Monday, February 24, 2020

101 Things #66 - The Benefit of Clergy

It's a lovely day today. I have no household duties and commuting is no longer a daily necessity. Mrs C. has decided to take herself off to the National Gallery, as is her wont, but the exhibition she intends to visit is not one that grips my attention. I decide to have a look at what others feel is worthy of their time, the items that go on their bucket-lists, and see if I can conquer my natural cynicism and do one myself.

What shall it be? Yes, of course, the one that all aspirants to a lifetime of achievement will treasure and fondly remember years later. I shall become a Man of God.

Mind you, having stated it as baldly as that, it does feel somewhat uncomfortable. In fact, now I come to think about it, it seems utterly wrong, ludicrous and risible. I shall explain why this notion is worthy of never being achieved and that it truly belongs in my anti bucket-list set 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die and consequently why I shall defy the recommendation from Bucket List Journey to

Get Ordained

There is a certain social cachet in being a signed-up religious professional, no doubt. At any street accident, one can push through the gaping crowds with the helpful cry "Let me through, I am here to save this man's soul" and then, when the press arrive, it will be your beaming face that makes it to the front page. You will be given first choice of the chocolate biscuits at social gatherings. You can wear long flowing robes, affect a thick bushy beard (sorry, not for the ladies) and smile benignly at passers-by. People will ask for your advice and benedictions. They may even wish to confess their sins - and who knows what you may learn as a result.

How does one go about becoming ordained? To the dedicated bucket-lister, no problem at all. One finds an appropriate internet vendor and purchases a certificate. For example, you can join the Universal Life Church, hand over $29.99 and look what you receive in return:
  • Ordination Credential (Minister License)
  • 1 ULC Wallet License
  • 1 Black Clergy Badge
  • 1 Parking Hanger
  • 1 Minister Window Cling
  • 1 Press Pass-Parking Placard
  • 1 ULC Bumper Sticker with symbols
  • 1 Minister Bumper Sticker

Not only a certificate to hang on the wall and a mini version for the wallet but free parking. This alone must justify your seeking out your calling in this way. You can park anywhere you like - on a double yellow outside the supermarket, say, - and when the wardens come round you merely indicate the hanger or placard or bumper sticker, accept their stammered apologies and make some sort of sign over them1 before driving off leaving them still kneeling on the pavement.

But why pay anything at all? Here's a certificate that looks totally believable which I knocked out in my shed, with a little help from this site and it didn't cost me a bean.





 Rather spiffing, no? I could therefore tick off this one from my bucket-list, if it were ever on it in the first place. And that is the reason why this form of 'ordination' is utterly without worth. You can have all the fancy certificates, parking hangers (what is that, I wonder) and bumper stickers you like, you can declare yourself to be a Cardinal, an anti-Pope, a Grand Enlightened Master of Solomon, a Chief Rabbit or High Priest & Archimandrite of Great Cthulhu, perhaps all of them at once if you have a really large certificate, but it means nothing.

Of course our friends at Bucket List Journey might have meant a real ordination - spending years studying the religion of your choice, learning ancient languages, writing scholarly essays on abstruse matters of theology, debating weighty matters of morality with your peers and working at a congregation, school or mission, before finally you receive an affirmation of your elevation to the ranks of the confirmed clergy at a ceremony in front of your fellow worshippers. Somehow, given the dedication and work that is required, not to mention some sort of suitability for this role in the first place, I don't think so. I think they had in mind the strange laws of the United States of America by which anyone can call themselves a minister of religion and thereby solemnise marriages and the like. All you really need is a certificate and people have to call you 'Reverend' - by law! Isn't it fantastic? Yes, it is. Is is worthy of our respect? No.


Footnote
1. I know the sort of sign you are thinking of and you disgust me. Put your thought to higher things.

-&-&-&-&-

Special enlightenment offer to our readers

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  • A certificate (sent as a digital photo).
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Warning: Your immortal soul may be in peril if you fail to take heed of the Terms and Conditions, especially the clauses about keeping up your monthly subscription to The Way.

*Or until they close us down

Saturday, February 22, 2020

101 Things #65 - Going for Broke

As you may know, if you've glanced over this column in recent months, I have been building up a register of activities, aspirations and achievements [Nice alliteration: Ed], all of which I utterly refuse to attempt or even to contemplate undertaking. I shall stop when I have reached 101 of them and for this reason it is named 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Usually I link the topic to a single website that is promoting it but there is a bonus today because I have cunningly merged suggestions from two bucket-list proponents - Aussie on the Road and Life Listed. One thinks that playing the casino in Las Vegas is a good idea, the other plumps for Monaco. It doesn't matter. I am not going to

Gamble in a casino (no matter how glamorous the setting).


