It’s simpler than you think

You may recall — if you even noticed it — that last week the CDC changed its guidelines on Covid-19 testing again. Short version: In August, the White House told the CDC to post that people who had been exposed to someone with the virus didn’t need to be tested. The whole world raised its eyebrows and pursed its lips at that one, and well it might; only someone grossly incompetent (::cough Jared Kushner cough::) would think that such an idiotic guideline wouldn’t spread the virus undetected.

Why would the White House do such a thing? It’s hard to say, but it occurs to me that it fits that administration’s modus operandi to sow disinformation, knowing that their base of amygdala-based lifeforms will never update their beliefs/knowledge about the pandemic once they’ve read something that fits their preconceived notion that the pandemic is no biggie. No worse than the flu. Not as bad as the “experts” tell us.

So, yes, the White House forces the CDC  to put this highly dangerous directive on its website, and even though it was finally taken down the damage has been done. “Nuh?UH,” cry the amygdala-based lifeforms, “the CDC says you don’t even need to get tested just because Grandma is lying there gasping out her last.”

Don’t believe me? Look at the whole “THE CDC SAYS ONLY 6% OF THE ‘COVID VICTIMS’ DIED OF COVID, KENNETH” mess. The amygdala-based lifeforms took that one to heart despite a) that’s not what the CDC’s report said; and b) everyone pushed back hard on the misconception. See here, here, and here, for starters, and note well who pushed the idea from QAnon to the mainstream via his Twitter account.

And now the CDC has retracted a post warning us that the virus is transmitted via aerosolization, i.e., tiny droplets that go further and linger longer than the drops spewed by coughs and sneezes. It is true that the research is not conclusive yet, but it’s pretty damn close; you might think the world’s greatest disease control center would at least acknowledge the possibility — if not probability — and advise people to take it into account when thinking about reopening schools, for example.

The question remains: Why is the current administration so determined to downplay the extent of the pandemic? Indeed, a reasonable person might look around for evidence that the amygdala-based lifeforms are right, that the threat of Covid-19 infection has been grossly overestimated and that we are fools not to resume our regular lives. People gonna get sick, what are ya gonna do, amirite?

But if a reasonable person looks around for evidence, all that evidence shows that we have just begun dealing with this disease, and that the United States has dealt with it so poorly that the rest of the world is looking on aghast as the Americans sink their own ship.

I’ll ask it again: Why is the current administration so determined to downplay the extent of the pandemic?

Amygdala-based lifeforms, be thinking about that. Hint: It’s simpler than you think.

Keep looking.

On Boing Boing yesterday, there was a blippet about the Troxler effect.

The Troxler effect, or Troxler’s fading, is a neurological effect, an evolutionary adaptation which allows us to tune out baseline information if it’s not relevant to our survival. Here’s the visual version:

If you stare at the center of this image long enough, the colors will fade away to nothing. Try it.

The effect is also why you can tune out the sound of rain after a while, or why you generally do not feel the clothing you’re wearing.

I bring this to your attention today because it occurs to me that we as a nation are at risk of allowing the constant firehose of corruption and anti-democracy statements on the part of our current administration to fade away, to become functionally irrelevant to our survival.

Do not allow it. Keep looking, shifting your focus. Keep the lies and the threats visible.

Pay attention. Help others pay attention.

Do not let it become background noise.

Impossible choices

Memo: Everybody

Re: Schools reopening

Stop it. Whatever it is you’re doing, however you’re reacting, stop it. There is no solution. The whole thing is impossible.

We can’t keep the schools closed, because parents need to go back to work, and the kids need to be in school for all the reasons you can go read about if you like.

We can’t open the schools, because it will create yet more epicenters of disease for all the reasons that should be obvious to anyone.

We can’t reopen; we can’t keep kids home — we must reopen; we must keep kids home. It’s impossible.

Here’s the deal, though. Overlooked in all the ranting and finger-pointing and sincere concern is the very simple, very awful, very unavoidable fact: we have to give up on the idea that students are going to make any kind of real educational progress this school year. (We even have an acronym for it: AYP, Adequate Yearly Progress. We test for it, and we punish for it.)

We have to abandon the concept of “yearly progress,” where we (still) think of education as an assembly line. In kindergarten we install the ABCs and counting to 100; in 1st grade, we install the reading bits; etc.

That is not happening this year, no matter whether we open the schools or not. Not in person (which is unlikely to continue for more than a couple of weeks in any case) and not online, which is problematic for all the socioeconomic and behavioral reasons you can go read about if you like.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children. On the contrary, we must continue to try all the impossible ways that have been forced on us. It’s just that no one should be allowed to think or say that by the end of the school year we’re going to be in the same place as we normally would be. It. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen.

We need to say this out loud and up front, because if we don’t, if we just pretend that whichever impossible choice we make we can still administer those fupping standardized tests in May[1] and emerge like some triumphal Soviet flag-waving poster, then I know what’s going to happen. This nation will rev itself up into the most disgusting, most outrageous display of Blame The Teachers you have ever seen.

And if that happens, I hope every educator in this country quits.

No, we need to be grateful for however much progress our students are able to make, no matter how much progress they might have made had this nation been led to contain the virus from the very beginning. We as a society need to support every effort to provide learning opportunities to every student; we must create ways that — impossible or not — let every child out there learn something.

What we must not do is hold those students and their teachers accountable for “Adequate Yearly Progress.” That is a criminal mindset.

And if you already know who the criminals with that mindset are, raise your hand.

—————

[1] It occurs to me that after this is all over and we open the doors of our schools again for a normal school year, the standardized tests are going to be — how shall I put this? — fupping useless. Dare we hope that it wrecks that whole education-industrial complex for good?

Dishevelment update, 6/30/20

Let’s check in on my DISHEVELMENT, shall we?

For those of you just joining us, my last haircut was six months ago. I was due for one halfway through February, but because none of my friends had stepped up to claim the role of Adam in As You Like It I was forced to take on the octogenarian myself, and I thought the longer, more unkempt hair would be appropriate. After all, the morning after AYLI closed and we left  for Basel to cruise down the Rhine, surely I could get a haircut there, right?

Hahahahahahahahaha and also tee-hee.

Sure, Georgia Gov. Brian “The What Now?” Kemp opened up hair salons and tattoo parlors (and bowling alleys) sometime in the last 90 days, but do I look stupid? No, I look disheveled, and the basic reason is that I don’t intend to go into a hair salon until I feel safe in doing so.[1]

To my hair stylist, Sammie D., my apologies. I’m sure you’re doing the best you can, but you shouldn’t be responsible for keeping the virus out of my lungs. And as I’ve said before, I have always voted for the candidate most likely to institute universal healthcare and a social safety net that would have taken care of independent business owners and workers in crises like this one. Why should I feel guilty when it’s the rest of you who didn’t?

Anyway, all of this is to say that here is where I am:

It’s long enough to fall free into my face but not long enough to pull back into a ponytail, so I am now sporting a hairband when I can’t stand the annoyance any longer.

But Dale, I hear some of you cry, surely your wearing a hairband is a violation of societal expectations of gender roles too far? It’s a… girl thing!

Honey, please.

It is a utilitarian object, pure and simple. Society’s decision that it is necessarily or essentially feminine is without any kind of logical basis. My hair is long and keeps getting in my eyes. What does a woman with the same problem do? She wears a hairband. But I, because I am a man, am expected to forego that solution? I think not.

But Dale, you continue to whine, wouldn’t a manly headband do? Actually, no: I have a headband I wear while doing yardwork to keep the manly sweat from rolling into my manly eyes, but it does nothing to contain my luscious flowing locks. I’m good with my plastic hairband.

It all reminds me of the mid–late 60s when longer hair started coming (back) into fashion. My parents and their peers mocked the Beatles for their long hair — which was not that long, was it? — and many were the jokes about not being able to tell the boys from the girls. I remember thinking then that their concerns were without any kind of real foundation. Times change; fashion changes. And on the whole the changes — since the 60s at any rate —have been for greater personal freedom and greater personal choice.[2]

To say otherwise is to grant a single society’s prejudices a reality they do not actually possess and to grant that society unholy power over your comfort and style.

And do I look like the kind of guy who’s apt to grant society that kind of power?

Stay tuned.

—————

[1] I’m not getting any of the tattoos I’d like to get, either. The fact that my Lovely First Wife has forbidden them is not relevant to this discussion.

[2] Whenever I pointed out how long General George Custer’s or Thomas Jefferson’s hair was, and my parents said, “Well the fashion was different then,” my incredulous response was, “Well, the fashion is different now; what is so hard about this?”

The solution exists, Kenneth

The novel coronavirus pandemic and our consequent Captivity have resulted in financial catastrophe both for regular workers and business owners, and no real solution has been proposed other than the vacuous “OPEN UP THE ECONOMY, KENNETH!”

Businesses can’t open, and workers cannot work. Paychecks evaporate. Rent vanishes. Choices have to be made between groceries and medicine. Layoffs, shutdowns, bankruptcies, evictions — and no real solution has been proposed.

Except one has, and not only has it been proposed, it’s in place and it works. I know this because it works for me: I am a retired educator, so I have a pension and I have Social Security and I have Medicare. I continue to buy groceries, get my meds, and order from Amazon, even while isolating (since March 12, thank you very much.)

But Dale, I hear the amygdala-based lifeforms whine, you earned that. No question: I worked 35 years educating your children, from kindergarten to the best and brightest the state has to offer.

However, that’s not the point.

The point is that through no fault of their own, our citizens are being crushed financially by forces beyond their control, and no real solution has been proposed, even though it’s pretty clear that a solution exists.

Not only does that solution exist for me as a retired educator here, it exists in one form or another all across western Europe and even immediately to our north, in Canada: a social services net that includes at the very minimum universal healthcare and, now, universal basic income. No one is going to go broke, go without groceries, lose their home, or not have access to their medication just because their job is on hold for the foreseeable future.

But Dale, I hear the amygdala-based lifeforms whine, SOCIALIAMIZM, KENNETH!

Dern tootin’ it’s socialism, Kenneth, and WERE YOU NOT PAYING ATTENTION WHEN I SAID IT WORKS?

But Dale, the amygdala-based lifeforms continue whining, YOU EARNED IT.

Yes I did, but your even putting that argument out there betrays your values as that of a social Darwinist: only the fittest survive,[1] and the rest of you undeserving poor should go ahead and die and decrease the surplus population.[2]

I reject that argument, that the citizens of the United States, supposedly the richest country in the world, cannot provide for all of us in times of trouble. Yes, our taxes will go up. Our taxes should go up; every corporation’s taxes should go up. The very rich should be taxed at a higher rate. We, like the rest of the world, need to pay for the society we want, a society that keeps the entire nation safe and afloat.

Because if we don’t, if we cling to the fallacious idea that the very rich and the corporations are “job creators,” that the wealth that they possess — and continue to snarf up — will magically “trickle down” to the rest of us,[3] then we will be faced with a complete breakdown of our economy, and with it our society and our democracy.

We’re nearly there now.

—————

[1] A sadistic perversion and misapplication of the theory of evolution, by the way.

[2] Yes, that’s exactly what you sound like, because that’s exactly what you believe.

[3] As Will Rogers said, “Money trickles up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.”

Empty calendars, feelings about that

This morning, my to-do app presented me with today’s tasks, and one of them was to “email TCOs of the past two burns” — which means that I needed to open up the placement databases for Alchemy 2018 and Alchemy 2019 and send an email to the Theme Camp Organizers to let them know that registration for placement at Alchemy 2020 would soon be upon them.

Of course, that’s moot, because the burn is canceled —all burns are canceled — for 2020, so that depressed me.

But then my eye fell on a notebook on my shelf that I truly couldn’t remember being there; it was full of morning pages that I had started writing in September of 2013, right after I was retired from GHP by the vindictive Governor Nathan Deal (whose actual target was Dr. John Barge, Supt. of the DOE). All my pain and grief were there for me to revisit (along with some positive things like the cross country trip and the composition of Five Easier Pieces).

And there on one of the last pages I bothered to write (12/2/13) was this:

For some reason, I began thinking about Burning Man and what my cadre might have to offer.
Here’s the image that came to me:
Three Old Men — loin cloths — gas masks — large walking sticks — single file — in sync — slow motion dance with the walking sticks.

Well.

When I went back to my to-do list, suddenly the placement task was not so depressing, because unlike GHP, the burn will be back in my life. This is only temporary.

Sweetness and light

Meet Ed McGinty. He is a 71-year-old resident of The Villages, Florida’s most notorious retirement community. It is filled with Trumpsters and Magats, but Ed is not one of them. Go read real quick about Ed.

Recently Ed was physically attacked by a Magat. He is undeterred.

Here is a letter he received after that attack:

Here are the first two paragraphs:

Mr. McGinty,

Saw where you recently got your ass kicked in response to your misguided antics. Just remember there are some other red neck Trump supporters out and there and when they chase you down they too will be bringing an ass-kicking with them.

This may be because that you epitomize the democratic party—absolutely no class, devoid of common sense and common decency, and hate filled.

First of all, I’m not surprised by the garbled syntax. That just goes hand in hand with the Trumpster thought processes. I am surprised that this particular Magat failed to use the approved “Democrat party” shibboleth rather than the party’s official name.

And then there’s the problem of how a human brain can write that second paragraph after having written the first. I’m finding it hard to imagine how “absolutely no class, devoid of common sense and common decency, and hate filled” dovetails with “ass kicked,” “misguided antics,” and the threat of violence. And there’s that fourth paragraph, “Hopefully, the next time you have similar encounter, your opponent won’t be so gentle.” In what universe is that not “devoid of common decency” or “hate filled”?

Spoiler alert: In the Trumpster universe, that’s where. Their brains ain’t right. And that’s just common sense.

Sharknado: The Trumpering

The other night our friends Marc and Mary Frances were over, and after dinner Marc suggested we find some lame movie to watch and goof on. We ended up going with my suggestion of Sharknado, and I have some thoughts.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Sharknado, you need to be. It — and its five sequels — are genius, though possibly not in the way you might think. I have chosen to believe that the movie’s balls-to-the-wall awfulness is a deliberate send-up of what a movie even is: coherent plot, continuity, character development, suspense — all gone, obliterated in a blitz of stupidity and sensory overload. It’s an entertainment pretending to be a movie, but it deliberately and gleefully breaks every rule of film-making and invites you to realize that and comment on it —a meta-film.

Basic plot outline: a hurricane moving up from Mexico has driven a “pod of 20,000 sharks” ahead of it, and waterspouts generated by the storm have sucked up all those sharks and are throwing them at the tasty, tasty citizens of Santa Monica. Our hero, Fin (!), owns a bar out on the pier, and when sharks come crashing through his window he and his friends realize they need to hightail it to higher ground. But first they have to go rescue Fin’s ex-wife and their two reasonably adult children. Hilarity ensues.

As we watched the movie and hooted at its stubborn refusal to be anything like a real movie, I had an epiphany: Sharknado is an eerily perfect analogy for the thought processes of a typical Trump voter.

Bear with me as I unpack this.

  • Continuity and logical connection are irrelevant.
    • The hurricane comes and goes as a threat — we see shots of huge crashing waves, the bar is flooded with sea water and sharks, and yet the very next shot is an aerial of the pier with a glassily calm sea. (We then cut back to the shark-infested bar interior.)
    • April’s hillside house is flooded (with sharks), but when the heroes dash outside to flee in their vehicle, the courtyard is completely dry.
    • In fact, for a movie set during a hurricane, there is an abundance of sunshine and clear skies.
  • The plot is about on the level of an 8-year-old’s understanding of cause and effect.
    • The heroes are able to fly a helicopter right up to the tornadoes (with sharks) and toss in a home-made propane tank bomb that immediately “nukes the tornado.”[1]
    • Other people do not exist in any meaningful way. One character urges action to stop the sharks in order to save 1,000s of lives — in Los Angeles. Thousands. (Because once we know there are sharks, the threat of the hurricane (or tornadoes themselves) is forgotten.)
    • Plot development is driven by the hero’s insights, his “gut instinct,” not training, not knowledge, not data that have been gathered and weighed.[2]
    • Action scenes are disjointed, with choppy, frantic editing. There’s no coherent picture of how we get to the final punch, we just do.
    • There’s a hysterical disregard of such basics of physics as mass, velocity, gravity, or momentum.[3]
  • A cartoonish worldview of threats, where preposterous fears become immediate reality.
  • Tough guy hero — the ultimate rugged individualist — saves the day with no Communal Effort involved (other than his plucky band o’ rugged individualists).
    • Fin recognizes the danger immediately, but no one else does. There’s no evacuation or exodus.
    • In fact, there is absolutely no government response at all. No state of emergency is ever declared; conveniently placed newscasts keep us informed of the threat, but we see no police, no National Guard, no sirens, no elected officials urging the citizenry to stay safe (or how to do that).[4]

So what does all this have to do with Trump supporters?

Exhibit A: a letter to the editor from the Tampa Bay Times:

Imaginary threats, endowed with superhuman strength? Check. Rejection of science and data? Check. Irrational gut check with no logical meaning (“massive medical experiment”?). Check. Rugged individualistic hero? Check.

Exhibit B: a comment from Facebook.

Choppy editing with key context omitted? Check. Minimization of other human beings’ experiences? Check. Determined exclusion of nuance? Check.

Exhibit C: Tweets from the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response)

Contradictory statements/camera shots? Check. Bolton’s book is simultaneously “all lies” and “revealing classified information.” Trump supporters are simultaneously an embattled/oppressed minority and the dominant “true” American culture. And so on.

All this added yet another layer to the meta-nature of Sharknado as I watched it: every stupid action sequence; every squalid, slapstick act of violence; every derailment of logical thought — all became emblematic of our nation’s hurting, hapless amygdala-based lifeforms as they struggle to maintain the fiction of Donald J. Trump as a great leader or even a great man.

None of which will prevent me from guffawing my way through the next five movies.

UPDATE: Exhibit  D: OAN correspondent Chanel Rion blurbs odd words with her mouth about Tulsa

—————

[1] Not the hurricane, a tornado. What kind of idiot would try to nuke a hurricane?

[2] Consider the Trumpster’s disdain of experts and data: “Oh yeah? Then how come last month the CDC said…”

[3] Sharknado is not alone in this. Most action movies are blithe about physics. I can only imagine the surprise felt by the real-life idiot whose vehicle is doggedly crashing into an abutment rather than executing the cool-ass, tire-squealing aerial ballet he’s used to seeing in Fast & Furious.

[4] Because in what universe would you have such an overwhelming disaster and not have public officials urging us to stay safe oh wait I see it now

Revel in the Dishevelment

REVEL IN THE DISHEVELMENT.

This is a phrase I coined sometime back in April or May — time has no meaning any more — to highlight the necessity of foregoing haircuts during lockdown. Make it a badge of honor that you didn’t risk your life or others around you just to look good, that kind of thing.

My last haircut was in February. I had not gotten one in March because I was forced to take the role of Adam in my production of As You Like It at Newnan Theatre Company, and I thought a shaggier look would be better for the octogenarian. I figured I would get a haircut in Germany after we left for our Viking River Cruise down the Rhine, the morning after AYLI closed on March 29.

And so here I am, June, no haircut in sight.

Yeah, I know, it doesn’t look bad. I’m glamorous that way. Just like Jake Gyllenhaal.

But my hair is the longest it has ever been, and certainly my beard has never been anywhere this long. (There are those who will claim my hair was this long back in the 80s, but that was when it was not gray and had no texture, hanging lankly about my ears.)

Now it’s beginning to bug me: it’s too long, and despite the flattering photo, it doesn’t really look good.

Here’s my point: WHY DO I NEED TO LOOK GOOD? 1. I’m in Captivity — who cares what I look like? 2. Let’s think about the pressure to LOOK GOOD.

LOOKING GOOD is one of those cultural/economic hoops you jump through to be “acceptable,” and you always have to ask yourself… to whom, exactly? The short answer is to other people jumping through those same hoops and who now firmly believe in their reality.

I’ve never been one to grant those hoops “reality” — I jump through them because I’m privileged and it’s easy — but I am under no illusion that a) I really have to; or b) I would be accepted as “acceptable” by gatekeepers whose gates I have no intention of going through.

So it’s easy enough to wear my hair uncut — and my beard untrimmed, even though I could keep that in check — as a symbol of my “purity” of intent, even though the way things are going I probably won’t be getting a haircut until August or September — if then. The important thing is that I continue to self-quarantine in order to do my best to keep myself and my family from being exposed to the virus.

I’m kind of looking forward to the ultra-dishevelment. New boundaries to transgress, old hoops to set on fire and not jump through. I’ll keep you updated.

50 years

Fifty years ago today, on June 14, 1970, my parents drove me onto the campus of Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and left me there for eight weeks. I was one of 400 students selected for the seventh Governor’s Honors Program, and I was attending as an art major.

It changed my life, as we say in the business.

As is well documented elsewhere on this blog, GHP was a major part of my life from that day forward, culminating in my being hired as director for the program in 2011. Alas, in 2013, after the 50th summer, Governor Nathan Deal pulled the program out of the Dept. of Education into his own Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and I was retired.

In one of the great ironies of my life, even if I were still the director I would not be able to stand in front of this year’s students and welcome them with the words, “Fifty years ago, I sat where you are sitting,” because like everything else GHP has been canceled for this year.

So here’s my speech.

Nearly 60 years ago, a woman named Margaret O. Bynum began pushing for more to be done for Georgia’s gifted and talented students. She spearheaded not only gifted education in schools and in colleges of education, she initiated, implemented, and developed what the Official Georgia Code describes as “an honors program for students in the public and private high schools of this state and for resident students who attend a home school program who have manifested exceptional abilities or unique potentials or who have made exceptional academic achievements.”

And so in the summer of 1964, 402 students from all over Georgia came to the campus of Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, and Margaret O. Bynum became the first ever Governor’s Honors Program director.

—————

[boilerplate welcome: GHP is the largest, longest-running summer program for the gifted, etc]

—————

“GHP is a life-changing experience.” Yeah, fine. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Fifty years ago, I sat where you sit today. Think about that. When I was your age, “fifty years ago” meant before the stock market crashed, before The Grapes of Wrath or Gone With the Wind, before Stalin’s great purges or FDR’s first term.

For you, it means before the fall of Saigon, before Watergate, before the United States was even 200 years old. It was a long time ago.

In fact, let me make a little detour and tell you a quick story. Did you see the photos on the poster in the lobby, all the boys and all the girls at Wesleyan College in the very first GHP in 1964? They were sent to me by Gail Leven Pollock, whom I met a couple of years ago at a reception given by the GHP Alumni Association. She and another lady from that first summer were there, and I was really excited to meet them.

Because—I wanted to know what it was like, that very first summer. I know the program has changed a lot since my year, but what was it like that very first year.

And so I asked them: What was it like? How did it work? What did you get out of it?

As they began to tell me, I experienced the strangest time warp: their eyes lit up, and without hesitating they started talking about how it turned their world upside down; how freeing it was to be in an environment where everyone around them was as passionate not only about their subject matter but about learning in general; how it changed their lives forever. It was like listening to a student from last summer, not from 57 summers ago.

So here I stand, still saying the same thing I imagine you’ve heard from every person who ever attended the Governor’s Honors Program: “It changed my life forever.” And you’re wondering, “Are they all for real? Will it happen to me? Can it happen to me? What’s going to happen to me? How will it happen to me?”

That last question I can answer. For fifty years, we’ve been guided by the same two mandates. First, we must provide instruction that is significantly different from the regular high school classroom. Second, we must empower our students with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to become independent lifelong learners.

We do that. Do we change lives? Let’s do a quick demonstration. Faculty, if your life was changed forever as a student at GHP, please stand… Thank you.

Wait, there’s more. Faculty, if your life was changed forever as a teacher or staff member in this program, please stand… Thank you.

So.

Take your ID… I said, humor me here. Take your ID… and look at that picture. Are you looking? Good. You’re looking at the only person on this campus who can stop you, stop you from taking full advantage of this program, from succeeding in ways you never realized you could, from failing in ways you never thought you would risk, from changing your life forever.

—————

[boilerplate tough talk about expectations]

—————

On a more pleasant note:

I’m a huge Lord of the Rings nerd, or as most of us prefer to be called, a Tolkien scholar. The summer I attended GHP was the crest of the first big Tolkien revival wave, and when I got home the first thing I did was to go to the public library and ask for these books I’d been told about. Mrs. Wood had never heard of them, but she dutifully ordered them, and when they came in I checked them out, I went to my room, and I didn’t come out for a week.

Now, oh so many years later, after dozens of re-readings and close readings, I can discuss with you the difference between the Noldor and the Sindar, or how it’s not really a “trilogy,” or how Frodo was originally named Bingo, or why Peter Jackson can be forgiven for leaving out Tom Bombadil but should be horsewhipped for omitting Merry’s oath to Theoden or changing even a single word of Éowyn’s scene with the Nazgûl… but I digress.

Near the end of the movie version of The Return of the King, there’s a scene where our hobbit heroes are sitting in the Green Dragon, just sipping their half-pints while behind them their friends are discussing the merits of an admirably large pumpkin. There’s a look they give each other—I call it the GHP look—that you may have missed before, but that when you next see the movie, will break your heart: they know what the others don’t, because they’ve been there.

You’re about to go there, and back again.

—————

Now, it’s time for our next activity. Please listen carefully. After we are dismissed, we will proceed directly to the Palms Dining Center for supper. And I know what you’re thinking: “With whom will I sit?”

How many of you have a blog? Look around.

How many of you play a sport of some kind?

How many of you play a musical instrument? See, the music majors weren’t expecting that.

How many of you believe that Star Wars: Episode I was a complete mistake and a waste of all right-thinking people’s time, even in 3-D?

Well, good, now you have something to talk about with your 600 new friends in the longest line you will wait in this summer.

You will now go directly to the Palms for supper. This will be the longest line you will wait in this summer. But they will move you through quickly. Remember, that you must be on your respective halls promptly at 6:30 p.m. for hall check.

We are dismissed.