The Story of Me. Ms. Haft and the Nasty Word

I haven’t a clue how she kept her job..

Copyright Dennis Mitton
I’m stretching it but you get the idea…

I was a junior and in love with writing and with science and, along with every other testosterone-sick guy in school, with Ms. Haft. She was freshly graduated from college and she wore her hair long and her skirts short. It’s still odd to me, but rather than standing or sitting, she would teach while kneeling on her desk. The younger teachers eschewed rows and columns and circled our desks around the perimeter of the room. One day – it’s one of the few clear memories I have of high-school – Ms. Haft walked into the room, climbed onto her desk, knelt down, and in the most droning, flat, and unemotional voice said “fuck”. Pencils, papers, jaws – everything dropped. Every set of eyes shot up from whatever they were looking at and turned to Ms. Haft. The air left the room. After a very long and very pregnant pause, she said it again. Fuck. And then again. Fuck you. Fuck me. Well, fuck it all.

All of a sudden, school got interesting.

She explained that today’s lesson had two parts. Part One was that we would circle the room and everyone would say Fuck out loud in turn. Just utter the word. Just form the sounds pushing air from your lungs and out your mouth. Touch your upper teeth to your lower lip and say it. Fuck. Good god. What harm can come from expelling air and forming a sound?

fWe went ’round our circle one-by-one. A couple students, pale and panting at the idea of letting such an abomination squeeze through their lips, shook their head No. I think one person gathered up and left. Some, given permission to swear for probably the first time, said the word over and over until told to stop. In the end, I think everyone in the room except for two or three, completed the odd lesson.

Lesson Two was much less interesting: words are meaningless. Do you imagine that ‘Fuck’ has any real meaning? Do you imagine that lovers would say such a word to each other? If we never bat an eye when the word is spoken would people continue to use it? Words only have meaning when we agree to their meaning.

But isn’t that exactly what culture is? An agreement that words and gestures and swimming pools and a dozen wives mean something?

The very purpose of words is to convey meaning and no word is meaningless. Words move us to great joy or to great pain. Words can elevate a nation. Words can change your life in an instant. “I’m leaving.” “I Have a Dream!” “Math is hard.”  How many girls have never forgotten when their dad told them that he loves them even though they are chubby? How many adults have never imagined what wonderful things they can do only because someone three or four decades ago told them that “you’re not good at that.” My own father remembered me at four-years-old reaching for his hand once to walk across the street. He said that he slapped my hand away and said “Big boys don’t hold hands”. It was meaningful enough for him to remember it fifty years later.

I disagree with Ms. Haft about the meaning of words but she alluded to something that I do agree with: dark things lose their power when exposed to light. I can’t help but think of this when I read the cuthat another group or government office has been ordered to cut off communication with the press or to shut down parts of their website. There might be a good reason for these actions but, without open and free communication, we can’t know.

I don’t know what happened to Ms. Haft. I don’t remember if she was there for my senior year. The last thing I remember of her was when she caught on that my buddy and I were the sole members of our high-school Maoist club. We dropped pamphlets and commie art in teacher’s mail each morning and beamed for days after Ms. Haft told us that the school board had called a special meeting to discuss ‘communist infestation’ at the school.

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Book Review: A Short Guide to a Long Life, Agus

Nothing new under the sun. Then why don’t we do it?

Copyright Dennis Mitton

br_short_guideI admit that I’ve been wrong. I’ve long argued that people know what healthy habits are and that we just don’t do them. So I was shocked, recently, when a friend told me that he traded his cake and candy snacks for a jar of peanuts each day. “I’m trying to eat healthy”, he says. “Huh? You’re eating a jar a day?” “Yeah”, he said. “Better than donuts, right.” Now he was shocked. “Probably not,” I said. “Good gawd. Do you know how many calories are in a jar of peanuts? Probably more calories than you need in an entire day. Dude, you’re going to end up weighing 300 pounds.” He didn’t believe me and grabbed the jar. Sure enough, the suggested serving size was one ounce or ‘about 29 peanuts’. That amount conferred 170 healthy calories. Multiply that by sixteen servings in the jar and you are inviting serious health issues. So don’t imagine that everyone knows the things that Agus writes about. They don’t. And few who do know what healthy means actually live by it.

We need good health advice but where to find it? The fact that my local Barnes and Noble bookstore reserves about fifty feet of shelf space for books offering conflicting advice isn’t a help. So when I find a book offering sane advice consistent with other sane advice, I’m happy to endorse and recommend it. A Short Guide to a Long Life is such a book.

The book isn’t sexy and makes few promises. You will not be a skinny rich movie star pooping golden eggs after reading this book. But, even better, if you choose to do so, you can embark on a path to increased health and longevity. The book is small and short and this bothers some reviewers. I like that the book can be read in a couple hours. It makes it easy to grab from the shelf for a quick reminder o the path you’re on. In it Agus lists sixty-five tidbits under three headings: What to Do, What to Avoid, and Doctor’s Orders. I’m sorry but there is nothing new, novel, or earth-shattering here. No magic pills or secret Chinese bulbs that will keep you in perfect health until age 150. What you will find is very excellent advice in all areas of health and well-being. Advice that is time-tested and accurate. Advice that actually will help you live longer and happier.

You know what they say – seventeen carrots a day will keep the sickness away!

There is a good bit of Grandma’s advice here – grow a garden, don’t skip breakfast, have children (!) – but lots of new stuff, too, like scheduling your life on computer or getting a DNA screen. I especially liked the What to Avoid section where he slays a host of health myths: forget juicing (“Does your body really need ten carrots all at once?”), ignore `detoxes’, and no, GMOs are not going to kill you and your children.

I think this is a wonderfully handy little guide that makes a useful reference. Two thumbs way up. Read it all the way through or read a chapter and then work on it for a week. Either way will lead you to better health.

Purchase here on Amazon.

David Agus at the Aspen Ideas Festival: Look At The Data
David Agus, MD homepage here
More good advice here from Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva

From the blog:
Nutritional science or sales pitch? How-to guidelines.
Twenty Nutrition Facts That Should Be Common Sense
And for the ultimate in stupidity…Dave Asprey’s Charcoal Elixir

If you enjoy It’s the Good Life please pass it on or recommend it to friends. Go to the About/Support page for ways to follow or contact me.


The Problem with Termites

termiteI can’t remember where I heard this first but it has been rolling around inside my skull for a few days now. Kudos to whomever thought of it.

It’s the problem of termites. Lots of problems come and go. Many will take care of themselves. But when you see a termite in the framing of your house? Then you have entered into a situation where you will positively have to act. The very fact that you see this tiny creature with its trail of powerdery wood left behind means that you must act.

You can act now, and your options are usually easy and inexpensive. You can act later but your options will be expensive, invasive, and possibly catastrophic.

So be on the lookout for termites.


Who made Trump? You. And me. 

Regular readers know that I subscribe to the philosophy that history is rarely made by great men and women. Instead, history is more typically the culmination of decades or centuries of day to day decisions made in day to day scenarios by people living out their day to day lives. These decisions ebb and flow through culture until reaching a kind of criticality when they take on a life of their own. Then there is no use in fighting. It’s a done deal. Smart pols and those with few core values get on the train. They know that the train is running at breakneck speed and won’t even register a blip on the speedo when it bumps your complaining rear off the track. So president Obama evolves on same-sex marriageand and senators flip back and forth and back again on the Middle East. It’s how things work. 

Any Rand has said that a people deserve their government. In her acerbic way she reiterates this view of history. For two centuries East Indians acquiesced to British rule. Uprisings were quelled with military precision. But each uprising added to a slow but growing movement for self-rule. The movement grew over decades until Gandhi spearheaded a cultural revolution. There is no question of Gandhi’s importance but he rode a century old wave that was already roiling. Gandhi was the right man for the time but if it wasn’t Gandhi then someone else would have filled those shoes. 

To Trump. Amidst whatever cultural ills we propagated either willfully or tacitly in my grandparent’s generation, as a whole, the culture was polite and courteous. Certainly people had strong opinions and strong disagreements. No doubt some people called detractors fat pigs and horrible, stupid people.  It’s true that people got in fights and some were murdered. But a general level of courtesy was expected in public that we no longer enjoy. Blame the internet, blame cable TV, or blame the NEA for no longer requiring that children start the day by respecting Old Glory – blame whomever you want – but we have elevated bad language and bad manners to celebrity status. You might not have, and I might not have (or have I?) but how many people winced just hearing the word ‘pussy’ on television. Or seeing it here in internet print? How many vowed to never watch Trump again when he repeatedly calls out a famale celebrity as a ‘fat pig’? When did this become acceptable? How many lines have we crossed when Trump announces repeatedly and with impunity that Miss X isn’t good looking enough for him to molest? Are you kidding. How sad. 

Sorry. No cheers today. 

Optimize your optimization plan for optimal optimization

I caught a tweet over the weekend by self-help guru Tim Ferriss. He was looking for ways that readers and followers ‘optimize’ their night and bed-time routines. It hit a cord in me and I tweeted back an honest question: do you ever get tired of optimizing every minute of every day? It sounds horribly exhausting to me.

Another self-help guru, Wayne Dyer, used to say that we are ‘human beings’ and not ‘human doings’. As silly as it sounds, I’ve always thought there was a grain of truth there. He meant that at some point, we should quit planning, quit making lists, and quit spending hours researching the molecular qualities of the very best cook wear to achieve the most beneficial meals. There comes a point when we should start living.

Maybe the fact that I don’t optimize my optimization plan for optimal optimization is exactly why I’m not the head of a billion dollar company making widgets for iPhones that allow people to post their bathroom routines to their friends. No one is interviewing me about the Oxford comma or how I hire a company to send me presents each month. Oh well.

So I spent a nice weekend morning making a knitted puff puppy with one of my daughters. And I opted out of watching home repair and woodworking tv shows and did some repairs and woodwoking. I didn’t optimize my shop setup but simply enjoyed the smell of pine and the sound of a sharp plane lifting a tissue thin shaving from a long edge.