First a true story. Many years ago, young and fairly strapped for cash, I crossed America on a camping trip with a small group. Our route took us through Reno in Nevada; like Las Vegas, a town dominated by gambling. We visited a casino. I decided to risk $1 on a likely looking machine. It took dimes so I exchanged my note for coins and placed one in and pulled the lever. The dials spun and I lost. I tried again. And again. And repeated until the whole lot, my entire stash of dimes, had gone.

 I know how, in popular literature, a gentleman behaves having incurred financial ruin at a casino. He smiles, orders drinks all round, gives the croupier a tip and saunters out, hat at a jaunty angle, to contemplate the waves crashing on the rocks below. But I am not that sort of gentleman. I knew in my aching heart that I would never see that dollar again. Aware of the cameras, I did not commit any acts of violence or make obscene gestures. My face a mask, I determined that I would henceforth never gamble in a casino again and I never have.

There is no reason not to enjoy visiting the great hotel complexes of Vegas or the elegant surroundings of Monte Carlo. What rankles is the idea that gambling in a casino is worthwhile. The machines are exactly the same wherever you are so, if you like losing cash, why not go to your local pub and play the slot machine there? You will lose wherever you play but you will spend a lot less on the journey and the accommodation. Should you have some skill at card games, particularly poker, your trip may be more profitable but, if that is the case, you don't need this one on your bucket-list because you will already be doing it. As for roulette and all the "systems" that are supposed to help you beat the house, consider that if any of them really worked, then the casinos would cease to be in business.

Forget about the glamour of the casinos. They are designed for one purpose and it is not a pleasant one. Watching ranks of dead-eyed gamblers mechanically jabbing at buttons while lights flash and sound effects blare out is only of interest to social psychologists. You may deal me out.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

101 Things #64 - Name That Star

It is the morning of your 110th birthday. The King1 sends a telegram. The staff in your nursing home bake a special cake. A fresh-faced reporter from the local paper comes to see you.
"Tell me" she asks eagerly "What was your greatest achievement?"
"Well, young lady" you say, as the wonderful memories flood back "They named a star after me, you know"
"Wow. A whole star? Fantastic. What did you do to deserve that?"
"Ermm ... I paid for it on the internet and received a certificate"
"Ah" says the crestfallen reporter "Been so nice meeting you but I've just heard that a dustbin has blown over in a freak 8 mph wind so I have to be off"

And this, dear reader, is why the notion posited by a contributor to Pinterest that one should

Have a star named after you

goes smoothly and without regret into my anti-bucket list compendium
101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die.

Stars are named by international convention. They are not named after people, apart from rare exceptions such as Barnard's star. You cannot simply point to a glittering dot in the sky and say "That one, that one there, it shall be forever known as Zelda Potrezebie III".

What you can do is to pay to have your name recorded on a list and to receive a few bits of rubbish to display on your shelves. The list is one kept by the vendors, there is no meaning to it at all and as anyone can start a list of stars and sell them, there can be any number of people all thinking that the same star bears their name. It is a con to which the old fashioned hucksters who used to sell London Bridge to unsuspecting tourists would doff their hats in respect.

Here, just for example, is the blurb on the World Star Register website if you select, not just any old star, but a supernova (you will note, in passing, that they don't understand the difference between a star and a constellation)
Name one of the brightest stars in the sky, a Supernova star. You can choose a constellation or allow us to select one for you. Included with your lovely presentation box will be a 20mm Swarovski® Star crystal, the Swarovski® star has a hole size of 1.4mm so can be worn on a thin necklace, or hung as a pendant near to a window.
Your star name and its coordinates will be entered into the World Star Register™ for eternity, and available to locate anytime via our online database, with a physical copy published in the British library.2
You'll also receive all the required information to locate your supernova star in the night sky, and your gift will arrive packaged in a presentation gift box to keep all your documents safe.
.....
Rated 5.00 out of 5 based on 1 customer rating (1 customer review) 


Your crystal and pendant and other tat will cost you a mere £129 in this case.

I love that glowing rating, based on a massive customer response of one whole vote, but the silliest bit is "Your star name will be entered into the World Star Register for eternity". Eternity? Not just a rather long time but for all time and beyond, an infinite amount of time. I wonder how they can be so sure.

Whatever they may mean, as it is pretty unlikely that this business and its register will be around in thirty years (based on normal small business life-cycles), and absolutely certain it will not be trading on Earth in about 3 billion years when the sun swells to become a red giant, I think we can cheerfully dismiss this claim as garbage however tongue-in-cheek they may claim it to be.

 It is a bit of fun, of course, to have a glossy certificate and a presentation album and some crystals and things. But you do not end up with a supernova, or an ordinary star, named after you in any meaningful sense. And to have this as a bucket-list achievement fails on two counts - it doesn't work and it merely involves sending some money off. There is nothing to feel good about and, as our little vignette at the head of this column suggests, bugger-all to be proud about  and that is why I steadfastly refuse to do it.

 -&-&-&-&-

 Readers: Forget all this nonsense about having a star named after you. That is so 2018! Impress your friends by having an entire GALAXY in your name. Yes, a swirling mass of up to 400 billion stars*, plus huge amounts of dust, dark matter and possibly advanced alien civilizations, will bear your name not only to the end of time in this universe but in all other universes that may come after. Simply pick one of the galaxies shown in this photo (and every dot is a galaxy) and send us your chosen name and just £493.

Pic: ScienceMag.org

Terms and conditions apply for most of the rest of eternity and, for just £150 extra, can be sent to you in a presentation album bound in genuine faux-Morocco with a red tassel on the outside and a certificate that shows you alone are the owner of that particular copy of the T&Cs.

* No refunds can be made should your selection be of a dwarf galaxy with only a lousy few million stars.


Footnotes:
1. Surely Her Majesty's long and distinguished reign will have terminated by then
2. The British Library receives by law a copy of all books published in the UK. This is not in any way a sign of official approval.

Monday, February 17, 2020

101 Things #63 - The Mystique of Minerals

This series of pithy and somewhat derogatory comments on the sort of things that others have on their bucket-lists generally considers specific recommendations. From time to time I avert my eyes from the breathless excitement of "50 dangerous sports you must try before they ban them" or "100 places you have to visit before you die because they look really nice on Instagram" and ponder matters of social behaviour. Under the microscope today, and definitely worthy of a place in my anti-bucket-list, 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, is
.
Believe in the mystical power of crystals.


You see them at any craft fair or in "new age" shops. Naturally occurring crystals of minerals and salts to which are attributed powers of healing, or of restoring energy, or of improving mental well-being or in finding love, or just about anything you want, really. Some sellers will explain that there is no scientific basis for any of these claims; others keep quiet about it, but all persist in pushing the idea that "ancient" knowledge proves that crystals are good for you. They cover themselves by using weasel phrases like "It is said that" or "Crystal are claimed to ...".

Here, by way of example, are a couple of quotes lifted from the Healthline website.
 Jasper
This smooth crystal is known as the “supreme nurturer.” It’s said to empower the spirit and support you through times of stress by preparing you to fully “show up.” It’s claimed to protect you from and absorb negative vibes while promoting courage, quick thinking, and confidence. These are traits that are extra helpful when tackling important issues — which is exactly what this stone may be good for.
Obsidian
An intensely protective stone, obsidian is said to help form a shield against physical and emotional negativity. It’s also said to help get rid of emotional blockage and promote qualities of strength, clarity, and compassion to help find your true sense of self. For your physical body, it may aid in digestion and detoxification while potentially helping reduce pain and cramps. 

 Well, where's the harm in that? I shall tell you. The constant drip-drip of "claimed" and "said" gradually builds a conviction in the gullible that there must be something in it. The little disclaimers are said once, the assertions that really there is something going on, even if nobody can explain what it is, are made constantly.

I wonder how obsidian helps in "emotional blockage". If I was wearing one the next time my football team go down to a 2-1 defeat, with the winning goal scored in extra time, would it help me let out some primal yell of despair? Or will I simply let it all out by writing something nasty on the message board?

And how, exactly, does it assist in digestion? Does it increase the strength of one's stomach acid? I'm sure every pharmaceutical company in the world would like to know that one because so far it certainly seems to have passed them by.

Of course we all want to avoid negative vibes, whatever they may be. Sounds simply dreadful. It would be interesting to observe precisely how a lump of jasper can "absorb" them and how, indeed, they are measured in the first place. A vibe is some sort of waveform, is it not? Does it radiate at the speed of light? Does it interact with the electrons in the jasper in a series of quantum mechanical exchanges of photons or what? Again, many eminent physicists and all businesses in the energy sector would be desperate for a piece of this action, should it exist. Presumably one could plug one's jasper into a suitable charger, give off some really unpleasant negative vibes and bingo! There's another four hours on your phone battery.

According to a website called Law of Attraction Crystal Healing is used to treat people and their energy system, by placing the crystals on and around the body, which can help to draw out any negative energy. Yup. And what is "negative" energy? Does it mean anything that makes us unhappy or is there some connection with the negative charge on the electron (a scientific term and not a value judgement on the little particle's state of mind)? How does the crystal know that you are unhappy and how does it absorb the unhappiness?

Don't bother looking for an explanation on any of the sites selling crystals because they simply assert that negative energy exists and that crystals can deal with it. Of course if people choose to believe in crystals then they may feel better when they wear them due to the placebo effect, and I am not knocking this as such; the trouble is that to make it work there has to be a belief in the first place and that belief can only be there if rational thinking is removed to make way for it.

The "crystals as healers" notion is fine if treated as an amusement or a fashion but worrying if any credence is put on the ludicrous claims for it. In an age of growing uncertainty and displacement, we should put our trust in our brains and believe that which can be articulated, tested and reviewed openly, not unsubstantiated (and unsubstantial) claims issued by people who, (and this is purely an amazing coincidence, surely), happen to selling the very products they say are so wonderful.

There is one crystal form that I can assert really does provide a feeling of well-being. A chunk of ice in a glass of whisky.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

101 Things #62 - I call upon... er, who are you again?

Do you like disrupting social events to which you were not invited? Are you a confident, loud-mouthed and fairly strong individual? Then the ludicrous suggestion found on the website Lifelisted is one you may wish to add to your bucket list of things you wish to achieve. And while you are doing it, I shall be quietly adding it to my own collection of non-achievements that future generations will honour with the name of 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die

The recommendation under review is to

Give a toast at a stranger's wedding.


Let me first clarify those personal characteristics of a speech-crasher [I'm not even going to bother to look this one up, it's obviously made up: Ed] that I listed above.
  • Confident - Clearly someone who hesitantly advances to the front, asks the Master of Ceremonies if they can say something if it's not too much trouble, tries to claim the microphone and then stammers uncontrollably is not going to deliver a toast before being forcibly ejected. 
  • Loud-mouthed - When they cut off the amplifier then only the vocally powerful will be heard above the hubbub of guests asking each other "Who the hell is he?" 
  • Fairly strong - Some of the more alcohol-fuelled and enthusiastic of the groom's pals are likely to enjoy themselves seeing how many can pile on top of you - your toast will be muffled fast unless you can stand up for yourself

We have established that only a select few can really aspire to do the stranger-toast business but of course we must first examine why on earth anyone would want to do it in at all, before considering how one might bring it about and what this toast might amount to.

Why?


It is a stranger, or to be more precise, two strangers whose festivities are to be interrupted. The mystery toaster has no reason to like or dislike them, indeed nothing is known about them. They might belong to a strange religious cult whose faith requires them to remove the tongue of any who speak out of turn, so wearing running shoes could be a useful precaution. Or they could be from two long established families of expensive litigation lawyers and your financial ruin is guaranteed the moment you open your mouth.

Be that as it may, there is no reason for their carefully thought-out order of ceremonies to be disrupted other than the personal gratification of the interrupter. And, unlike the vast majority of bucket-list items that have been disparaged in these columns, the pleasure of said interrupter comes at the expense of the interrupted, who must look at one another with raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders, at the very least.

What is the nature of the pleasure that the speech-crasher derives from her performance? Is it the thrill of holding an audience, playing with their emotions, inspiring and enthralling them with the drive and passion of the unscheduled toast? Seems pretty unlikely, given the circumstances, and the puzzled shouts of "Who let this idiot in?". It must be the selfish desire to annoy others and to be the centre of attention, the attributes in fact of your typical dictator. Is that a worthwhile trait to aspire to?

How?

Let us consider how one might end up on the dais facing a bemused audience of celebrants. Weddings may be advertised in the traditional way of the banns in church or announced in the small ads of a paper but it is less usual for the reception to be known to any but those attending. How does the speech-crasher select a target? Do they drive around looking for cars bedecked with ribbons or listen for the bells? Perhaps they stand around outside registry offices. Then comes the tricky part, finding out where the do is being held. Awkward enough to grab one of the wedding guests, hold them with your glittering eye and regale them with a terrible tale of the seas1 but child's play to saying "Excuse me, I'm just a totally innocent passer-by, where are you all off to now and can I please tag along?".

Perhaps the experienced crasher haunts the hotels and private function rooms that often host weddings. They wait till there is a crush of arrivals, infiltrate them (saying "Haven't you grown?" to a sulky 10 year old playing with her Wii will establish credentials) and hand over some gaudily-wrapped box (contents: half a brick) with a smile and "Please put this somewhere safe, it's rather valuable". The bride's family can assume they are with the groom and vice versa. There's bound to be a big sign outside saying something like "Ferdinand and Isabella warmly welcome family, friends and hangers-on. Drinks reception in the Torquemada suite" so bluffing is pretty easy.

Of course, there is no place for the crasher on the table plan. They must eat and drink as much as they can during the reception while smiling at everyone and milling about where the throng is thickest (People looking at someone on their own who is squinting awkwardly and furtively checking out the exits is not what is wanted). Then there is the difficult transition as the guests are called in to dine and somehow the crasher must evade the queue and find a quiet place to lurk, where no waiter will look them over suspiciously, and where Great-Aunt Catherine will not peer at them through pearl-handled lorgnettes before announcing to her companion "This must be Algernon's youngest, I always thought he would come to a bad end, Mavis come over here, you won't believe who's here, how he has the nerve to show his face after that incident with the bulldog I cannot imagine".

The first two courses have been served, the guests are drinking heavily and are happy but not yet fighting drunk, the bride has not yet slapped her chief bridesmaid nor has the groom's mother exchanged angry words with her brother's ex. The best man saunters to the fore, coughs unpleasantly into the microphone and the toasts begin. The time has come. As soon as there is a pause the crasher must take charge, beam at all on the top table and seize the microphone with a flourish
"Happy Couple, honoured guests, reverend sirs, my lords, ladies and gentlemen2 if I could just have your indulgence for a second there's a couple of things I must share with you about Ferdy...."

What?

Yes, what are those couple of things? What can actually be said once they are eagerly awaiting some juicy titbit to savour with the profiteroles? The crasher does not know these people. They certainly don't know or want to know Great-Aunt Catherine who is grimly regarding them as she beckons her rather muscular nephew over from his table where he has been showing his younger cousins where he keeps his stiletto. Here we are at the very climax of the whole speech-crashing business, the reason for donning a dinner suit, polishing one's shoes and obtaining half a brick from the builders' merchants down the road to put in the fake present. There may be only have a few seconds before the microphone is recovered, some rugby players practise a maul over the interloper's recumbent form and the doors to the wet street are opened prior to him being heaved out to fall heavily onto it.

"Um, ladies and gentlemen I give you the bride and groom" and with those squeaky words the crasher can make a bolt for it, scattering the waiters and several portions of fresh fruit salad, dodging the beefy grasp of the nephew and the champagne bottle slung at them by a remarkably accurate great-aunt recalling her days of throwing the javelin for her county.  He squeezes through the doors, He races down the street. It is over. He can tick off an utterly pointless bucket-list objective. What a shame he had to leave his coat behind, a coat that, he suddenly remembers, has got his train season ticket, iphone and house keys in the inside pocket. And it's raining.

-&-&-&-

Is the game worth the candle? Will you glory in the anguished postings on Facebook the next day as various of the guests accuse others of having smuggled you in and Great-Aunt Catherine declares a jihad against Cousin Victor and all of the Warwickshire branch? Or, given that your identity is unavoidably compromised by the possessions inadvertently left behind, must you forge a new one and sail for South America as a deck-hand at once?

I am happy to renounce any intent to gatecrash the matrimonial bliss of others and strongly suggest that you do, too. If the lure of the wedding is still strong, then why not put on some old clothes, cover yourself in soot, get a big black brush from those builders' merchants and do your Dick van Dyke impersonation instead. Everyone will be happy, you get to kiss the bride and the bridesmaids (best avoid Great-Aunt Catherine) and may even be tipped handsomely for bringing luck to the happy couple.3 

Footnote
1. Thank you ST Coleridge for helping me raise the literary level
 2. This is the traditional preface to a toast in the UK but of course these days it might well begin "Yo, dudes, how's it hanging?"
3. You'll probably be tipped even more for steering well clear of the happy couple in their expensive clothes, but don't forget to throw in a few "Gor bless you sirs" at the right moment.