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Saturday, April 28, 2012

How To Stop Saying "You Know"


After a four year layoff from teaching, I was back in the classroom at Ohio State this spring semester.  We teach law through a Socratic dialogue, so I spent a good deal of time in question and answer exchanges with the students.  In a way I'd never noticed before my students had become infected by the verbal diarrhea of saying "you know" every other sentence (and sometimes more than once in the same sentence!).  At one point I couldn't stop myself from starting class with a few comments about this disturbing trend.  "You want to impress people—other lawyers, new acquaintances, judges, your boss—with how articulate you are," I lectured, "but if, you know, you are constantly, you know, betraying your inability to, you know, control your sentences, you're going to look bad, you know?"

This plague is everywhere from the President of the United States clowning around on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last week, to nationally-known law professors we recently brought to Ohio State making major presentations at a Sports Law event, to close friends of mine who drive me nuts by peppering their speech with this mindless repetition.  Apparently this is an international epidemic, with the equivalent of "you know" infecting languages other than English.  I've ranted about this difficulty in a prior post (see below), and, apparently, most people think I'm loony for caring about it at all.  I'm particularly appalled when I hear myself say the hated words, which happens on very, very rare occasions, when to my horror I notice I have an early symptom of the spreading infection.

Suppose, however, that you're embarrassed (as you should be) by this bad speech habit and want to stop.  This post is about how to accomplish that.

First of all, you'll need a confederate.  Choose someone you converse with a lot, and who's willing to help you become aware of every time you say the words "you know" (you can't hear it yourself).  Get him/her to promise to quickly reply "I know" every time you say "you know"—and, simple as that sounds, it's no more complicated than that.  Of course, it will be irritating to you to have your discourse interrupted like this, but that's the point!  You need to become aware of how often you've become a mindless copier of the bad speech patterns of others, and you'll begin to listen to yourself as you talk.  After numerous conversations with your "I know" friend, you'll be wary of the need to fill any pause in your thoughts with a banal repetition of "you know."

If you think this is nonsense, try this experiment: listen to how often you and your friends and people on TV or in casual conversations—stupidly, mindlessly—clutter their conversations with "you know."  Is it okay simply because everyone is doing it?  Running with the herd, dumb as the rest?  Do you want people you're trying to impress thinking of you as "stupid and mindless"?

Changing right-brain habits like this one is always a hard task, but who said you only get to do easy things in life?  If you're tired of being a slave to the phrase "you know," then strip it from your vocabulary except when it's legitimately part of your thought (as in "You know what I mean?" or "You know my sister, Mary Beth, don't you?" or "You know a lot for someone so young"). 

When you're finally cured, buy your "I know" buddy lunch and celebrate the elimination of this oral curse.  Be pleased with yourself.  Congratulations!

And then pay it forward by helping to convert someone as smitten with this disease as you once were yourself.  Hell, let's build a 12-step program of "I Know Buddies" and get the whole planet back to sounding smart.

Related Posts:
"The Socratic Dialogue in Law School," Jan 31, 2010
"I Hate 'You Know, 'You Know,'" Nov 28, 2010
"The Left Brain, Right Brain Life," Jan 17, 2011
"Life's Little But Important Rules," Apr 23, 2011
"How To Be Perfect," Mar 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Saturday, April 21, 2012

President Mitt Romney?


Last November when there was an election going on I received a call from a woman who informed me that she represented the Tea Party.  "This is going to be an interesting conversation," I chuckled, and when she asked why, I confessed I was pretty much a "Yellow Dog Democrat."  She asked what that meant and I told her it's someone who's such a partisan that if the Democrats ran a yellow dog for an office, he'd vote for the dog.  She was shocked.  "You mean you support Barak Obama?" she managed to choke out.  I responded by asking her if she'd ever in her life voted for a Democrat.  'NO!" she replied, horrified at the impossibility.  "Then you're a Yellow Dog Republican," I informed her.  She hung up.

Goldwater and Johnson
Actually I have voted for Republicans from time to time.  My very first vote for President in 1964, when I was newly 21, was cast for Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee.  Why?  Because I knew that Lyndon Johnson, the incumbent, was a crook, and I didn't want to vote for a man I thought despicable.  Later, when I lived in Indianapolis Richard Lugar was the mayor and subsequently (and still) the Republican Senator from Indiana.  I voted for him every chance I was given, and would do so again if still living in that state.  He's a first rate person, very smart, very compassionate, a moderate, all things I admire.  Alas, he's currently locked into a major battle with a Tea Party candidate, and might well lose—Lugar doesn't change his opinions just because the wind is blowing harder to the right.  I wish the good Senator well.

Senator Richard Lugar
Now that Mitt Romney is the likely Republican candidate I asked myself if I could possibly support him.  It's not out of the question, but I think the country would be in far better hands with Barak Obama, who, while not the overwhelming force for change promised in 2008, is much like Lugar: smart, considerate, a proven commodity who's doing good things on an international scale, and handling the mess that the USA is in about as well as anyone could.  He's still learning on the job, as all presidents must, and he's solid choice.

But there are things about Mitt that I also like.  He has a proven talent as an executive, with a splendid track record at straightening out big messes, and (though he'd currently deny it) a willingness to compromise his stands if that's necessary to get the job done.  This willingness to compromise principles is the very thing that makes many Republicans dislike and distrust him.  Once in favor of treating gays fairly, Mitt now thinks that discrimination against them is fine.  But who's to say that his sense of fairness won't return once he isn't facing an immediate election.  Gays are rapidly winning the support of the American people, so by 2016, when President Romney has to run for the second time, he'll likely be behind them once again.  The same goes for more or less any stance he's taken.  As his own campaign manager claims, he's really an "Etch-A-Sketch" politician.  Currently he states he doesn't believe in evolution, but I trust that is, like many of the things he's currently saying, a necessary lie to get the required number of votes.  Mitt's an intelligent man and he knows that the science behind evolution is rock solid, so his statements to the contrary will be forgotten once elected when the need to apply scientific principles to problems as they arise becomes paramount. 
As an atheist, I don't like the idea that Mitt's a Mormon, but then I don't like the idea that anyone who wants to be President must at least profess to a strong religious belief.  I'll have more to say about religion and the presidency in a future blog post, so let it go for now.
What I don't like about Mitt is his lack of a solid grounding. It's good to be willing to explore and change one's mind.  It's bad not to have anything that you won't jettison if and when it proves a political liability.  Say what you will about Barak Obama, he doesn't suddenly alter what he believes in just because it's unpopular.
Moreover, Mitt doesn't quite seem real, as if there's no "person" inside him.  Yes, he looks like a President (handsome, square-jawed, although, as one reporter commented, he seems more like a statue of himself), but his attempts at genuine personality are embarrassing—toe-curling—to watch.  When Barak Obama, clowning at a ceremony, sang a snatch of a song and did so very well, Mitt leaped to the challenge and a few days later crooned "America the Beautiful"—the entire first verse—in a key that doesn't really exist.    In 2008, when Mitt first tried to win the nomination, he went jogging with the press, and they were astounded by the fact that he didn't sweat!  In 2012, when he again jogged with the press, he generated tons of sweat, thus showing he'd learned how to seem more real.  A columnist for Time Magazine later commented that Mitt strikes people as someone who's been "sent down from the mothership to report back, and, in turn, the humans find him pleasant enough, and surprisingly life-like."  Poor baby, he can be very awkward, and frequently first puts his foot in his mouth and then proceeds to jam it in tight ("Ann has two Cadillacs!" he told autoworkers to convince them  he's truly on their side).  When Mitt gets cornered and starts spouting slogans ("I AM A CONSERVATIVE!  "I AM A CONSERVATIVE!" "I AM A CONSERVATIVE!) his eyes can actually spin like pinwheels.

I've recently become fascinated by—of all things—quantum mechanics and string theory, and was therefore much amused at David Javerbaum's NY Times column of March 31st entitled "A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney."  Here are two excepts:
Entanglement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an issue, you unavoidably affect how he feels about it. More precisely, Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker. . . .
[A]ccording to the latest theories, the “Mitt Romney” who seems poised to be the Republican nominee is but one of countless Mitt Romneys, each occupying his own cosmos, each supporting a different platform, each being compared to a different beloved children’s toy but all of them equally real, all of them equally valid and all of them running for president at the same time, in their own alternative Romnealities, somewhere in the vast Romniverse.
My guess is that support for Mitt Romney is paper-thin.  This political cartoon captures that attitude:

 Moreover, Mitt doesn't seem like a good fit with the more fanatical elements in the Republican party (who likely don't know that his real first name is "Willard"):

Summing up, Mitt Romney was the best of the Republican candidates in the brutal primary season now closing, being the only survivor in the circular firing squad.  And, flaws and all, he might not be a bad president.
But there's a yellow dog tugging on my pants leg, so in the end Barak's still my man.
Related Posts:
“Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade!” August 27, 2012
“Mitt Romney, Leveraged Buyouts, and Morality,” September 12, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi


Here's what this blog post is about and whom I'm addressing: suppose that you have always thought of yourself as "straight" in the sense that your attraction is to the opposite sex (a fact that's a given in your life), but then you discover that in some situations you have sexual thoughts about a member of the same sex (or—horror of horrors—actually had a sexual experience with such a person).  Now suddenly you wonder if perhaps you're "gay" or at least "bisexual."  How do you know?  What's the truth?  Should you be lying awake at night thinking about this, with your life now a complicated jumble?
No.  Relax.  Calm yourself.
What's happened to you is both common and commonplace.  You're still the same person you always were, but now you're aware of a new side of your personality.  Most people on the planet have had these feelings, so you're certainly not alone.  Maybe your parents' lecture on the "birds and the bees" left this fact out, but it's true.

Yes, sure, you might be in the early stage of realizing that you are in fact really gay.  If so, then work that new identity through as best you can.  I have all kinds of advice for you, and if you consult the "Related Posts" below you'll discover what I have to say on this topic.

But most likely you're just discovering a new facet of your personality: that you can, in some situations, be attracted to the same sex.  What does it mean?  It means only what it sounds like: in some situations you are definitely attracted to the same sex.  If you want to act on that urge now and again, fine.  Have a good time!  Life is short and we should all have as much fun living it as we can (as long as we don't hurt others in the process).  If your new sexual partner assumes you're gay, well simply disabuse her/her of that with some comment like, "I'm basically straight, but every once in awhile I have a terrific time with someone as interesting as you."  Woody Allen once commented that being bisexual doubles your chance for a date on Saturday nights.
Alfred Kinsey

The only major studies of sexual behavior that hasn't been corrupted by the agenda or sloppy research of those who followed were done by Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s when he interviewed thousands of people about their sexual behavior and thoughts.  This was new territory, and many of his subjects had never thought about these questions before, much less been quizzed, so they said what they thought.  Most people believed that sex was only between a man and a woman, was always accomplished in the missionary position, and was over quickly ("Slam, bam, thank you, ma'am!").  People who made more of it than that were "sinners" or "sluts" or "perverts." 

But Kinsey found out many interesting things.  Only one of the chapters in his first book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), dealt with homosexuality, but it was that chapter that has caused him to be loved and hated (and much attacked) ever since.  His statistics showed that only about 30% of those surveyed have a fixed "straight" orientation ["zero" homosexual interests], and that others were on a sliding scale from "zero: to "six."  (I have a gay friend, a cop, who told me he's a "six tending to seven," but that's impossible—six is as high as the homosexual scale goes.)  The "fives" and "sixes" on the scale (predominantly to completely homosexual) make up ten percent of the population (which is where that number, widely used in discussions about how many gays there are in the world, comes from). 
So if you've had homosexual thoughts or experiences it only means that you are part of 70% of the human population for which that is true.
It doesn't mean you're gay. 
It simply means you are you, and this discovery is part of who you are.

Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011
"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"On Being a Gay Sports Fan," March 9, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book Reading Next Week of My Novel "Imaginary Friend"

To my delight, I've been invited to do a book reading from my atheist-thriller novel "Imaginary Friend at the Humanist program on Saturday, April 14 for the Humanist Community of Central Ohio.  It  will be held at their new office at 1550 Old Henderson Rd, S150, Columbus, OH 43220. (I'm told that because the meeting space is on the north side of the building, it would be best to park in the back of the building and enter through the rear entrance on the north side).  The program starts at 1p.m., and I will probably start my reading (half hour or so) shortly thereafter.

Before I wrote the novel I worried that it would be hard to find an audience for a fictional treatment of atheist themes, but a thriller seemed an appropriate vehicle for some of the outrage I feel at the despicable treatment atheists often get from the world at large.  It's one of the few remaining minorities where casual discrimination is widely accepted, even applauded.  The hero of my novel, a lawyer who accidentally becomes a national figure due to an act of heroism when a football stadium explodes at halftime (which occurs in the first chapter), makes the mistake of saying he's an atheist on national TV, for which misstep he pays a heavy price.  I took an ad out for my novel in the leading atheist magazine, Free Inquiry, and since I did that the novel has been selling a respectable number of copies.  I plan to sell a few more ($10 each) at the book reading next Saturday.

The Free Inquiry Ad

Although the book has a large number of "thriller" episodes (kidnapping, drive-by shootings, torture of children, and other human horrors), at the book reading I suspect the Central Ohio Humanists will be more interested in the portions of the book in which my hero must battle anti-atheist bigotry, so the two portions of the book where that is prominent will be the focus of my reading.

If interested, please come next Saturday.  The members of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio are great people, and would welcome anyone who wants to attend.  The Related Posts below contain more information about and even portions of "Imaginary Friend," which is available both in a paperback edition on and as an ebook on Kindle.

Here are all the current reviews of the book on
4.0 out of 5 stars
Devil in the Details, September 30, 2008
This review is from: Imaginary Friend (Paperback)

Imagine if: After the horrors of 9/11, a man who bravely helped rescue some 50 odd survivors in a highly visual fashion was videoed doing this incredible feat. He'd be a proclaimed a hero, paraded around, commended by The President and promptly shoved on some news show (ala Larry King Live) and made to talk about the experience. What would happen if he decided (with a little alcoholic lubrication) to say to a caller that God was not there to give him the strength to save the survivors, but that following an "imaginary friend" was exactly why terrorists were killing people.

Thus is the premise of "Imaginary Friend." Franklin Whitestone, hero of a 9/11 styled attack on a football stadium finds his life turned upside down when he announces what he really thinks about God on a national television show. He and his family swoop from American Heroes to American Pariahs in the scope of two days, once the faithful feel threatened more by a single atheist and his family than multiple bands of terrorists. Whitestone, his son Todd and his former wife Mary now have to dodge a marauding press corps, Money Grubbing Mega-Church leaders, old girlfriends, unhappy employers and gun toting ChritsoFacists if they want to live through a quintessential American Nightmare resulting from not being very careful what you say in front of a live microphone (or post on the internet).

Inventive and well thought out characters make this a compelling read, as does the detailed writing style. The description of Nan and Dan's gun collection is alone enough to give you the creeps. Todd Whitestone, the precocious and gifted 16 year old son, is also a highlight of "Imaginary Friend" as he tries his best to help his father from a jam. Catherine, Franklin's alpha-mother, gets the best laughs as the Queen Bee of the Whitestone hive. Add the satirical bent of our instant-celebrity culture (an agent who advises Franklin just how rich he can get with a good PR man), and you get an entertaining novel about just how absurd the world of organized religion can get.

5.0 out of 5 stars
A Foxhole Atheist, November 3, 2008
By Joseph Mensch (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Imaginary Friend (Paperback)

The atheist movement, slowly growing in this country, has been given a sudden boost from an unknown author named Douglas Whaley whose new novel, "Imaginary Friend," combines an impassioned polemic with a sophisticated thriller. The attempt alone would have been enough, but the end result is more powerful and entertaining than anything the atheist movement (or, for the most part, the thriller movement) has come up with so far.

The story is about a lawyer, Franklin Whitestone, who rescues 53 people from a burning stadium but becomes a hunted man when he speaks candidly about his atheist views on national TV. The breathless chase across Ohio involves not just Franklin but Franklin's family, whose escape from their demented kidnappers is one of the high points of the novel. Franklin meets some colorful characters along the way, including Corbin Milk, a gay ex-C.I.A. agent who helps Franklin with his disguise, and Jonathan Harker, a PR agent who insists that Franklin can make tons of money from his ordeal. Even the God-fearing militant hunters have their virtues and sympathies. One is often pleasantly surprised, even relieved, by the humor that Whaley mines from the darkest and grisliest situations.

For many years the atheists' cause has rested on the shoulders of writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and most recently, Christopher Hitchens, whose logical arguments, while unassailable on their own terms, often fail to take the fight where it would really count, namely, the psychological realm. Religious fanatics will not be swayed by any number of scientific arguments that disprove the possibility of talking snakes; they hold the trump card of "The Lord works in mysterious ways." But if you can tap into their basic sympathies for their fellow man and demonstrate how destructive religion has been to innocent people (including all the deaths at the football stadium, bombed by an Islamic terrorist), you might be able to turn some heads. This is where "Imaginary Friend" succeeds so well.

5.0 out of 5 stars
frightenly feasible outcome, February 13, 2012
By V. Sandy "V" (Prescott,AZ) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Imaginary Friend (Kindle Edition)
and unfortunately in this post 9-11 world, with all the christian religous militancy tossed about by politicians... everything that befalls the unlikely hero of this tale is frightenly feasible  

5.0 out of 5 stars
Life with Religious Differences Brought to Life, February 18, 2012
This review is from: Imaginary Friend (Paperback)
Exciting! Doug Whaley has opened new territory with his engaging novel "Imaginary Friend." Although much has already been written debating questions raised by religion, Whaley is one of the first to use fiction to bring to life the experiences of people living with those religious differences. "Imaginary Friend" should be read by anyone who cares about religious freedom.

Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012