere with sports. The value-system
promoted by sports displaces the values which promote academic
Coaches, physical education instructors, and ex-athletes are
hired for administrative positions in the schools, bringing to
the job their limited understanding of the academic process,
and a value-system derived from the sports model. They then
impose these limited and superficial values from sports upon
the entire school system, holding them up as a model for all.
These values are not all bad, of course, but most are trivial
and their application beyond sports is often strained or
inappropriate. Certainly sports promote team cooperation (and a
tribal competitiveness to `beat' the other team). Sports
promote competition (and, though not always overtly, the `winning is
everything, losing is nothing' philosophy). Sports promote playing
`by the rules' (except when you can get away with something which
the referees can't see).
Sports promote dedication to a goal, though oddly that doesn't transfer to
other goals, such as academic ones. Nor does the ethic of achievement
through practice and hard work seem to transfer to academic course work.
The student weak in academics can substitute ego-gratification by
excelling in sports.
Sports promote the philosophy that a thing isn't worth doing unless it
produces an adrenilin rush, and visceral satisfaction. Is it any wonder
that students also expect academic courses to be `fun' and `entertaining'?
If it `feels good', do it. If it's boring and intellectually difficult,
ignore it. That's the prevailing attitude of studentsan attitude
reinforced by the culture of sports.
Sports promote subservience of the individual to the will of the coach and
trainer and to the success of the team. This has value in certain aspects
of life, and is a quality certainly desired in employees by leaders of
business and industry. But the value system promoted by sports does
nothing to ensure the development of other intellectual values important
to citizens: analytic thinking, independent thinking, critical thinking,
and creative thinking. The mental activities required in team sports are
developed within the narrow constraints of the arbitrary rules of one
game. These mental skills are useful in the real world to help people `fit
into a productive niche'to be a cogwheel in the machinery of the
social-economic system. But they are totally inadequate to shape the
scientists, creative artists, innovators, and original thinkers society
needs for its long- term progress.
There's a curious double standard here. School sports operate in an
elitist manner. The 90 lb uncoordinated weakling is unlikely to be
selected for the football team, and the coach feels no pressure to include
everyone. But teachers of academic subjects are expected to admit
everyone, the mental weaklings, and the woefully unprepared, and teachers
get serious flak if their students don't all `succeed' by getting good
grades. In academics nowadays, everyone is expected to be a `winner' but
in sports it's understood that if there's a winner, there are also losers.
In academics there's an unwritten (and unrealistic) operating principle
that `everyone is educable'. But no coach is foolish enough to assume that
everyone can become an Olympic athlete, or even qualify for a high school
team. In an academic course, when a student learns nothing, it's
considered the teachers' fault. In sports, those who don't succeed must
try harder, or be booted off the team. In academic courses, if some don't
succeed, some teachers lower the standards.
On a more subtle, and perhaps philosophical, level, sports encourage a
desire for near-term gratification. The goals of sports are realized
rather soon, on the playing field. The outcome is clear: you win or you
lose. In the real world, outcomes often come much farther down the road,
and the goals are not always so clearly defined. The rules may not be
completely and clearly stated, and they change as the `game' progresses.
In academic courses, especially in math and sciences, progress toward the
goal of understanding is slow, the goal not within sight, the roads are
not clearly marked and are potholed with hazards. The student must learn
to defer gratification. Understanding comes in a series of small
revelations, each raising more questions, then come more small
revelations, but never does one reach the point where one understands
everything perfectly well. The goal is elusive, and along the way there
are new things to be discovered, things not mentioned in the rule book.
Now that sports have become a national obsession one seldom hears
meaningful criticism of sports, and few have the courage to challenge
the presence and dominance of sports in the educational system.
Anyone who dares criticize sports will feel the wrath of the ignorati far
worse than if one had criticized their religion. Indeed, some people's
allegiance to sports is greater than their commitment to religion.
One can search the Internet and find nothing even mildly critical of
sports. Woe to the teacher, or parent, who dares challenge sports
in the schools. The system will exact retribution upon that person,
or that person's children.
