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Thursday, December 25, 2008


According to a tale in the Talmud, the prophet Elijah said that there will be reward in the next world for those who bring laughter to others in this one.

- Humor in the Holocaust: Its Critical, Cohesive, and Coping Functions by John Morreall, Ph.D.

But the ancient Greeks, Shakespeare, and other dramatists took their comedy more seriously than that. They realized that comedy is not "time out" from the real world; rather it provides another perspective on that world. And that other perspective is no less valuable than the tragic perspective. As Conrad Hyers has suggested, comedy expresses a "stubborn refusal to give tragedy . . . the final say."

- Humor in the Holocaust:Its Critical, Cohesive, and Coping Functions by John Morreall, Ph.D.

Routine thinking, such as deductive logic, occurs within a single field of association; but creative thinking, such as the formulation of a joke, involves two or more planes of thought.
– Steven H. Kim, Essence of Creativity

Writers throughout the ages have recognized humor as a rich arena for creativity, perhaps even the quintessence of intelligent behavior.

– Steven H. Kim, Essence of Creativity

…after 10 years of research on this little-studied topic, I concluded that laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together. It is a hidden language that we all speak.
- Robert Provine, The Science of Laughter

I went to a Christmas party the other day, and got the rare opportunity to experience what I believe is a classic form of Schadenfreude (a word Troy taught me) – the secret pleasure one derives from another person’s misfortune.

Pictured in the foreground, a well respected supervisory person whose name rhymes (coincidentally) with Dick, partook of the season’s festive spirits with joyful enthusiasm, as we all did. But part of his ‘misfortune’ was that he ended up pioneering the boundary between wakefulness and semi-consciousness earlier than some others who had access to a giant permanent black ink marker.

I had often heard of fraternity stunts featuring permanent markers, but I had never actually witnessed such behavior before. I felt compelled to document the proceedings with my camera. I am still trying to work out the complex psychological turmoil that allowed me to watch in amazement, laugh, feel guilt, and experience a deep seated fear that it might next happen to me while never once causing me to want to step in and prevent the activity from occurring. I can only conclude that I am a bad friend – and my only defense is a pathetic, “but it was funny”.

‘____’ (whose name rhymes with Dick) bravely consented to share the preceding pictures in this blog forum. He has been a great sport and I would dare to say that his good natured response to this incident has earned him a measure of respect. It should also be noted that the permanent ink turns out to be not so permanent, so no long term repercussions were endured.
In fact, the ‘permanent ink artist’ has received a relatively higher percentage of ridicule as a result of this incident because his rendering of ‘Florida’ has been judged to be either inept or sadly reflective of the shape of his own ‘Florida’.

Speaking of fraternities, I guess you could say that the men of the synthesis department (as they’re sometimes called) form a defacto fraternity at the place where I work. In this image, they show their solidarity by communally celebrating one individuals embarrassing exit from the restroom with a toilet paper tail.

Due to the ready availability of various disposable syringes and a wealth of Tygon tubing, a long running water fight has been underway since long before my employment. For some reason, we never grow tired of making each other appear to be incontinent.

Water delivery systems have grown more elaborate and complex over the years, spurring research into the feasibility of waterproof safety-pants. Counter-intuitively, the repeated wetting of pants seems to promote morale, though escalated exchanges in the summer months sometimes lead to symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

Not much of a water warrior, I seem better able to contribute to the fraternal dialogue with various graphically based caricatures.

Sometimes the truth hurts, as this masterful caricature of me (executed by my brother Troy) demonstrates.

From the drawing Sacred Cows - by Scott
During my early college career in Kansas, I wasted at least a semester pursuing a futile quest to tip over a cow – an early testament to my enduring gullibility.

Lost amidst the vast flat plains of golden Kansas wheat fields, any vertical interruption of the horizon was an invitation to a climbing adventure.

Photo Credit - Brad Clark

This photo shows The Gregory Hall Expedition Team previous to their ill fated first attempt to scale the Pihlblad Memorial Union building. The Pihlblad building was the closest peak available save for Coronado Heights. A second expedition eventually sumitted later that winter owing to greater intelligence regarding the campus security patrol routes.

There was a real artist in the art program at my college. He had real art ideas and real ambition and he turned out a stunning array of extremely technically proficient abstract art. But my friend Mike and I didn’t get it. Yes, this particular welded steel piece had incredible upward thrusting almost phallic energy…but to be honest, it looked like a giraffe to us.

The night before this piece was to be shown, we jealous Philistines made the giraffe connection explicit with what we hoped would be a bit of non-damaging modeling clay. Turns out the modeling clay left an oily residue that made this joke very unfunny.

Speaking of Kansas, there are some religious people who think that fossils like these are one of God’s practical jokes to test the faith of those who ought to know that the world is only six thousand years old.

The Elephant of Surprise – a symbol for an omnipotent God who perhaps isn’t good – modeled after Old Testament descriptions

Speaking of God, for awhile I also thought He was a practical joker, but kind of a mean one. Watching your Dad get cancer is bad enough, but suspecting he finally succumbed to chemotherapy – the cure - seems somehow sinisterly ironic. (Turns out my God narrative was kind of simplistic and probably painted Him as more of a micro-manager than He really is – if He is.)

It may be that God is still kind of funny. I like his story about coming to save the world by injecting himself into history as a human infant.
Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter Storm: Death Metaphor or Day-Off Blessing?

At about eight in the morning (Sunday), low hanging, heavy and almost tangible gray clouds start, like malevolent peppermills, grinding out hard flakes.

Squat dirty buildings cluster around the Morrison Bridge on-ramps as if to seek shelter with the rest of the unloved.

…meanwhile, Sunday drivers discover that... ice is slippery.

When you need flares, you can’t get them.

A portion of the Eastbank Esplanade appears through drawn snow curtains.

Evidence mounts that running is a kind of mental disorder.

Even mannequins rush to the window to see the snow fall.

The winter storm nearly succeeds in creating a cold, monochromatic world that demonstrates how little regard nature has for our dreams and desires, but one individual fights back with a bold red umbrella reserved for indomitable-spirit-of-mankind-metaphor-enactments.

As dusk approaches, the stars come out on Broadway.

Here and there, a warm oasis

…or evidence of renewal

Streetlights blink on to endure the night.

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