Now, For Today’s Lesson…

How many times have you heard someone say: “That’s so ironic?” How many times have you said it yourself? You don’t have to tell me, it’s a rhetorical question! Let’s just say that it is an oft-used phrase along with its oft-used sibling in question form that begins: “Isn’t it ironic…” While there are many, perhaps too many, “ironies” in life, it is also the English language’s most misused and abused word. It has, unfortunately, become synonymous with coincidence, bad luck, and pleasant surprises, none of which are ironic!

The use of irony shows the contrast or incongruity between how things appear and how they are in reality. More precisely, these three definitions will perhaps provide a bit more clarity. Irony, noun: 1. The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. For example: “Don’t go overboard with the gratitude, he rejoined with heavy irony.” This example demonstrates sarcasm, dryness, sharpness, and acerbity. 2. A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result. For example: “The irony is that I thought he could help me.” On display here are paradox, incongruity, and peculiarity. 3. A literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or the reader although unknown to the character. There are several types of literary irony, such as situational, verbal, as well as others. An example of verbal irony can be seen in Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, where he suggests that the way around the famine in Ireland is to have children specifically bred to feed the starving. Of course, he was not advocating for cannibalism, just using irony to get the reader’s attention. I know when I read it for the first time, it certainly got me thinking!

So why this English 101 lecture on irony that, if you’re anything like me, you slept through the first time around? Yes, very good Albert; that is another rhetorical question. You are so close to that gold star! Have you got a minute? Okay, I’ll stop! Over the last few weeks or so I’ve written several pieces for this blog on technology and, more specifically, the somewhat latest attempt to “better” our lives, with Chat GPT, that large language model that you can ask anything…Well almost anything, and it will give you everything from a terse response to an essay on what Dostoyevsky was thinking when he penned The Brothers Karamazov. After writing my missives, I was feeling a little bit guilty that I wrote all this stuff and had not tried the new technology myself, mostly because I thought it would be an enormous time-suck and between, Spelling Bee, Wordle, Framed, Quordle, etc., etc., the last thing I needed was another technological timewaster. But being the conscientious person that I am, not to mention wanting to shed the guilt, I decided to give it a try today, to better understand the workings of this new technology. I logged onto Google, typed in Chat GPT, and then clicked on the appropriate link, which brought me to a page that directed me to click: “Sign up now.” I clicked on that link and there was a slight pause before my screen was showing me a tan-colored page, which had this in the center: A small square box for me to check with text beside it that read, “I am Human.” Yup, a computer generated artificial intelligence was asking me to confirm that I was not a robot! I couldn’t check the box right away, as I had to make an emergency trip to the loo before I pissed myself laughing. Welcome to the “brave new world!”

Los Angeles 2023


It was the spring of 2006. I had recently relocated to Los Angeles, and I was in my car running some errands when this white truck passed me on my left and then quickly pulled into my lane in front of me and there it was in broad daylight and big blue letters: CULVER CITY MEAT CO. “You may beat our prices, but you can’t beat our meat.” I so wanted to take a picture, but the traffic started to move so I thought, okay, I’ll get beside it and hopefully there will be a red light and I will take my picture then. Alas, the side of the truck was truncated, as you can see above. But as you can also see from the second photo, Culver City Meat is not the only one to use the phrase! It is a bold statement, so I jotted down the phone numbers, vowing to look them up to see if they did indeed have the “best” meat in town, because who doesn’t love a good steak?

Had you going, didn’t I? Admit it, your mind went exactly where mine did, and it sure as hell was not about the quality of the product! But why? Why do our minds almost automatically see that “other” meaning in a phrase, or statement, or as in the case, a bit of branded advertising? Worse yet: You don’t “get it” and your friends have to explain it to you, which only gives them a second reason to fall to the floor laughing hysterically, while you look for somewhere to hide…or a cliff! (For those of you who still don’t get it, I sincerely apologize and hope that you will not think less of me…I also have some land for sale in…). Here’s another scenario for you, perhaps not quite as humorous. You’re a teacher in Culver City walking to a nearby park for some fun and games, and this truck slowly drives past you and your class of third graders. You summon up all your energy to stifle your initial reaction, only to hear “dirty” Ernie (come on, every third grade class has one, just insert your dirty Ernie joke here!) burst out laughing and you lose it, right there in front of your whole class. Before you can compose yourself, little Roberta and Tommy are tugging on your sleeve asking: “Miss Robinson, what’s so funny?” Although I have never taught that age group, I have been a teacher and I honestly have no idea how I would handle that situation, nor how I would answer the question, without lying mercilessly. Where’s that cliff?

