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Category: Humans

Other People
If you are familiar with the Bersnigiti-Gungstorf Scale, you know that it purports to measure individual human worth in terms of three different variables: good-heartedness, common sense, and intelligence. By averaging a person’s scores for each of these persona components, the Bersnigiti-Gungstorf Scale will yield for us that individual’s Utility Index Quotient.

As you may know, each component is rated by percentile with reference to all other members of the human race. Adolf Hitler, for instance, might score at a very low percentile for good-heartedness, but probably (though we don’t have much data on this) somewhat higher for common sense. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that he has average common sense. He would land, in that case, right on the 50th percentile. If you put him at, say, the 60th percentile for intelligence, then his Utility Index Quotient would be somewhere in the high 30s. That is a pretty low UIQ, making him less useful than around 65% of all the people on Earth.

Another person might score very low on intelligence but high in good-heartedness and common sense. Such a person, even though he or she might not make a big splash in the history books, could have a relatively high UIQ. Two 90s and a 10 would yield an index of over 60. Bottom line, such a person would be almost twice as useful, all things considered, as the leader of the Third Reich.

Coincidentally, Donald Trump has an almost identical UIQ to that of Mr. Hitler. His scores for each persona component track so closely to Der Fuhrer’s that one might be tempted to equate them in other ways. We must remember, however, that Professors Bersnigiti and Gungstorf have specifically warned against such facile comparisons. No two people are alike — even though they might be equally useless.

I had begun working, despite such warnings, on a hypothesis that might explain the political support that Trump seems to enjoy in the face of such overwhelming evidence of his uselessness. Such work does go beyond the narrow scope of the Bersnigiti-Gungstorf Scale, but I had hoped to break new ground in this area and, at the same time, repair my faith in human nature. My hypothesis, briefly stated, was that anyone who still supported Trump at this point must have a UIQ lower than his. If that turned out to be true, then 60% of humanity is pretty much OK. That would have made me feel better.

Sadly, my research hit a wall. Or rather, a sphere: the Foonschist-Cranbacker Motivational Field. One cannot make broad value judgments about others, it appears, without taking into account the primal forces that move them. Specifically: love, fear, peace, greed. Those are the basic elements contemplated by the Foonschist-Cranbacker Motivational Field. So far, I have been unable to unify these two constructs into a single, over-arching theory for judging others.

Until I do, I guess I’ll just have to go with my gut feeling — that people are idiots.
All Growed Up
When I was a child, I was happy with my lot. Oh, I had to go to school and do homework and a few chores, but none of it was really stressful. I was mostly free to do whatever I wanted as long as I didn’t break any serious rules. Even the things my parents made me do weren’t that bad. Life was good, and I knew it at the time. Still, I always wondered what my life might be like once I had grown up.

Now that I have arrived at full adulthood and have established permanent residence here, I feel as though I should give something back. And so, I have this bit of advice for the many, many young people who read this blog: there’s no rush, kids.

Adulthood is okay, I suppose. You won’t have to do what your parents tell you to do anymore (though it is considered polite to listen closely and nod). You won’t have to make your bed or take out the garbage or eat your vegetables. You can stay up all night and wear the same underwear for weeks at a time. No one will give you a time out. You will not lose your trampolining privileges. Life will go on as before. Society has its own ways of enforcing its expectations, of course, but you can pretty much do whatever you want. Freedom, and plenty of it. Sadly, however, that is not the whole story.

For starters, the rent will be due every month. Every month…and it has to be on time, or you will have NO PLACE TO LIVE. And then, there are all the other bills you will have to pay. Every month, on time. Phone, TV, internet, food. Food, for God’s sake! It’s relentless! And if you can’t come up with the scratch, no matter how good your excuse is, you will lose all of these things. Compare that, if you will, with getting it all for free…plus the trampoline.

Consider, also, all the nagging little tasks you will need to perform. It’s time to update your insurance coverage, time to reset your password, time to download that program again. Also, we have no record of your purchase, and yes, you will have to go to the DMV in person. Do this and do that. All of this is meaningless minutia and little, teeny-tiny bits of bullshit that never seem to stop coming. Eventually, you will learn, your whole life is nothing but little, teeny-tiny bits of bullshit. And the more you grow up, the worse it gets.

Which brings us to another unfortunate necessity of being grown up: work. If you think school is a pain, my young friend, then you are in for a very unpleasant surprise. Even if you work hard, you will never, ever have enough money. It’s not like school, where it’s just grades and so what? This is about raw survival, pure and simple.

Your parents and teachers have no doubt told you that you can find a job you love. I don’t want to suggest that they are wrong. Let me just say, however, that while you’re out looking for that job, you might also find Sasquatch. Or talk to a unicorn. It could happen. I just don’t want you to be devastated (if) it doesn’t. So let’s be straight: you, like almost every grown up who has ever lived, will likely face a lifetime of mindless drudgery. In fact, you might be better off just settling for the least soul-killing position you can find and make the best of it. Or…you might stumble onto King Solomon’s Mines. It could definitely happen. I certainly don’t want to crush your hopes.

(There is one bright spot, though: sometimes, if you’re lucky, there will be yummy baked goods during morning breaks. I recommend bear claw. But after that, it’s back to the hellish grind.)