So long as sports co-exist in the schools, on an equal status,
with academics, we cannot expect the quality of academic
education to improve in any meaningful way. The cancer of
sports must be eradicated before the system can be restored
to good health.
More on sports: Sports Quotes.
Last spring I commented here on the absurdity of the position of
those who advocate prayer in the public schools (see below). Since then
I've located net resources which address this issue:
School Prayer: News,
and, from the Wall Street Journal, a tongue-in-cheek
politically correct prayer for the schools.
Abuse of the handicapped.
While spending a few weeks in Iowa, I've been away from computers and
the net. It's good to get away and into the real world once in a while. I
picked up a copy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette
(July 26, 1996, p. 8A)
and read a report that Iowa
Senator Tom Harkin released a study showing that Medicare pays 3 to 6
times as much for medical supplies as a Veterans Affairs Medical Center
in Iowa City. He cited an example: Medicare pays $99.35 for a commode
chair, while the VA pays $24.12 and the wholesale price of the item is
$39.99. Not only the drug companies rip us off, the medical equipment
companies do it too.
Not only the cost, but the design of such equipment for the elderly and
handicapped, leaves a lot to be desired. If a piece of equipment looks as
if it came from a 40's charity hospital, it is merely overpriced. If it
is designed with good engineering, style and attractiveness, it costs
twice as much.
We spend huge sums for handicapped accessibility done badly.
While in Iowa I had occasion to accompany my 88 year old mother, who is
arthritic and gets around with a wheeled walker, to a medical equipment
supply company. The large, imposing building had a handicapped parking
place at one
end, requiring a long stroll uphill to the door. If the parking had been
at the other end, the path would have been level. Parking near
the door was not permitted. Then the handicapped
person must negotiate two sets of double doors. There's a red button
marked 'handicapped access'. Press it and the door hits you if you
haven't moved aside. I watched as two able-bodied workmen brought in a
motorized chair designed for the handicapped, which was being returned
from repair. One was riding on it. He got smacked by the door. Finally,
with the help of his friend, he maneuvered it aside and got through the
door only to be trapped in the too-small space between the two sets of
doors. It took the two of them to figure out how to get him out of the
predicament. I watched with amusement, tempered by outrage. Is this
any way to treat
the elderly and handicapped? What kind of idiots design this stuff?
Highly-paid engineers and architects who are devoid of common sense design
it, to specifications written by brain-dead bureaucrats.
It is a scandal.
While I was at this medical equipment supply store I looked at
the prices. The ordinary and ugly commode chairs were priced at $100. The
only well-engineered and reasonably attractive one was $200. Harkin was
You can quote me on this.
I'm gearing up to make a definitive collection of my original quotes. Over
the years I've come up with pithy comments, puns, and
self-referential statements with built-in ambiguity or contradictions. A
people tell me they are worth quoting. However, while trying to gather up
and remember these, I was struck by a fundamental truism about quotable
quotes: "Anything worth repeating has already been said by someone else."
But, so far as I know, these are original, so if you use them, a credit
line with my name would be nice.
Science and Mathematics
- Computers should be forgiving, not forgetting.
- Computers are nice, but can you really trust them when the chips are
- Serial communications are sometimes flaky.
- Entropy requires no maintenance.
- Scattered data points on a graph look more significant with a straight
line drawn through them.
- An answer is no good unless you know how good it is.
- An answer is no good unless you understand how you got it.
- I am never quite sure about uncertainties.
- Statistics means never having to say you're certain.
- Anyone who trusts in statistics is taking a chance.
- Courses with the worst grade inflation are those with the most hot
- In education, nothing works if the students don't.
- History ought to be kept completely in the past.
- Prediction is difficult, especially when it involves the future.
- The production of useful work is strictly limited by the laws of thermodynamics.
The production of useless work seems unlimited.
- Ten reasonably intelligent people working together on a committee can produce a result indistinguishible from that of one idiot working alone.
This was inspired by an old saying which I first heard from Mr. Frank
Asmus, the drugist, pharmacist and soda-fountain operator in my small
home town in Iowa. It was the 40s and I was in elementary school at the
time. I'd gone to ask him for some chemical for a lab experiment. He asked
how much I wanted, and I was a bit unsure. So he helpfully reminded me "A
pint's a pound the world around."
In our continuing efforts to bring you links to net
discover new sites which look interesting, but often it takes a while to
evaluate them to see whether they deserve a place on these pages. You can
sample the latest promising new links
at your own risk.
Vector Archives. Some new readers have asked whether material
The Vector will be archived here. Some already is, and more may
(We are taking requests.)
Regular Vector contributor Bob Shadewald gave us permission to
Six Flood Arguments Creationists Can't Answer
[6, 2; April, 1982],
and the classic paper in which Bob Schadewald's (BS) gravity engine
was revealed to the world,
"What Goes Up..." Is Basis for a Breakthrough
[3,3; April 1, 1979].
My own attempts at humor are here, including
Solar Power [3, 1; Dec, 1978],
and Noah Fooling!
[5, 2; Apr, 1981], and also
Jack Holden's Illustrated Dictionary of
[6, 1; Dec, 1981].
William E. Stafford's classic spoof of the sports/academics
imbalance, He Tries Hard
[3, 1; Dec, 1978] is as relevant as ever.
You'll also find provocative
quotes on education
[1, 2; Apr, 1977]
I'm waiting for someone to write a book titled
How to Absolutely and Finally Cure Yourself Of Addiction
To Self-Help Books: a ten step plan that WORKS!.
Some years back there was a book titled
Do-It-Yourself Psychotherapy which sounded like a sensible
idea to me.
If you want to convince your doctor you are getting senile,
ask him the precise meaning of "Take one tablet twice a day."
Tell him it's such a messy nuisance to have to
spit up that first tablet to take it again later.
These days it's a very good thing for students that most jobs
which require a college degree don't require a college education.
News Item. June 16, 1996. Many private colleges in the East are
reported to be revising admissions policies to make SAT scores optional
for admission. They say that the SAT discriminates against some
identifiable groups of applicants. Sure it does. It always did. It
discriminates against the group of academically and intellectually
unprepared applicants. Seems to me that was its purpose, and value, all
along. This erosion of admissions standards hastens the day when all
colleges will have open admission policies, admitting any warm body with
tuition in hand. They will no longer discriminate against the
academically challenged. Even some private schools will follow the
example of the public institutions by inflating grades and lowering
standards so that nearly everyone is guaranteed a diploma. To read more
about grade inflation and related matters, visit the
Society for A Return to Academic Standards.
Two of my own opinion pieces about the decline of education are here:
The Decline of Education 1. (1974, 1994) and
The Decline of Education 2. (1995)
A riddle is circulating the internet, causing all sorts of
People argue over its precise wording, and propose answers which others
point out are deficient, in that they don't meet the conditions of
the problem. No one seems to have pinned down the origin of the riddle,
though some say it was heard on a radio talk show. The riddle is apparently quite
ancient, and several distinctly worded versions are circulating.
Here's a version that makes some sort of sense, has an answer that fits
and isn't too much of a 'trick'.
What is the third word?
There are three common words in the English dictionary that end with the letters g, r and y. Two of them are hungry and angry. The third one we use everyday and we all know what it means. What is the third word?
After you've invoked your own spell checker or dictionary,
you may wish to look at
They need a prayer. It's Spring again and commencement
ceremonies abound, dispensing devalued diplomas to students as a prelude
to the rigors of finding a job. Apparently many feel that students also
need a prayer at this juncture of their lives.
So the newspapers are full of reports of controversy over public prayers
at commencement ceremonies, and the letters columns are overflowing with
indignant diatribes from Christians acting as if their fundamental
freedoms would be abridged if a prayer were not said on this public
occasion. One wonders why they are so insecure that they must flaunt their
religion upon others at such public affairs? They seem to wish to
embarrass and intimidate those who don't hold the same religion, or who
object to public displays of religiosity. They also arrogantly want to
give the impression that the schools support their religious views, or at
least support the idea of prayer to their Christian god, and to dismiss
objections from those of `other religions'. On these occasions some
Christians don't display much sensitivity to the feelings of others. It's
another example of "Tyranny of the Majority." They are convinced that they
have absolute truth, and therefore have the right to flaunt or impose
on everyone else. To them, anyone who doesn't share their views is a
One simple-minded letter-writer thought there'd be no problem if a
Protestant, Catholic and Jewish representative each said a prayer!
Apparently this person figured there were only three religious views
which counted, or which needed to be accommodated.
These proselytizers seem to forget that their own Bible advocates
private prayer over public prayer. "Go into your closet and pray..."
I've encountered people who doubted that the Bible actually said anything
of this sort. (You'd think those who make such a big show of believing in
the Bible would know it better.) So here's the precise quote from the King
James Version, in Matthew 6:
5. And when thou prayest thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for
they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the
streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have
School superintendents should quote these verses whenever some Christian
suggests public prayer at school events. And it is always a
professed Christian, of the Hypocrite sect, who suggests such
things. Those who profess to believe in the Bible should be challenged
to find any Bible passage which clearly advocates public,
6. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has
shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father
which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Rogue Gogues. The format of this electronic notebook derives from one of my
favorite inspirational books: Minority Report, H. L. Mencken's Notebooks,
Knopf, 1956. That book was a set of numbered entries, in no particular
order, with no chapters, no organization and no plot development at all.
It didn't even have an index. Mencken's book seems not
to be available on the Internet, but you can sample its pleasures right
We published some of Mencken's quotes on education in one of the last
issues of The Vector. A reader asked:
You left us wondering how H. L. Mencken's word, "gogue" should be
pronounced. Mencken frequently used it for "pedagog," using it
derisively. "Pedagog" rhymes with "flog," and the "o" is pronounced
the same way in "pedagogic." But these derive from "pedagogy"
where the "o" is pronounced as in "toe," though pronunciation as
in "paw" is also sanctioned by permissive dictionaries. In either
case the [second] "g" is pronounced like the "j" in "judge." Does anyone know how
Mencken himself pronounced "gogue?" I'll bet it rhymes with "rogue."
Not knowing the answer, we called Dr. Vincent Fitzpatrick,
assistant curator of the Mencken Collection at the Enoch Pratt Free
Library in Baltimore.
The day we called, September 14, 1991, just happened to be "H. L. Mencken
Day" at the Pratt Library, so Mencken experts were there in abundance.
Therefore we had no trouble obtaining authoritative opinions. Dr.
Fitzpatrick confirmed that "gogue" does rhyme with "rogue." Mencken also
coined the ancillary word "goguery." Mencken coined several other
terms, pronounced for maximum humorous and derisive impact, like
"bolshevicki", for communists.
The H. L. Mencken House, 1524 Hollins St., Baltimore is worth a visit.
This 19th century row house was Mencken's home for 67 years, until
his death in 1956. It is open to the public Wed-Sun, 10-5; closed
holidays. Phone 301-396-7997.[Note, Dec. 2009. The Mencken house is
presently not open to the public, but plans are underway to re-open it
sometime in the future.]
Mencken's own epitaph appears several places in his writings,
(see: The Smart set Dec 1921 p. 33)
and is on a brass plaque in the entranceway to his home:
If ever I depart this vale, and you wish to remember me, pardon
some poor sinner and wink at a homely girl.
Credits: The vitriol picture and the schizophrenic scroll are
by John Holden. For more of his work see
Jack Holden's Illustrated Dictionary of
Opinions expressed here are those of Donald Simanek. Any
similarity to policy of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania or opinions
of its administrators is highly unlikely, and surely coincidental. Any
words of wisdom or universal truths found herein are unintentional and
should be brought to our attention so corrective action may be
Why the logo? Some religious folks bombard us with their
symbols, seek to impose their public prayers upon everyone, try to inject
their philosophy into the public schools, and, in general, promote
the impression that everyone is religious, or ought to be.
So we remind them that not all of us buy their
simple-minded fairy tales and supernatural clap-trap. To link to
resources which provide an antidote to religious nonsense, a good place to
start is The Secular Web.
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