And who do we have to thank for these wonderful sayings that can be taken two ways? Why, the French of course! The glorious double entendre. The word entendre means “to hear, NOT ‘intent.’” In other words, it means ‘double hearing,’ or to put it another way, hearing two possible meanings for one phrase. The “second” meaning is often sexual in nature so, as one can imagine from the example above, that second interpretation can have some, shall I say, unintended consequences! There are occasions when the second meaning is not sexual. For example, in the movie “Silence of the Lambs” when Hannibal Lecter says: “I do wish we could chat longer, but…I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.” Here, the word “having” is the subject of the double entendre. There are other examples to be sure, but so far, we have sexual connotations and cannibalism, so I think I should quit while I’m ahead (and don’t you dare try and read anything into that)! Many of you, are I am sure, familiar with the term “Freudian slip,” which is an unintended, usually sexual gaffe; in other words, a double entendre only with a fancy label making it sound more academic and less intentional…yeah, right. Some classic, everyday ones: You see someone sweating bullets and you say: “You look hot!” You see someone carrying a very large box and you blurt out: “Wow, you got a huge package.” Or you’re sitting in church next to your mother and you say this about the church organist: Why is Mr. Richardson touching his organ so much?” And while we are on the subject of churches, there are numerous examples of church signs beckoning the faithful with slogans and bon mots that are double entendre gold:

That last one a bit too much. Okay, fair enough. Here’s a non-sexual one:

Can I get an amen for that one? One could make the argument for a quadruple entendre in this case! Are these examples of sophomoric, sexist, low-brow humor, crass? Absolutely, because all of these qualities need to be front and center to make them into a double entendre! You laugh and immediately feel guilty for laughing as you chastise yourself for being so juvenile…but you can’t stop laughing! The examples above come under the category of the “accidental’ double entendre, which can often be seen in newspaper headlines such as: “Panda mating fails; Veterinarian takes over;” “Miners refuse to work after death;” or, “Children make nutritious snacks.” Another twist on the double entendre, is known as a “paraprosdokian,” which is a sentence that has a surprise or unexpected ending. In Greek the word means “against expectations;” you are expecting something, and you get something else. These are often the fodder for comedians, especially one-liners, the most famous example being Henny Youngman’s “Take my wife ——– Please,” with the just-long-enough pause before the punchline to drive it home. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it!” (Groucho Marx). “He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce, I keep the house” (Zsa Zsa Gabor). “When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them” (Rodney Dangerfield). “Half of all marriages end in divorce – then there are the really unhappy ones” (Joan Rivers). The other thing that all of these one-liners have in common other than falling under the rubric of their Greek name, is that they all come from the comedians of a very different era, which may or may not be significant, however I think it is!

Politicians have also contributed to the pool with their wit and clever sayings. For example: Ronald Reagan uttered the following: “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a President by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities” (Winston Churchill). “People say I’m indecisive – but I don’t know about that” (George H.W. Bush).

As you can see, there is really no end to the possibilities of being misunderstood or have what you say mean something entirely different, dependent of course on who is “hearing” what’s being said, and what it is they are “hearing.” And we haven’t even broached the topic of puns, which are, in many ways, the same thing as a double entendre. But you’ve probably had enough for today, so I’ll spare you…You’re welcome.

Okay, just one! “Hipsters always burn their tongues because they drink their coffee before it’s cool!” Oh, I almost forgot. The answer to my question as to why our minds go there: because they can!

Los Angeles 2023

Did It Move You?

If you were one of the approximately 113 million people who tuned in to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday (Feb.12, 2023), you no doubt saw Chris Stapleton’s moving performance of The Star Spangled Banner. Unless, of course, you were busy putting the finishing touches on the array of unhealthy snacks to be served during half time! The video of his performance, which was uploaded to YouTube the same day, is sure to go viral if it hasn’t already, and in my mind rightly so. Over the years, I have listened to painful renditions of this anthem, most of them overwrought with staged emotion, with many performances trying way too hard to feign patriotism by adding all kinds of voice inflections that are done to add “excitement” to a song, but in the case of the anthem, usually does the exact opposite, making one reach for the remote to hit the mute button. This, I am sure, is exactly what people were doing when they listened to Fergie absolutely butcher the song at the 2018 NBA All Star Game in Los Angeles. Rest assured that it is not only the American anthem that gets this kind of treatment at special events. I grew up singing and listening to the Canadian national anthem, and over the years, I have heard some rather painful versions of it as well.

During Stapleton’s performance, the camera panned around the stadium as per usual, until it found the Philadelphia Eagles’ coach, Nick Sirianni, with tears streaming down his face, and Eagle’s center Jason Kelce who also looked a bit misty-eyed. When the camera panned to other players on the sidelines, there may not have been tears, but their collective expressions were far different from what I have seen during other performances of the anthem. All of which leaves me with one question: Why? Why was Stapleton’s performance so moving? One only has to peruse some of the comments posted on the YouTube video for the answer. Comments like: “He didn’t ‘perform’ this, he sang it from his soul. It was absolutely breathtaking and exactly what our National Anthem should be;” “As an Aussie who has lived in the US all I can say is Bravo sir!!! You had that guitar shedding tears itself. So simple yet so powerful;” “This a testament to the power of HOW a song is delivered. I’ll be sharing this with my students so they can witness the true emotional power of music. Thank you, Chris Stapleton!” There are many more of these effusive comments (over 11,000 so far), many of them from people all across the globe.

As I mentioned above, I did not grow up in this country, so my knowledge on this anthem is lacking, other than knowing who it was written by, but not much else. And seeing as I too was moved by this rendition of the song, I decided to do a little digging…I’m glad I did! The lyrics for the song come from a poem written on September 18, 1814, by 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key; after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in Outer Baltimore Harbor at the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, then with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the “Star-Spangled Banner,” flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory. The tune for the song actually comes from a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for a men’s social club, titled “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a song that was well known in the U.S. at the time. It was re-named “The Star-Spangled Banner” and soon became well-known as a U.S. patriotic song. In 1931, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution making the song the official national anthem. Although there are actually four verses to the song, only the first verse is typically performed. One of the reasons for the many unflattering performances of the anthem has to do with the song’s complexity, as it has a range of 19 semitones, which alone make it difficult to sing, but if you are trying to embellish it with too many inflections, look out!

This was obviously not the case with Chris Stapleton’s rendition. I will admit to not being a huge fan of country and western music, although it is probably more accurate to say that I am very, very selective when it comes to this music. While there was that tell-tale “twang” in Stapleton’s voice, I would be hard-pressed to label this a “country” treatment of the anthem. For myself, he infused the song with so much emotion and clarity, it was as if he was singing it only to me, and not to a stadium full of people. I found myself riveted to the couch, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my mouth might have been hanging open! There have been many psychological studies done on why and how music moves us in this way, which is not that surprising given that the main point of music is to evoke emotion, with memory not that far behind. We have all experienced that feeling at some time or another when we hear a song played from our youth that opens a flood of remembrances both positive and negative. It has only been two days since that performance, and I’m already hearing the “buzz” that this may have been the best performance of the national anthem ever! On that note, I will leave you with the video of that performance below, and as a special bonus a video of Tom Callinan (2012), doing his best to look like one of the founding fathers, playing guitar and singing the entire anthem…yes, all four verses. Below that are the lyrics in their entirety. Given all this, I’m hoping not to be deported anytime soon!

Chris Stapleton (Due to NFL policy you will have to click the arrow to go to YouTube to watch this)

Tom Callinan (This one might be blocked too, so same deal as above!)

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave![

Los Angeles 2023

If It’s Too Good To Be True…

…There is a very good chance that it isn’t! Just before the end of 2022, one of the big news items was the arrest of the former CEO of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried (even central casting couldn’t come up with a better name than that!), in the Bahamas. Since then, he has been extradited to the U.S., where he faces wire fraud as well as other charges. All of this is as a result of his supposed mishandling and/or diversion of funds at the cryptocurrency exchange, FTX. As is stipulated in the indictment, beginning in 2019, Bankman-Fried “intentionally devised a ‘scheme and artifice to defraud’ FTX’s customers and investors, diverting their money to pay expenses and debts at his crypto hedge fund, Alameda Research, and to make lavish real estate purchases and large political donations.” And if all of this sounds like just another chapter in “robbing Peter to pay Paul” economics (a strategy that I am almost certain is not taught in Econ.101), then you are way ahead of me! While I fully realize that people have been harmed, some even losing their life savings, by these types of schemes and schemers, my interest has more to do with why people, many of whom are financially aware and astute business people, fall for these “snake oil salesmen?”

From what I’ve read (and this is probably as good a time as any to inform you that what I know about cryptocurrency could be placed atop of one of its coins, if such a thing even exists, with lots of room left over), this particular scheme by Bankman-Fried has made at least $1 billion in customer funds disappear into thin air, not to mention the residual damage triggering a “surge in outflows across other global crypto exchanges.”  Now, $1 billion is a great deal of money, but it pales in comparison to the $20 billion in individual loses suffered at the hands of Bernie Madoff’s giant Ponzi scheme discovered in December of 2008, which is only 14 years ago. It would appear that investors have short memories! The difference between Ponzi schemes and Pyramid schemes, other than the former being named for a person and the later a shape, is that a Ponzi scheme generally only requires investment in something from its victims, with promised returns on that investment at a later date, while a Pyramid scheme usually offers the victim the opportunity to “make” money by recruiting more people into the scam.

It was 1920 when the Italian-born Charles Ponzi, operating in both the United States and Canada, duped his victims. Ponzi’s money-making scheme involved his customers purchasing discounted postal reply coupons (think “forever” stamps now widely available); however, the end result was the same. He was using new investors money to pay off older investors and…well, you know the rest. While Mr. Ponzi did not invent the scheme, it became so identified by him that the name stuck. Before he was caught, he had bilked investors out of approximately $15 million, which in 2022 dollars is $224 million, not exactly chicken feed. Between Ponzi in 1920 and Madoff in 2008, there have been six major (there may be more) schemes that have cost investors an approximate total of $13.3 billion, which is why Madoff’s scheme received so much attention, with $7 billion more lost by investors than the previous seven biggies! I suppose that it was only a matter of time before the next one hit, and I am not the least bit surprised that in happened in the world of cryptocurrency.

We have all, at some time or another, been victims of the “if it’s too good to be true…” adage: The price of some product or service that usually results in yet another adage: “You get what you pay for;” a food that is so sweet but said to be non-fattening; front row tickets that are really in the “nose bleed” section; the Rolex watch that isn’t, and on and on it goes. However, the difference here is that while you may feel cheated or duped, the cost to you is minimal by comparison. All of which brings us full circle back to my original question: Why do we do it? Why do we let ourselves get sucked in to the promise of a “huge” payday, when conventional wisdom should tell us: “Buyer beware?” Well, I have a theory, and it is just that, a theory of one individual who is by no means an expert on these affairs, but here it goes. I feel that there is a fundamental difference between working for your money and having your money work for you. When you work for your money, you are expending a certain amount of physical or mental labor and being paid for that expenditure. But when it is the later, you the investor are not really doing any WORK, in the traditional sense of that word. What you are doing, though, when you give your hard-earned money to someone else to invest so that money will hopefully multiply, is take on more risk, which is, in its own way, a form of mental expenditure. Many of us do this regularly with retirement funds or other types of investments, and if you are like me (and I am not in the least bit proud of this); you have no idea what is transpiring with those funds, except for those monthly statements telling you that it’s up or down.

What’s the difference, then, between socking away money in “legal” investments for your retirement with the hope of it growing enough to sustain you, and investing in dubious schemes promising you 10, 20, 30 percent more? The answer to this depends really at what point of your life you are making these dubious investments, but if you are, let’s say 20 years away from retirement age, you are most likely doing this hoping for a large enough windfall that you won’t have to WORK anymore. There are enough examples out there demonstrating how this has worked for some people, and I guess it is human nature to think about those rather than the ones that didn’t!

Los Angeles 2023