And so, here is my advice to you as you stand, trembling with anticipation and ready to cross that threshold into the brave new world of adulthood — don’t. Cling to your childhood like a wolverine on crack! Keep living with your parents, at the very least. The deals don’t get any sweeter than that one. Do some chores if you need to. You could even keep going to school if the ‘rents will pay for it. And clean underwear never hurt anyone.

Anything but this.
What Lasts
Pont du Gard is truly a wonder. If you’ve never been there, look up “aqueduct” in your 28-volume Encyclopedia Brittanica. Or just Google it. Among the images connected to your search will be a picture of this stunning piece of Roman engineering.

It was part of a water system that once extended over 31 miles through the rolling hills of what is now southern France, but the image that persists is of the massive structure that crosses the Gardon River at Pont du Gard. It rises 140 feet above the river and spans a distance of over 900 feet. The aqueduct, despite having been built with only crude tools, is still standing after almost two millennia, and it is beautiful. The arches and columns formed by thousands of stacked limestone blocks (no mortar was used in its construction) seem unperturbed by the passage of time. It projects a calm, solid, almost serene presence. At its base by the river, giving testimony to the enduring character of the place, a thousand-year-old olive tree still thrives.

Augustus Caesar ordered the project to supply Nemausus (now Nimes), an ancient metropolis of 50,000 citizens, with water for their homes, their fountains, their luxurious public baths. By today’s standards, the levels of water usage per resident were almost sinfully high, but the world they lived in must have been a watery paradise.

The Roman aqueduct in Segovia has a less certain lineage. Unlike the city of Nimes, which rests at the edge of a broad plain, the original second-century core of this city — the intended target of the water — sits on a high outcropping. It is the kind of place that would be easily defensible along all of its sides, a place safe from the threat of marauders. That is how it was used by the Iberians who lived here before the Romans came. While the history of the French aqueduct is well-documented, the story behind this Spanish structure is largely a mystery. No records exist of the city’s name at that time, the number and descriptions of the people there, the uses to which the encampment was put, or the rationale for the structure. All that is known is that it was ordered by the Emperor Domitian in the first century AD — about fifty years after the work at Pont du Gard.

There are physical differences as well. The edifice in Spain consists of only two levels of arches instead of three, and although the columns supporting them are quite tall, the highest point is only 90 feet above the ground. Like its French cousin, it is unmortared, but composed of granite rather than limestone. And most noticeably, it stands at the very center of the modern city of Segovia — a sharp contrast from the remote and peaceful Pont du Gard.

Despite the differences, both are beautiful. They have long since stopped serving their original purposes, but the confidence and grace of their ancient ingenuity can still stun us today. I find that deeply comforting, though I’m not sure why.

Perhaps I want to see them as a hopeful a metaphor for our lives here and now. If something we create, whether as real as stone or as ephemeral as an idea or a feeling, can still persist a thousand years from now — and be seen as something good — that would be a worthy epitaph for our existence. Even if our motives are mundane and the rationale for the thing is long forgotten, with luck, the spirit of the creation itself might end up being what matters most.
Double Thrill
It was good to discover that I am not so jaded that I can’t feel the thrill, even after all these years. I’d say that only a minute or two went by during the experience, but time is really irrelevant. The thrill, it seems, lasts forever.

I was eight when I first rode the Giant Dipper, and I was blessed to have good old Uncle Martin riding with me. I say blessed because Big Uncs (as we called him) was tipping the scales at around 300 pounds at the time, and I was convinced that being wedged in next to him in the car was the only thing that kept me from being hurled from the train to a horrific death.

I needn’t have worried. There have only been three deaths out of the 65 million or so rides the Dipper has provided since it was built in 1924. All three were linked to over-exuberance by riders. Specifically, those people stood up when they should have remained seated. I won’t say that they had it coming, but when it did come, they were definitely trying to get its attention.

For everyone else, the end will come some other way. I suppose it might even come on another roller coaster, though these so-called amusements have a surprisingly good safety record. The newer models descend from dizzying heights at the most perilous angles, reaching speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The world’s fastest, the Formula Rossa, is featured at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates, and it can hit a motor-assisted 150 m.p.h. — faster than freefall. The riders on such attractions are strapped in, tied down, and lashed in place in order to prevent any violent thrashing (or unauthorized standing). Even so, we lose 4.5 fun-seekers a year at our amusement parks. A pretty good average, really — though it’s kind of tough on that .5 of a rider. I don’t know, moreover, if these statistics include those poor devils who were scared to death.

The Giant Dipper tops out at only 55 m.p.h., but the only thing keeping you in (short of a stout uncle) is one not-that-snug metal bar. This loose fit is one of the reasons this rollercoaster is so exciting…that, and the creaky wooden frame of the coaster’s superstructure and its herky-jerky, old school ride.

And so it was, just last week, that I rode the Giant Dipper again. I can report that it was just as bone-jangling, teeth-rattling, and scream-worthy as it had ever been — and a total gas. With me were my twin eight-year-old nieces who were sampling the old coaster for the very fist time. I have managed to successfully watch my weight over the years, so I played no part in keeping them in the car. Fortunately, we all finished without a scratch.

I must say that they didn’t seem particularly frightened by the experience. In fact, I had to instruct them that screaming was not only permitted, but highly recommended for full enjoyment. Maybe they were simply playing their emotions close to the vest, just as I no doubt had on my first ride.

I am confident, though, that the experience made an impression on them, as it had on me. True or not, I got a vicarious thrill to go with my personal one. I’ll bet Uncle Martin got one, too.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon